Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What NOT to do before running a marathon... (Cologne Marathon Race Report)

Quote of the Race: TallGuySurfing yelling "WASSER BITTE!" and slamming his fist upon the bar. Two Germans on each of his sides back away slowly. The bar tender hands over a tiny glass of sparkling water. He hands the bartender 5 Euros, slams the water and yells, "Zwei!" The bartender hands over a second and in English he says as he limps away, "I'm taking your pussy sized glass with me!"

- Cologne, Germany
Cost - Variable. It cost 90 Euros for me and that included timing chip rental. See website here.
Year of Running - Unknown, possibly since 1997 or before.
Sponsor/Race Directors - BMW, Puma, PCU, KVB and other various European sponsors.
Charity - Unknown
Number of Participants - 7,310 (Marathon), 12,571 (Half Marathon) 89 (Ultra - Half & Full), 1,691 (Inline-Skate Marathon), 397 (Marathon Relay Teams), 361 (School Relay teams), 77 (Hand Cycle Marathon).
Available Races - Marathon, Half Marathon, Marathon plus Half Marathon Ultra, Inline Skate Marathon, Hand Cycle Marathon, Marathon Relay & Kid's Mini Marathon.
Course Condition - Flat and fast. Mostly asphalt pavement, except for a few small stretches of ancient cobble stone streets (ouch!) near the last few miles.
Pace Groups - We couldn't find any information about pacers at the expo or on the website, but there were pace groups visible during the race in 15 minute increments.
Expo - Held at the convention center near the start/finish line. Average for a race of this size. It was interesting to see so much inline skating gear being sold.

ORGANIZATION, SUPPORT & SPECTATORS: - I'm not going to write a lot here because I feel that we probably missed a lot of the "real picture" of what was going on simply because we don't know how to speak or write German. We were able to figure out most of what was going on by relating it to our experiences at large races in the United States. Things were very similar, but also very different. I felt that the race was organized with typical German precision (that's a compliment). The support was probably excellent by European standards. Aid stations were well stocked with supplies although I was not used to "tea" as a beverage during races. It was the little things that were the big differences. The spectators were awesome. I think the only place in the race lacking any spectators was in the tunnel. Everywhere else spectators lined the streets with signs, nose makers and some even handed out their own refreshments (although I couldn't communicate with them).

Excellent. The website and emails regarding transportation to the expo and on race day were very well timed and informative despite being poorly translated to English. We used the local train system to take us to within a half mile of the start line. Cologne also has an International Airport. The city is also a 50 minute ICE fast train ride from Frankfurt (bigger airport).

The goodie bag included a beer glass with race logo on it, the usual miscellaneous propaganda and a personalized bib number. Race tech T-shirts by Puma were available for an extra charge.

If I was German I probably would have loved it. The finish line was overflowing with German sausages and beer. I did not see any awards ceremony so I can't commit on it. There was a serious lack of water or sports drinks at the finish line. I found soda, tea and beer. There was no ice to be found anywhere so if you want to ice a knee or hamstring make other plans. When I finally did find water it was carbonated and I had to buy it.

