Monday, August 20, 2012

Tulsa Swim - My first Iron-Distance ANYTHING!

Race Report:  Tulsa Swim

This race was important to me because it had an Iron-distance component and I really wanted to get an idea of how I stacked up in that regard.  So having a swim that was 2.4 miles (or 4000 meters) was important to me.  I have been working hard and concentrating mainly on this swim for the last 2 months and I think that it paid off in the confidence I had, which was to be needed before even the midpoint in the race. 

The Tulsa Swim had 5 possible combinations:  a 500 meter swim (sprint); a 2000 meter half iron swim (1.2 miles); a 4000 meter full iron swim (2.4 miles); a short doubler (the 500m + 2000m swim); and a long doubler (the 500m + 4000m swim).  I chose the longest possible course to attempt my very first open water event with, quite possibly because I lost my mind.  But anyway, I was hitting the pool regularly n trying to swim betwen 500 and  1000 meters at least 3 times a week.  About a month ago, I came in off a short training run and hit the pool for 2000 meters with only a short break between the two.  That day, I swam the last 500 meters even while my legs and feet were cramping.  It was intense, but didn't hold a candle to things to come. 

The weekend prior to the race, I managed to get out and just get a feel for the lake with the Race director, Danny Gassaway.  The water was warm and the lake was low enough that in some places, I had to keep my strokes shallow or I'd drag bottom.  But the real question came up when the day before the race, the area experienced some storms.  That, to me, made the lake a complete unknown again.  Would it cool off the lake and if so, how much?  How would it affect the water levels.  And to boot, where the practice swim the air temps were in the mid 80s, now the air temps were expected to drop into the high 50s and be maybe in the high 60s at swim time.

Race day came and I was up by 5 getting ready for the long day.  I had to get things together and make sure I didn't leave key pieces of equipment just like any other race.  Always looking to improve on what I've done before, I found a new breakfast that really did wonders to my energy levels the thursday before the race.  I agonized over the options, but after discussing it with a helpful friend, I decided that I would go ahead and break the rule for not changing something on race day and I went with a breakfast of granola with fresh banana and strawberries sliced up in it. I also had a Vespa nutritional supplament to even out my metabolism for the long race.  Then grabbed my gear and started out on my drive to Lake Heyburn, where the event was to be held.  I was as prepared as I could be, I thought.  On the drive in, I thanked God for helping me get where I was and asked for his favor on today's race, as it was going to be a long day.  Coming over the last hill before decending to Sheppard's Point, where the race would start, I was greeted by the beautiful sight of fog over the lake.

The air was cool (low 70s) when I arrived.  My friend Ken TZ Childress was already there, helping out with packets and timing chips.  In short order, I got my chip strapped on my leg and got my number marked on both of my arms and I headed down to the beach.  A water start was called for due to the lake levels being so low and I didn't realize it until I got down there, but they had dropped another foot from where they were last week!  So much for an increased depth!  After the briefing, I headed out into the water expecting the water to be cool but the water was warm!  At least for the most part.  There were a  few cold currents running through it, however.  The first race, the 500 meter was pretty much what I expected.  22 minutes and 23 seconds.  I didn't want to put everything out in it because I still had my long swim coming up, and it was, indeed, slower than the pool by about 5 minutes.  Part of that was coming up to the beach to stop time.  It felt really good, though.

They had to switch timing chips for the second race and it almost took too long, so I was still swimming out to the buoy for the start when the gun went off.  The long course was 4 laps around the buoys and the first lap I felt great and quickly hit my stride, so to speak.  The second lap went almost as good as the first, but near the end of the second lap, my left calf started cramping.  I am glad that I had done a practice swim where my legs were cramped up a few weeks ago because it really gave me the peace of mind to keep going.  I figured as long as it was just the one leg, I'd manage it.  Occasionally, the cramp would release and I'd be able to swim normally for a while before it would start cramping again.

Just before I rounded the start buoy for the 3rd time and started my 4th and final lap, my other leg started cramping as well.  At that point, I almost decided it was enough, but you'd have been proud of me, I didn't stop of give up.  I kept on going.  Every so often, one of both of the cramps would loosen up and I could kick through it, but most of that last lap was just my arms pulling me along.  The hardest part was trying to get out of the lake.  When I tried to stand up, both calves cramped up so tight they locked.  I actually thought I'd have to crawl across the finish line and actually started to and prayed hard while I did.  Then one of them released and I was able to stand and almost immediately started to lose my balance, so it looked like I was running out of the water.  I had to laugh at myself over that, even though it hurt -- a lot.  I learned a lot about myself yesterday and God was with me.  I finished the 2.4 miles in 2 hours 53 minutes and 46 seconds.  My legs and arms are very sore today, but I slept so well last night!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Color Run - Just have to keep going...

