Off Road Racing League #4

I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting 166 people to show up to a trail race on a Thursday night in 95˚F heat and high humidity. But hey, it’s only 3.9 miles, how hard could it be?

Well, amongst those 166 people were some serious competitors. This was the 4th race in the Off Road Racing League’s August trail running series. I missed the first 3 due to Howl, vacation, and recovery. I’m not sure I’m completely recovered from Howl yet. I don’t having any lingering pains, I just don’t have a lot of zip in my step, if you know what I mean. It probably wasn’t the best time for a super fast trail race, but it should be fun.

I went out with the leaders, letting them set the pace while I evaluated how I felt. I came to a stop when the leader took a wrong turn, unsure of myself even though I had studied the map before the race. Then I came to a stop again after the leader took another wrong turn. The second time really wasn’t his fault (the turn was poorly marked), and I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation, so I waited for him to get back on the right trail before proceeding to set the pace myself. The leader was a bit impatient with my slightly more conservative pace and he soon passed me. I stuck with him, perhaps foolishly, allowing only enough room between us to see the trail.

Our first 2½ miles were around 5:45 pace, which was quite uncomfortable for me after a summer of long distance training. Then we hit the stairs–200 ft (~20 flights) almost straight up. He ran up, single-stepping. I briskly walked, double-stepping. As we slowed on the steps I heard a chase group behind start to catch up.

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Photo courtesy of Alpine Shop

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Photo courtesy of Alpine Shop

The leader pulled away from me as the stairs leveled off and we began to run again. Then we hit a short steep uphill and I was cooked. Two runners passed me and I dropped to fourth. I figured I would make up time on the long technical downhill section, but it wasn’t to be. I fell even further behind the leading trio. By the stream crossing at the bottom I was in full damage control mode. Just before the final 200m section through a wide open field I caught a glimpse of two more runners catching up to me fast, which unfortunately meant I’d have to work pretty hard for those 200m.

I hung on to 4th overall, 3rd male, 2nd age group. I received a $10 gift card to the Alpine Shop, which, along with the free Mountain Hardwear hat I received for registering, more than made up for the $16 entry fee.

Oh, and the “3.9” mile course was actually somewhere between 4.5 and 4.7 miles. I was so exhausted after the race I literally had difficulty lifting a slice of watermelon up to my mouth. But after a while I recovered, then I went back out for another 3 miles (in addition to the 3 miles I ran before the race). Next weekend I’m running a half marathon on my favorite STL area trail. If I was going to struggle in my first post-Howl race, I’m glad it was here rather than there.

In the Dry Country

Clinton Gulch Reservoir

From my love of maps and geography at a young age through my current passion of trail running, Colorado has always fascinated me. Yet I’ve lived nearly 35 years without ever paying a proper visit to the state (the one time I was in Colorado was a layover in the Denver airport). That would all change with our family vacation this summer.

After our adventure at Howl at the Moon we spent Will’s birthday with both sets of his grandparents. Then we drove west. From the time Will was very little he didn’t travel particularly well, so we’ve rarely gone more than 3-4 hours in the car for the past few years. He handled the extended drive rather well now that he’s a mature 4 year old. Melissa has detailed our adventures here and here.

We spent the first night at a hotel beside the interstate in eastern Colorado, before heading on to Fort Collins the next morning. Fort Collins reminded me a lot of Champaign-Urbana, our former home. Except better in many ways. It has just about the best bicycling infrastructure of any city I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something.

Despite the adjacent mountains, the city is flat. There was one road with heavy (if slow-moving) automobile traffic, but every other street in the city was completely ridable. Every arterial road had wide traffic lanes plus dedicated bike lanes. Plus cars drove at sensible speeds and didn’t take stupid risks for no apparent reason. Most secondary roads also had wide traffic lanes plus dedicated bike lanes. By the time you hit roads small enough to not have dedicated bike lanes there was essentially no automobile traffic. I didn’t actually ride in Fort Collins, but it was obvious this city would be extremely easy to get around by bike (better than C-U, and way better than Saint Louis).