Here's my story of WHAT NOT TO DO before running a marathon. Let me be the first to say that I know better and I can only blame myself for what happened to me. We have a saying in aviation. The 50 hour rookie that just got his pilot's license is safer than the 300 hour guy that's just building time. The reason is you get a little bit of experience under your belt and it's human nature to "think" you know a lot more than you really do and the result is overestimating your capabilities. I feel like I'm at that point with this running thing. A handful of marathon medals and even a 50k hanging on my wall and I think to myself, "run a marathon after 10-days of vacation an ocean away from home? No problem man, you've got this... piece of cake!"
Lesson learned? If you're going to make your next marathon also your vacation make sure you run the race at the beginning of your vacation. Not the end. Here's why:
Jenny and I planned a 12-day vacation to Europe. In the several months of planning we learned that the Cologne Marathon coincided perfectly with our trip, which was to include visited to Barcelona, Spain; Cologne, Germany; and Toulouse, France. The initial thought would be that the end of vacation race is better because we would be fully adjusted to the time change. In retrospect, the beginning of vacation race would have worked out better. I'm used to a little sleep deprivation before a race anyhow!
What happened and where we went wrong was simple having a good time. Barcelona was an overload of the senses. Different food, different drinks and crazy walking walking walking! We walked everywhere. I'm guessing we walked at least a marathon during our time in Barcelona. We took trains too, but there's so much to see and the best way is to walk. We managed an 8-mile tapper run along the beaches. It was amazing and felt great. By the time we made it to visit our friend, Peter, in Germany we were walked out and our nutrition was out of control. It was impossible to find the same foods we eat at home.
By the time race day came I was feeling good, but what I didn't know was my body was tired. I tried to eat right and get plenty of sleep. In fact, I think I got the best sleep in months leading up to the race, but when you're not used to walking as much as we were doing it takes a toll on you.
Pre-race was a little bit of a clusterf*ck. Everything was so well organized by the Germans, except a small little thing called a bottleneck. Getting to the start corrals was insane. There was simply too many people and not enough space. I found myself wedged against a temporary barrier fence for about 20 minutes waiting for the start gun. All my new best friends, some of whom smelled funny, spoke no English and I can honestly say I've never been so crowded, yet so lonely at the same time. Some things translate like body language, smiles, laughter, but so much doesn't and that's where I felt left out. Jenny and I had to separate and get into different corrals. She was in corral A and I was in B.
When we finally started it thinned out after a ways and the course widened once we made it to the bridge going over the Rhine River and into the city of Cologne. The first 10 miles were awesome. The weather was in the upper 60s, but quickly rising. The start time was 11 a.m., which was another factor that lead to both of our demises. How do you eat before a marathon when it starts at 11 a.m.??? It's a lot different than the normal early morning start.
At mile 10 I was feeling really strong and my time was excellent. I was averaging about an 8:40ish pace. I was lured into an irrational thought that perhaps all the walking and odd nutrition actually helped prepare me for this race. I did the math for the finish time at 8:40 and that seemed like a fantasy, but I liked it so I kept going like a fool. Around mile 11 I started feeling a tightness around my ribs and screwed up my breathing pattern. It was a little concerning because it was a completely new feeling. I've never felt it before or since, but it went away by mile 13 and I noticed my pace was beginning to slow.
By now it's afternoon and the sun is high in the sky. It's a lot hotter now; probably mid-to-high 70s (the official high for the day was 78). I push onward.
A little after mile 15, probably closer to 16, I felt a cramp in one of my calf muscles. I tried to run through it and it just got worse. It was like reality yelling at me, "you're not worthy!" It soon forced me to stop completely and try and stretch and massage it into submission. A few minutes later I pushed onward.
Around mile 18 my legs really started to hurt. My feet were heavy and seemed to stick to the ground. I stared down at them to make sure I hadn't stepped in gum or maybe super glue. Now all those spectators cheering everyone on where just getting annoying to me. I'd rather be on a trail in the woods! Then the real muscle cramps arrived. The kind of cramps that leave you with two options -- fall square on your face after having complete leg failure, or stop completely to avoid such a fall. I stopped each time as the cramping seemed to systematically work its way through each muscle in both of my legs. Fix one cramp and another one pops up and says, "Hello there mutherf*cker!"
I start thinking about the finish line and realize that my irrational imaginary finish time will not happen. I start to think about how awesome it would be if I could just make sub-4 hours. Soon that possibility slips away and I quickly start thinking, "OK, well, maybe I can beat my marathon PR of 4:18:00?" Then I realize that is not going to happen. It's just my luck that for the first time in my life I'm running a marathon without being injured or partially recovered from injury and here I am plagued with cramps!
