The Virginia 24 hour run for cancer: Great race, bad word choice

After years of considering, pondering, daydreaming and fantasizing, last year I finally decided to go big and run 100 miles. The reasons compelling me to do this are varied and worthy of being written down (at least they seem so to me) and they’ll get their due attention in another blog post. This is the story of the race itself.

For some reason, many who run great distances desire to make it as difficult as possible. They intentionally seek out altitude, heat, massive elevation changes and the threat of lions eating them along the way. I am not such a person. At my core I’m lazy – that is to say, if I’m going to run 100 miles, I’m going to do it in the easiest way possible.

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Lovely race morning

Enter the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer. Rather than a meandering single track trail through the the most mountainous parts of hell (in August), the idea here is to circle a wide, flat 4 mile loop as many times as you can over the course of 24 hours. A typical “good” result for this type of race is to complete 100 miles in 24 hours. I’d say that for the ultrarunner, this is about the equivalent of running a 4 hour marathon – amazing for some, somewhat mundane for those who can run 150 miles in that same period. A typical 24 hour race is significantly easier than a traditional trail ultra as they are flat and, importantly, well serviced. Rather than hiding drop bags all over a mountain, Awesome Wife Kelly was looking beautiful, shouting encouragement and serving a veritable buffet of delicious food and drink every four miles. Nice.

Almost ready to go!

Almost ready to go!

Alas, they say something about the best laid schemes of mice and men. Injuries derailed training and I was forced to sit out the last month of peak training (literally, even walking was a challenge), only getting back on my feet two weeks before the race – just in time for the taper. So my PT, Awesome Wife Kelly and I had a long conversation about how to run 100 miles without training. Reluctantly I agreed with AWK that it wasn’t a good idea. 50 miles on the other hand – great idea. The PT disagreed and I haven’t spoken with him since. AWK also disagreed, but I live with her and needed her to crew the race so we remained on speaking terms. So instead of 100 in 24, we set out for 50 in 12 with no expectations and little at risk. Really, the best way to do these things. The experience proved so memorably awesomely fantastic that I figure it deserves a retrospective race recap.

Before we get started, a quick tangent. While the race (as you’re about to see) was a wonderful experience that I couldn’t recommend highly enough, the name (The Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer) is pretty bad. Presumably the run is for a cure to cancer rather than For Cancer. I mean I met George, the race director, and he seems like a really nice guy. I can’t imagine he’s raising all that cash FOR cancer. Right? A modest proposal:

  • Virginia 24 Hour Run Against Cancer
  • Virginia 24 Hour Run For a Cure
  • Virginia 24 Hour Run For a Cure For Cancer
  • Virginia 24 Hour Run to Beat The Hell out of Cancer

George, if you’re reading this, please feel free to use any of the above next year – no need to even credit me.

Author’s note: None of the prior is meant in any way to lessen how terrible cancer is. Cancer is terrible.

Start/finish/turnaround with fans and crew

Start/finish/turnaround with fans and crew

Okay, we’re back. Newport News, where the race is located, is just not an awesome town. Locals would probably point out a bunch of awesome things about NN that I never saw. I’m sure they’re right. For the tourist it’s just pretty unmemorable. We stayed at some sort of motor lodge and Awesome Wife Kelly made pasta for dinner in our dingy kitchen. Pretty boring and really hardly worth noting down even in a running blog. That’s saying something.

(Another) Quick aside: Poor AWK. We take a romantic long weekend vacation to, um, Newport News Virginia. She has to cook dinner in a pretty terrible hotel room. She has to sit around for 12 hours while I run in endless circles. Then she has to put up with my whining and bitching for the next several days. Then I get all the credit. Poor Awesome Wife Kelly.

AWK ready to crew the race (and sit around, a LOT)

AWK ready to crew the race (and sit around, a LOT)

We wake up at some ungodly hour the morning of the race and drive the 5 miles to the race location. It’s based in an urban park right by the freeway. As I understand it, there used to be a factory on the location and when they closed up shop, they turned the whole site into a really lovely wooded park, right alongside the freeway. Beautiful and conveniently located right near an off-ramp!

