Saturday, February 12, 2011

Run Like an Antelope?

I have been trying to hammer out this year’s race schedule since December, but nothing quite fits. There is a dearth of longer trail runs in Michigan, and Marquette, Woodstock, and North Country are all late in the season. Something needs to be done about this, but since I’m currently writing my dissertation, I’m going to wait another year before trying my hand as a race director. In the meantime, the empty calendar has led my eyes to wander farther afield.

Looking at the race calendar on, I noticed the Finger Lakes Fifties will, once again, be held over the 4th of July weekend (July 2nd to be exact). Just then something clicked in my brain: “isn’t that the weekend Phish is playing in Watkins Glen?”

It may be indeed!

A quick search of the web produced this article, confirming a rumor that’s been circulating for a couple of months. It says that “sources close to the situation” report that Phish will be hosting a festival at the Watkins Glen International racetrack over the 4th of July weekend. That’s just 10 miles from the Finger Lakes National Forest and the Finger Lakes Fifties.

If the rumor turns out to be true, it will mean that 250 ultrarunners will have about 70,000 friendly phish fans for company. So pass the salt potatoes because this may be shaping up into a great time for running and music in upstate New York!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

HUFF 50K - 2010 Race Report

The Huntington Ultra Frigid Fifty (HUFF) lived up to its name this year. It was nine degrees (F) when I rolled in to the Kil-So-Quah campground just outside Huntington, Indiana. This race was billed as being “one of the ten largest ultramarathons in North America.” And, indeed, there was a fairly large field of runners as we lined up for the start.

The course is a three loop setup, with three aid stations per loop (including the start/finish area). The morning was clear, sunny, and still as I started out on the first loop around the Huntington reservoir. The course had mile markers, and, just before mile three, we reached the dam holding back the waters of the Wabash River. In the distance I could see the bridge three miles to the southeast that I would be crossing later in the day.

Just down the road from the damn we reached mile four and the first aid station. They had turtles! (chocolate covered candies with caramel and pecans.) Yum!

The course is pretty flat, except for a few places where erosion has cut into the hillside. There the trail dips and then climbs out of a mild ravine. Other than that, it’s even going: wide and smooth with few roots or rocks. Although today the ground was hard packed from the cold and all the folks in front of me, another runner told me that in warm years, the course can be very muddy.

The second aid station comes just before the bridge on the southeast side of the reservoir

The difficult part of this race this year was the cold. The ground was frozen hard, and the hard surface made for increased leg strain. That, coupled with the wide and level trail, made trail running a lot more like road running.

Midway through the second loop, I ran past a pack of hunting beagles. They sounded like a flock of geese. Just after I passed them I heard a loud shot. Apparently the south side of the reservoir is open to hunting this time of year (the north side is a “safety zone”). So, it’s a good idea to wear some orange for this race!

After the second loop, my legs were tired from pounding the frozen ground, but I my energy was otherwise good. I thought about dropping for a minute, but since I’d driven down from Grand Rapids, I figured I would get my money’s worth and finish it up. I walked a bit more at the beginning of the third loop, but then my legs loosened up and trotted through the rest of the distance, passing a number of beat up looking runners in the last few miles. I came through the finish line in 7:27:01.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Marquette Trail 50 miler - 2010 Race Report

Marquette Trail 50 Miler - 2010 Race Report 8/21/10: I rolled into the Tourist Park campground at one in the morning. I had just driven eight hours to Marquette from Grand Rapids. Since the race started at 6:30, I would only be able to sleep for about four hours.

The previous day I had driven 12 hours straight from New York, my rusted Chevy loaded down with my belongings, in a cross country move that would take me from the east coast trail running scene to my old haunts in West Michigan. I was happy to be back in my home state again, but was also exhausted from the drive and the lack of sleep.

As the runners gathered in the pre-dawn light just before the start, I wondered how far I could go. The day was cool, cloudy and threatening rain.

The race is runner’s choice: 50K or 50 miles, but in order to keep going for the 50 miler, you have to make it to the mile 27 aid station by 1 pm. I knew I’d be cutting it close.

Just when it was light enough to see, we started off. The race begins with a loop that’s a little less than two miles. Since this part of the course was unmarked, a cyclist led the pack around the loop before we turned onto the trail system.

Most of the course is single track, but there’s a fair bit of two track jeep road as well.
The soil here is decidedly sandy. I was glad I wore gaiters to keep the sand out of my shoes. It had also rained hard the night before, and this helped keep the sand down.

