Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ragnar DC Video

Runner #3 (the dude whom I handed the baton off to for all of my runs) Andy O'Brien made this awesome video of our DC Ragnar experience.

DailyMile Dozen at Ragnar DC 2011 from Andy O'Brien on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ragnar Relay DC

Well, I did the Ragnar DC Relay race.  What an experience!

Our team, DailyMile Dozen, met up at an unused parking lot in Chantilly, from a recently closed SafeWay grocery store.  The team's two 12 passenger vans showed up, and we all packed the van with everything we would need for the next few days.  Snacks, coolers of drinks, luggage, etc.  I neglected to pack a sleeping bag, so when we realized that some members needed some night-running supplies (a running vest), I volunteered to go to Target and pick up some supplies.

The Target had headlights and tail lights, but no reflective vests, which we needed for the night running. All of the members on the team needed one.  Stacy drove me to the Home Depot, where I found some excellent construction worker yellow vests, that perfectly suited the need.

 The scenery seemed quite familiar.  A few months ago, while driving back from a company venue at the Nemacolin Resort, my Ford Escape had a mechanical failure. The gas pedal jammed at 100% throttle as I was climbing the mountain on the way to Sideling Hill.  While this is a mechanical failure that would cause some people to get on the news with headlines of "panicked driver unable to stop runaway vehicle", I had the presence of mind to put the car in neutral, shut off the ignition, and coast to a stop.  I spent that afternoon waiting for a tow truck to show up as I waited patiently on the side of the road on I-68.  Since the Ford dealership was closed for the day, I had to spend the night at a hotel in Cumberland.  Much to my surprise, our Ragnar vans pulled up to the hotel right across the street from where I had my unexpected night a few weeks prior. I already knew this neighborhood from my unexpected overnight stay in Cumberland.

Our beautiful artwork for the DM Dozen van
We had a very filling Italian-style dinner at Fratelli's, where the team got to dine and "carbo-load" for the run on the next day.  Andy tweeted about the dinner, and Ragnar re-tweeted, calling it "carbon-loading", which is how we referred to it for the rest of the night. We decorated the vans with window-paint, and I drew in my best rendition of the DailyMile logo. We had a last minute drop of one of our runners, so the team name "dailymile dozen" didn't seem appropriate.  We made the logo change at the last moment, too; changing it to "dailymile dozen eleven."

Race Day
Starting line for the race. 
We drove in formation to the starting line. The organizers of the race aim to minimize the number of volunteers that are required to make the race run smoothly, so all of the teams are assigned a specific starting time. Our start time was 0930. There were other teams with much slower average paces that had to start as early as 0600.  There were other teams with much faster paces than us with a much later start time that day, starting as late as 1330.   As we arrived at the starting line, many of the other teams were wearing team uniforms. Some wacky, some ho-hum. For some reason, we didn't think to wear our uniforms at the start line, thinking that instead we would only wear them at the end of the run.

There was a safety briefing, basically telling us to run against the traffic and always wear the reflective vests, and don't run outside when there is a lightning storm. There was also a safety check-in, where we had to present the headlamps, tail lights, and enough reflective vests for everybody on the team, proving that we were correctly-equipped for the race.  Ragnar issued us two reflective flags for use when crossing the street at night.

We headed over to the start line about ten minutes before race time.  My stomach was in knots. For reasons that I never can understand, I always get a little nervous before a race.  Fellow Skyline Soaring Club member and former student (now private pilot) Carlos was our first runner.  I was to take over the running job at exchange #1, 4.9 miles later. After his on-time start, our team headed over to the first exchange, where I was to take over the running duty.

Van #2 hanging out. Van #1 should
have done a picture like this. 
The other 5 team members, who were in van #2, headed out for a nice breakfast. They had about 5 hours until it was their turn to take over the running duties, so they were relaxing and taking it easy.  Here they are, looking relaxed. Unfortunately, they were one man down, since we had a last minute cancellation. Since there were 5 runners instead of six, three of those runners had to take an extra running leg at some point during the race.

While waiting for Carlos to show up for the first exchange, there was a runner who came in with an escort. She wasn't running particularly fast, but got to the exchange point with a very emotional state. The whole team was there to greet her, one of whom was carrying a dozen white roses. The pretty blonde lady got to the exchange point, and they all hugged, and cried, and clapped, and walked off to their van.

Where are they going? Why are they just walking away? How come there wasn't a runner taking over? All of us at the exchange could not understand or imagine what was going on. I did some Internet sleuthing and later found this link, posted from last year:

And this link, explaining it all, for this year:

First Run
Out of the chute at Exchange #1
I got my exchange and headed out. I forgot to start my GPS watch until I was about a quarter-mile down the road. I started it up while running, and as the GPS started seeing satellites, finally gave me an initial impression of my running velocity. It reported I was running at a 3 minute per mile pace.  I know I was excited and running quickly, but I had no idea I could run this kind of speed.  Without slowing down, the GPS watch started settling in for a 10 minute per mile pace.  That's more like it!

I started off my run with two miles uphill. I quickly transitioned from flat-land pace of 10:30 minutes per mile, and slowed down to 12 or 13 minutes per mile, as the hill got steeper.  Carlos left me in a good position, passing many runners on his leg. However, with my slow hill-climbing mode, much resembling that of a Winnebago, other runners started to pass me.  They would cheerfully announce, "You're doing great!" as the flit by with no effort.  I was suffering. My heart rate was maxed.  This Winnebago was at maximum throttle, maximum RPM, in the hill-climbing gear, while these little sports cars were effortlessly climbing by.  How can you tell me I'm doing great?  You should tell me, "pick it up, cupcake!" or "I see you spent too much time eating donuts and not enough time training for hills, you fat-ass!" That would have motivated me better, I think.

Wiped out!
After two miles of continuous uphill, and 500 feet of climb later, I found the top of the run.  There was a water station that I did not use, and I took a brief moment walk to catch my breath and get my heart rate back down into the 90% range.

The only thing I can do quickly for running is down hill.  I've learned to just "let go" on the downhill legs, and run much more quickly than I normally do. After mile 2, I had a mile split time of 8:51, with the best velocity at 6:41/mile for a short time.  It started to rain slightly, and got heavier throughout my run. This was welcome for me, meaning I was not likely to overheat on my run.