I haven't posted up in a while, but I thought I'd post up some thoughts.  Tomorrow is the Color Run here in Tulsa.  I signed up for it over a month ago.  It's an untimed 5k, so it's not like I am out to break any records running it.  But I am just not motivated.  Over the last few weeks, my aches and pains have really crept up and I've been low on energy and not feeling real well... certainly not the norm for me.  In short, I am really just not feeling like running a race tomorrow.  But they say that this is the time that builds the most character.  Whatever.  I will be out there and I will run in it.  10,000 people will be running and I am willing to bet that I will STILL be the last one on the course.  But that's ok.  I may not feel good and I may be the last one, but I am still doing better than when I was still hobbling around on a cane.  So, it's early to bed for me tonight and up super-early in the morning so that I can get a decent parking space before all the hoopla begins.  Maybe I'll nap in my truck in my parking space...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blazing a Trail For Others to Follow - Up Mother Weep!

8 AM Saturday.  Temp - 78 degrees  Humidity 75% Winds from the south strong and steady with gusts.  Time to hit the trails and help the Trail Zombie mark the course for the Barkley Book Fair trail run.  I volunteered for the section on the Lo Chi trail on Turkey Mountain.  I wanted another shot at that hill.  I'd named the hill the Mother Weep.  I took the path in nice and slow.  I wanted to save my legs for what I considered my real challenge.  Instead of my regular 12 oz bottles, I carried one of my quart canteens.  I was in a hurry and a bit low on funds, so I chose not to eat breakfast, although I did have a power bar in my pocket as I drove up to the start point.  

 I met Ken just a little after 8 AM and he outlined the area and how he wanted it marked.  We had a brief discussion on the path and the hill, since I had let him know I really wanted to tackle it.  He advised caution so that I wouldn't get in trouble on the hill.  I told him that I was running on fresh legs today and that I was going to take it nice and slow. Since I had been down to it, I had a much better idea what to expect and so I took off.  I figured it was going to take me a while and thought I'd be done by 11:30 or so, giving me plenty of time to take the rest stops I needed and blaze the course.  

Just like this little fella

Starting off on the paved trail heading down to the LoChi, I felt particularly good.  As the paved trail started downhill, I let my legs move a little faster and actually jogged down the first hill.  Just as it flattened out, I noticed something green moving across the blacktop and I pulled up and watched a green snake gliding across in front of me.  Fascinated, I reached for my phone to take a picture, but the little fellow was just moving too fast for me to get it set before he was off in the grass where the contrasts wouldn't have made for a good picture.  I watched him for a minute longer as he disappeared  into taller grass further from the trail and got on my way again.

While there aren't any real markers for the Lo Chi Trail, having been down it before I found it with ease and tied my first trail marker off so that the runners later would be able to follow.  Ten or fifteen feet further, I tied a second marker just to make sure they would see it.  And then I disappeared down the trail.  On the Lo Chi part of my circuit, I tied pink marker ribbon about every tenth of a mile to help that evening'r runners along, so I got frequent breaks.  That was a good thing because with the humidity, I was in a fully soaked sweat before I had gone a half mile in.  As I stopped by some small creature's den, I noticed that even my shorts were soaked with sweat in spots.  Continuing down the trail, I became fascinated with the wildlife I was seeing.  I was out a little earlier than the last time and I was by myself, so I took the time to enjoy what I saw.  At one point, I cam across a young skink.  I can't ever remember seeing one in the wild, but the colors were striking, yellow stripes running down a black body to the bright blue tail.  A beautiful creature of God, to be sure.  

One of the more interesting things I saw on the lower trail was a leaf that appeared to be sewn together.  Granted, it was a bad job of it, but still, it caught my attention, so I snapped a pic of it.  It was just short of my final rest stop before the hill - Mother Weep.  And in short order, I was there.  I took a good rest on the concrete construct, drank some water and ate about half of my power bar.  I wanted to have the best chance of making the hill and so I made sure I was all set.  While I was there, a couple of mountain bikers came up.  I chatted for a few minutes with these trail riders, telling them that I had every intention of climbing the hill.  I think they were impressed, but one of them tried to convince me to take a cautious approach, letting me know that there were some slick spots on the climb and advising me that I should only do what I feel comfortable with and that I could turn back any time.  I smiled and thanked him for his suggestions.  As they rode away, back down the trail the way they had come, I turned my attention to the task at hand.  Getting up off my kiester, I moved out with a purpose.


It was just a minute or so before I reached the foot of the hill and started my climb.  I spotted a good place to stop and take stock.  As it turned out, it would be the first pictures taken of the hill.  I Thoroughly enjoyed the climb, remembering what it was like the last time I had a climb like that.  I was younger and thinner, but I still handled it well.  I stopped a total of 3 times on the climb, mainly to just look at the scenery from the hill, not needing the rest too much, but also remembering that I still had to hike out.  It was this thought that really put me in conservation mode.  The hill really wasn't technical at all, but more of a scramble.  One place I was actually on all fours.  Wish I had been able to get some pics of me in action and I thought about doing the Survivorman* thing to get a couple of time delays or maybe some video of me climbing.  Ahhh... Maybe next time.