Unfortunately, the rain had also made a stream overflow across the trail about 5 miles (?) into the race. It was shallow, only a few inches deep, but there was no dry way to cross.

I had left a drop bag with dry shoes and socks in my car, for some reason thinking the course passed by the start at the 50 K mark. In reality, the 50k splits from the 50 miler about four miles from the parking lot. So, my feet would be wet the rest of the day.

The trail wound through the forest. The air smelled clean, of sand and fern and pine.

After awhile, I reached the road and the Sugarloaf aid station. The path wound through rough granite boulders to a staircase. Apparently the local tourist board thought the climb too strenuous and so installed stairs. I trotted up the steps to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain where I was greeted with a 360 panorama of the coastline, now shrouded in rain and mist. I stopped for a moment to take in the fine view.

There was some rock hopping to be done down the backside of Sugarloaf, but mountains in Michigan are not particularly mountainous, so I found it pretty easy.

Soon I emerged onto the lakeshore. Although I spent much of my childhood on the beaches of Michigan, I was still surprised by the beauty of the great lake, Superior.

As the trail neared the beach, I could see breakers rolling in. A cool wind whipped up, and I felt a fine mist of rain on my face.

I was alone on the trail.

The shore was at first gold colored sand lined with enormous boulders of all colors rounded from centuries of crashing waves and grinding ice flows. The water was cold and remarkably clear.

Further along the trail the land dropped sharply to the water’s surface in red granite cliffs stained green in places from veins of copper ore. Marquette is copper country. Among the cliffs were little beaches tucked in so that they could only be reached from the water. I could see the footprints of kayakers.

I ran through a patch of ripe huckleberries and briefly thought about bears. But the woods were open and inviting, and I was not afraid.

The trail turned inland, and I remember flying along at a fast pace. The ground was soft with pine needles and very easy on my legs.

Eventually I came to the “top of the world” loop,” most of which is two track, but with a single track climb to the “top of the world” with views in all directions. Here someone had constructed a small shrine. Propped up against a small rock was a photograph of a woman in running clothes. This was circled with a few flowers and candles and a pair of trail running gaiters.

At the end of the loop the aid station volunteers helpfully told me I would have to hurry to make the 1pm cutoff. I did some quick calculations and thought I could make it, so I picked up the pace

About ¾ of a mile from the next aid, I caught up to another runner and told him he would have to go faster if he intended to make the cutoff. He agreed and we charged through the woods. We made it to the aid station with three minutes to spare.

The volunteers were amused by out cheers at being allowed to continue. We now had to complete a nine mile out and back, then run four additional miles to the finish. The out and back portion is on the “Noque” a two track road which, in the winter, is a cross country ski trail.

The clouds had blown away and, since it was now midday, we were exposed to the sun. I was hot and started to go slower. Parts of the Noque were very runnable, but other parts were overgrown with grass and weeds.

At this point, a second runner caught up to me and we talked for awhile. She had come through the last aid station right behind me, making the cutoff by one minute. I was grateful for the conversation, since it seemed like forever before we reached the turnaround.

After the out and back, there are four miles left to go. The first two miles are rocky and the last two miles are flat and very runnable. After the relatively smooth Noque, the rocky miles can be challenging. At one point I slipped and skinned by elbow on the rough granite. The last two miles I let loose with pent up energy, and came into the finish 12 hours, 13 minutes, and 6 seconds after I started.

Afterward, I showered and changed and drove into town for dinner. I went to the Vierling restaurant and microbrewery, which is known for its Lake Superior whitefish and its fine craft beers. I ordered a pale ale, which was fantastic, dry hopped, and nearly an IPA.

A fine end to a beautiful race.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is distance running an "extreme" sport?

Is distance running an “extreme” sport? - I want to raise the question, is distance running, especially long distance running beyond the marathon distance, an “extreme” sport? With races carrying names like Mountain Masochist, H.U.R.T., Hardrock, the Death Race, Badwater, and Hellgate, it is easy to think so. This way of thinking about distance running is also reflected in the terming of longer than marathon distances as “ultra marathons” or “ultras.”

So what’s so extreme about distance running? In my opinion, not much.