After the descent from the mountain, the remaining two miles were more or less flat, or nearly so.  There was a brief moment when the lack of  a sign had me question as to whether I was to go straight or turn.  Earlier in the week, Ragnar had provided all of the map courses in GPX format, suitable for uploading to my Garmin. Once the course is loaded, the Garmin could tell me when to turn, when to go straight, and other necessary instructions. I never got around to uploading the course to my watch. At this moment of indecision (which I used as a chance to catch my breath), I really could have used the directions.  I remembered, "If there is no sign, that means 'go straight'", so I continued on that road.

RE-HYDRATE! And get these shoes off of me!
A stray dog joined several of the runners. Although quite friendly, the dog had no sense of traffic rules, and would jump out in front of cars, run into the street, cause cars to come to a screeching halt. I was running so hard for so long, that I think I actually started to hallucinate a bit -- dazed from the hard running that I was spaced out a bit.  I got to the exchange, and handed off the baton to Andy.  The baton is not actually a baton like what is used in the Olympics, or at track and field events.  It is more of a slap bracelet.

After stopping, I immediately took off my shoes and drank lots of water very quickly. Teammate Mike said it looked like I took off the shoes because they were on fire. I don't run with regular shoes very often, but ran with shoes called The Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove.  These shoes don't have any (or much) heel-drop, arch support, or cushioning, but don't have the toe-pockets that my VFFs do.  While running, they did wear out the bit of skin on my left achilles tendon, and they really needed to come off, once I was done with my run.

I don't think I've ever put that kind of effort into a run before.  My average pace was 10:57 minutes per mile, but considering that monster of a hill and how many people passed me, I'm quite proud of my achievement, especially since Ragnar listed my course as "Very Hard."

Drive, Wait, Drive, Repeat
Andy, looking awesome, as usual
Andy (pictured right) headed out with great velocity after the baton exchange. He's an excellent runner who volunteered for the toughest leg in the race. Leg #3 is titled "What the Hill!?" and labeled with a difficulty of "Are you serious!?". It featured a total elevation climb of 1194 feet, topping out at the towering height of 1732 feet. Runners who survive the dreaded #3 leg get a special gift after completing their run: a large Ragnar belt-buckle!

The top of this hill was soaked deep from several days of raining. It's also gnat season.  I could tell that many people are not used to being outside where gnats reside and fly into people's faces. Some people swatted at the gnats furiously, and others, like me -- just let the gnats go where they wanted.  One unlucky runner, who was dripping with sweat from his climb up this monster mountain, while running through a cloud of gnats, was sporting the "glued gnat" look (you really have to follow that link to see what I mean).

Eric, leaving Exchange #3
Andy did an amazing run, so amazing that another runner came up to him to congratulate him, "I tried as hard as I could to reel you in, but you were too fast." Eric (pictured right) took the baton from Andy and set out on his course, listed by Ragnar as "hard."

The next exchange was also at the top of a hill, with gnats flying all around, and our van plowed into a muddy, sloppy exchange #3. Eric came in, and handed off to Paul. Andy opened a bag of Doritos, and shared the bag around.

We gathered ourselves back into the van and headed to the next exchange, where Paul was to hand off to our sixth runner, Mike. The next exchange, exchange #6 is where we were to hand off to the resting members of van #2.  Exchange #6 has to have an especially large parking lot to accommodate all of the participants from both vans.  It also was quite muddy and several vans got stuck. While we were waiting for Mike to show up, I served up myself a PB&J sandwich that Ragnar provided.  I also got these cool panorama shots:

Mike showed up on-time, handed the baton off to Dave, who was running this as a replacement for our missing man, and headed off on his "Very Hard" leg.  After Dave headed off, we looked for something to do.  Van #2 spent some time at the Subway in Hanover, MD, so this seemed like a good idea to us. too.

It was a short drive, and it was clear that we were not the only Ragnar runners there. I met a van #2 of runners whose counterparts had met epic calamity.  The team "I should have trained for this!!!" drove up from Richmond on the morning of the race. They were already tired from the long drive, having left the Richmond at 0400.  Their first runner got lost, and showed up 20 minutes late to the exchange.  Their van broke down, and they had to find a replacement van to drive them around.  During all of their hardships, they were two hours behind their projected arrival at exchange #6.  The members of van #2 for that team were still waiting to get their first run in, even though they started 30 minutes before us.

The staff at Subway were completely unprepared for the deluge of Ragnar runners. It must have taken 30 minutes to get to the front of the line to order my sandwich.  One of the ladies behind the counter was desperately making phone calls, trying to get somebody to deliver bread, to get somebody to show up and help out all of these patient customers.

We left Subway for Exchange point #12, where we would get the hand-off from our van #2 team members.  Exchange point #12 was Clear Spring Middle School, in Clear Spring, MD, which had been opened up to Ragnar runners. They sold showers for a dollar, and also sold a spaghetti dinner for six.  The gymnasium was made available to us to sack out for a nap, and runners were littered around the floor like the middle school was a refugee camp from some sort of natural disaster.   I brought my sleeping bag to the gym, and tried to get some sleep. I dozed, but was awoken by some people walking by with conversational tones not appropriate for the sleeping gym, and by my neighbor with really bad gas.  Ugh!  It wasn't especially late, so it's not surprising that I didn't get any sleep.

It was definitely after nightfall before the van #2 team member came in with the baton, handing off to Carlos.  The night had fallen, and the fog had set in.

My Second Run
One of those things that was mentioned during the safety briefing was that only one exchange point hosted no porta-potties... so plan ahead!  Unfortunately, there was no alarm bell in my brain that notified me that this was my exchange for my second run.  I sloshed on my second run.  Not completely-full-slosh, but I really could have used the pit-stop before hand.  Any runners caught relieving themselves anywhere on the course meant that the team could be disqualified. So like I said, I sloshed. I sloshed in the dark. It was pitch black out there, and there were no street lights.  The fog had set in, and my head lamp was only lighting up the micro-sized droplets of water suspended in the air.

