Tennessee’s “Secret Race” is a Beast! #ultramarathon

Tennessee’s “Secret Race” is a Beast! #ultramarathon

Wow, this discovery just got the hair standing on my neck.  And after combining the insight from my first trail race with the unbelievable information below, I am even more convinced that wilderness runners salute a twisted code that encourages legal forms of masochistic humiliation.

That said, I am currently VERY disappointed about two things:

  1. I’ve never heard of this race.
  2. No one I know has run it (that I know of)

Fist PumpPhoto © Geoffrey S. Baker www.geoffreybakerphotography.com  (photo links to source)

Read more

Dry Creek 1/2 Trail Marathon Race Report

Not many would call me country, but what transpired in the deep woods of Tennessee yesterday will soon have dozens of Crushing Iron readers calling me a nature boy.  The Dry Creek Marathon (and half) was another spectacular example in the long list of contributions  Nashville Running Company has delivered to a growing, and wildly masochistic, running community.

I woke at 5:30 am, walked the dog, then followed my printed Mapquest directions to the covert Dry Creek Race Headquarters.  I shared war stories with Corey, Wasky, and Jim, then dug into my pre-packed race bag.  First thing I noticed was (even with the uncanny day-before-planning) I forgot my Swiftwick’s.  Luckily I was wearing a pair of Timberland over-the-ankle-hikers, but this adds to my increasingly controversial history with socks.

Read more

My First Trail 1/2 Marathon is Sunday

I haven’t run on trails much, period, and now I’ve decided to hit the woods for the Dry Creek 1/2 Marathon put on by my friends over at Nashville Running Company.  This will be another first.

My “goal” is to use it as a training run, but since it is technically a race, we’ll see how that goes.  I should also probably run in my trail shoes once before I do a half marathon.

The thing is, I’m really thinking about how to run this (and future events/workouts) as pure meditation.  Not that I won’t push myself, but how do you stay in that gliding zone?  How do you move the mental needle and get faster without grunting and killing yourself along the way?

I mean why do we feel trepidation over something we know we can do?  I really think it’s fear.

This how fear could crush me this weekend.

I could be worried about my shoes.  I’ve never run in them and I’ll surely get blisters and new foot pain.  Then, I will be waiting for it the entire run in an effort to justify my thoughts.

I will also worry about getting hurt.  Trails are “dangerous” and it’s not worth the risk to wrench an ankle.  So, I will be running scared.  Thinking about running rather than running.

I’ve never run this trail, so I will imaging rocks and limbs and boulders to be bigger and more imposing than the reality.  I will abuse my comfort zone before I show up.

But this is how I will not let fear crush me this weekend.

I will marvel at how awesome shoes are these days.  It’s not like when I was in high school where you had to break in your ProKeds for two painful weeks before they worked.  I will embrace the comfort of my Pearl Izumis Trail N1’s (which are available at NRC…mention Crushing Iron to get no discount).

Instead of worrying about injury, I will think about how much stronger and well rounded running on uneven ground will make my muscles.  A half marathon on trails will demand more energy, but cross training remains king in my book.

And instead of imagining the worst, why not embrace the beauty of the trails?  The Zen-like nature.  The solitude and peace.  I live in what most would consider a “rough” part of town, but it is really quite serene when the pit bulls aren’t barking all night.  My preconceptions of the neighborhood had me creating false illusions long before I moved in, now you can find me running often at 10pm.

So, I don’t expect any records and I don’t expect it to be easy.  But I will not give myself premature blisters, injuries, or beat downs.   The mind is a powerful place and I will be using a lot of it on Sunday.

I May Milk This Until I Die #IMWI

IMWI-Finish-KeeperMedI  finally pulled the trigger on race photos.  It cost $100, but that’s a small price to pay for a Wisconsin kid who . . . went back home, ran under the Ironman arch, then got a picture of it with his favorite State Capitol in the background.

My life isn’t THAT boring, but I do think about this moment a lot.  It’s not about how awesome I am, in fact the thought I have most often is:

It just doesn’t seem real.

As much as I trained . . . as much as I built my confidence for Ironman . . . it’s still 140.6 miles of endurance.  Back in the day, using those numbers and my name in the same sentence would have gotten belly laughs from my homies.

One year before Ironman the conquest seemed as realistic as climbing Mt. Everest, swimming the English Channel, or getting a good night’s sleep.  But, as the picture proves (assuming you don’t think I took a short cut) I actually did complete an Ironman.

