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Race Report: In24 Philadelphia

“I apologize to the entire world for this.”

This is what I said when I was just about to break one of my rules: “Never run shirtless.” Well, I was about to run shirtless…the temperature finally had me agitated to the point where, yes, the world would see more than they needed to see.

I just finished my second loop of In24 Philadelphia, an urban ultra, really the only race of its kind, but I’ll come back to that later. I was inconsolable. I wanted my shirt off, my hydration pack off…everything was bothering me. This was only Mile 17. I should not have felt this bad at Mile 17. My pace was conservative, yet I felt worse than I had during any of my training runs.

Mile 17 was the first time in the race I almost quit. I told my wife I was shaving my “ultra beard” on Monday because there was no way I was going to make it to my goal of 50 miles. “I’m not a f**king ultra runner. This is not fun at all.”

To my wife’s credit, she did not try to fix the situation. She simply let me vent and told me she’d meet me on the course with a dry shirt later in Loop #3.

In24 is a repetitious 8.4 mile loop along the Schuylkill River. Philadelphians simply call it “The Loop.”  I figured this would be a safer way to be introduced to the world of ultra running…more checkpoints, no chance of getting lost in the woods, home turf advantage, etc. Last year, I signed up for a local 50k but I had my appendix removed three days before the race. I knew In24 would be a longer effort for me, but the environment would be more controlled overall.

With In24, the only wild card would be the weather. Yes, a July race, so I knew it had the potential to be hot.  I’d simply run slower I thought to myself as I prepped for this race. Well, Mother Nature made this a humbling day for a lot of us.

When my wife found me again, I was at Mile 21, and deliriously singing Tom Sawyer by Rush. I have no idea why this song was stuck in my head, but it was. I put on a change of shirt, but did not put the hydration vest back on. There were plenty of hydration stations along the way, so hydration was not the issue. However, this is when the sun came out, and it got blistering hot (91 degrees and humid).

My wife would check in on me from her bike from time to time, but she was not allowed to pace until Loop #5. Fortunately, she was near me when my nose started bleeding at Mile 22. This has happened to me before in hot races, so I did not panic. Luckily, I had a wet towel with me already, so I sat on a bench for a few minutes until my nose stopped bleeding.

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Oranges and ice from medical tent. Bloody hell.

So, I continued, and finished Loop #3 with the occasional walk break. For a shorter-distance runner, walking while competing is a difficult thing to get used to, but EVERYONE was doing it today. In fact, with In24, you have 24 hours to go as far as you can. Some of the more experienced ultra runners ran two loops, then checked out to take their break, only to return at dusk to continue when the temperatures cooled down. To me, this felt like cheating, even though it was perfectly legal in such a race.

Therefore, I trudged on, and I started to figure things out during Loop #4. I found myself going back and forth with two other runners. I’d run .8 mile, then walk .2 mile. I’d pass them while I was running, and they’d pass me while I was walking. Seeing these two runners comforted me. We were in a groove together yet we weren’t running together.

After Loop #4, I was allowed a pacer; however, with a heat advisory now in effect, I was required to carry hydration with me. So, I went to the tent to get my hydration vest, and meet my wife who would be my pacer for Loop #5. I warned her that I would be slow.

On the West River Drive side, at Mile 38, I grabbed onto my wife because I was close to passing out. I almost went down a couple of times. She said I had that blank look in my eyes. I could not get my heart rate down no matter how hard I tried to slow things down. Thankfully, we were a quarter mile from the next medical tent, so we walked there. I figured, “Well, this is it for me…38 miles is pretty far. I’ll just call it a day.”

At the medical tent, I got my vitals checked, and the one medical technician couldn’t get a reading on my blood pressure. Something was wrong with the pump. I asked her if I was dead. The doctor took my temperature, gave me an eye test and a choice…go back on the cart or walk/run to continue on. Here, I almost quit, but said to myself “if I can just get through this lap, I can always go home and sleep, come back in the morning and get my official 50 miles in.” Again, that felt like cheating but it was not.