The first part of my leg was slight downhill, and I managed to crack out my first mile at a 9:02 pace. As the terrain flattened out, I settled into the 10's.  Without any scenery going by, there wasn't much to look at. I don't run with a personal music device, so this was actually kind of a boring run.  All I could do was run, occasionally check the watch for my pace, run some more, make sure I was on the white line on the left side of the road. It was so dark I could not watch out for pot holes in the road, or I would have had to really slow down.  Besides, the head lamp was only lighting up the mist in front of my face, and could not sufficiently shine the ground in front of me.  I just had to go and hope for the best.

The final part of my run was into the town of Williamsport. The fog was not settled in the town, and I could see the bar patrons watching the runners go by as they enjoyed their sweet, delicious beers.  I did not bring any water along for my short 4.5 mile run, and didn't really need it anyway.

As I approached the exchange point, I heard a runner coming up behind me. I had been passed several times along this leg, but I was not going to let this guy pass me.  The final part of my run includes a right turn, starting from the left side of the road.  The dude who was trying to pass me started running on the right side of the road about 100 yards before the right turn (he was not supposed to do this), and by doing so, avoided the oncoming traffic that I had to stop for, because I was crossing the intersection properly.

Drive, Wait, Drive, Repeat [Again]
I handed off the baton to Andy, who tore up his leg.  These legs were much shorter and easier than our first legs, so there was less waiting between our running legs.  When Mike finished his second run, he handed the baton off to Jason, who was acting as a replacement runner for our missing runner #1.  This exchange point was the South Mountain Creamery in Maryland.  It smelled like a dairy farm.  This was because it is a dairy farm.

On the menu we have:
meat, meat, meat, fried meat
and a side of  more meat.
Much like exchange #6, the exchange was much larger than the smaller one-van exchanges along the running route. It had to be large enough to accommodate vans from both teams, and also large enough to allow some vans to hang around at this exchange for a few hours, and eat some food, that was provided by the Creamery (pictured right). I was not interested in eating anything, since there were simply no vegetarian options there, and a very long line to get to the non-vegetarian options. The menu was meat, meat, meat with sides of meat followed by greasy meat nuggets along with some more meat.  Well, that's what I read, anyway.

Instead, I went into the little store where they sold ice cream, and tried to avoid looking at the freezers full of meat cuts.  (For a good laugh, you should see me at the meats section of the grocery store, when my wife forces me to buy some sort of animal corpses for her consumption).  I waited in a very long line for a coconut ice cream cone that I later found out contained almonds. Maybe I should have gotten the hint when the coconut ice cream was named "Coconut Joy."  I am not very smart about these things.  I spat out the almonds, and enjoyed the coconut ice cream anyway.

We had a brief time where we could hang out with the van #2 runners, but they had to set out to the next exchange, and could not spend a lot of time with us. The members of van #2 soon set out to their next exchange point, and we collected ourselves to the van.  It was around 0130 or 0200, I am not sure, exactly.  I wasn't looking at my watch and it wouldn't have mattered much anyway.

Campers in the field of thorny ivy at
Montgomery County Model Airpark
Our van #1 set to exchange #24, at the Montgomery County Model Airpark (not to be confused with the Montgomery Airpark).  This was a small field that hosted a runway for model airplanes.  To the north of the R/C airplane field was taken over by Ragnar.  We got in, while I was sleeping pretty soundly in the back seat of our 12 passenger van. I had the bench to myself.

We had 5 hours until the next van would pass the baton to us, so we had a chance to get a little bit of sleep.  I borrowed a bamboo mat from Mike, unpacked my sleeping bag, and found a nice flat spot to set up my sleeping area (pictured right, after the sunrise).  I did not pack a tent, but since it had stopped raining, I wasn't worried much about rain. I sacked out and got some good sleep.  I woke up a few times, once because there was a tow truck towing out a disabled van, another few times because a mosquito decided it wanted to land inside my ear (boy that will wake you up!)  I finally woke up when one particularly loud member of the "High Cloud Dream Team" spoke much too loudly for the environment. I shushed him a few times to STFU, but he didn't get the point.  I was giving that dude dirty looks for the rest of the race. I bet he had no idea what my problem was.  Next time, I pack ear plugs.  They might not be good enough for loud jackass High Cloud Dream Team members, but at the very least, they will keep out the mosquitoes.
Ragnar tattoo and blood:
perfect together!

I woke to a nice sunrise, with only some high clouds to help the sunrise look more spectacular.  As I was walking around in the weedy field, I got tripped up on a vine, which had these tiny thorns that raked across my skin, giving me a nasty, but cool-looking set of scratches.  They were especially cool-looking because they were right under my Ragnar Relay temporary tattoo on my right leg.

The traffic getting out of the Montgomery County Model Airpark was terrible, and since Carlos was taking over his run for a very short leg, with his very speedy legs, we decided to abandon him to wait for Marta, who was finishing leg #24.  We set off to the next leg, where we waited patiently for Carlos to show up. It was a beautiful morning by then, and it was nice to be out of the rain for a change. We took these moments to snap a cool pic of me standing next to the exchange sign.

My Third [and Final] Ragnar Leg
Ready to run my final leg
Carlos approached the exchange looking really stong. He had run an 8 minute mile on his first set, a seven minute mile on his second, and was shooting for six something on his third. I don't know if he got it or not. That worn-out area on my left Achilles tendon was unacceptable by now, and I was spending a lot of time barefoot, or wearing my backup shoes, the VFF KSO Treks.

Unlike the previous legs, this was completely civilized suburbia. I had not really planned out this leg very carefully, or I would have known that this was quite suitable for barefoot (skin-on-pavement) running.  With my previous two runs being done at 103% capacity, spotty-interrupted sleep in a sleeping bag in a field with an aggressive mosquito with an ear fetish, I was really beat down by this third run, and I didn't have much running gusto left in me.  I set out for a satisfactory first mile, but slowed down after that, with a long slow hill for the second half of the run.

I got passed a few times on the first part of my run, but wasn't too worried about it.  I hadn't picked off a kill yet.  The problem with running in a van with such elite runners like who were running in van #1 is that all of the other teams get left behind, and eventually catch up while it's my turn. Well, that's what I tell myself, anyway.  It was down to one mile left on my run, and I see a runner off in the distance.  After I crest a second hill, I notice that this runner is closer.  I wonder if she's running Ragnar.