In short order, I crested the hill onto the next trail and there was a good rock for sitting.  I had been there for maybe a minute or two and there I saw the Trail Zombie coming up the hill.  "King of the hill!" I shouted.  It felt good to be up on top.  We talked for a few about how good it was.  Told him I really enjoyed the climb, which I did.  If it weren't for having to hike in and then back out... if I could have just driven up to the base, I think I would have climbed it 3 or 4 times.  Anyway, I was now on a trail that I didn't know and I asked whether I should stay up here or go back down.  TZ strongly suggested I stay up and told me pretty much what to expect, so after he and his companion departed, I rested a minute longer and then took off, myself.  I knew that I would see them again later, as they were going to work around behind me and mark some other parts of the race course, which circled back around behind my path.

 I was now on the Yellow Trail and following it back toward the parking lot.  This trail was a lot more level of a course and I worked my way around, but I noticed that I was slowing significantly.  The hill had taken a lot out of me, even though I had taken it easy.  Still, I kept plugging away.  Had some beautiful scenery, including some rock falls and some cut-outs.  At one point, I stopped to rest and just as I was looking up through the trees and into the sky... contemplating getting going again... I saw the huge winged sillouette of an eagle!  Man, I was truly blessed.  Alas, like the snake before, I couldn't bring my camera to bear in time.  The upper trail, known as both the Yellow Trail and the HoChi, was wider and more travelled than the LoChi, which I had now gone down twice.  It was nice to see groups of mountain bikers sharing the trails with runners and hikers and everyone was nice, asking how I was doing or wishing me a good morning.  Families walked down the trails and all in all, it was a very pleasant experience.  places to stop and rest were plentiful enough that I didn't even stop and use them all.  

 The hardest part of being on this new (to me) trail was not knowing how far I had come or how far I had left to go.  Indeed, there is a certain mental and morale difficulty in not knowing these things.  But at least I knew how to get out, so my confidence never really wavered.  And soon, TZ and company came up behind me again.  I was beginning to run out of steam and had eaten the last of my power bar.  TZ offered me a little extra water, and even though I had not run out, his advice on how much further I had to go made me think it would not be a bad idea.  He also offered me a quick energy snack in the form of a small packet of breadsticks and some nutella.  My first experience with this chocolate-like substance was very positive and while it certainly isn't something I would crave, I won't be turning it down when I'm out on the trails or what-not.  They went on ahead of me, marking the rest of the trail with the pink marker tape and dropping books for the Berkley in just a few, short hours.  "Just follow the pink ribbons" was TZ's message as he trucked on ahead.  And so I trudged onward.

Getting near the end, as I was stopped at one rest stop, a couple with a young child and a dog came down from the way I was headed.  I recognized them as a couple who had passed me after I had first come up Mother Weep Hill.  They looked a little puzzled and I asked where they were headed.  When they said they were just trying to get out, that they had tried something a little different, I knew they were turned around.  One thing about me is that I am rarely turned around in the woods.  I seem to always know my main directions.  I may not have known how much further it was, but I knew the parking lot was back the way they had come.  I helped them out with directions and offered that they could follwo the pink ribbons which were tied up about every tenth of a mile til they got out.  It was a good feeling to be able to give them some assurance, even if I, myself, hadn't had much experience on the Turkey Trails.  


Legs just about toast, I got up and kept moving.  I wasn't so tired I was just going to stop, but I was absolutely glad I didn't have anything else planned for the day.  I was rewarded in finding an excellent place to stop and rest, some sort of concrete construct where there was clearly a cable tensioner coming up out of the ground.  It looked ancient.  Oh the fun senarios I could put together.  About 15 meters away was a big coil of heavy cable.  The questions that such things bring to mind.  As I was resting here, TZ and his companion, Nedra, swung back by to check on me.  I was very slow and plodding, so it was getting late and I am sure they were concerned.  But after resting for a time, I got up and continued down.  I asked if they had run into the young family I had guided and they said that they did.  I was releived as I continued to the parking lot.  Nearing the end, I stopped again, this time just before a clearing, maybe 2 tenths of a mile before the parking lot.  As I sat there, I heard a grasshopper "singing" his song.  The little guy did it just long enough that I was able to look around and find him.  As my eyes fixated on him, he "sang" again.  Now, I have known since late grade school the "how" of crickets and grasshoppers making their sounds, but it wasn't until now, at the fine age of 45, that I had an opportunity to actually SEE the act in action with my own two eyes!  It was the kind of finally that I was really glad to get!  Finally, I downed the last of my water and dragged myself off the rock I had been sitting on and started the last shuffle down to the parking lot.  That's right, I said down.  While my initial trail had taken me downhill, between the Mother Weep Hill and the HoChi trail, I had actually climbed above the parking lot.  By this point, we had descended quite a bit, but even at that, the rest of the going was still on a gentle downslope.  Finally out, I thanked Ken and Nedra for a wonderful outing, rested for a moment longer and then headed to my truck and home.  I had but 3 things on my mind... Sustinence, rest and getting the mountain washed off of me -- not necessarily in that order. 

 I had accomplished what I had set out to do and I felt good about that!   I definitely enjoyed my time on the trailz of Turkey Mountain!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trailz Fever

Well, it's been a while since I posted because I took some time off to let my injuries heal. But a certain Zombie whose name shall be left out of this (Ken) posted a very tantalizing piece about a race he is putting on next weekend and I decided that the time was here for me to start getting back out and about.