As a marathon runner who’s used to running big races, I was pretty surprised by what I found on race morning. I mean, the Paris Marathon has 30,000 runners from across the world, most of whom don’t speak English and many of whom think you’re a monster for not speaking French. You get to the starting line and you’re an anonymous figure surrounded by what might as well be fellow commuters on the subway.

Coming from that background it’s hard to describe how different and how wonderful it was to toe the line with 300 similarly dedicated ultra runners. I’d never met any of them before and I’m generally a bit of an introvert around new people, but the enthusiasm and laughter was contagious. As we stood waiting for the start I chatted with people I didn’t know and who I will never meet again as if they were old friends. There is camaraderie amongst strangers in the ultrarunning community that you don’t find in many other places.

We're off!

We’re off!

Now maybe all ultrarunners are just really nice people. Or maybe they’re bored from running so many solitary hours and consequently are just more talkative when actually surrounded by people. Maybe they’re sizing up the competition. Let me propose an alternative theory: the thought of running crazy distances over 12 or 24 hours is pretty damn scary (at least to the novices). No matter how hard you’ve trained, 1,000 things can go wrong. Blisters, dehydration, cramps, hallucinations. The stories about even the world’s best ultrarunners bonking or puking or getting lost are amazing and hilarious and terrifying. And that’s why I think ultrarunners are so outgoing and damned nice: it’s easier not to be scared to death about what lies ahead if you’re chatting amiably about your hometown and dog.

Another revelation about ultrarunning is that for the great majority of people it’s not about time. Unless you’re one of the very few people who can run these things fast, it’s just about finishing, a fact that really removes the pressure. So instead of monitoring my pace every minute to make sure I’m on track and instead of the difference between 3:18 and 3:20 being the difference between a great race and a total failure, I started on my way at a leisurely trot, focused more on the beautiful weather than on the minutiae of the race. In the first 10 minutes of a 720 minute race you can afford to be thinking about other things.

Running

Running

And what a wonderful 720 minutes it was. I started out with a run, then a run walk, then a walk run, then a walk and then something that wasn’t quite a crawl, but certainly wasn’t what you’d call a walk. It was excruciating but fun and I made it through not too much worse for the wear. The trail is pretty and peaceful (especially for a New Yorker who sees about 0 trees on an average run), the folks were friendly and the race was easy – Kelly helped refuel and came along for two really fun laps. The most boring part of writing about running is writing about running, so I’ll leave it at that.

More running

More running

About 10 hours in, Awesome Wife Kelly and I were slowly making our way when we noticed a commotion up ahead and some runners booking it around the loop. We kept on our way until we came upon a runner on the ground surrounded by park rangers and other helpful looking people. The runner was out cold and a ranger was performing CPR. After a few moments of this he’d convulse, the first responders would back off, then continue back up with the CPR as soon as his body calmed. AWK and I didn’t know what to do. It felt terrible to stand by watching and not helping. At the same time it didn’t feel right to run by when another runner was in such distress. After about 10 minutes of standing at a distance we quietly passed by with another group of runners. We didn’t say anything for several minutes, and after that we had a hard time conveying how saddened we were and how lucky we felt. It changed the mood and tenor of the race, reminding us of the real risks that accompany this type of activity. I cannot tell you how relieved and excited we were when we found out later that the runner survived and was expected to make a full recovery. Rarely have I ever been so ecstatic to hear about a stranger’s good fortune. AWK and I practically glided through the rest of the lap.

Approaching the finish

Approaching the finish

The rest of the day was uneventful. Blisters and cramps and lots of Gu, Nuun, Heed and peanut butter sandwiches. I’d never had pizza or donuts on a run before, but I happily consumed them about ¾ of the way through. I finished 52.5 miles in 11.5 hours and felt good enough that I started doing some mental math. Okay, if I run just 2 miles per hour – only 30 minute miles! – I could get to 75 miles in another 12 hours. Awesome Wife Kelly looked at me as I told her this, let me finish, then calmly but firmly told me to get my ass into the car. I clocked out, took my plaque and headed home.