Finishing strong.
When I found Andy had taken my
picture, I said, "Gosh I hope I wasn't
heel striking in that picture!"
I crest the third small hill, and she's definitely closer now. Oh! I got HER! I picked up the pace to as much as I could manage. I imagined myself with a 9 minute pace, but it was probably more like 11.  Doesn't matter, I was catching up.  I gave it everything I had, and passed her, as she was running with, and talking to a stranger, explaining how this Ragnar race works. I was using too much to pass her, so I couldn't return the favor of saying "You're doing great!" I just tapped her on the shoulder and gave the thumbs up sign.  ... and kept going.

Since this run was in "civilized suburbia", there were some of the challenges of street running. This race requires the runners to obey traffic signals, and not to go darting in front of traffic. Unfortunately, there were a few places on this run that required me to wait for a traffic light to cross the street.  That is why there are a few stops in my run.  There was one final intersection to cross before the exchange, and I sprinted to my finish, handed off the baton to Andy, and collapsed with exhaustion in the grass next to the exchange point.  Sprawling out in the grass was an incredibly welcome feeling.  Of course, the shoes came off instantly.

Drive Wait Drive... Run?
At one of the stops, I saw what looked like a clown car full of runners get out of a minivan that was maximally packed.  This petite young lady contorts herself to get out of the back row of seats. "Looks crowded!" I tell her.  She instantly complains about how this was not the van they were supposed to be using, but instead, a van that they had to borrow due to a mechanical failure.

Waitaminute... What was your team name?  "I should have trained for this!!"

Runner #1 telling me her navigational
difficulties on the first leg. 
"OH HEY! I met your van 2 friends back in Hanover, MD.  Cool!   You guys have faced all kind of calamity and adversity! Are you the one who got lost?!" I excited blurted.

"Um. ... it was me" she said.   Jeez, I felt like an ass. She went on to tell me about how she missed the turn, or turned when she was supposed to go straight on the first leg of the race.  After 20 minutes, runners from the team came back to look for her, but she found her way to the bridge at the end of the run.

Since this was another short leg with a fast runner, we had to pile back into the van and head off to pick up Paul.  I told the rest of the van mates about how we found team calamity that we ran into back after exchange #6.  Carlos replied that the first leg was quite difficult to navigate, and getting lost was completely understandable.

This was our last set of exchanges for van #1, so as Mike finished out his run, we were waiting near the border between Washington DC and Maryland, not far from Bethesda.  There was some drama as the Susan G Komen charity walk was going on at the same time. Some of the signs for the Ragnar had been stolen, misplaced, or misappropriated causing some of the Ragnar runners to get lost.  Mike had to take a map with him; the exchange officer wouldn't let runners go without one.

We met up with Van 2 at the final 2 van exchange point, and we waited for a longer period than we were expecting.  Mike had a long run to do, and with the unease of the missing signs, we were starting to get worried about his lateness. I could no longer tolerate wearing shoes, so I was unshod at this point when Carlos suggested we run up the street to escort Mike in if he shows up, or go looking for him if he doesn't.  Carlos was wearing flip-flops and took them off to run barefoot with me.

Taking it to the house with Mike, Marta
Carlos (way back there), and me.
I was really quite worn out, and a little bit of running did loosen things up. At the top of the hill, we finally saw Mike coming down to the exchange. Carlos and I escorted him to the exchange, where Marta was waiting for the baton.  Mike had managed to get up some speed, and was running a good clip toward that end-point.

He was late because of traffic, had misjudged how much fuel he needed to bring along with him, and ... maybe he was a bit tired, too.  I'm just glad he didn't get lost!

As I was walking back to the van, somebody recognized me (this is rare, nobody recognizes me). It turns out that the dude who recognized me did the basement finishing in our house about 8 or 9 years ago.  Amazing, since nobody ever remembers me, much less from such a long time ago.  "Why are you here?" Ahh, my wife is running.  I looked over to the wife.  "I'm sure you've seen me running around."

She couldn't place me.  We both live in South Riding, but it wasn't clicking.  I pointed to my bare feet: I'm that crazy barefoot runner guy.

"OH YEAH! I see you running all the time!"  Yeah, that's more like it.  Her friends start asking the typical first 15 questions barefooters hear all the time.

I proudly exclaim, "I've stepped on: nails, bolts, pebbles, gravel, rocks, glass... And NEVER got cut!" yeah, I'm kick-ass. This is totally true. "YEOOOOOW WHAT THE HELL!" I look down to my left foot that now hurts like the dickens.  At that very moment of me crowing about how nothing can penetrate the awesomeness of my feet, I stepped on a bee or a wasp or some sort of yellow and black striped insect, that managed to sting me between my big toe and second toe.

Of course, my audience was amused, first thinking that I stepped on a pebble or a stone or something.  Serves me right. Pride goeth before the fall, right?  W

As the van #2 gang headed off to the next point to catch up with Marta, we just hung around for a while, talking, chatting, while Mike shotgunned a can of PBR (while nobody was looking) ...including the video camera that was supposed to record this shotgunning event, but the cinematographer pressed the wrong button, or pressed the right button twice.  Nobody will know. "I have to rehydrate!" Mike insisted. Well, what's the harm. We were done running.

Finish Line National Harbor, MD
We had to wait around for the runners in van #2 to close out the race.  We got our special running singlets on, and went in search of some beer near the finish line.  Thankfully, we found some. I had a Blue Moon. Mike was looking for a PBR, but they didn't sell them at the restaurant at the finish line.
Hanging out with beer at the finish line.  Mike, Piet, Andy and Paul

We waited for the rest of van #2's team show up, so we could all meet Marta and run to the finish line together. We managed to contain our need to rehydrate, and had only one beer before van #2 showed up. We did have an entertaining show to watch, though.  Oktoberfest was being celebrated next door to the Ragnar Relay finish line. There were local pretty girls hired to wear German authentic Biergarten outfits and sit there and look cute. They didn't speak German, though.  So this was terribly disappointing for me.  We were also entertained by some hoodlum who tried to break into the Oktoberfest without paying.  The security guards were roughing him up pretty good, but not good enough to actually subdue the guy quickly. It must have taken them 10 minutes to finally cuff the guy. 