So, Loop #5 involved a lot of walking to manage my heart rate. Plus, I got really bad foot cramps at Mile 40 (the kind of cramps you get when you swim deeper in a pool). After fighting the cramps off, I did run it in at the boathouses to make it to the check point. I told race officials I was taking a break (at 42 miles). At the tent, we gathered things like we were leaving for the day. Well, my wife gathered things. I was useless. I told her I was going into Lloyd Hall to get cooler. However, on the way, I saw pizza and it looked appealing to me. It was the first time since the start that food seemed appealing to me. I ate it with childlike eagerness.

When I returned to the tent, I had a banana and sipped on a beer (a beer that was intended to be a celebratory post-race beer).  Maybe it was the beer talking, but I told my wife I was thinking about doing the sixth loop. In the back of my mind, I knew if I went home, I would not be returning in the morning. I’d be stuck at 42 miles with that 50 mile mark dangling in front of me. One more loop. If I could just make it one more loop.

It was just before 8pm when I put on the vest and my headlamp. I checked back into the race: “I’m stupid enough to run another loop” I told a race official. His response: “Are you stupid enough to run two more loops?” Another race official gave me a piece of candy, and I shoved it into my hydration vest “just in case” I said and thanked her.

As I started Loop #6, the leader passed me. He was starting Loop #7. He looked amazing. He is the record holder in this race with 153ish miles. I was in awe, and so I started running. At first, I thought I’d run a bit, walk a bit, etc; however, I ran 90% of this loop. The temperature felt better (even though when I’d get in my car later, it would still be 83 degrees). This was the best I had felt since my 2nd loop. It was a pleasant surprise.

At this point, my wife was back on her bike, so she snapped this at Mile 48:

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Running and feeling mostly awful, but not 100% awful

At Mile 49ish, I could see the Philadelphia skyline illuminated in the distance. I stopped to drink in the moment and I took a blurry photo (below) of the city. I love this city. I moved here nineteen years ago (nearly to the day) to go to graduate school. I’m one of the few students in my program that stayed. It is home to me. Here, with just over a mile to go, I got a bit emotional. I was alone. Most of my miles are done alone. Running has always been the glue that has kept me together over the years, but here, in this moment, I wept for a bit before bringing it home.

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Blurry and teary skyline

At roughly 9:42pm, I crossed the checkpoint for the sixth time (50.7 miles). I did not feel euphoric, I felt relief. I checked out of the race and called it a night. I wanted to see my dog Harry.

When I registered for In24, my initial goal was 50 miles, but as my training progressed, I started toying around with the idea of going the full 24 hours. As this day developed, however, I realized I’d be lucky to survive 50 miles.

The atmosphere of In24 is amazing. As a friend said pre-race: “This is the Woodstock of running,” and she was right. I was a Lone Ranger, which is the urban ultra component of the race; however, there is also a five person relay, a twelve hour and 24 hour relay, as well as a midnight loop, and a 5k the following morning.  A “tent city” emerges with the participants staking their claim near Boathouse Row. It becomes an instant community of runners.

The enthusiasm of the volunteers at the water stations was contagious. It is a long day for them too. Seeing the other runners and relay participants, some of which were friends, was a real boost during some tough moments. Also, the race is a festive atmosphere, and proceeds go to Back On My Feet, which is an amazing organization that incorporates running into the lives of the homeless. This organization helps the homeless think of themselves differently via running.

Running has been no different for me. Over the years, running has helped me feel better about myself in various ways. It has been my therapy. It has made me a better person.

I can’t say whether or not I would do another ultra, but as I said in my previous post, I know enough at this point to never say never. It was a humbling yet gratifying experience. I will say that I have never been this sore or felt so weak after a race. I’m not sure if it was the distance, the weather or both.

It was a roller coaster with the full range of emotions and struggles. There was never a sustained rhythm…it was darkest before the dawn, and I learned not to say “I’m feeling good right now” because that feeling never lasted.

I am ready for shorter races, and I am very ready to get back on the track again.

Notes: Foods I ate during this race: Gu (6), Chomps (2), Philly Pretzel, pizza slice, orange slices, flat coke (2), ginger ale, banana, boiled potatoes, water/Gatorade mix, Swedish Fish, PB&J (2), protein shake, ¼ Flying Fish Exit 4. My only wish for this race would be for an earlier start time: 10am in July is rough.