Done!

Done!

Many thanks to everybody who helped put on a great Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer 2014!

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Meet Michele and gwenyth

I’d like you to meet my good friend Michele.  She’s fun, clever and creative. She’s the kind of active person who likes to do things (as opposed to lots of people I know who like to mostly sit around).  She is such a do-er that when she couldn’t find an activewear top she liked, she went out and designed, manufactured and sold one.  Thus was gwenyth born.  This is not an advertising site, but from time to time I’ll feature brands that I support.  While I have obviously never worn one of her tops, I like gwenyth and love Michele, so I asked her to share a little bit about herself and her great product.

The lovely Michele. Athlete, entrepreneur, boob expert and peace advocate.

The lovely Michele. Athlete, entrepreneur, boob expert and peace advocate.

When David asked me to guest post, I was honored yet baffled – as an owner of a small activewear brand focused on barre, dance, and pilates, who considers a 5 minute shuffle around the block a “run” these days, what could I possibly share that would be of interest to a running crowd?

My chicken response to David’s invitation was as follows:

“Would love to guest post – but I’m not sure what gwenyth would offer to your running audience.  I’ve been specifically told by girls with chest sizes B-cup and up (that’s like every non-Asian girl in the US) that our top is NOT for running! Which is isn’t.  🙂   But thanks for thinking of me.”

And then I weakly offered in the same e-mail:

“Maybe what happens to boobs in sports bras, targeted to your female runners?  Or maybe that would be for the men.  🙂  I could probably write a book on boobs at this point.  Girth and cup are insufficient measures.  There is also shape and trajectory to consider.  That’s why no one can ever find the right bra.”

To which he responded:

“WOW, now I insist that you write something.”

Now that I’ve either whittled down or slightly grown the audience still paying attention, I’m going to talk about…wait for it…not boobs.  Instead I’m going to talk about why I started gwenyth.  Those of you that feel like you boarded the wrong plane can feel free to exit now.image00111

gwenyth tops – barre to bar

gwenyth tops – barre to bar

On starting gwenyth: The story on our website and materials talk about how I couldn’t find a top for myself for dance class that performed and supported, but was pretty and feminine and didn’t squash my meager A-cup (per reference above, yes I am Asian).  About how I redesigned the internal bra, chose very specific fabric, and reworked its construction to solve that problem.  About how I have no apparel manufacturing background and prototyped like over 20 garments to get to the exact fit I wanted.   Yes that’s all true.  But as I really think about it, that’s not why I started gwenyth.

I started it because:  I wanted to bring dance to life. That’s the best I can describe it.  Now let me explain what I mean, as I realize this all sounds a little hokey.  I don’t mean to say I want everyone to dance.  Although a flashmob consisting of all runners doing the running man would be uh-mee-yaaay-zing.  Or that I think current dance and dancing is dead and lifeless.  What I mean is that I want to bring that feeling of mental, physical, and emotional breakthrough I experience most consistently from dance into daily life for myself and others.  And it just happens that I thought the best way to do that was via a top that reflected the strength, aesthetics, and invention of dance.

I never get tired of going to dance class.  As an adult beginner, I am nowhere near great, or even good.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m still motivated to get better and the little improvements are like massive rewards.  I’m never looking at the clock, and I am never so discouraged or ill-fit for the discipline that I want to give up despite any pain.  Similarly, for my runner friends, it seems that running is an almost compulsion.  There’s no if but when. It’s like an express elevator to a different strata of the mind and the body.  It’s something they never get tired of pushing at. It’s not easy.  But it’s not impossible.  And there’s eternal reward in the doing even on the bad days and maybe even more so on the days that hurt. But whether it’s dance or running, crossfit or bird watching, I think there’s that 1 or 3 things for each person that heightens their sense of experience and life. For me it’s dance. Maybe for you it’s running.