Finally, van #2 showed up. We waited for Marta only a little bit longer.  We all ran to the finish line together.  These final 100 yards of running were BY FAR the most difficult and painful miles I had run in the whole race.  After sitting around for a while, sipping beer, my legs had gone into repair mode, and were not interested in doing any more running.  Thank goodness it was only another 100 yards! 

Here's the bling! It also serves as a bottle opener.
We all received medals and posed for an official photo. The medals are the biggest medal I've seen from a race. An added feature is that the medal also serves as a bottle opener! (hey neat!) After all that, we sat around and ate way too much pizza, and finally, Mike got his PBR. (They actually served PBR.  I can't believe it!).

It's only a month away before my marathon. It would be absolutely insane of me to do another one of these, especially only 2 weeks before the marathon.  But I'm doing just that.  I signed up for the Ragnar Pennsylvania coming up just a week from now.  Insane, crazy or stupid.  I'm not sure which.  I'm looking forward to that Ragnar Double Header bling.  I signed up to run with a group of people I don't even know, with a team named "No Joke".  Yeah.  No Joke.   Seriously!  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Upcoming: Ragnar Relay

I'll be taking off Thursday and Friday this weekend to go on a Ragnar Relay Run.  This is a different kind of race than your typical 10k or half-marathon.

I will be teaming up with 10 of my DailyMile friends (some of whom I have not yet met) to complete a 200 mile course over a day and a half.  Personally, I'll be running 15 miles total, over three separate running legs. All of this could change at the last minute, but currently I'm planning on the following legs. My first leg will start at the Rocky Gap State park, and will immediately set out to a long climb of 500 feet over 2 miles.

View Ragnar Relay in a larger map

After a 500 foot climb, I'll settle into a 700 foot descent over 3 miles, which is just what I like. I'm pretty good at running downhill.  For my second leg, I'll be doing a short 4.5 miler over flat terrain, ending in the small town of Williamsport, MD. 

View Ragnar Relay in a larger map

My third and final leg will be another relatively short one, this one starting south of Germantown, and ending south of Gaithersburg.  The final run will be 4.23 miles. 

View Ragnar Relay in a larger map

It's only 38 days until the Marine Corps Marathon, and I'm quite ready for this.  I ran my 20 mile run last week, starting at Route 28, and ending at Purcellville.  I did the first half of my run barefoot, 10.4 miles.  After the pavement got rather rough in Leesburg, my feet asked for me to put on some protection, so I put on my VFFs for the remaining ten miles.  Barring some sort of injury, I should be able to do it without too much difficulty this year.  My only goal is to break that awful 6:18 time I got last year. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fast-ish, from time-to-time

I am not what anybody would call a fast runner.  I generally don't run faster than a 12 minute mile.  When I am just out there to see the scenery and make the miles go by, I usually settle into a slower than 12 minute mile pace.  For a long run, I usually average even slower.

But that doesn't mean I'm not capable of running faster than that. It's just not what I focus on.  I've recently been trying out something called a Maximum Aerobic Threshold run.  The idea for this is to get the body used to running with fat-as-fuel instead of using glycogen. The way to do this is to SLOW DOWN to a painfully-slow pace.  The best way to approximate this slow pace is to breathe through your nose while running.  When I do this, I usually slow down to an embarrassingly slow 15 minute mile.

The good news is that I can do this pace all day long, provided I have the patience for it. The bad news is that if I were to run any races at this pace, I'd be kicked off the course.  The good news is that I don't run races at this pace, I train at this pace.  Probably the hardest part about this is keeping the runner's ego away.

One of the benefits of this, is after a few weeks of running like this, you can get better endurance for the races.  I decided to run 3 miles as fast as I could: Trying to break my 3 miles in 30 minutes barrier that I have never broken before.

I headed out with my new running shoes, the Merrell Barefoot, and ran as hard as I could for the whole 3 miles.  Average pace 9:03, best pace 07:22 (for just a few moments).  That was fun, but I won't do it that much more until after the marathon is over with.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Running my Switzerland TDY

So finally, I get a business trip to return to Switzerland.  I haven't seen Switzerland since July of 2009.  In case you might remember, I spent my last two weeks living in a tent at the flying club's "SaanenLager" (camping at Saanen).  Here's the story, if you didn't know: .

I returned on the 25th of July, and wondered if my ability to understand Bernese German had faded, or if I could still make out what the Swiss were saying.  Due to work, I wasn't able to make it to Bern until the 30th of July, when I decided to spend the day running along the Aare valley.

But that's not what I wanted to write about quite yet...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Translation Needed

Back around 1992 or so, I was visiting my grandmother in Austin, TX.  Their next-door neighbor, Mr. Zahner, gave me this nice Japanese calligraphy in a rolled up poster tube.  Along with the calligraphy was a translation, including a bit of history of the original meaning of the words.

Unfortunately, when my wife or my mother took it to get it framed as a Christmas present, the original translation slip was lost forever.  There's no telling what happened to it. >:(

So, does anybody out there know:

  1. if it's upside down or right side up? (I hope it's right side up.  Although I took Japanese for 2 years, I don't really recognize any of the characters, and they never taught me how to read the cursive Kanji). 
  2. What the meaning of this? 
  3. Do you have any history about it?  Like who originally said it? 
I'd really appreciate anybody with anything to say about this. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Marine Corps Run Amuck!

I had asked Cecilia if she had any interest in running the Marine Corps Run Amuck race with me.  I had seen signs for it at the half marathon that I had run earlier in the month.   Cecilia agreed.

The Run Amuck race is a 3.5-4 mile race, where runners go through an obstacle course in the forest outside of Quantico Base, in Virginia. As a part of this course, runners must slosh through mud puddles, muddy pits of water, and climb a very steep muddy hill with no traction at the end of the race.

Cecilia, Stacy and I spent the night in a hotel nearby, on the night before, and set out early for our race time, starting at 8:55.   Since there were 2300 participants, there is no way the race would be any fun if all 3000 participants left at the same time.  So they set up 30 waves of runners, each about 80-100 runners, running out every 10 minutes. Since we were such late registrants, we were in wave 28.