Race director and self-proclaimed “extreme ultra runner” David Horton, insightfully points out that much of this kind of terminology is simply effective marketing. Concerning the naming of races he says:

“Picking a good name is very important. Names like Hardrock, the Death Race, Badwater, Hellgate, and the Masochist, conjure up images of pain and agony and suffering . . . what every runner likes. When we started the Masochist, we had difficulty thinking of the appropriate name. My wife said I should call it the “Masochist” because you all are just a bunch of masochists anyway. She was and is right. Folks that know that I teach at Liberty University, a Christian university, often ask me why I named one on my races, Hellgate. Simple . . . Hellgate starts at the Big Hellgate Parking lot next to Big Hellgate Creek. Names can have an effect on the success of the race.”

If Horton is right that these kinds of race names are effective marketing tools, the question remains: why? Why do at least some runners identify with the image of running as something extreme, painful, or potentially dangerous? One reason is harmless enough: people value achievement. We like accomplishing things, and part of what makes accomplishment valuable is a challenge. People also like to think of themselves as tough, and like to be thought of as tough by others. Again, harmless enough.

Some runners, however, take the imagery of “pain agony and suffering” too seriously. I have been in many races (of both short and longer distances) where I saw runners recklessly pushing themselves beyond their abilities.

This attitude, however, is thankfully the exception rather than the rule.

In contrast to Horton’s claim, most distance runners don’t see themselves as “masochists” or think of running as an “extreme” sport. Most runners think of running as a pleasure and a joy.

When I first started trail running, I would sometimes talk to runners who ran races of 50 or 100 miles or more. When I asked them how they did it, I was surprised by the answer I invariably received: “it’s easy,” they said. I remember thinking “easy! How could running such long distances be easy?” But I was intrigued.

I later discovered they were right. The dirty secret of “extreme ultra running” is that it can be much easier than the marathon. How is that possible? That’s the secret I intend to tell…

1) Surface - Most long distance runs are held over trails rather than roads. Since dirt is softer than asphalt, runners’ feet land with less impact. Also, on roads, each footstrike is the same, which leads to repetitive stress injuries, but since trails are uneven, each footstrike is unique, which spreads the impact stress over a greater area. Trails also generally have more hills than roads, which work runners’ legs and feet differently than the flats, giving muscle groups time to rest.

2) Pace - Long trail runs are covered at a much slower pace than road races. For example, although I race a road marathon (26.2 miles) at around an 8 minute per mile pace, I run a trail 50 miler at about a 15 minute per mile pace. Big difference!

3) Walking - Most trail runners intersperse walking and running. For example, if the course is hilly, a runner might walk the uphills and run the downhills and flats. Peter Gagarin, in A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning, captures this approach to running long distances. He points out that “Marathoners hope to avoid walking, since it is seen as a sign of failure. So the last thing they do is practice walking. Ultrarunners look forward to walking, since it’s seen as a sign of being smart.” He adds that “If you are the macho type who thinks walking is for sissies, well, that’s all right. We need a few people like you to get ahead at the start. Then when you crash and burn at 30 or 40 miles, it will give us a real psychological lift to go cruising by.”

4) Innate endurance - Human beings have greater endurance than we typically think. Compared to other running animals (like cheetahs) we are lousy sprinters, but over long distances we perform remarkably well, and can even outrun other endurance animals (like dogs and horses). Some recent studies suggest that endurance running may have played a role in human evolution. One concluded that, “fossil evidence… suggests that endurance running is a derived capability of the genus Homo, originating about 2 million years ago, and may have been instrumental in the evolution of the human body form.” Because Americans live in a sedentary culture that relies heavily upon technological forms of transportation, we rarely test our endurance potential, but it’s there nevertheless. In places where running is part of the traditional culture (like parts of Kenya and the Sierra Madre in Mexico, for example), running long distances is regarded with much less incredulity.

So that’s all there is to it… The secret of so-called “ultra” running, is that it’s a relaxing way to spend a day on the trail for those of us who find running really enjoyable who want nothing to do with the “pain and suffering” image that is, in my view, too often associated with a great and really fun sport.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Escarpment 30K Trail Run - 2010 Race Report

Escarpment Trail Run 30K – 2010 Race Report: This was my first time running the Escarpment Trail race. Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Reading some of the reports online, the most common adjective used to describe the course is “brutal.” With about 10,000 feet of elevation gain over 30K, that sounded about right.

So I figured, since I was a rookie, I would try to take it easy – walk all the ascents, and try to make some time on the descents and flats. Next year I can try for a faster time.

Fortunately the weather was cooperative. Low 80s and a nice breeze once you get up on the ridge. Not bad given that the day before it had been 93 with high humidity.

The first big climb comes almost right away – up to the top of Windham Peak. The first thing I noticed was the rockiness of the trail. Rocks rocks everywhere! This continued practically the entire way. So, if you’re going to run this one, get some practice running with high knees over obstacle strewn trails.