It was really, really hard, but something propelled me to pursue the unthinkable that day.  My furthest combination of swim, bike, run before that was 1/2 the distance.  Half.

But the body and mind are truly capable of more than we know.

Sometimes I ask myself if I could have ran even one more mile that day.  I know the answer is yes, it would have been the most painful 10 minutes of my athletic career, by far.  Did I have two more miles?  Probably not.

It’s crazy how we adjust our goals to a specific target. I was mentally programmed to go 140.6 and that was about my limit.  What if I had trained for 200?  What is our real potential?

It really makes me wonder.  Not only physically, but mentally.  I mean, realistically I pulled this feat together in just over ONE YEAR . . . at 50 years old.  What else can I do?  What else can you do?

Until I figure out what’s next, I’ll probably keep looking at pictures of me and that guy in the blue shirt while trying to understand Ironman Wisconsin on a deeper level.  It was a wildly surreal experience that took forever, and went by in a flash.

IRONMAN New Orleans 70.3 is Lurking

My buddies are beating me up about making a decision on IM Louisville, but I have a pretty big fish waiting to be fried on April 13th.

Signing up for New Orleans 70.3 feels like a good and bad decision.  On one hand it has forced me to kick things into gear, on the other, it is very soon and I’m nowhere near ready.  This will have to be the perfect storm, or I will just have to accept it as an early season training day that also happens to be a race that will forever shine an internet glow on a potentially awful time.

I’m not really a fan of bad times, though.

My thinking is, that if I’m gonna do this race, I might as well crush it.  I mean, this is Crushing Iron after all.  But it could easily be Crushed By Iron if I don’t get my ass in gear.

One mental road block is this damn swim course:SWIM2I mean, I don’t even know why it freaks me out so much, but it just looks like trouble.  I can practically feel my body contorting on those hair pin turns and sighting seems like it may be tricky.  But, really, sighting would be tricky for me if the landmark was a mountain.

Then I hear the real problem isn’t the swim course, it’s the wind.  It looks protected, but I guess Lake Pontchartrain is pretty choppy.  And the bike course can allegedly get very windy as well.  Add that to the fact I’ll be in that retched aero position 80% of the time and my back is already tense.

I’m actually looking forward to the run.  I did the 1/2 marathon in NOLA last year and it was pretty cool to run in and around the French Quarter.  I’m planning to play one of my buddy’s favorite Bourbon Street games, “Homeless or Hammered?” while I run.

But really, that’s as funny as the pain I’ll likely be in by that point.  How much of a base do I have from training all last year for an Ironman?  Does it really “leave” or just take a while to access again?  I’m waiting patiently, but NOLA is lurking.

Positive Attitude Goes A Long Way

The Fourth of July, 2009.  I bounced through downtown Nashville on my mountain bike on my way to a friend’s annual pool party.  I knew there would be tons of laughing and positive energy.  My friend attracted that vibe.

As I pulled up his street, 10 emergency vehicles surrounded me.  Police cars, unmarked vans, ambulances, sirens, and flashing lights.  I picked up my pace in fear that something had happened at the pool.

By the time I got into the alley behind the condo complex, cops were rolling yellow crime tape and my mind was reeling.  No one stopped me, so I slid between the gate and saw my friends standing around drinking beer as police scurried with indecision.

The action wasn’t at the pool, but across the alley at a duplex.  It was Independence Day, the sun was shining, and Michael Jackson pumped from the speakers.  We tried with all our might to celebrate, but an ominous scene lingered at arm’s length.

We didn’t know what happened, but my friend said it was Steve McNair’s condo.  The party showed bursts of energy, but mostly the mood was sullen.  A bizarre combination of freedom meets doom.

The cops wouldn’t say what was going on, but eventually one confided, “This will be national news.”

Our pool party was closed off by crime tape.  No one was allowed to come or go for the next four hours and eventually word got out.  The former quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, and arguably the most popular man in Nashville, Steve McNair, was shot and killed.

Each end of the alley was blocked, and soon populated by hundreds of somber fans and news crews.  The party was officially over and, after four hours, I quietly hopped on my bike and peddled away in disbelief.

The guy throwing the party that day was Justin Levenson.  He is truly one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known.  Talented, caring, and always looking at life from the bright side.  He welcomes everyone without judgement and you can stay as long as you’d like.

Every time I saw him I’d ask, “How’s it going, man?”

His response was always, “Life is good, bro.”

And he meant it.