So, selfishly, that’s why I started gwenyth.  I want to seize that feeling not just for a 1-hour dance class, or a 2-hour run, but for more of my waking, working life. I want to help people channel that feeling more efficiently. Yesterday it was through a top. Today it was through a pic of James Dean doing ballet. Tomorrow it may be through a fund to make the dance experience more accessible to more children.

This Men’s Health article (http://betweenloveandlike.blogspot.com/2008/04/airborne-toxic-events-mikel-jollett-on.html) by Mikel Jolett, the lead singer for Airborne Toxic Event and incidentally also a runner, best explains the sentiment I think.  And because he’s not an idiot, he didn’t name it “Motivation” or “Inspiration”.  Instead he entitled it “Brad Pitt Whipped Me Into Shape”.

If you’re interested in learning more about a top that is generally NOT for running, but fabulous for 90% of all other occasions, check out gwenyth’s website (www.gwenythbrand.com) or feel free to contact me directly at michele@gwenythbrand.com.

Remember, running is just like dancing forward.

Obsessive behavior – The Razorback Endurance race and a casual morning 50k

Following big races I often find myself lost amidst a deep ennui, aimless without a goal to work towards and bored with all of the extra time associated with race recovery. In such a state I found myself aimlessly flipping through Ultrarunning’s race calendar, just checking out upcoming races to see what’s going on. This, my friends, is a story of how post-run ennui mixed with race calendars can be a dangerous combination.

I clicked on the Razorback Endurance Race, mostly because it has a cool name and stayed to peruse the web-site, mostly because it has a cool logo. That’s when the lightning bolt high – I’ll be in northern California the same week this race takes place in San Martin. To Google Maps! Turns out it’s only a one hour drive…

Razorback

I did a bit more research and became increasingly intrigued. Based on the web site and Facebook page, Razorback seems like a great race with a bunch of fun people in charge and an awesome spirit. Also, some very serious runners. How do I know they’re serious? There are nine people signed up for the 72 hour race. Think about that for a moment. If you show up at 6 AM on the 28th for the start of the 24 hour race (which is, in itself a crazy thing to do), there will be nine people who have already been running for two days. Nine CRAZY people. As far as I can tell, this is the only race in the world where you get an inferiority complex for only entering the 100 miler.

As I kept reading I became intrigued. And really, what’s the difference between a marathon and a 50k? Not much, right? Imagine you’re in a very crowded marathon field and you have to do lots of weaving in and out of the crowd. Then maybe you make a wrong turn and get lost somewhere towards the end. You’ve probably done a 50k without even realizing. Right? Right? Okay, maybe not, but you get my point.

Thankfully I’m married to Awesome Wife Kelly and she quickly agrees that the best way to get over a mediocre performance in New Orleans was with a 50k in San Martin. Despite there being far fewer perks involved for her, she was in. Sometimes she earns her moniker.

And then I got to thinking. Running 50 miles slowly really isn’t so much more challenging than running a marathon for speed, is it? And aren’t I in at least as good of shape as I was the last time I ran 50?

Awesome Wife Kelly calls this re-trading. Though Awesome, Kelly is not a runner and thus doesn’t always understand these things. But at the end of the day she’s a softy and we are on for the 50 miler.

This leaves me in a bit of a jam. I’m still recovering from the New Orleans Marathon yet am theoretically supposed to be hitting peak mileage this week ahead of a taper that starts next week for a 50 miler in three weeks. Taper-race-recovery-taper with no hard training for 7 weeks seems like a bad idea, so I decided to run through soreness and hit it hard this week. And that is how I came up with the idea, late last night, to run a 50k today, 11 days after the marathon. Hit it hard, test my muscles, verify that there’s a chance I actually finish and then rest for a few weeks. Just like the instruction book says.

But truth be told, the run went really well. My left hamstring is still tight from New Orleans – really more of a “hurt” than an “injury” – and I’m obviously not in peak shape, but I managed without issue, pounding out consistent 9:30 miles over the course of 5 hours. And while my muscles tightened and cramped and my body fatigued, I finished the run with the conviction that I’m ready for Razorback. Just like that, the ennui has disappeared.