Somewhere around mile 22 or 23 I lose it. I curse aloud at myself. Hell, half these people don't know English anyways. I look around and people are drinking beers on the side of the road having a jolly time. I almost decide to go into a pub and get properly pissed, but I'm in too much pain to even try and think about forming German words with my mouth. I limp along and accept my situation. No more denial. This IS happening. I form a strategy. I will pick a spot that I can see ahead and run to it without walking no matter what happens. When I reach it I'll allow myself a short walk before picking another spot to run to further down the course. This strategy gets me through the race. It's not pretty, but it works and I hobble across the finish line for a very uneventful finish.
At this point I'm nearly a walking zombie. The only thing on my mind is drinking water and finding Jenny. Somehow I've allowed myself to become severely dehydrated or perhaps it's an electrolyte imbalance. It's difficult to think rationally. I'm going on prior experience at this point, but this race isn't like so many others...
I somehow remember to get my medal. I look around desperately hoping to find some water or ice. There's nothing! There is a long tunnel like overpass we must walk through to get back near the expo building where the bag drop is and this "chute" separates race finishers from the general crowd. Unlike other finisher chutes I've walked there is a good quarter mile of nothing. No water, no ice, no food. WTF? I see some paramedics and almost head that way, but the thought of trying to communicate with them scares the hell out of me. "Shake it off Sylvan," I yell at myself and pull it together.
I finally reach the other side of the overpass and I see tables and booths and people standing in lines. YES! Finally! But, my excitement is short lived as I get closer and realize the first thing these Germans are getting after finishing a marathon is apparently wieners and beer. Yup, I'm now confronted with free sausages, hotdogs and beer. This is perhaps the only situation imaginable where I am NOT stoked to make this discovery. I reach another table further down and see hundreds of cups full of different liquids. One of these has to be water, right? Nope. They have cola and tea. Now I'm ready to kill someone, but instead I find a wall and collapse against it and fall to the ground.
The ground is almost peaceful, but almost instantly my legs decide to start cramping up again and this time it's with vengeance. "Mother of God," I scream as I grab my left hamstring. As soon as I thrust my body one way the other hamstring joins in and I'm left thrashing about on the concrete looking like an imbecile. After a few minutes my brain and body negotiate on a position that limits cramping and my only option for the time being is to people watch and try not to move. What's amazing is nobody even asked me if I was OK and I'm surrounded by thousands of people. After about 15 minutes I managed to get up and continue my quest for water. I make it all the way back into the expo building. The Germans are NOT fans of water fountains so no luck here. I go to the back drop and pick up my bag. Inside it is money and at this point I'll pay anything for some water. Jenny is nowhere to be seen and our plan was to meet at bag drop if we didn't see each other after the race. I look around, hang out for a few minutes and then make the decision to get water and come back. Neither of us have cell phones, but we both have money and we both know the way home.
Outside the expo building there are event bars set up for the general public to buy food and drinks. I see one bar serving beer. It's popular and crowded so I opt for another bar that is serving coffee. I ask the German girl if she has any water and she says no. I ask where water might be and she seems confused so I head to the bar serving beer. This is where I'm ignored again and again until I slam my fist on the bar and yell with a deep voice "water" in German. Other Germans near by back away and one of them even tells the bartender something and points to me. I get my water, but it's carbonated. I don't care. I slam the first one and then demand a second. I pay for it. You're supposed to return the glass and I think they keep a small deposit, but at this point I don't care. In my mind I'm saying, "I'm taking your stupid little beer glass with me," and I walk away with my carbonated water.
I head back to the bag drop and this time Jenny is there waiting for me. We hug and I tell her that I bonked. She had been so worried about me she was going around to all the paramedics and asking if they had seen me. Of course, they didn't know much English so she wasn't getting anywhere with them. She ended up having a terrible race as well. Not as bad as me, but not pretty at all. Bottom line: It was hotter than we expected weather wise and we did everything wrong leading up to the race.
But you know what? While I'll never do another marathon in Germany or a similar situation like this one, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I'm glad I did it. Having a bad race is just part of running. It's going to happen. And for every bad race there are many many more "good" races. I'm looking forward to the next good race, hopefully the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon this Saturday!