Since we had arrived early, we had time to sit around and look at the other runners. I was thoroughly AMAZED at how many other runners out there were wearing VFFs.  The last time I showed up at this race track (Butler Field) in Quantico was for the Marine Corps Run2Register 10K, back in March 2010.  I was one of two people wearing VFFs in that race, with a similar number of runners.  This race must have had 40 runners wearing VFFs of some sort.

In order to train for this event, Cecilia was already able to run 3 miles, having done so at school recently, during an event called the "Fun Run" I can't imagine running 3 miles as a kid, and calling it fun, but she did, and she also seemed to find it to be fun.  We purchased her first pair of VFF shoes, so she could run like me at the race.

As we got started, Cecilia and I kept to a very slow pace.  I can't tell you how slow, because I left the GPS watch at home.  There was no way I was going to get the GPS watch filled with mud that was never going to be able to be removed!  Since Cecilia isn't much of a runner, she was suffering as we were going up the first big hill to the beginning of the obstacles.  She would stop every quarter mile or so, and I would stop, turn around, and encourage her to start running again.

By the time we got to the top of the first hill, I didn't have to encourage her to run anymore, she was going full-speed -- running head-long into the first obstacle:  A huge pit recently dug out with a bulldozer, and filled with mucky, brown water.  Cecilia splashed and frolicked.  I had to remind her this was a race, and not a swimming hole.

Through the course was quite hilly, with many ups and downs through the forest.  We came upon a set of tire obstacles, where the runners had to place their feet in the tire holes, while moving along (just like you see in all of those football movies).  There was a pair of tunnels, where the runners had to crawl through.  Following the tunnels was a barbed wire obstacle. Well, it wasn't REALLY barbed wire, but a bunch of string at waist level, that you had to crawl under.  I would suppose that the lowest strings had been knocked down by the prior 2200 contestants, as it didn't seem like much of an obstacle to me.

There was a wall that the runners had to climb over, and land into a pile of hay.  This is where Cecilia left me behind.  She was about 30 meters in front of me, and never looked back.   As we approached the final obstacle -- The Muddy Hill of DOOM!  I had completely lost her.

The muddy hill of doom was a wasteland of people who don't know how to climb up a muddy hill.  Although it was quite a steep hill, seemingly at a 30 degree angle or more, most participants were going up this hill on all fours.  The previous 2200 participants may have knocked down the pseudo-barbed wire obstacle, making it easier for us to go through that one, but the same 2200 participants had also climbed this muddy hill of doom with wet feet, making this hill even more difficult and slippery.

Since I was wearing my Vibram Five Finger Treks, I had a lot of traction.  The extra traction of the toes really dug into the muddy hill side.  I found no need to use my hands at all, as I used the traction on the bottom of my shoes, in conjunction with my toes like crampons digging into the hillside. I left many runners... er... climbers behind as I triumphantly reached the top of the hill.  I didn't pay much attention to the other participants as I was climbing, but since I did it so quickly, I was sure that I had passed Cecilia.

I waited for a good 30 seconds, waiting for her to catch up.  I gave up and started running to the finish line.

My feet were filled with mud.  The mud had seeped in all over, and running with that much friction was no longer fun.  Since I'm quite the experienced barefoot runner now, I took off the VFFs, and ran barefoot to the finish line.   It was all downhill, and I have learned how to run downhill quite effectively.   I passed many runners, and wonder just how fast I was running on this part of the race.   There was a fire-truck shooting water down on participants, who were just standing there in the water.  I had no time for it, so I just kept running. 

I sprinted toward the finish line.  Stacy was waiting for me.  "Cecilia finished ahead of you" she said. I knew Cecilia would never let me forget about this -- she beat me at her first race.

Race Results: Cecilia  /  Piet


Age: 11 Gender: F
Clock Time1:55:00
Chip Time48:51
Overall Place1497 / 2353
Division Place51 / 108


Age: 38 Gender: M

Clock Time1:56:00
Chip Time49:53
Overall Place1579 / 2353
Division Place109 / 133

Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

The Night Before
When I first signed up for the race, I decided to go to the special pre-event dinner, held at the Bluemont Vineyard in Bluemont, Virginia. Stacy isn't a wine drinker, and I'm not much of one, either.  We showed up on time, and enjoyed the beautiful view of Loudoun county, as seen from the mountains over Bluemont.  We could see all the way to Brambleton from the winery.

After eating a nice buffet dinner, with two glasses of red wine (I enjoyed the wine), we got a tour of the winery, which is still quite small. I tried not to eat too much, and I also tried not to drink too much.  We didn't want to be out too late, I had an important function on the next day, after all!

Just as Stacy and I were about to leave, they started having speakers tell us about the decision to have a Destination Races event in Loudoun County.  There also was a representative from the Virginia board of tourism telling us a lot about the history of this new form of agriculture in Virginia.

Race Day
I woke up at the very uncivilized time of 0430. The drive was in the dark, and without a GPS, I took a few wrong turns.  I arrived at the Doukenie Winery parking lot at 0540. My two DailyMile running buds Ray and Stu saw me drive in as they were waiting in line for the shuttle bus.

I am pretty bad about figuring out how early to wake up, in order to get to a race on time. It's a good thing that Ray sent an email earlier saying what time he would be there, because I was going to show up later than 0540. If I had followed my original poor plan, it would have been a disaster! A few minutes after my 0540 arrival, there were traffic jams leading into all of the roads leading into Breaux Winery, where the race was starting. Eventually, the traffic jams were so choking, that the race's start time was delayed by 30 minutes. This was the inaugural race, so I expected there to be some rough edges. Parking is usually the first rough edge that makes everybody unhappy.  

Earlier in the week, it was brutally hot and humid, around 90F with very high humidity.  I had never seen 100 degree days in early June, and was sure that the race was going to be ruined by the brutally hot weather.  Thankfully, the weather broke and got cool starting on Wednesday afternoon. However, this cold weather was unwelcome as I stood in line around at 0600 waiting for the next shuttle bus to take me to the start line.  I actually was shivering, just like everybody else who was in line.  I managed to get the last seat on my shuttle bus.

I met Ray and Stu at the gear drop-off area, and lost track of them when I went to the porta-potties one-last-time before the gun went off. Met some nice people in the 2:40 pace area before the race started; one of whom wrote the  Virginia Wine Dogs Blog. They visit all of the wineries in VA, and this was her first half marathon.