So I was just perusing the site again after registration and realized that at 100k – only 11 more miles – I can get a fancy belt buckle. Oh Kelly, can we talk about something…

Sometimes failure can be fun: The New Orleans Marathon (Part 3 of 3)

A post in three parts:

Part 1: Dead man shuffle: A recap of my race

Part 2: I’ll admit when I’m wrong: Broader thoughts on the New Orleans Marathon

Part 3: The long weekend that wouldn’t end: Our week in New Orleans

 

Part 3:

There’s a common practice called deflection which, poorly summarized, means that we justify failure in one aspect of our lives with totally unrelated success in other parts. It’s okay that I’m not doing so well in school this semester because I made a lot of really great friendships. Yeah, I missed out on the promotion but it’s okay because I’m really tall.

Better yet: I feel okay about my poor race performance because I won New Orleans.

Right about now you’re pointing out that I can’t actually “win” New Orleans and yes, technically, you’re right. But if you had only been there for the week you would appreciate how great my performance was and I think that you too would objectively grant me the victory. If only you had been there to see it.

Reasons I won New Orleans

  • I got there early: Awesome Wife Kelly and I took the extra time off and snuck out for the Thursday flight. With a little romantic time before the others arrived we got to have some nice, quiet meals to enjoy at a slower pace and a quieter volume. A great way to relax and ease into the weekend
  • I stayed late: On Sunday afternoon, as we were working our way through our 4th dozen oysters, we got a text message informing us that our flight was cancelled due to a snow storm. Given the beautiful 65 degree weather this was quite confusing. Turns out we’d been living in a total bubble and didn’t realize that snowmageddon was bearing down on the east coast (though it wasn’t, really). The airline rescheduled us for Wednesday morning and after some brief handwringing about missing work, we started celebrating two extra days in New Orleans…by ordering our 5th dozen oysters. I very honestly told my boss there was no way to get home and the lovely man was full of understanding and commiserating. Best snow days ever
  • I ate everything (and ordered best): Oysters, shrimp, fried oysters, fried shrimp, po-boy of every stripe, gumbo and jambalaya and stuffed pork chops. And everything covered with heaping mounds of crab meat.
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  • I finally got to Galatoire’s Friday lunch: Be in the know – it’s pronounced without the “r”. Also, the reason to go is the Friday lunch, where the locals take over and the whole place rocks with good spirit and southern charm. Waiters are hesitant to even let you order, they’re so concerned that you’re relaxing and enjoying yourself. The food is great but almost beside the point. The point is to soak in the atmosphere, feel like you’re a part of a tradition and also to drink lots and lots of bloody marys and martinis. Don’t believe me? If you’re not waiting outside at 9 AM you won’t get seated at 11:30 when the restaurant opens (don’t worry, eventually you can put your name on a list and go back to bed) and the locals pay “agents” $15/head to wait in line and reserve them tables. Still don’t believe me? This lunch is the sole reason Awesome Wife Kelly and I took the extra time off work and ponied up for the extra night in a hotel. And it was worth it
  • I was surrounded by amazing friends: Adam, Anne, Dave and Running Partner Lindsey. Great folk all of them both in supporting the race and in doing everything they could to try to get me drunk the night before (they mostly failed)
  • I made new friends: Marty was the crazy local we met in line at Galatoire’s. He’s friends with every street walker on Bourbon, dated a (male) member of a famous political family whose name we swore we would never reveal, and offered, in exchange for a small fortune, to wait three days in line at Galatoire’s to get me a table on the Friday of the first week of Mardi Gras. The two Tulane grad students at NOLA Brewing who strongly recommended we go to F&M – but never before 2 AM – but, through knowing smirks, refused to tell us what went on there. The many, many taxi drivers, all of whom had colorful tales and language and a (small) few of whom even knew how to get us to our destination.
  • Awesome Wife Kelly was there: She’s awesome and she makes everything awesome
  • I’m going back tomorrow: Seriously, rolling it back this weekend for a bachelor party. If you don’t see a blog post next week, call the police

See, now I feel better about the run.