Let me tell you, I was ready to get back to it, too. So Saturday morning started out nice and easy on the River Trails running north from the Blue Rose. I figured that I'd do a short couple of miles and maybe just a lottle more for starters because I was going to meet the INFAMAOUS Trail Zombie on Turkey Mountain for a little preview of his race a little later. So I got up early and headed out.

Well, getting to the Blue Rose, I wasn't nearly as early as I wanted to be, but I still had plenty of time to do what I had planned so I headed north. But first, I did something I almost never do -- I left the house without making sure I had an empty bladder... and so there was a brief bout of panic as I was trying to find an open restroom, not wanting to throw my timing off by leaving and coming back. I went ahead and started north, hoping I would run across some open restrooms and just a couple of hundred feet later, I was rewarded. Whew!

So, well relieved, I got into the running in earnest and worked on my miles. I took it easy but still kept a good clip (for me). Just as I was ending up the first part of my day's running activities, TZ called me and verified our trail time. He said he might run a little late but that I could get started. I grabbed a small breakfast and headed to Turkey Mountain.

So, the race course started on the Red Trail and so without TZ in sight, I headed for the arch and the trailhead of the Red Trail. I don't know if it is named for the color of the dirt or not, but I noticed right away that it was typical Oklahoma dirt -- red and dusty. Having only been on the trails once before, on the Snake Run a couple of months ago, I didn't want to get myself into trouble - it's a lot harder to get a ride back when your stuck in a wilderness area -- even an "Urban" Wilderness Area. So I took it slow and really, this was more of a hike than a run. But man, it sure works the muscles.

One of the first things I noticed (after the red dirt) was that the vast majority of this trail (going the direction I was) was downhill. In some places, it was dramatically so. First time runners who actually run the trail should beware. You can come around a corner and be in for a good 4 foot drop. Real easy to roll an ankle -- or worse. But the trail was wide and well marked. It was quite a workout getting down to where TZ and I met. And true to the great State of Oklahoma, the weather changed at least 3 times on the way. The canopy of trees above me shielded me from the rain that fell, all 5 and a half minutes of it. It was never real heavy anyway, and the few drops that managed to make their way through evaporated in minutes, leaving the trail just as dry as it was before.

I came out of the Red Trail where it met the paved bike trail and TZ was running down the hill to meet me. We trekked on to the next part. A dense and Jurrasic-like area that went both up and down quite a bit known, apparently as the Lo-Chi or Lower Trail. I made note that just below us was the railroad tracks and above us were various other trails. Our objective was to get a good view of what TZ felt would be the largest challenge for me in the race, a 120 ft hill between the Lo-Chi and the next trail up, the Ho Chi. Originally, I was going to tackle the hill and see just what it was made of. That wasn't to be, although TZ did and got some great video of it. It was about half way down this part of our trek that I realized that the early morning run, while a good run in and of itself, didn't do me any favors. If I wanted to tackle this hill, I'd need fresh legs. And mine were far from fresh. In fact, my legs were so tired that the ticks out on the trail that plagued TZ didn't even bother with me. Finally, we made it to the hill. I looked up and shook my fist at it. Live while you can, Mr. Hill. Today is not the day I conquor you. But your days are numbered and I will be back.

Trail running, or even walking, is so different from street running. It works you in such a different way that even though I only did somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 miles on the trails, it felt like I'd done 2-3 times that. I got home sore and exhausted. My feet hurt, my legs hurt. But I got such an awesome workout and got a chance to really enjoy some truly wonderful sights. I am sure that as I spend more time out on the trails, my endurance will build and who knows, this might just be the breakthrough I need to push myself to the next level in my street running. I think I am going to make it a point to include at least some of the trails on a monthly basis in my training. Next month, I'm going to reverse the Red Trail and see how that feels. I suspect I'll like it. A lot!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Runnin' the storm out... and just a little Swim!

Saturday morning - 3am. Forecast - Showers and thunderstorms. Outlook - dismal. Humidity - High, Temps - lower 60s. I woke up to all this. Friday afternoon, tornadoes had hit Norman and the weather was only expected to get worse as the weekend progressed. For some reason, I could not find the current conditions on the TV - 247, the 24/7 weather station from one of our local stations was showing some kind of variety show programming and there was some kind of infomercial on it's sister channel from a different local TV station. Oddly enough, the Weather Channel's "weather on the 8s" was not running either, I think it was also running some kind of programming - something on the Coast Guard, I think.

I got up and got my gear together anyway and checked the weather on my phone. It wasn't looking good - I'd probably get wet at some point in the run. I'd hurt my knee playing volleyball last weekend, but it wasn't feeling too bad. I'd originally thought I'd wrap it, but as I was getting ready, I decided that if I just tape it good, it would do. I wasn't planning on massive miles anyway. Finally having everything together, I got to the River Parks West at 4am and started out. It wasn't raining yet and I was actually feeling pretty good about everything.