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Perks & Challenges of Training for an Ultra

So, I am 915 miles into the training cycle for my first ultra (In24 Philadelphia) which has included five runs between the marathon and 50k distance over the last seven weeks.  The preparation for a 50+ mile urban ultra has taught me a few things about the world of ultra marathon training. Here are just a few of the pluses and minuses I have taken away from the last few months:

The Perks:

Slower Paced Runs

I have been doing my longer runs 90-120 seconds slower than the typical long run pace I would do for a marathon training cycle. This has helped with muscle recovery. My legs have never felt the way they often do after I race a marathon because, despite the longer distances, I have not pounded my body like I would during a race.

While it has taken me some time to adjust to this newer “long run” pace, the idea of focusing on miles vs. pace has freed up my mind and has been quite relaxing. Furthermore, this “quantity vs. “quality” philosophy further simplifies the training.

Eating Real Food During Runs

This might sound sad, but one of the highlights of my long runs has been eating real food. My favorite “go to” food has become peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It has become a morale boost. Energy gels and hydrating alone are not enough during the extended time our bodies are out there running, so real food is a necessity.

My race will have a food table, and I will bring my own as well. I have learned that the body will tell me what it wants. If I look at a particular food and cringe, then I’ll stay away from that food. If I look and want it, I will take it.

Stopping to Adjust is Fine

Running further is a war of attrition, and sometimes there needs to be a lull to regroup and check in with the body (and mind). This might involve a bathroom pit stop or the re-application of sunscreen. It might involve consuming the “real food” mentioned above. These little “pauses” go a long way in making the post-run after-effects less daunting on the body.

Also, I have been running with a hydration pack which has room for my phone, so I have snapped the occasional photograph during my runs. It has been nice to stop and smell the roses during some runs.

The Challenges

Slower Paced Runs

Yes, I already listed this as a perk, but for a runner with a “5K pace” competitive spirit, it has taken EVERY ounce of mental effort to discipline myself to run slower. It has not always been easy. While I do miss a good 8 x 800m repeat workout on the track; there is not much purpose for that when running for distance vs. a PR time.

Training is More Time Consuming

I did the math, and I spent approximately 13.5 hours training during the longer mileage weeks (one of which maxed out at just under 102 miles).  That is nearly two hours per day. This has been a challenge especially with a full time job (and a couple of part time jobs).

Weight Loss

Some might say this is a perk, but at one point, I had lost over 21 pounds. I was getting dangerously close to my high school weight. So, I had to make nutrition adjustments along the way to gain a few pounds back. Then, I had to figure out how to maintain my weight.  I added protein shakes to my diet, as well as trail mixes of all sorts.

Tiredness

While the slower-paced long runs have been easier on my muscles, I have been more tired from the mileage. I am not sure if this has been from the miles alone or the fact that I have had to wake up earlier to fit the mileage into my weekly schedule of government employee, coach, New Balance employee and writer.

I have found that a ten minute nap, when possible, goes a long way. Also, yes, coffee, and more coffee.

The hay is in the barn. The race is less than two weeks away. I’m still not sure if this will be a “one time deal” or not, but one thing running has taught me:

Never Say “Never”

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While the gray was a surprise, I’m labeling the “ultra beard” as a perk. I’m still figuring out how to trim it. 

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On Being a Pacer at the Rumspringa Half Marathon…

I needed a purpose for this race.  Two weeks prior, I set a PR at another Half, and I was in the middle of a taper for my upcoming marathon.  So, the Rumspringa Half would be my fun race: My “race between painful races.”  It was also the first time I have ever traveled to such a race with three friends.  The four of us, collectively known as The Cemetery Runners (since we do many of our runs in a cemetery) had this race circled on our calendars for a couple of months.  However, without a race goal, what would be my purpose?