Midway up Windham, I heard one woman breathlessly ask her friends “are all of the hills this like this?” I think they were afraid to tell her that Windham is the easiest one. Mental note: always research a course before you run it! (Here's a good link for this course).

Once we made it up to the top, there was an amazing cool breeze. You could hear the whole line of runners exclaiming “ahh!” An escarpment is what I would call a ridge, a relatively narrow piece of land connecting several mountain peaks. This one rises up abruptly from the Hudson River, forming the easternmost edge of the Catskill Mountains. The views are spectacular—they continue the entire way—you can see hundreds of miles. Hiking here in the fall or early spring, when the leaves are down would be especially beautiful.

The aid stations here are a feat. Since the course crosses no roads, hikers have to backpack in all of the aid. Dick Vincent, the race director, said there were 75 volunteers supplying the aid stations on the course. Because it has to be hiked in, water is rationed. Some aid stations enforced this more than others. Most runners carry only a single bottle, which is probably enough for most people. Since I tend to drink a lot, this was tough for me. I carried a 1.5 L backpack, which I nearly drained before the first aid station, then kept topping it off with whatever the volunteers could give me. Some aid stations had food while others didn’t. Next time, I’ll carry some of my own to supplement. The volunteers here are amazing, wonderful, and dedicated to the race. I can’t say enough in praise of their efforts.

The next section, down Windham then over Burnt Knob and Acra Point, is not especially difficult. The major problem here, again, is the rocks, which makes it hard to run with any speed, even on the relatively flat sections. In throwing and catching sports, coaches talk about training eye-hand coordination—this kind of running requires eye-foot coordination. Dancing over a rock strewn path and not falling doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me. For this reason most of the race I was running (or hiking) well below my aerobic threshold. My brain simply couldn’t translate the incoming visual information into safe foot placements fast enough to run well over the rocks. I apparently need to do some agility training to make me faster over this kind of terrain.

I chatted with a guy here who told me “this is my first trail race ever.” I thought “gosh that’s stupid,” but said “wow!” Then he added, seemingly to show how tough he was, that he had raced a half marathon the day before. Now that I was sure he was stupid, I stopped for a bathroom break and let him go ahead. “I wonder if I’ll catch him again,” I thought.

By far the hardest part of the course is the ascent up Blackhead. It’s hard effort-wise, but it’s not dangerous. I was scared by the reports I had read that said it involved “rock climbing.” But, while I used my hands several times to help pull myself up, there is no actual rock climbing involved. By this I mean that, if you fall on the trail here, you will fall no more than three feet. You will not be clinging to a cliff side where falling would mean falling to your death. (In general, the entire trail struck me as very safe. I am afraid of heights, and at no point was I scared of falling off the mountain).

I passed about six runners on the way up Blackhead. Although I’m generally slow over trails, I have good cardiovascular strength, and so could maintain a solid power hike all the way to the top. I'm also glad I've been training step-ups, and box jumps, since the climbs here use a lot of these types of movements.

Blackhead is about the halfway point. I was dismayed that I made it here in 3:20, but the volunteers helpfully told me that, although it is halfway distance-wise is it more than halfway time-wise. In other words, the first half of the course is harder than the second half. This turned out to be true, since I finished in six hours almost exactly.

After Blackhead, you descend into Dutcher’s Notch, the saddle between Blackhead and Stoppel Point.

The Blackhead descent is steep. Since I’m a lousy downhill runner, I walked a lot of this portion too. Part of my problem is fear of falling on the rocks. Part of it is lack of practice running downhills. Several of the runners I passed on the way up Blackhead passed me in turn on the way down.

Stoppel is easier than Blackhead because it is broken in to three smaller ascents punctuated by runnable flats where I was able to make up some time.

I reached the landmark plane wreckage on top of Stoppel sooner than I expected. A small plane crashed into the mountain years ago, and the wreck sits right next to the trail. You come up on it quickly as you ascend and come around a corner. It’s creepy – the plane almost made it over the mountain – maybe another 50 or 100 feet up and he would have cleared the trees. Apparently, a lot of planes have crashed into the escarpment since it rises so suddenly from the Hudson Valley.

From this point, it is more or less flat and downhill. What slowed me up the most here is that some of the downhills involve jumping several feet down over boulders (or crawling backwards or scooting down on your butt). Some practice jumping down off rocks three to six feet high will save you a lot of time on this course. Other than that I let loose. I had a lot of energy left at the end of the race and, except for a few steep places, pretty much ran the last 4 miles.