The city was so quiet except for the distance rumble of lightning. I prepared for the worst and was constantly praying for better while on my run. As I got started, I looked at the radar and saw a storm heading in from the Northwest and thought to myself that there was no way I wasn't going to get wet. I put my cell phone in a Ziploc and continued.

While most everybody else was planning on 13 miles, I had decided to cut my run to 6 because of my banged up knee and foot. I was determined not to get wound up and start running too fast. Even so, I was 3 a little under 3 minutes faster than normal when I passed the pedestrian bridge.

The lightning was really playing across the clouds and as I put the bridge behind me, I began to question the wisdom of running down beside the PSO power plant in a lightning storm. It wasn't that I was afraid of getting struck by the lightning, but rather that I was concerned that one of the transformers could blow and spray the hot oil my way. I figured that it was a slim chance and I kept going.

 My original plan was to head down to the soccer fields, then go back and cross over the pedestrian bridge and all the way up to 11th and back across the river on the Southwest Boulevard Bridge to get back to the start. As I passed PSO, I checked the radar again and the storm had started moving off to the north and I thought I'd be able to continue on my chosen path. I made it to the soccer field and realized I was still a bit ahead of the game -- 2 miles down and doing good. I turned around and headed back up by the power plant and just on the north side, I realized that the lightning was starting to pick up again. About that time, I felt a few drops of rain hit me. I checked the radar and another storm was headed right for us.

I had thought about sheltering on the other side of the pedestrian bridge and so I made my way across it. But looking again at the radar and seeing that the area of storms was pretty deep, I decided I didn't want to be separated from my car and headed back across to the west side. I figured I might could get up to 21st street before the rain started in earnest and so I pushed on. Finally, I started seeing runners with our group as I made my way in.

Once back, I hung around for a while and then went to breakfast with the running group. It was a good time. Then, with clearing skies, a full belly and some tired legs, I decided to go hit the gym and get some swimming in before they closed the pool for the thunderstorms that were predicted to come rumbling in later.

I'd been telling my friends about a new race I signed up for. The Tulsa Swim is an Iron-distance swim, 2.4 miles (or 4km) in open water. I was excited when I saw it come on the board, because my ultimate goal is to do the Ironman. I swam competitively in high school and I have completed a couple of indoor triathlons, but this will be the first time I will have swam competitively in open water and I am honestly not sure what to expect. What I do know is that I am confident in my ability to make the distance. So confident that I signed up for the "Long Doubler", which puts a 500 meter sprint race in front of the Iron distance swim. So the first 500 meters has to be completed in 30 minutes or less. Well, I wasn't sure whether I could do that, but I thought that I had done that kind of distance a few months ago in about 25 minutes and so I thought it would be a very good idea to give it a try and see where I stood with it.

When I got to the gym, I found that there was a class going on in the pool so I would have to wait. I dressed out and climbed in the hot tub for a little while instead. Man, it had been a while since I had done that and it felt good. After soaking for a few minutes, I got out and slid into the cooler pool and let it cool me off. Finally, the class was over and I could get started. I needed 500 meters in the 25 meter pool, so that would be 10 full laps. Not a problem, but I have had a problem counting laps twice, so I was just going to see how it went. I was not really recovered from the run, but I am generally at home in the water and so I figured it wouldn't be too bad - I might go a little long today, but it would be enough to give me a baseline.

I barely kicked off, just so I wouldn't kick the wall - I hate it when I do that. And I was off. No sense in killing myself, so I just made sure my strokes were steady and strong. I swam down and back for my first lap, kicking off weakly, since there would not be anything to kick off of in the open water. As I started down on my second lap, I noticed my arm and my stomach trying to cramp a bit. The conventional wisdom that you will drown just because you are cramping is well known, but it is a myth. Cramping in and of itself will not lead to drowning, it is the panic that you feel that will do that. In fact, panic, in general, is the culprit in something like 85% of all drownings in large bodies of water.

Anyway, I just concentrated on smooth strokes and continued on my laps, trying to mentally count them. Still, I am not sure if I lost a lap or not. When I "lose" a lap, I could the last lap over again and keep going. I never skip to the next number unless I am sure I have swam the previous lap. In some cases, this has meant I've swam the same lap 3 or 4 times. So I will say that I completed at least 10 laps before I stopped the clock. When I did so, the clock was at 19 minutes and 30 seconds. Well below the cutoff time of 30 minutes and enough of an margin of error to account for the difference in open water and a pool! And this is even on already tired legs and cramps! Man, it felt good to not have to worry about the cutoff. Now I can just concentrate on getting a bit faster and then to concentrate on my endurance and making a better time!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pushing through... (500miles?)

Someone told me that Saturday's run time was going to be earlier, so I said what, 4:30? No wait, better 3:30 in the morning. Today's trek was a scheduled 12 miles and it is coming into the time of the year and the time of the training where we roll back the time a bit to beat the heat and allow people to get done at a good time. I'd been warned to take it easy, I've had a big month with the attempt at Little Rock at the beginning and the successful if exhausting first trail run at the Snake Run last weekend. But as I woke up and heard The Proclaimers "I'm gonna Be(500 miles)" on the radio, I was thinking I might just could do the whole 12.