My purpose evolved into three tasks:  Bus driver, DJ and Pacer.  Since I was relaxed for this race, I offered to drive, which meant coming up with a Pump Up Playlist for the car ride.  My additional purpose came as a pacer for my friend Chad who wanted to go Sub 1:30.  It was only his second Half, but the way his training had been going, he figured himself for the 1:32-1:34 range.  Once he mentioned 1:30 as a goal, the 1:32-1:34 range became irrelevant to me…Chad would be going Sub 1:30 today

So, we set out for Amish country to Adamstown, PA (just over an hour from Philadelphia).  It was a chatty ride full of laughs and conversation you would expect from men aged 40ish, complete with body function talk.  We are all roughly age fourteen mentally, aren’t we?

Upon arriving at the registration gazebo, we were met with the following:

New start time 8:15am” is what the sign said.

“Hmm,” my first thought was, “I guess they are more laid back here in Amish Country.”

The start and finish are in Stoudt’s Village, all part of the Stoudt’s Brewery complex of buildings.  The village has a very “Germany at EPCOTesque” feel to it:  Beautiful, clean and fun yet not quite real.  The perfect weather helped add to the Disney-like atmosphere.

As we lined up at the start, we were made aware of why the race was delayed.  The officials had to push back the race fifteen minutes because it would otherwise run head on into an Amish procession traveling to church that morning.  We were told that the frontrunners might be able to see some of the buggies but progress would not be impeded (for either the runners or Amish churchgoers).

So, at roughly 8:20something (because who’s keeping track of time anyway?) we were off…

Generally, I get the chills at least once just before or during every race; however, seeing dozens of Amish buggies and bicycles heading towards us gave me sustained chills. What a sight it was.  I will never forget this.   Two worlds collided but everyone was smiling, and observing each other.  Our common bond: No mode of transportation required an engine…only the heartbeats of horses and humans.

The course itself was challenging.  The first six miles were flat to downhill, but the remaining miles more than made up for it with rolling hills, and some were doozies.    It was when the hills started that I began to worry about Chad.  His breathing was labored, and he was struggling.  A couple of “F Bombs” may or may not have been dropped.  I tried my usual motivation tricks as a pacer.

Generally, I have learned when to tell the person I am pacing the truth, and when to blow sunshine up their hamstrings.  I knew that unless Chad bonked, we had some money in the bank on the cumulative pace through the first seven miles, which should still make it possible to go Sub 1:30.

Somehow, Chad mustered up a second wind, and despite a couple of slower miles, he managed to finish in 1:29, winning his (our) age group in the process.  Chad was thankful, especially when he learned he won our age group…he gave me a big High Five.

I like to help others because every one of us can use some help once in a while, no matter what our perceived ability is. There is always something to learn…there is always room for improvement. Running is such a solitary sport, but it’s hard to improve by always going it alone.

Being able to assist and witness someone reach or surpass a goal, whether it is a PR or finishing a first race, is a tremendously gratifying experience.  For me, in some ways, it can be even more rewarding than finishing my own race.  Imagine being able to do the thinking for someone and live vicariously through their achievement.  It is a very nice feeling. My bonus reward was the fact that I had a ton of fun throughout the race (and got a six pack of beer as a “thank you” later that day).

Post-race food included Bratwurst and German potato salad, and both were delicious, even at 10am in the morning.

The Rumspringa Half Marathon is put on by Uber Endurance Sports. If you don’t know their races, I suggest signing up for one.  Their events are smaller, more laid back, more low key and more fun.  It is the Anti-Rock N Roll Race series.  For me, that is ideal. Oh, and the age group awards?  German Cuckoos!!!

…and no Uber race would be complete without Lederhosen, dancing and beer….lots of selections from Stoudt’s Brewery from which to choose.

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Cemetery Runners

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The Playlist

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Post-Race Fun

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The Treadmill Follies

If you know me, you know how I feel about treadmills. My dislike for them is well-documented. This week, with the frigid temperatures/wind/ice continuing, I called “uncle” and hopped on a treadmill a couple of times at the local YMCA. I figured the treadmill would be “safer.” The last time I was on a treadmill was over four years ago, so perhaps my “treadmill brain” is a bit rusty or slow. Today, I had a mishap which only validated: 1) I’m not that smart, and 2) Yes, I do indeed hate the treadmill.  

