Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thomas Jefferson 100K - Race Report!

-Thomas Jefferson was our 3rd President.
-I finish 3rd in an absurdly high percentage of my races (as previously mentioned here).

-The original building of the Library of Congress is named after Thomas Jefferson.
-I work in that building at the Library of Congress.

-Thomas Jefferson put the city of Charlottesville, VA on the map, founding the University of Virginia as well as building his Monticello estate there.
-My wife earned her masters degree from UVA, and Charlottesville is on top of a very short list of places to which we'd consider moving in the future.

-Thomas Jefferson's second Vice President was George Clinton.
-I've seen George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars in concert.

...Ok, that last one was a stretch, but all of the other facts are solid reasons why, when the inaugural running of the Thomas Jefferson 100K in Charlottesville was announced, I immediately knew I had to sign up. This race is the brainchild of one of ultrarunning's elite personalities and performers, Andy Jones-Wilkins. AJW, as he is known by many, has about a million ultra finishes on his resume, including multiple 100 mile wins and a stellar 7 consecutive years of finishing in the Top 10 at the Western States 100 miler. Andy moved to C'ville a couple years ago and, following a long-time dream, organized the TJ100K as his first-ever race from the other side of the clipboard.

As expected from a guy like AJW, every facet of the TJ100K was top-notch. We were all invited to his school for the pre-race dinner/meeting as well as the Awards Breakfast.
The picturesque setting for our pre & post race gatherings on the campus of the Tandem Friends School (at which AJW is the Head)

Couldn't resist taking this shot of the main building on campus while walking back to my car.

I was a happy boy when I saw the cap of this Starr Hill brewery treat peeking out from my swag bag at the packet pick-up! The odds of AJW, a man who loves beer, including this Thomas Jefferson recipe-based brew in our bags for this race was pretty much 100%.

AJW leads the pre-race meeting...then slips behind the curtain and reemerges to act out the one man play "How the Battle of Western States 2005 was Almost Won".
The race itself took place in the scenic Walnut Creek Park a few minutes south of the Tandem Friends School, and the course consisted of seven loops of 8.9 miles with 1,000 ft of gain/loss on each circle of the merry-go-round. On paper that might seem like a bit of a yawn, but let me tell you, it's anything but boring. Traversing the rocks, roots, and rollercoaster rises of this lyric little loop through the cold darkness of the morning, the warming glow of the sunrise, and the high-noon heat offers runners something different to experience every time around. As one can expect, the hills also tend to grow a bit later in the day, so loops 5, 6, and 7 bring out new appreciation for how much you really hate the wonderful people in out sport, such as Andy Jones-Wilkins.

As for my personal race report, here goes:

This being the second year of running on my Daddy Schedule (i.e. on a 75% training level), I've settled in nicely to not caring about much other than enjoying the experience of running a long way with friends on race day. That said, I still have long legs and love the trails, so when I start chatting with a fast new friend in a race like this, I can still kick out the carbon a bit to keep the conversation going at a faster-than-fitness-level pace...for a little while, anyway. Such was the case from the giddy-up of this race when the masses headed out on the first loop at 5:00 a.m.. Brian Pickett was sporting bib #2 (which makes my lungs hurt just typing), and darned if he wasn't a fun dude to run we stuck together at the front of the race...for the first 36 miles. The good news is, if either of us ever needs someone to write our biography in the future, we pretty much covered all the necessary life topics during those 6 hours of running together. The bad news, for me anyway, was when we started out on loop #5, I found myself grinding gears a bit trying to keep Brian in sight as he slowly pulled 2 minutes ahead by the mid-loop aid station. At the time I didn't think that was a huge problem since I had the two long downhills in the second half of the loop to open things up and try to reel in Blazin' Brian...

...A few minutes later, when a guy pushing his mountain bike up one of those hills stopped to ask if I was OK, I realized, in no particular order: 1) I was not catching Brian, 2) Trying to run downhill on one's face is a bad idea.