The Race Starts
I started the race behind the 2:30 finish-time pace people, and caught up to them at mile 2, and hung with them for 7 miles. I had made a miscalculation for what speed I had to run to make a 2:30 finish, and incorrectly calculated the time to be 11:44 minutes per mile, instead of 11:22 minutes per mile.  After around mile 8, it was my mistaken impression that they were not acting like 2:30 finishers, but more like 2:20 finishers. As they passed me, and ran off further and further off into the distance, my calculations were insisting that I was still 3 minutes ahead of my 2:30 virtual partner.

There was some heinous gravel down around mile 8, which I managed to keep pace on for more than a mile but less than 2 miles. Runner after runner would come up to me and ask, "how are those feet holding up?" Not too bad!  It was not nearly as bad as I had thought it would be.  After seeing that gravel, I'm glad I didn't decide to run this race barefoot, for sure.  The good thing about running on the gravel part of the race (at the bottom part of the U shape on the course), is that it was under the shade of trees.  What little sunlight there was was covered by the trees, and kept the area cool.

After mile 10, we came out from under the shade of the trees.  Things were starting to get hot, as the sun beat down on us from the east. The race diverted all northbound traffic on route 690, and those who had gotten to be on route 690 southbound were stopped in dead-stop traffic. As we ran by, those who were stuck in their cars were looking very irritated.  I tried to cheer them up, and in by doing so, also get the runners around me all pumped up.

I did this by trying to hi-five all of the drivers -- to those who had their windows opened. The crowd of runners around me would erupt into cheer as the high-five connected.  If a driver had the window down and didn't high-five me, all the runners around me would groan "awwwww".

I caught up with Stu just before mile 10, and we shared the apple wine together.  Most races just have Gatorade and water, but this race had some sports drink I've never tried before, called "Heed".  The Heed didn't taste that great, but the apple wine sample I had at mile 10 was was great! I could have used more water, though. The water cups were small, and I sweat a lot.  After running in the hot sun, I was actually stopping at the water stations to get 4 or 5 cups of water.

By mile 12, I was no longer able to keep the 2:30 finish time pace, my virtual partner had eeked out 1 minute ahead of me.  I was running out of steam, and I had no choice but to slow down. I was huffing along at 15 minutes pace with maxed out heart rate through Hillsboro Cemetery. (maybe this was an uphill part). I got to a water station, and stood there, drinking repeatedly. One water after the other.

Cemetery? you might ask.

Why yes. This is a unique race in many ways. How many races have you ever heard of that takes a part of its course through a cemetery!? The race director at the beginning repeatedly insisted, "if you have problems going through the cemetery, you can take the detour and go straight without penalty, but it's a longer trip. "  I think it would have been more dangerous for runners to do that. This part of route 9 wasn't blocked off from traffic, and there was no shoulder to safely run on.

Right after the cemetery, but just before returning to route 690, to continue going north, the traffic cop stopped us runners to let a batch of traffic through on route 9 westbound. Some runners jogged in place.  Some even ran in between the traffic anyway (Scofflaw!) I sat on the guard rail for a minute, as some traffic got let through. I was delayed by almost 45 seconds for the traffic pause.

The last mile was grueling.  I was probably bonking.  I could hardly keep a 14 minute per mile pace as the course got hillier.   The last 0.1 miles was all on the gravel driveway into the Doukenie winery.  I ran very carefully, as I picked my way around the gravel.

I finished ahead of my finish time from the Marine Corps Historic Half, so I got a PR, and that is really all I can ask for. I didn't leave anything on the race course, I used up everything I had.

After I got through the finish line, I had that spaced-out look, to the point that one of the medic tent people asked if I needed any medical help. :( (!) I didn't. I just needed a nap and some water. I crawled up next to the VIP tent, in the shade, on top of an ant hill (that didn't last long), and eventually moved toward the main part of the event, where I took a nap in the shade. I'm pretty good at sleeping anywhere with no bed, no pillow, no support, no blanket or anything. I think I was out for a good half-hour. I was too busy napping to meet other DailyMilers. I didn't taste much wine; since I'm not a drinker I can't tell a good wine from a bad wine, which some people tell me is a nice kind of ignorance to have.

I think there were more runners as a part of "Team Challenge"  There were people from all over the country, and us local yokels were in the minority. Seventy percent of the racers were women. I've never experienced a race with that many women before. It didn't matter much if they were women or men, they all still passed me just the same. Women are generally more likely to be curious and ask about my "weird toe shoes", so if I wasn't napping, somebody was starting a conversation with me. :)

I would recommend this as a good first half marathon; just make sure you show up early. I'd also recommend bringing some wine-drinking friends and a picnic basket. Taste them all, find a bottle you like, buy the bottle, and enjoy the summer picnic with your friends.  Registration for next year's race opens in September 2011.

The race finishers got a very nice medal.  This medal is quite different, because it also doubles as a wine-bottle stopper.  Not that I ever drink much wine, but it's kind of neat anyway.

Along with the medal, the racers also got a very handsome technical running shirt, white with red under-arm trim.

We also got a wine glass, which was to be used for the wine tasting after the race. It will go well with the rest of my wine glasses.

Since I was running without the family showing up, I didn't get many personal photos. I have a few blurry photos from my cell phone camera that didn't come out so well.  The race also took photos along the race course, which are posted here: I didn't purchase any of them, and there's no telling how long the link will continue to work.

Official Race Results / My pathetic split times

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perfect Running Form

People ask me, "how is barefoot running different?", and it's nice to show, instead of describe. Here are two good examples:

I love this video

And this one, too:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

My next race is coming up in the next few weeks. It will be the Virginia Wine Country Half-marathon.  Back in November, some of my DailyMile friends suggested it, and I decided to come along.  The course is downhill overall, and has a mile of gravel in the middle of the course. 

I'm just barely able to do 6 miles on asphalt barefoot, but really no good at going on gravel barefoot.  My first skin-on-pavement race will have to be later.  I don't think this would be a good debut as a barefooter. There are lots of wine-tasting parties after the race, and I think this could be a lot of fun. It's a good thing Stacy is coming along as my designated driver. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

My First Half-Marathon

Since I already did the "big deal" running a full marathon last year, it kind of seems like a non-big-deal to write about a mere half-marathon, doesn't it?  Not to me!