We camped that night at Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of the city in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. While this location kind of paled in comparison to what was to come, it was still a magical place to stay our first night in the Rockies.

Horsetooth Reservoir



The next morning I awoke with a dry throat. Sure, we live nearly at sea level and we were now a mile above. The thin air was noticeable to me at this altitude, but not enough to bother me. The thing that did bother me, and I honestly wasn’t expecting this, was the dryness of the air. Nobody told me Colorado was essentially a desert. I was expecting the mountains and forests and rivers, but not necessarily the stark red earth and dry air.

We went for a hike at nearby Horsetooth Mountain. As I was carrying a 4 year old on my back at unfamiliar elevation and recovering from a long hard race effort, we opted for an easy hike rather than try to summit the peak. We had a fun time.

Horsetooth Falls Trail

After Fort Collins we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park for a few days of camping and hiking there. We drove through Big Thompson River Canyon, which was unbelievable. Given this was my first time in the Rockies, I was blown away by the mountains. This felt like an entirely different planet from the Appalachian mountains, where I’ve spent a considerable amount of time.

Rocky Mountain National Park

We camped at almost 9,000 ft. I went for a short run (my first run post-Howl) in the morning. I felt it all–the thin air, the dry air, the wild temperature swings. I saw moose and elk. I saw the mighty Colorado River where it’s just a creek, not even big enough to be given a name in the midwest.

Timber Creek Campground

Camping with moose


Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado River

After breakfast we went out for a family hike along the Colorado River.

Colorado River

Colorado River

Colorado River

Rocky Mountain National Park

In the afternoon we went for another hike to Adams Falls.

Adams Falls

The following day we did some very light hiking at 12,000 ft.


After Rocky Mountain National Park we went to visit Boulder. I expected Boulder to quite similar to Fort Collins, but it was remarkably different. It was reassuring to see dozens upon dozens of recreational cyclists out in the middle of a workday as we approached. But Boulder reminded me a lot more of Saint Louis than Champaign-Urbana. The roads were narrow. Most bikes I saw were on the sidewalk. There were a lot of people driving like maniacs trying to get somewhere in a hurry. I thought Boulder was supposed to be laid back…

North Boulder Park

We played at a playground, drove around the city, ate vegan fast food at Native Foods, then headed to a hotel for the night. I woke up early the next morning and drove by myself to Green Mountain on the edge of town. I ran from the bottom (5,600 ft) to the top (8,100 ft), taking far more time to do so than I care to admit. The altitude was a struggle for me, but I feel like I had it under control by going slowly. The dry air just about destroyed me. I was breathing the dry air so heavily that my throat just burned most of the way up. I ran out of water long before I reached the top. Upon reaching the summit I stood on the rocks at the top and had a great early morning view of Boulder. I signed some kind of register at the peak (Colorado Mountain Something Something Group) indicating I had been there. I was the only non-Colorado resident on the page. The descent was way easier (except when I had to go off trail to get around a very large snake in the path).

Boulder's Green Mountain

We met Melissa’s friend and her family and played at a park together before walking to a restaurant for lunch. Boulder was way more enjoyable on foot than it was in a car. After lunch we were off to Leadville. It wasn’t actually until the first morning we woke up in eastern Colorado that I realized we would be in the state while the famous Leadville 100 mile trail race took place. We decided to head further into the mountains to be there to watch the race finish.

Now above 10,000 ft, with a sore throat from breathing the dry air for a week, I really didn’t feel spectacular in Leadville. I literally found myself panting after jogging across the street, and again after walking up two flights of stairs in the hotel. We watched the first two finishers cross the line, Ian Sharman and Nick Clark. Both of these guys were in Nicaragua at Fuego y Agua this year. Ian ended up not racing Fuego y Agua (and I didn’t actually meet him), while Nick won the 100K after running with me for the first 11 miles and going off course twice. Kudos to them both. Given the difficulty I faced jogging across the street I can’t imagine running 100 miles at and above this elevation. Well, not yet. The next morning Melissa went for a run and claimed to enjoy it. I’m not sure I would have been able to.