Seems I was only partially joking as I ended up splitting the difference and started at 4 in the morning. I was just getting geared up at the River Trails West start point when a couple of others pulled up and we chatted for a minute and then we each took off.

Soon, I was left alone in the darkness. My headlamp broke a few weeks ago, after Little Rock, and I haven't had a chance to replace it, so it was just me and my eyes with the occasional switch on of my handheld flashlight.

The early morning darkness precluded some picture-taking, but I tried my hand at a few shots anyway. The city lights take on a whole new quality when as the city slumbers and its these times that I enjoy running and listening to the city's restive pulse, long before the day begins.

It always amazes me when I think about where our runs actually take us. The diversity and distance of these treks really leaves me in awe, thinking, 'did I really do that?' What possesses a big guy like myself to get out and push himself to do things that "normal" people consider crazy. I mean even if I called all this a "walk"... Me: "I'm 400 pounds and I just walked 7 and a half miles up and down some pretty good hills this morning because I think it is fun." Normal Person: "You're nuts, stay away from me." (The preceding is not representative of any actual conversation I've had, but a scene in my head only. Thank you).

So, the first part of this journey I recall from a previous training run. Over the river and down by the hospital, so far so good. At my first mile, I was greeted by the big neon Route 66 sign and I was in good spirits. I pressed on. Coming up to Charles Page Blvd, I was thinking about all the times in Little Rock that I would walk down to the viaduct and watch the trains go by, wondering what their destinations were and thinking about the Arlo Guthrie song, "City of New Orleans". As I passed over the tracks there, a train was passing beneath me and I paused, for that moment, in 2 times and places at once... or so it seemed.

I turned back north for my last push in that direction for the day. I would pass through Owen park and past the oldest house in Tulsa... Still too dark to take pics of that, but I did manage to get a pic of downtown from the park as dawn was starting to creep across the sky. Still had a big uphill to go so I took a moment to fuel and drink something. I figured that this was where the waterstop would be, but I was just out too early for that and I wasn't going to wait around. So up the hill I went.

Now the last time I came up this way, I honestly don't remember what the path was, but it seemed like I just kept going and going this time. I don't remember taking the turns I took, but I guess I must have. Finally, I got well up into the subdivision there and made my easterly turn. I crossed the pedestrian bridge over the Tisdale and realized that it was shaking... kinda like that bridge in Little Rock. Hmmm... Might need to remember this. Finally, I was back out on a street I had run a few times. Heading down toward Cains and more familiar territory, I was certainly starting to feel my legs and feet getting tired. But I wasn't done yet. The morning twilight was starting to brighten into a grand day as I passed Cains Ballroom and I realized that I was doing pretty good on time. My first 2 miles had been great times, but maybe just a little fast. I was still in the groove passing that spot, but I could feel the endurance starting to slip. I was coming up on my 5th mile and I started thinking about how I might need to cut this short. I could have just backtracked down 1st street until I got back to the Bridge I came over earlier. That would have been the quickest way back, but I wasn't ready to do that. Looking at the course map, I decided the best thing would be to just follow the course as it doubled back and cross the 23rd street bridge for a 7.5-8 mile trip for the day.
So I continued on. 500 miles, huh? Yeah... kinda felt like that. Push through it. My biggest obstacle now? Going down Galveston, the steepest grade of the path. As I came around mile 6, I was feeling real lean and a little nauseous, but a sudden realization struck me... Everything from here was better than I had done at Little Rock and I was still pretty strong. No cramps and I still had legs left, if not a lot. Soon I was to Galveston and I stopped to fill up 2 of my 4 bottles I carried with me on this trek. It was my only water stop, but I had planned well and was not abnormally in need of fluids. Just a little over a mile and I would be back to my truck, so no need to overstock here. Push. I was right, I didn't like the downhill portion. Uphill is for running, downhill is for skiing. No skis today.

Finally, I was on River Trails East and heading in. Right about mile 7, I realized that my left foot felt squishy. Great... same foot as on the trails last week -- I had a pretty big blister. Nothing for it now, I babied it as best as I could trying to get back to my truck. Up and over the bridge... Did that thing get longer? It seemed like it took me forever to hobble across that thing. Finally, I was on the last leg. But my feet had just about had it and I pulled up short and got a ride back to my truck. Total distance 7.6 miles. It's been 2 days and I am still feeling it. Maybe by mid-week I'll feel like I am back to normal. But this is an off week for me, as I have tests in OKC on the 7th and won't be running the Aquarium Run like I had given thought to. A shame. This year, I think I could really rock the 5k, too. Maybe next year.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Snakes don't walk, they slither. So there."

Ok, so it was a Snake Run, not a walk, but the line from a Disney classic is totally fitting. Sorry I have been quiet lately, but I have been moving as well as recovering from Little Rock and trying to get ready for TATUR's 2012 Snake Run. So I hope that you will forgive my absence. But as you can see, I am back at it.