One night I happened to be playing drums for a local media talent show at the famous Wildhorse Saloon and looked out to see Justin on the panel of judges.  I told our “band” we were in good shape because my buddy would hook us up.  But as it turned out our final score landed us outside of the top 3 in the contest.

I walked up to Justin, shook his hand while he smiled and told me, “Life is good.”

I said, “That’s fine, but what’s up with the judging, man?  How come we didn’t place in the money?”

Without missing a beat Justin smiled and said, “Gotta keep it real, bro.  You guys weren’t that tight.”

Justin is honest, too.

We laughed together and hung out for a while sharing old stories his compassion and great attitude astounding me once again.

I haven’t seen Justin in quite a while, but like most I keep up with friends on Facebook.  A couple weeks ago I saw him post a link to his new blog.  I was happy to see him writing, but then  looked closer at the title, “It IS Brain Surgery.”

It was more than a little wake up call and I hesitantly clicked the link.  I feared the worst, but should have known Justin would spin it into a positive.  I read through his blog posts with pride and admiration.  He unveiled that he has a large tumor in the the left frontal lobe of his brain, then followed it with this line, “This tumor has apparently been there for quite some time which may explain why my head is so damn big…haha…kidding!  :)”

He has written several posts and they are laced with positivity.  He is facing this challenge straight on and wants everyone to know he will be a better person in the end.  He admits it’s challenging, but he will not let it bring him down.  I feel so fortunate to have met such an incredibly passionate and optimistic person.

It really makes you think.  Here’s a guy facing brain surgery with endless hope and optimism, but half the time I am deflated by something silly like a sore ankle.  I definitely need to channel more of my inner Justin.

I stopped by his Facebook page and the outpouring of love is endless.  An streaming and diverse list of friends thankful to know him spreading love up and down his page.  Even though I haven’t seen him much lately his attitude and love of life has left an undeniable impression on my soul.

Justin is 35 years old and is having brain surgery today.  I am sending all the positive energy I can muster in his direction.  Justin never sweats the small stuff, and as it turns out, the big stuff, either.  Here’s to ya, bro.  Thanks for everything and I’ll see you soon.

UPDATE:  Just over an hour after I posted, I noticed this awesome update from Justin’s dad on Facebook:

“This is Justin’s dad. He’s out of surgery and joking with the nurses. Surgeon says it went superb, actually routine.”

Run Like a Kid #running

Note: I wrote this many moons ago, but never posted it. 

I am still reading Born to Run and it is an absolute gem of a novel.  There is one great story after another, loaded with compelling thoughts on running as well as life.  It is especially intriguing to me right now because I am still hobbling a bit after relatively short runs compared to the distances they talk about in this book, which routinely exceed 50 miles at a crack.

Now, I realize I wasn’t “born to run,” or was I?  The last chapter I read is mainly focused on the zen of running and what is going on in the mind of the Tarahumara as they glide across the the hilliest of terrain.  The thing most people notice when watching Tarahumara run is how happy they seem.

There is a great story, told by Kenneth Chlouber, the founder of one of the world’s most treacherous trail runs, The Leadville 100, that summed it up for me.

Chlouber was hanging out at the 60 mile mark where medical staff checks vitals of runners that reach that point.  He said most are starting to get angry by then.  The terrain is pulverizing and after getting clearance to continue, runners must hike up a very steep dirt hill to get back on the trail.  He said most runners struggle and often crawl to the trail, but the Tarahumara were climbing it like kids, smiling and laughing while they sort of skipped their way to the top.

It was literally like they were still kids.  That impulse to have fun while you run had never left them.  They ran to run and while the race was clearly a race, they never thought of it that way.  It was a new adventure.

Big Diet Changes

“Food is for the body, not the mouth.” – Unknown

From the very beginning of Ironman training, I knew something was missing.  I was working out more than ever and arguably in the best shape of my life, but most of the time . . . I felt “off.”  Basically worn out, craving naps, or whatever.  This has been at the crux of my delayed decision about IM Louisville.  Sure, I know I can pull it together and do it, but why would I want to feel like ass for the next 7 months?

I have been a staunch supporter of a solid diet for as long as I can remember.  I always “tried” to eat healthy, but could never stick with a regimen, and frankly, I’m not sure if I really understood what healthy eating really meant.

Because most of us are suckers.

It is really almost comical that at least half the people I know who are overweight will defend their idea of a good diet to the grave.  They swear by low-fat, low-cholesterol, or Diet Coke.  But the marketing tricks usually have us backwards.