Ironically,I was having a great run up until “the moment.”
I was banging out sub 7 minute miles and the “rolling hills” option was
at 6% grade at “the moment.”  I was
working hard, but relaxed. Perhaps “relaxing” on a treadmill is unwise. This, combined with the following, was not a
good combination…

Confession:
Yes, I was running with music today.  I
don’t run with music anymore; however, on the treadmill, I need to be
distracted from my boredom. So, yes, I
ran with music.  In my “relaxed” state, I
was singing to myself, and, at times, air drumming.  Yes, I probably deserved what happened next.

As Joker and
the Thief
by Wolfmother jammed in my ears, my left hand caught the wire from my
headphones, yanking them out of my ears, and taking the cell phone along with them…taking
the device right off the treadmill. This is when I looked down to see where
everything went. I stopped running, and when you stop running on a treadmill,
bad things happen.  

I don’t
remember much, aside from a bounce and the subsequent belt burns. The best part was the fact that my wife was
on the treadmill next to me, so she had a front row ticket to this mayhem.  Fortunately, my distracting activity did not
impact her own safety.  

After I
realized nothing catastrophic had occurred to my body, I finished my run
(without music and with more humility).  

I sincerely
hope no video of this surfaces on Youtube someday; however, if it does, enjoy
the fruits of my stupidity and klutziness.

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Ouchy elbow

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Running For Your Life

Let’s face it, we are temporary passengers in our bodies.  Sure, in the day-to-day, things feel permanent, but who are we kidding? We get one shot at this, so, many of us become dedicated to taking care of ourselves…to keep this temporary thing called “life” going.  We eat right, workout, attempt some semblance of adequate sleep. But, in the end, we will all die. The Reaper is undefeated, right? Ok, enough depressing chatter.

Where was I?

Yes, running over a lifetime

For those of us who run, we often set goals: a 5k PR, a marathon in every state, 1,000 miles in a year, etc; however, how many of us actually set a goal of “Running over our lifetimes?”  My guess is, overtly, not many of us.  Sure, we love running and want to keep going, but how many of us think about running until we die?

For the most part, we focus on the next race.  This is normal.  We sign up, follow a plan, and if all goes well, get to the starting line.  However, sometimes, we don’t make it to the starting line.  Sometimes, we get injured.

Our first thought?

“Oh my goodness, what about my race???”

We see the doctor, and the doctor recommends the one word runners hate: “rest.”  We are bummed, devastated.

But, just as life is temporary, so are injuries.  There will always be another race, there is not another body for us.  Once we accept being sidelined, we do what we can to come back.  We try to renew and extend our running lives.

…and our running lives are unpredictable.  Some of us never get injured.  Some of us can go years without injury, while others can have several injuries in one year. So, to reduce injuries, here are a few of my tips for running over a lifetime…

1) Ease into things – Do not overdo it in the beginning.  Do not be a victim of “Too Much Too Soon Syndrome.” Sooner or later, you’ll have a “Breakthrough run” where you will feel like a runner.  It will come to you…don’t chase it.  Back off your mileage every third or fourth week.

2) Listen to your body – If you’re in Week 8 of a twelve week training plan, and your shin starts to bother you, take an extra rest day. This rest day might be just what you need to make it to the starting line.  Why push it, and have that shin pain turn into a stress fracture?

3) Race, but don’t race too much – I recommend one race per month (at most), and vary the distance while you’re at it.  Furthermore, as tempting as it may be to become a “marathon maniac,” keep the marathons to one or two per year.

4) Vary your speed – Don’t always run hard.  Really, one harder workout per week is plenty.  Run with a friend when you can.  Better yet, run a race with a friend who might run a different pace than you. He or she will appreciate it, and it will give you a sense of purpose…good karma too!

and most important:

5) Have fun.  When running starts to feel like work, back off. Do anything but run.  Sooner or later, you’ll get the itch to run again.  If you ever want to reconnect with running, attend a race as a spectator.  If you get a fire in your belly, maybe it’s time to lace up the sneakers again.  If not, take more time off.