So, with all that having been said, it's time for me to talk about my experience on the trails on Saturday. A few weeks ago, I signed up for this crazy race and made a commitment to give trail running a try. On Saturday, Tulsa Area Trail and Ultra Runners (TATUR) hosted the 5th Annual Snake Run at the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area in Tulsa, OK. Yes, this is the same area I blogged about not too long ago that some developer wanted to make into an amusement park.

The Snake Run is a unique run for distance in a set amount of time. For me, the challenge was to simply make it through one full loop, 4.2 miles. I woke up early in the morning, just as dawn was breaking and started getting ready. The temps were supposed to be awesome and they did not disappoint. I got all my stuff together, taped my foot, knees and elbow, put on an older pair of shoes (I didn't want to ruin my brand new pair of street kicks) because I knew there would be some mud on the course.

The race started at 9, so I showed up at 8:30 and there were cars and trucks on both sides of the narrow roadway and in parking lots. I managed to find a good parking spot just inside one of the gates at the top, just a tenth of a mile from the start/finish line. I picked up my packet and got myself ready as best I could. The air still had the dawn chill, but it was promising to warm up fast. Walking around, I found that my excitement was much like that of my first 5k 2 years ago. I found myself wishing that someone would have been there, at least at the start. Even though I had started 2 half marathons before, I knew this would be a challenge, and it turned out to be a very ambitious outing for me.

Ken "Trail Zombie" Childress, the Race Director, gave everyone the lowdown and last minute skinny on the trails and then we were off. Like a good boy, I took up a position at the end of the pack because I was not only slow, but new to running the trails. I took the open field at the start to set my alarm and tried my 4 and 1 walk/run that I had set on the roads. For a while, the trail parallelled the road and I could hear traffic for a bit. The first downhill bit was a slow start, with rocks and roots and a generally more uneven surface than I was used to. But it wasn't too bad and soon I found a more smooth running surface to move down and I actually started running just a little bit, at least until I came to the first of several little streams I could cross or trek through.

Crossing over the stream, the uphill side was quite muddy with a stream of it's own trickling down it. The herd of previous runners had not done much in the way of favors to me, so I hesitantly waded through it and found that it wasn't too bad. I got a little mud on my feet, but didn't carry much away with me and continued on. Right in the middle of this climb, one of my alarms went off and I just reset it for the next time... I didn't think it would be safe for me to try to run with such tenuous and slippery footing. That would soon become the norm as I had to skip more and more of my running minutes.

There were a lot of differences between running on the trails and running on the streets. The obvious one is the matter of terrain. Trees and roots and rocks and rivers and trying to yield up the trail to passing runners in both directions took its toll on my physically, to be sure. But another major difference is the fact that most of the time on the trail, I had no idea about the distance I had travelled. While the trail was well marked and I never strayed off it, this still made trying to pace myself very difficult -- no map with landmarks, no cross streets to measure progress by.

It wasn't long before all sense of being "in town" was gone and it was just me, the trees and my fellow runners. Somewhere after the turn away from traffic, I paused and drank down some of my Gatorade, not wanting to dehydrate too early in the race. The sun was creeping up and so were the temperatures. It was about this time that I noticed another feature or difference of running trails... the wind was blocked more by the trees, so there was less cooling effect as the day warmed up. At first, this was good. But later, I was wishing for a bit more wind.

Ahhh... the first aid station! I took in some water and a couple of oranges and a few small pretzel sticks for the salt. It was good to see the aid station, it gave me some sense of where I was on the course. I left the aid station and felt a bit better, but this was a 4.2 mile loop and I was just passing the first mile. On the road, I've got various places I scout out in case I need a quick sit for 20, 60 or 90 seconds. But on the trails, these were few and far between. And with the warmer weather, you never knew when you might happen upon one of the race's namesakes, so I knew I had to be careful.

Finally, what I guesstimate as about a half a mile away from the aid station, I found a rock formation just off the path where I could catch my breath and rub out some of my sore muscles. Between the unfamiliar terrain and having to break trail to give right of way to passing runners, the trails were forcing me to use untrained muscles and they were complaining. But I wasn't anywhere near done yet.

Getting back on the trails, I had just stepped away from my break area when my cell phone rings... Well, I had no idea so I answered it. Wrong number. I don't know why I was so put out, but after 3 times of me telling them I didn't know any William Bass and that this had been my number for over 10 years, they finally got the message and I continued on. It seemed that the further along I went, the worse the mud got. There were a blessed few spots where I could go around at least the worst of it, but many spots there was just no place to go and I ended up carrying around a couple of pounds in wet mud.

Finally, I slogged my way to the halfway point and even had a great place to sit down and knock some of the mud off my shoes. Taking a quick break just short of the turnaround/aid station, I basked in the sun for a few minutes... Maybe more like a snake than I'd like to admit, hehe. Then I got up to see a familiar face manning the aid station. I got more water and refilled my bottle with water, got some more orange slices and the last piece of banana, a few more pretzel sticks and I turned around to slog back through it all.