We've all tripped on the trails a million times, and countless "best blood" awards have been given post-race for crimson knees and hands, but actually hitting my face on the ground? That was a new one for me. The good news is, my cheekbone turns out to be pretty sturdy, so aside from seeing a few stars, I was no worse for the wear in the facial disfigurement department. The downside, in terms of the race itself, was I knew I'd be running the last 2.5 loops in a bucket of syrup just to get it done.  So that's what I did, and you know what? It was still pretty enjoyable. Sure I was tired and a bit wobbly on the downs, and yes it was getting a little warmer than any of us were accustomed to after this past winter's crazy cold, but nothing can take away from the pure fun of running around in the woods all day. The race's TJ-inspired tagline "Persue Happiness" couldn't sum up the whole experience better for me. What a great day for running.

With RD AJW at the Finish
The talented Mr. Pickett enjoying his hard-earned first place finish in the sun!
In the end Brian held our original lap pace pretty evenly the whole way and grabbed the win in a solid time of 10:33. I was lucky enough to hold on to 2nd place about a half-hour later. Peter Jetton rounded out the Men's podium, and the ladies superstars of the day were Stephanie Wilson in first, Jennifer Nichols in second, and Carter Wiecking in third. Congrats to all! Full Results here. Also, AJW was the RD, but there were dozens more amazing volunteers of all kinds who made this race such a smashing success in its first year: Co-RD John Andersen (of Crozet Running), Sophie Speidel and her course-marking crew, and so many many more. Dave Snipes gets his own sentence here, just because he's awesome. This dude always seems to have my back - thanks again Sniper!

The great gifts kept coming after the race with everyone getting a crisp $2 bill (with Jefferson on it, of course) as they crossed the finish line, and I was lucky enough to also score this sweet pewter Jefferson Cup as well!
An engraved pewter Jefferson Cup ranks just behind the Loch Ness Monster on the list of things that are impossible to photograph.
One final note: As it turned out, the week of this race marked my 10 year anniversary of being officially cancer-free. I ended up really appreciating the chance to run solo during the last few hours of this race. We are all really fortunate to be able to enjoy life in whatever manner we choose, and for me to be out on those trails running around like a kid in the woods all day, well, I didn't take one single step for granted.

That said, my next race will be one of the greatest experiences I've ever had the chance to enjoy. I've spent the last few months putting together a team of 10 ultra-running cancer survivors, and we're all headed down to run the Virginia 24 Hour Run in Hampton, VA on April 26-27. This is most definitely NOT a fundraiser for our team. Everyone is tired of that type of thing at this point. Instead, we're all teaming up to try and break the course record for total team miles (somewhere north of 700 miles). It's going to be a blast being a part of a Team out there encouraging each other all day and night, and while we may not get that record, if you want to see toughness and grit on display in a race, we'll definitely be the poster team for that!

Monday, October 28, 2013

24 Hour (or 13) National Championship Report!

You know that thing when you're gliding along at mile 82, just smiling and joking with the folks you're passing, and then suddenly you're declared all but legally dead at mile 83 for no apparent reason?

Yeah, that's basically my race report for this past weekend's 24 Hour National Championship out in lovely Oklahoma City.  The Handsome Cowboy of Race Directing, Chisholm Deupree, hosted this year's 24 hour family reunion in a nicely wooded park on the north side of OKC. Sure, it was a little rainy and windy and cold, but we've all signed up for races that intentionally boast extreme weather in all of those categories, so all of the sky's activity basically amounted to a nothing more than a bonus distraction for us to talk about as we looped the park all day and night.

Oh, and I also earned the right to check the box marked "Ran a race during which a city's tornado warning siren sounded for 5 minutes" on my lifetime bucket list. So that was convenient.

Lots of hugs and handshakes were shared with with friends I only get to see every couple of years. Physically catching up with them on the course in order to conversationally catch up with them was the weekend's highlight. There are some genuine, good people in this sport.