Our last stop in Colorado was a fun trip on an old mining railroad (Will loves trains). Then came the long, long drive back home.

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad

I got this

My second attempt at the Howl at the Moon 8 Hour Run came last week. Last year this race was my first attempt at running ~50 miles (or anything farther than 50K). This time around I’ve already completed two 50+ mile races. I trained and raced well all summer. The weather was not supposed to be too hot. In short, things were looking good. I didn’t have a specific distance goal in mind, I just really wanted to run farther than last year.

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Ready to race

With more confidence and better fitness I started the race a little bit faster this time. My first marathon of the day was 3h33m (compared to 3h45m last year). I knew I would slow down in a few more miles, so I tried to do it gradually, rather than have my pace fall off a cliff like last year.

In both of my previous 50+ mile races I went through a real rough patch from miles 35-45. This race would be no different. My quads were shot. They ached with every step I took. The fatigue was unmistakable. While this was uncharted territory for me a year ago, I was expecting it this time. And I was looking forward to it.

Instead of slowing to a crawl and wallowing in my misery I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Sure, I slowed, but not nearly as much as last year. Given the bad patch hit me at the exact same place as my two previous 50+ mile races, I had reason to believe I would also snap out of it in the same place as I did in my two previous 50+ mile races. During that whole spell I kept thinking to myself:

I just have to deal with this for a mere 10 miles. I can deal with anything for 10 miles.

I got this.

It wasn’t pretty, but I did what had to be done. The beast you know is far easier to tame than the beast you don’t know. The race wasn’t any easier for me physically this year, but it was way, way easier mentally. It’s pretty amazing to me how much of a difference that can make.

I had gone fast enough early on that I was over a full lap ahead of a very experienced acquaintance, TC, with whom I tied for 9th place last year with 50.35 miles. Around mile 45 TC caught back up to me (so I was exactly one lap ahead). He congratulated me on a great race (which was classy) then pushed past me. As he was pulling away I was snapping out of my funk. After a while he stopped gaining on me. Then I started to come back to him. By the time I reached him we were both energized and ready to finish strong. We ran the last two laps together, and I finished my 16th lap with 10 minutes left on the clock. Melissa finished her 13th and final lap at the same time. TC and I went out for another mile on the out-and-back section that opens late in the race.

I finished with 53.64 miles, bettering last year’s mark by one full 3.29 mile loop. Melissa ran 42.77 miles, bettering last year’s mark of 40.48 miles. I was 3rd place overall and 1st in the Open Male (under 40 years) division. Melissa tied for 22nd overall, 11th female, and 3rd Open Female (under 40 years). There were 333 people in the race, so she uncorked a big one. TC again finished with 50.35 miles (with 0 seconds left on the clock).

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TC gets 4th place award

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Melissa recovers in the shade

There were a few other notable tidbits from this race. My first marathon of the day was 3h33m (my 5th fastest marathon ever). My second marathon of the day was 4h12m (still faster than the first marathon I ever ran). My 50 mile split was 7h24m (much faster than the 7h50m it took me to reach 50 miles last year at Howl, and faster than the 8h45m it took me to reach 50 miles at Berryman in May, though that was a much harder course).

It was great to run Howl again this year. It’s so fun and well organized. It was great to see so many of our friends from our former home of Champaign-Urbana. This race has turned into something of a homecoming for us these past two years, and I’m quite pleased that both of us were able to put in really fine performances.

The dustbin of history

One month ago, July 4th 2013, was the 20th anniversary of the beginning of my running career. What started out as a fun run with a friend turned into high school cross country and track, college cross country and track, marathons, triathlons, bike racing, ultramarathons, and obstacle course racing.

A few months ago when my grandpa moved out of his house and into an apartment he handed me a manila folder stuffed to the gills with decades-old newspaper clippings that mentioned my name, mostly from high school, and mostly involving athletics. I recently took the time to look at them all and scan them into my computer. Here are a few interesting clippings:

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Struggling? Settled? This seems a bit like a backhanded complement, like telling a girl she’s too pretty to kiss.

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In the words of Jonathan Coulton, I crush everything.

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I really wish I still had those socks.