In the second half of 2014, I’ve backed off my mileage for several reasons, and I’ll spare you these reasons; however, I know I’ll keep running…hopefully, over a lifetime…and if I die while running, so be it. What a way to go out.

In the meantime, I’ll try to outrun the Reaper as long as possible.

“Kinda bent, but we ain’t breakin’ 
in the long run 
Ooh, I want to tell you, it’s a long run…”

– The Long Run by The Eagles

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Runner’s High: 8 Songs That Prove Tom Petty is a Runner

Tom Petty is a runner. I don’t care what you say.

I know he wants to “…get to the point” and “…roll another joint,” and he talks of dancing with Mary Jane, but if you dig into his song list, he might just be a runner at heart.  The following songs suggest Tom Petty is one of us runners.

1.    Runnin’ Down a Dream – I will just get the obvious song out of the way.  This is all about freedom and speed:

Trees flew by, me and Del were singin’ little Runaway, I was flyin.”

I felt so good like anything was possible, I hit cruise control…”

While it is a driving song, this will get you running.  Let’s face it, when we are running, we do feel that anything is possible, and Mr. Petty might have some insight into this.  Then again, the same feeling might apply to getting high (I would not know anymore).

2.    Saving Grace – This song is about finding oneself and finding redemption.  Is this not a perfect theme for runners, especially while trying to get over a bad race?  Also, do we not problem solve and work out our daily issues while on the run?  If we don’t do this, at least we get some temporary peace from our daily issues while running.

And it’s hard to say who you are these days, but you run on anyway. Don’t you baby?

You keep running for another place to find that saving grace…”

This is about moving forward, and not stagnating.  We are always looking to improve as runners, and perhaps Tom Petty knows something about PRs.

3.    Running Man’s Bible – This song is about tough times and weathering the storm.  We have all been there during a race. You know that moment in a race or during a workout when you think about giving up but somehow you don’t?

Here’s one to glory

And survival

And stayin’ alive

It’s the runnin’ man’s bible

I don’t speak of the times I nearly died

Sometimes running and racing is a war of attrition, and usually this war is fought against ourselves, our mind vs. our body.  Sure, we sometimes size up other runners at the starting line, but at the end of the day we are truly racing ourselves.

4.    I Won’t Back Down – This song is simply about Badassery.  You can throw anything you want at Mr. Petty, but he will surely stand his ground.  Life sometimes throws curveballs at us, but we adjust, learn a lesson here and there and move on (hopefully).  This also applies to running. Inevitably, there will be a new situation, perhaps during a race that will catch us off guard. It could be a downpour at Mile 5 of a marathon, or bad cramping on a hot day.  This is when we learn about ourselves and how we react in such situations.

5.    Big Weekend – This song is simple: Road trip and weekend fun, and hey, race weekends are big weekends, aren’t they?  Mr. Petty’s attitude in this song is to live in the moment…a use it or lose it mentality…

If you don’t run you rust”

I don’t know about you, but I want to run over a lifetime, and Tom seems to have a point here. Do it as long as you can.  Once you stop, bad things happen.

6.    All You Can Carry – This is about moving on. As runners, we sometimes have trouble moving on. We analyze our races to death, even the good ones.  We are never 100% satisfied.  Well, Tom is telling us to lighten up…not necessarily to lighten our loads…but to move on…

“Take what you can

All you can carry

Take what you can

And leave the thoughts behind

We got to run

Sage advice from someone that could get away with this look:

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Remember this video?

7.    American Girl – Come on, can’t you see Tom Petty running out on Route 441 down in his home state of Florida?  Well, maybe not, but perhaps his old girlfriend did, you know…the one raised on promises?

After all it was a great big world

With lots of places to run to

And if she had to die tryin’

She had one little promise she was gonna keep

So, if you know what this song is really about, you’re rolling your eyes right now (or you suddenly want to watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High).

8.    Walls – This one is a stretch but bear with me.  Often, I will describe my runs as either “diamonds” or “rocks,” depending on whether they are good or bad.  Well, this is exactly how Mr. Petty opens this song.  Okay, this is a love song, but it is about endurance and patiently waiting.  Mr. Petty is not writing about the walls we may encounter during a race, but he is taking about holding out for something to believe in…sounds like a distance runner’s mentality to me.