Having to stop, rather suddenly, after 83ish miles and only 13+ hours of running has me lacking any useful info to relay in terms of the race report, but I did kill some time with a bic while flying out to OKC for the race, so I'll conclude this unorthodox race report by transcribing the following in-flight thoughts, which no doubt would have served as the opening to my real race know, if I actually ran the whole race.

I'm currently flying somewhere over the clouds in between DC and OKC. It's the penultimate eve before this great country's 24 hour national championship, and I'm finding it quite enjoyable to be sitting on United Airlines finest 1970's era flying air machine.

The Airline Downside: After decades of use, all that remains of my seat is nothing more than a thin cut of leather tautly stretched over what I can only assume is the world's largest diamond. I say that not to claim my bottom is presently perched upon untold riches, but rather to recall my high school chemistry lesson in which I learned, on the hardness scale, that talc and diamond represent the extreme ends.

The Up, Up, and Away Upside: When the electrical engineers designed this plane immediately upon returning from their brave service in the Korean War, they didn't need to worry about equipping the passenger cabin with fancy technological advances like, well, anything other than an overhead light. This means, quite delightfully, that I am sitting here without access to any video or audio entertainment. Pen is hitting paper right now and I couldn't be happier - I need a few hours to start sloooooowing things down in my head right now. Uncle Danno is tired.

Sometimes races fall perfectly in step with the rest of your real life schedule. Sometimes they fall this week:

1) Work is moving at a billion mile per hour pace these days, and I know this because I find myself saying things like, "I really need to get up and hit the bathroom, but..." multiple times daily.  

2) At home, Sammy, who I couldn't love more, apparently couldn't love sleeping past 5:30am any less this past week. He's the only person in the world right now who would actually look forward to those obscenely early 100 mile start times.

3) The stupid Red Sox are in the World Series again. I mean really, it's great and all, but these baseball playoff games are so long that they just finished playing the 2007 Series last week. ...and yes, you can ask "Why don't you just not watch these games and go to sleep?". Well, I, and everyone else in Boston, will happily give you 86 years worth of reasons why you don't take something like this for granted!

The bottom line: Brain cells aren't just being fried this week, they're permanently wedged at the bottom of a wire cooking basket at a State Fair concession stand. The faint, muffled echoes of REO Speedwagon - or at least their former bassist and three other guys claiming to be REO Speedwagon - could be heard in the distance when I closed my eyes to pass out for a small handful of hours each night this week.

Despite (or perhaps in step with) all of the above evidence of my imminent mental collapse, I'm pretty darn happy to have the chance to run around a paved circle for 24 hours on Saturday.  Yes, I may collapse with fatigue or death at some point, but along the way there will be no cell phones or emails or meetings or...anything, really, other than left-right-left, left-right-left. I can definitely smile and relax while doing that!

Funny how it played out pretty much exactly as I predicted. I would have loved to run the whole time and continued to finish that report, but it wasn't in the cards this time around. Running these races is usually a pretty miserable experience at one point or another, but the company we keep out there keeps us all coming back. I'm looking forward to being miserable among friends again soon!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Guaranteed Ego Boost

Hey lonely single guys, want to feel the rush of literally hundreds of women chasing after you?  Be like me last weekend and agree to be the Rabbit at an all-women's race!  Thanks to Tracy Dahl, RD of the annual VHTRC Women's Trail Half-Marathon, this was my morning last Saturday (Thanks to the great Aaron Schwartzbard for all the photos!):
Less than 4 minutes before the start, they told me I had to wear the Bunny hat too!
One second to go!

If you were to suggest that I gave myself a wee bit of a head start to ensure I wasn't caught in the first meter of the race, you may be 100% correct.

Sneaking a peek after the first hairpin turn...

Eeeek!! Here they come!!

It was all business from here on out: Full-on stride and anaerobic gasping. Thank you for nearly giving me a heart attack while I worked hard to stay in front, Super Speedy Ladies!