About two miles from the end I caught up to the guy who was doing his “first trail race ever.” Although the course was flat here and very runnable, he was walking. As I ran by I asked him if he was having fun. He replied, “Fun? Uhh…” He looked pretty beat. “Well hang in there,” I said, “you’re almost done.”

Two miles to go, and I was flying. I felt great and had a ton of energy left. Looking at my watch I could see I had a shot at breaking six hours, which is the cutoff for qualifying for next year’s race, so I made that my goal.

Less than a mile from the campground, I started seeing dayhikers, and knew I was close. I also saw a bear den – a two foot circular hole dug into the soil of the rocky hillside. The trail passed only 20 feet from it. The ranger at the park had told us bears had been coming down nightly to raid campsites, and that this week the DEC had shot a mother with cubs. Too bad people can’t keep their food locked up properly.

I finished the 30K in 6:00:32. This, for me, is about an average trail 50K time. I think this is a good estimate for a first Escarpment run; if you take it easy, you will finish in about the same as an average 50k trail race.

I’m positive I could do it faster. All the warnings I’d heard made me run it slow and easy. If I push the pace a little, and do some specific training for running over rocks and steep descents (including jumping down), I could likely shave almost an hour off that time.

I had a great time at an amazing and beautiful race, and I didn’t fall once. I’m going to try to make it back next year if I possibly can.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Running mind / Running body

Running Body / Running Mind: As far as speed goes, I’m not a spectacular runner. My best marathon time is just under the 3 hours 40 minutes necessary to qualify me for entry into the Boston Marathon. I am certainly not of world record caliber. I am, however, a professionally trained philosopher. So when runners make statements about the relationship between the mind and the body, a perennial topic in philosophy, my ears prick up.

Compare these two statements, both made by runners. The first is from Yiannis Kouros, many time world record holder in ultra distance events. The second is made by well-known running author (and lay-philosopher) George Sheehan.

Kouros: “Some may ask why I am running such long distances. There are reasons. During the ultras I come to a point where my body is almost dead. My mind has to take leadership. When it is very hard there is a war going on between the body and the mind. If my body wins, I will have to give up; if my mind wins, I will continue. At that time I feel that I stay outside of my body. It is as if I see my body in front of me; my mind commands and my body follows. This is a very special feeling, which I like very much… It is a very beautiful feeling and the only time I experience my personality separate from my body, as two different things."

Sheehan: “Choose the body. Not to the exclusion of mind and soul but in conjunction with them. To see oneself as an evolving whole. Body and mind expressing the personality that is the self… The body cannot be ignored. The body is me, I am my body. We are wholes. Body, mind and soul.”

That’s the problem with introspection (“phenomenology” in philosophical jargon); reality can appear differently to different people or even to the same person under different circumstances. To a person who believes in dualism, the theory that the mind and body are distinct things, the fatigue and sometimes pain of long distance running might make it seem as though mind and body are separate. The mind feels curiously light and free, while the body feels dragged down in agony. This happened to me only once when running. It was during my last long training run before my very first marathon. Later that day (April 30, 2006) I wrote in my running journal: “I think I only understand Cartesian dualism now – when my body was really tired, my mind was light and clear – they seemed completely distinct.” So, in my own small way, I know what Kouros is talking about.

But as Sheehan’s comments reveal, that’s not the only possible take on the subject. To those who are more inclined to see body and mind as integrated rather than separate, the body may be capable of exertions that we sometimes undermine with our own protestations. I’ve had this feeling too. During an ultra, my mind, my verbal thought, will sometimes say “I’m so tired! This sucks!” Sometimes I’ll even say it out loud. But when I take a moment to survey my bodily condition, I often find that my legs feel fresh, my feet aren’t sore, I’m not hungry or thirsty or in pain. Psychologists tell us that we often undermine our own goals with negative “self talk,” the stream of verbal thought that runs through our conscious minds most of our waking lives. By making an effort to still these complaints and replace them with positive thoughts, many find their bodies are capable of much more than their conscious minds lead them to believe.

This hardly solves the metaphysical debate surrounding dualism. But it raises an important ethical question concerning how we understand and care for our bodies. Should we think of our bodies as something separate from ourselves, as a source of weakness, which in ultras we seek to overcome by dissociating from our physical selves? Or to dominate in a “war” between body and mind? Or should we think of the body as an integral part of one's self, that is stronger than we often think and sometimes capable of much more than we can imagine?