Heading back around through all that mud just doubled how tired my legs were already feeling. I dug down and did my best to find rest stops. I drained the last of my Gatorade and started on the water. It was a long way back if my legs weren't going to hold up... and I had left too many races unfinished anyway. I don't like doing that. So I kept pushing. Finally, I made it back to the last aid station. I knew that it had taken me about a half an hour to reach it the first time, so I figured that as tired as I was, it would take me about 45 minutes to slog my way back out. While I began to feel the closeness of the finish line I was also starting to feel bloated, even though I had not had what I thought was an over lot to drink. I refilled on water anyway, but the bloating made me pass up more potential fuel. I rested at the aid station for a few minutes and gathered my strength for the push back around.

But it wasn't long before my legs had enough and right in the middle of the trail, they gave way. I otherwise felt fine. I dragged myself off the trail and went over a mental checklist... Heart was beating fast but strong and regular... Vision was good, no spots before my eyes or anything. I mentally checked myself on the day (Saturday, 24 March), President (Obama, why couldn't it be Reagan), location(Turkey Mountain, Tulsa). I took several deep breaths, no pain there. Just my legs. I wasn't sure if I had anything left... it didn't feel so. Passing runners on their additional loops checked on me and a couple of them said they would tell the aid workers. I said thanks and rested, sipping on my water.

Finally, the idea of giving up frothing vily in my mouth, I hauled myself up and kept moving toward the finish. I didn't want to quit, I didn't want to give up. I wanted to finish. How far was I? I didn't have any idea. Half a mile? Surely I could drag myself another half mile. I met the 3 guys that were coming down to check on me on my feet. They wanted to take me off the course. I was near the road by now and there were a couple of nearby paths that led right out to the road, but I just kept trudging up the path. I was hurting and in trouble and everything in me was screaming that I should just give up and let them carry me out. I knew what they said about being in the woods in bad shape, but I just couldn't stop. And yet my legs failed me again.

Down I went for a second time. Again, I went over my checklist. Just the legs were a problem. Silently, I prayed for the strength, but for a while, I mentally gave up. I knew I had really pushed hard. It was not an easy transition, from roads to trails. And it was even harder with the mud. Before long, Ken came down and checked on me himself. This time, I had collapsed only 3/10 of a mile from the finish line. I wasn't at all sure, now, what I was going to do. 3/10 of a mile was excruciatingly close. Only 2/10 and I'd pass right by my truck. I could stop there and just get in my truck and go home in shame...

Not that anyone at the race would have been shaming me... that was just myself. With Ken's encouragement and having finished the rest of my water, I crawled to me feet on my own and pushed through it to the clearing where my truck was. I found a log to sit on for a couple of minutes about half way to my truck. Then we stopped at my truck and I rested there while drinking some of the Gatorade that I had stashed for after the race. I could stop. I was safe and could go home. I wouldn't finish the race, but I could stop the pain, take the easy way out. This crossed my mind as I sat there. 1/10 of a mile to go, but if it was too much, I could just stop.

I got back up and started moving again. I don't really know why I couldn't just give up. I had every right to. I had played out my legs, not just once, but several times. I was nauseated and bloated. I wanted to puke, but couldn't. I just kept pushing. My body wanted me to quit, my mind had given in for a few minutes. But then I just couldn't. I stumbled up the hill I had come down several hours earlier and headed for the finish line. I was out of the woods, but not done yet. When I finally crossed the finish line, I just stood there for a moment. I'd made it. I wasn't carried off, I didn't get pulled for some medical reason. I'd finished under my own power. I moved over to the mound of dirt thinking I should sit down, but my foot slipped on some mud... the final insult hurdled at me from a race that I had taken far too lightly, but had managed to complete. I just sat there thinking and praying my thanks for giving me the strength to finish the race. It was a most gruelling race for me. The hardest one I have done, thus far.

Finally, I managed to get up off the dirt and move down to the finish line aid station. I was now more nauseated than I was weak in my legs and I sat in the shade and drank a bit of water and a bit of Sierra Mist, trying to settle my stomach. Finally, I laid down for a while and tried several of the normal cures for my stomach being so upset. The salty potato, pretzels, orange slices, flat coke... Nothing seemed to help and I knew that for me, the only things that were going to help were some sleep and actually puking. Finally, I drifted off into a light sleep on the cold and damp ground, which actually felt good at the time.

After laying on the ground for over an hour, I began to feel good enough to go get a shower and get some rest. So I got a ride to my truck and headed home. My stomach was still a little queasy, but I felt better and was confident that I could make it home. But just a half mile from my exit, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the reflex to vomit and even though my window was down, I could not get my head out the window and get slowed down enough. 65 Miles Per Hour is not a good time to experience this. I managed to get pulled off onto the shoulder safely, but I don't think I will ever forget that sight coming back at me.

Finally getting home and getting ready for a shower, I took the opportunity to check over my feet.  Mud was certainly the order of the day, as were blisters. 
Several people asked me after it was over... would I come back? It was a bad question to ask at the moment, but I didn't say no. Having had a couple of days to think about it, I think I can now say yes, I'll be back. Not soon and not often, but I will be back.