On Monday, I ran 12.2 miles and wondered out loud how I had ever managed to run a full marathon only 6 months prior.  Around Wednesday, I was browsing the Marine Marathon website, and saw that the half, only 4 days away was still available for registration, so I took the plunge.

The cheapskate that I am, I couldn't bear the thought of spending the night in a hotel, so I went to a KOA campgrounds just south of Fredericksburg.   I found the plot to be just big enough for my Ford Escape and my tent, and a small place to set my campfire.   The facility provided firewood for me, and I tried to light up a nice campfire after I got back from a dinner at Noodles and Company.

The fire never lights as easily as Bear Grylls does on Man vs. Wild.  Despite soaking my firewood with lighter fluid and using paper towels as the lighting agent, I just couldn't get the fire to start.  The KOA provides firewood, but doesn't provide any kindling, and I didn't pack my hatchet to chop the firewood into smaller pieces to get the fire started.

After my second failure of lighting a campfire, I was getting killed by mosquitoes, and it started to rain.  Off to the tent I went.  It wasn't much later than 1930, but without anything to do, I turned in early and got to sleep during the ever increasingly powerful thunderstorm.  My neighbors at the KOA were what appeared to be a newlywed couple with their dog, Toby, and a guy with his wife up from Blacksburg visiting the battlefields. I know the dog's name was Toby, because I heard his owners shout, "Toby! Stop barking!" about 8 times.  Dogs hate me.

I slept pretty well, sometimes waking up wondering if the waterproofing job on my tent was going to hold up or not.  When the alarm went off at 0500, and then again at 0510 (I set two separate devices to wake me up), I spent about 20 minutes tearing the tent down and packing it up, in a light rain, in complete darkness.  There turned out to be only a little bit of water at the bottom of the tent, which I think was from condensation, and not a leak.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I parked in the Walmart parking lot with about a third of the other race participants and walked to the event.  I decided at the last moment that the rain jacket would not be necessary, and this was an excellent decision!  I left it in the car with everything else, except for my belt, my bib and my Garmin.

At the starting area, I looked for my friends, but couldn't find any.  At the starting line there was about 10 thousand porta potties, and I managed to find the cleanest one in the lot.  It's a very important part of pre-race preparation, you see.  I took my time, and was interrupted by somebody knocking on my porta-potty door.  Maybe it was too much time.  Glad I got that taken care of before the race!

Everybody packed up to the front of the line as the race was about to start.  Whatever feeling of chill I had before that point went away as everybody standing next to me radiated enough body heat to take the chill out of the air.  I was rather worried that somebody was going to step on my toes, it was so crowded.  There was no water to be found at the starting line, and I hadn't yet drunk any water that morning, so I started off thirsty.  Drew Carey, the special guest at the event, made the leading announcement, and the gun went off at 06:59, first for the wheelchair participants, then again at 0700 for the rest of us.

I get nervous before these races. I have a resting heart rate around 60, but standing at the starting line before the gun went off, I think my heart rate was around 130. Once I got started, I used my GPS watch's function of the "virtual partner" to keep me at a reasonable pace. (Watch the video to see what the virtual partner is) I was shooting for a 2:30 finish time, which would theoretically mean I could run a 5 hour marathon.   By mile 2, I was nearly 3 minutes ahead of my virtual partner, meaning I was really hauling a lot faster than I should have been.

I've recently been reading Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton's book about barefoot running.  And although I was wearing my VFF Sprints for this run, there are a lot of techniques that apply.  One such technique is running downhill, which I had not mastered.  I used to think that since barefoot-style running could not heel strike, that barefooters were at a serious disadvantage going downhill.   Not so!  Just let go of the brakes, and let the hill take you downhill as fast as your legs can comfortably go. 

Each time that a downhill stretch approached, I would leave the pack that I was running with and fly down the hill without having to work at maintaining the speed at all.  I heard one lady say to her runner friend, "ooh! that looks painful!" and I'm sure that if I was wearing thick-heeled shoes like she was, it probably would have been painful to do all that heel striking on the way down.   Instead, I justed used the bouncy tendons in my feet to spring me down ever-so-smoothly.  Neat!

I was chugging along quite nicely ahead of my virtual partner.  After mile 8, he started to gain on me.  I gave up my 2 minute lead, which turned into a 1 minute lead, which looked like a 22 second lead as I walked into a water station.  I tanked up with Gatorade and water, and headed back out, and found myself 48 seconds behind my virtual partner.   I tried to catch up, and managed to catch up after a few minutes, but could no longer maintain the pace, and watched my virtual partner fade off into the distance.

After mile 9, there were no more downhill sections for me to let go of the brakes, and it was all uphill from there.  Between miles 10 and 11 is a 100 foot climb called "Hospital Hill".  It's not named that because running up this hill will send you to the hospital, but simply because that's where the hospital is. I really didn't have a lot of energy left at this part of the run, so I certainly walked a few parts of hospital hill.  I did refuse to walk up the entire hill, though, and managed to run out a significant part of it.

By the last mile, the top of my right foot had started to wear on my shoe, and I had a patch of skin get rubbed through. I actually bled enough to make the blood stain through the top of my shoe. Remember, I don't wear socks with VFFs, so it's not as bad as you can imagine.  I thought about taking off the VFFs and running barefoot to the finish line, but decided that stopping might mean extreme difficulty in getting back up again.

The crowds cheering along the way were really fantastic, but I can see that people cheering probably didn't cheer as much as the people a half-hour in front of us.  There were a lot of people walking at this part of the race, but I refused to spend any more time walking, and ran as much as possible.

I crossed the finish line and had this spaced-out look for a while, as I was given my medal, a bagel, a bottle of water, and some sort of Gatorade pouch with lots of sugary gel inside that I didn't get around to drinking.

I met up with my friends at our designated meeting point, and got in for a group photo. After meeting up with the DM friends, I moseyed over to the beer tent, and got my beer -- Especially delicious after the lost opportunity at the beer tent that I didn't get from the full marathon last October.

Here's my Garmin wristwatch's impression of the race results:

Hey 2100 calories on a morning run. Not bad!

And the official race result's impression of my run: Official Results:


Age: 38 Gender: M
DistanceHALF MAR