I opt for the latter view.

Kouros may be an exceptional runner, but I take issue with his depiction of the body as something to wage “war” against. To me, Sheehan’s got it right. There is a real sense in which “my body is me, I am my body.” This is perhaps especially the case for runners and other athletes, for whom their physical selves in part define who they are. After all, we cannot run without legs and feet and physical hearts that pump blood.

If we see our bodies as obstacles to be overcome, as a source of weakness, then we are denying an integral part of our self. As the expert yoga teacher BKS Iyengar put it, “even as something as subtle as mind depends on health and energy, and they start in the garden of the body.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Finger Lakes Fifties 2010 – 50k Race Report

Finger Lakes Fifties 30K - 2010 Race Report: The Finger Lakes Fifties is a great race put on by Chris Reynolds of the Finger Lakes Runners Club. It runs through the Finger Lakes National Forest between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. My first thought: wine country! Runners are known to be beer drinkers, but on holidays we have occasionally been known to taste some wine.

Today is July 3rd.

The FL National Forest is situated on a long ridge that divides the two lakes. It’s high up, plateau like, so that the views from the topmost pastures are pretty sweet.

The course is a 25K-ish loop, repeated once for the 50k. The fifty miler is 3 loops of the main course plus a short finishing loop. This year’s race eliminated the northernmost portion in favor of a new section on the south end of the course. This was much to my liking. It added some hills and shaded forest and subtracted some sun exposure, roots and mud. The trail was pretty dry this year – last year after weeks of major rainstorms it was ankle deep in mud.

The race started with the usual instruction: “don’t let the cows out.” The trail passes through a couple high pastures with panoramic views and (potentially) cows. Joe Reynolds reminds us: “you must shut the gate behind you!”

Once we’re moving I feel better. Even though I haven’t been here for a year, things look familiar. After running Laurel Highlands, where aid stations are few and far between, it’s great to see aid stations close together and well stocked.

I have my first trouble about six or seven miles in. I trip on a root, which I saw coming but failed to step high enough over, and go down. My right knee is banged up and bleeding a little. Shit! I get up, walk a bit, and worry I might have to drop out. But a couple of advil and 15 minutes later I’m running again, though slower.

The course is fairly flat. There’s one big downhill before you hit the gorge trail, which climbs back up, and a number of other gently rolling hills. Yet the course is deceptively hard. It’s hot, for one thing, and although most of the course runs through pleasantly shaded woods, there is some sun exposure through the fields. It’s also fairly rocky and rooty – nothing crazy but enough to slow you down a little.

My knee is bleeding where I fell. I tried putting a bandage on it, but it rubbed against the cut and hurt, so I took it off. At each aid station I wipe up the dried and dripping blood, but the small cut is exactly on the part of my knee where the skin flexes with each step, so the cut keeps reopening and bleeding more. So I figure – let it bleed until it stops. I got some funny looks from course volunteers: “crazy runner!” with blood dripping down my leg, but it didn’t hurt much, and there wasn’t that much blood. So, carry on…

About two miles from the end of the first loop I take a wrong turn. I am chatting with a woman who is from my home state of Michigan, and miss the turn off. My bad. The course is extremely well marked; we just weren’t paying good enough attention. We retrace our steps and find the turn. Not long and we’ve made it around the first loop.

Our time is slow – four hours plus for 25k– though I didn’t know it at the time as I forgot to bring my watch. I must say it is a great feeling to run without a watch. I change shoes and socks in an effort to prevent blisters in the hot weather – then set out for loop #2. This loop was thankfully uneventful. I fell once, though avoided banging my bruised and bloody knee.

My time was 8 hours 20 minutes (approximately). I was surprised – it was about an hour slower than last year, with all its mud, and about 3 hours slower than my fastest trail 50K(!). I probably lost 15 minutes walking after banging my knee and 25 minutes in “bonus miles” losing the course. I learned later that the course changes had made the 50k really 32.9 miles, which with the hot weather accounted for my slowness.

This is a great race I would recommend for its excellent organization and support and its beautiful course. The finishers’ medal is a beer opener, which I promptly put to use. As we were coming in to the finish a fellow runner asked me which beer I would have first. "IPA," I replied. He laughed and said “That’s not the question, the question is which IPA?” My kind of crowd! My kind of race!

Later that night I tasted wine later at the Red Newt winery, just around the corner. They have great deals on wine flights, good veggie food for me, and local free range stuff for the meat eaters.