The more I learn about food, the more I am just blown away by our grocery stores.  It’s pretty safe to say that 90% of what’s on the shelves is absolute crap.  It’s unbelievable, really.

The first 5 days of this diet were not pretty, but the last three have had me in that “I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good,” mode.  I’m taking it cautiously, but can also add, “I can’t remember the last time I felt this good after two workouts in a day” to that list of things I’m thinking.

I have been struggling getting back into swim shape, but this afternoon over lunch I went in and belted out a strong 30 minutes.  I didn’t count laps, but can almost guarantee it was at least 30. I felt great getting out of the water and all afternoon at work.  That is so rare I cannot even begin to explain.

Tonight I ran a relatively hilly loop in my neighborhood 5 times (four miles) at a pretty good clip and felt energized when I was done.  Not wiped, but energized.  It is a huge difference and something I rarely felt last year.

And even though I used the “food is for the body” quote, my new diet has definitely been for the mouth as well.  I am looking forward to eating good food.  I’m taking the time to chop and add extra vegetables to my salads and it has kinda been enjoyable.

So, we’ll see how this goes.  I’m keeping a diary and will eventually release it when I’m feeling like this diet is legit, but until then, don’t worry about “cutting things out,” start by piling on the good and let the bad fade away.

The Toughest Triathlons

I thought it only fitting that I follow up my Color Run post with a list of the hardest triathlons in the world.  It’s not my compilation, but I have included my version of the toughest triathlons I’ve ever completed at the bottom of this list.

Top 7 Toughest Triathlons – According to Wegner (Maker of the Genuine Swiss Army Knife)

1.  Savage Man – Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
2.  Ironman Norseman – Norway
3.  Altriman – France (I think)
4.  Ironman World Championship – Hawaii
5.  Aurlandsfjellet Xtreme – Norway
6.  Ironman 70.3 Silverman – Mojave Desert
7.  Escape from Alcatraz – San Francisco, CA

As I look through this list one really jumps out at me and it’s Ironman Norsman, namely because of this photo:nnmEverything about that shot has me riveted!  The font on the ship, the four meter plunge, the hazy mountains in the background, the darkness, the feel of cold.  The website describes the water as cold, clean, and lightly salted.  And the kicker is, they only let 200 people in this bad boy.  I can dream.

There’s something ridiculously compelling about these kinds of races, which is kind of ironic because I rarely even want to test my will on a bike trainer half the time.  I would really like to hear what your toughest race was.

My Top 7 Toughest Triathlons (which are also the only ones I’ve done)

1.  Ironman Wisconsin – Choppy swim, relentless hills, body hurt every step of the run
2.  Goosepond 1/2 Triathlon – Anxiety riddled swim, cooked bike, tough run
3.  Nashvegas Olympic – Almost drowned, twice, extreme panic
4.  Rev 3 Olympic – Knoxville – Brutal cold, constant rain, challenging bike
5.  Ironman Muncie 70.3 – Technical swim, bumpy bike, burning feet
6.  ADPi Sprint – Murfreesboro – Cold, rainy, lots of sorority girls
7.  Music City Sprint – My first tri, perfect weather, home turf

Stressing About Your Color Run?

I remember my first 5K and it was no laughing matter.  It can be a very stressful, yet proud time for a beginning runner.  BUT, I couldn’t help but get a chuckle from this post on Ben Greenfield’s website.  It’s a detailed list of what you can do to get ready for your Color Run, including number one, which is “sign up.”

In all seriousness, I have based my new diet on Ben’s nutrition planning for Ironman athletes and it’s going great, so I will probably be giving him a lot of praise soon.  But, before that glowing endorsement, a little fun with a featured article on his website.

10 Tips to Get Ready for a Color Run – Ben Greenfield

Yes, those are practical training tips, but we all know that racing is 90% half mental, so I’ve taken the liberty of creating my own list of psychological tips for the Color Run.

10 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Color Run – Mike Tarrolly

1.  Squirt your dog with a garden hose until he bites you.
2.  Change into a white t-shirt WHILE you’re drinking a glass of grape juice.
3.  Check your temperature often with a rectal thermometer
4.  Walk across gravel while reciting key passages from the Bible.
5.  Go to Walmart and ask the “greeter” a lot of performance running shoe questions.
6.  Sniff old paint cans in the garage.
7.  Eat Snow Cones like they’re going out of style.
8.  Watch re-runs of Laverne and Shirley.
9.  Lay on your back and stare into the sun.
10. Wear bandanas tighter than normal leading up to the race.