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NOLA scenery

The following highlights are probably only of interest to people who are planning a trip to NO and are looking for restaurant recommendations. All others consider yourself warned.

The warm-up

Galatoire’s: See above

Clancy’s: Thursday night dinner immediately after we arrived. It’s a bit of a hike, exacerbated by a cab driver who calmly explained that she had bad night vision and couldn’t really make the road out very clearly. The pouring rain made this even more exciting. I guess we were glad that she drove 10 MPH in a 25?   Our 10 minute trip took 25 and we didn’t know whether to laugh about it or to jump out of the very slowly advancing taxi. The restaurant is a classic NO neighborhood spot with a great atmosphere – with the exception of the table of very loud lawyers screaming back and forth about how awesome they are. Though it’s widely regarded as one of the top restaurants in town, we thought the classic creole cuisine was very good though not exceptional. Lots of fish and veal, blackened or with creamy sauces. Delicious crab meat tops just about everything. Good but not exceptional, especially by NO standards.

Mr. B’s: I had high hopes for this French Quarter classic but found it uneven. The service was pretty bad while most of the food was pretty good. Some raved about the gumbo, everybody loved the BBQ shrimp, which were truly awesome. My pork was fine.

Carbo loading

Domilise’s: When in NO we are constantly looking for great po-boys. We’d never been to Domilise’s so made the hike over on Saturday afternoon. The biggest draw here is the atmosphere, as it’s housed in what feels like an old run down house filled with colorful locals fueled by roast beef po-boys and cheap Abita. We rolled deep with 6 adults and two babies, taking up half the joint but folks could not have been friendlier. I thought the fried shrimp po-boys were clearly the winner, but others preferred the oysters. Definitely worth the trip.photo 3-2

Coop’s: Saturday night before the race we headed to Coop’s for the best Jambalaya in town. It’s a dive with rude (but lovable) service and amazing food. Anne, who is both discerning and In The Know, described the signature Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya as “the best thing I’ve eaten this year.” Adam and Dave liked it so much that they each ordered seconds. Early to bed for Lindsey and me but the rest of the crew went next door to Cane and Table, about whose cocktails they raved for days to come.

Post race shenanigans

Acme Oyster House: This is where locals and others well informed will call me a dumb tourist and say this place isn’t worth the price or the line. I humbly and respectfully disagree. This is a Sunday tradition for our team and made an amazing post-race party / protein binge. The raw oysters are great, but the char grilled are mind blowing. Every time I go I’m shocked at how good they are. For six of us we ordered 5 dozen char grilled, 2 dozen raw and then po-boys to wash it all down

Peche: Sister restaurant to the instant classic Cochon, Peche is the fish to Cochon’s pig. They specialize in whole fish and total awesomeness. Unlike a lot of the classic creole restaurants, this is a scene, more interested in 10 ingredient cocktails and inventive food than the staid (but delicious) Sazerac. The whole fish was delicious, as were all of the seafood appetizers and the beers. It’s a great place if you’re looking for top quality seafood and a modern feel.photo 1-2

The following days

With the race over we relaxed and got rowdy. We hit Mahoney’s, whose Peacemaker po-boy has fried oysters, cheddar cheese and bacon and is every bit as delicious as it sounds. The NOLA brewery and tap room is worth the trip – not for the brewery tour, but for the great selection of interesting, quality beers and the free beer served from 2-3 on Fridays. Pat O’Brien’s piano bar is a classic and always worth a visit. The surprise star of the trip was K. Paul’s. Surprise because we had just modest photo 5expectations and also because we’d been there before and liked, though not loved it. The stuffed pork chop was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Awesome Wife Kelly contacted the restaurant to ask them which of chef Paul Prudhomme’s many cookbooks contained that recipe (see, isn’t she awesome) and they cheerily asked for our address so they could send the recipe to us directly. That’s good people. There are several others we hit, too numerous to recount here, and by and large all awesome. What an amazing place to be trapped as the east coast freezes. And what fun people to be trapped with!