So if you think Tom Petty is singing about the munchies, you might want to dig deeper. Perhaps he is simply fueling up for his next race.  Maybe he’s been talking about Runner’s High all along.

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Maybe he is a trail runner?

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5 Things I Learned About Trail Racing in the Half Wit Half

Welcome to pretty much the center of the universe for stupidity.  We are proud of that here in Reading, because we have nothing else to be proud of here.”

So said the race coordinator for the Half Wit Half, a trail half marathon just outside of Reading, Pennsylvania.  He said this at approximately 9:12am as roughly 500 “half wits” lined up late for the 9am start. We also had to recite the “Half Wit Oath” which began with “I are a half wit…” and got funnier from there.

The Half Wit Half isn’t so much a trail race as it is an obstacle course, and registering for it as my first-ever trail race was probably not my brightest moment; however, it was consistent with half wit logic. I was not alone as I convinced two friends to join me in my stupidity.

Instead of summarizing all of the incredibly difficult terrain we had to navigate, and the ridiculous, jaw-dropping uphills and downhills, which had all of us cry-laughing incredulously by the end, I will focus on some observations of trail racing.

1 – Concentrating is exhausting

I am a road runner.  I am decent. I like to “go,” and when I am racing, I have the ability to rest my brain, go on “auto-pilot” and just race.  In the Half wit, I could never relax. The course is so rocky and full of hazards, I could never “open it up.” In fact, I had to concentrate so much to stay upright (in which I was unsuccessful – more on that in #2), I was mentally drained by the first water stop at the 5K mark.

2 – Falling down Hurts

I went into the Half Wit with two goals: 1) Finish safely, and 2) Try not to fall or twist an ankle.  I finished, and have that going for me, which is nice; however, I lost count at the number of times I turned my ankles, and yes, I fell four times.  Falls #1 and #2 were on a steep downhill in which I needed to grab trees to avoid falling. The thing is, it is harder to grab trees while on such a steep grade than you might think.  So, I landed on my ass twice. If you have ever fallen during a race, you know it feels like slow motion as it is happening. Fall #3 I will call the “Ironic” fall because it occurred on pavement as I crossed a narrow paved path to resume the wooded path on the other side. Today, the entire left side of my body remembers this fall.  Fall #4 was just plain mean in that there were rocks hidden under the brush, and I went airborne into sticker bushes.  Ouch. The best part was having to use my hands to get up from this fall, with my hands in the stickers.  Did I say, ouch?

3 – Downhills are more difficult than Uphills

With the few times I had run trails, I already knew this, but the reality was more apparent under racing conditions.  I felt like I was two different runners. One runner was quite competent and in control going up hill. The other runner had to nearly walk down many of the rugged downhill sections because 1) Gravity forces you to lose control, and 2) I was so uncertain of the terrain.  So, I passed people on the uphill, and they passed me on the downhill. In a sense, I became a spectator, watching in awe how the more experienced trail runners navigated the downhill with ease.  I just kept asking myself “How do they do that?”  I wanted to be able to do that too.

4 – Walking is perfectly acceptable

As I ran passed people that were walking uphill, I wondered “Do they know something I don’t know?” and “Should I be walking too?”  The answer was not necessarily yes; however, during the ridiculous verticals, including some crazy switchbacks, it became more obvious that running would be either 1) Stupid or 2) Not possible.  So, I learned how to walk without worrying about walking during a race.  It was safer and allowed my body to regroup because I also learned the further I got into the race, the more clumsy I became.

5 – Trail runners are a different breed

I mean this as a compliment to trail runners.  The majority arrived in casual clothes and flip flops. I did not know this was a thing.  In general, they appear more laid back and friendlier. I noticed more beards and tattoos than I had noticed during the many road races I had done.  I jokingly wondered to myself: “If I grow a beard or get a tattoo, would it help my trail running competence?” Probably not.

Running my first trail race, I was reminded I am competitive, but it also hit me that I am not a laid back racer.  This laid back attitude is worth pursuing some more; however, I am not sure I am wired that way, so I will learn how to become a better trail racer instead.