My official stats:
3,666th out of 7,310 marathon finishers
421st in my age division (30-34)
Chip Time: 4:47:06
Average pace: 10:57 miles (6:48 kilometers)
10k - 55:08
15k - 1:22:51
Half - 1:58:31
25k - 2:24:04
30k - 3:02:03
35k - 3:43:18
Total Participants - 21,738 and that's not including another 758 relay teams. It's a big race weekend in Germany.
The Cologne (Koln) Marathon TallGuySurfing grade = B-

Thursday, September 22, 2011


In a few hours I'll be on a jet plane high above the Atlantic Ocean tracking a course to the Old World. Jenny and I are embarking on a 12-day adventure spanning three countries. We're beginning in Barcelona, Spain for the tail end of their Patron Saint's festival and then heading to Cologne, Germany to visit and old friend of mine. From there we will spend a day at work with my friend (he's a cargo pilot for a major shipping company) and get to fly with him down to Toulouse, France. After a day there we'll jump seat back to Cologne with him and then run the Cologne (Koln) Marathon on October 2nd.
This will be my first international marathon. Instead of seeing mile markers it will be kilometers. Instead of hearing English it will be German. Instead of seeing Brooks and Nike shoes and clothing it will predominately be Puma and Adidas. I'm stoked!
This will be my 5th time to Europe and first time to Spain and France. I'm leaving my laptop at home and going to test out and attempt to use only my iPad 2. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully, I'll be able to update with some posts while over there and some pictures too!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene SCORE!

On Friday morning we decided to head south of Cape Canaveral in hopes of catching the conditions just right. As we arrived and spot checked it at Cherie Down Park it was going off and then I realized we were about to score really big!
For the first session we hit it at Jetty Park and it was overhead and super clean. I got two ligament barrels and pretty much lost count of the nose riding mayhem I was creating on my 9'0" Walden Magic. The amazing thing is it really wasn't that crowded.
By noon it was fading away at Jetty Park. I guess it was too sheltered at that point. We headed south to the more exposed Cocoa Beach Pier only to find a few hundred guys in the water. The waves looked enticing and I was game, but one of our friends (a beginner) was intimidated so we headed back to north to Cherie Down again and paddled out to score big again!
This time it was bigger. The drops were faster and waves more powerful. I was in freaking heaven! But, my arms were getting more and more burnt out. By the end of the second session my arms felt like my legs usually feel after running a marathon. We all headed back north with smiles on our faces. Irene we love you!

Here's some pictures from Friday....

On Saturday it was New Smyrna Beach and the north coast of Florida's turn. The wind was now offshore up this way and the ocean was clean and ready for some rippin'.
We met at a predetermined spot where we know of a good sandbar just after dawn. The waves were the biggest we've seen yet. The wind was slightly less than the day before and that was good because it means easy entry. The paddle out was the hardest yet and I had to take several sets on the head, but made it out in about 10 minutes. The outside break was the furthest out of all our Irene sessions; about 3/4 of a mile. The wave faces were around the 8 feet range. It was so EPIC that I surfed for 3 1/2 hours without coming in once. That's a long time for no food or water. I took about 100 waves during that time and they were so clean that I probably could haven't gotten by without having a leash. Super fun and what a stoke! I surfed myself sick... literally. After the session I had to get in a car and crank the A/C to high while drinking three Gatorades and then going to Subway to down a foot long meatball sub (it's what I was craving). Then I went home to pick up Jenny (she went to Gainesville to do her long run with Team Hot Legs) and I laid down on the couch for a half hour before feeling better.
We went back to the beach to visit friends. I didn't paddle back out as I was stoked and satisfied. A thunderstorm rolled through and sent all the Orlando kooks fleeing the beach and hopefully going home. After it was peaceful. Jenny and I went on a couple mile walk. It was a good ending to a top 10 swell of my lifetime so far!

Here are a few pics from Saturday in New Smyrna Beach.

On Sunday we went down to the inlet only to find waist high sets rolling in with offshore winds. This was hardly exciting after the previous four days. We surfed for about 30 minutes and call it quits. It felt like a recovery paddle... like a recovery run, but for my arms.
Can't wait for the next swell!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

After an evening run Jenny and I decided to check out the surf at Flagler Avenue. It was crazy with people and news vans and the parking lot was chaos.
The ocean is still a big washing machine. A few isolated thunderstorms passed by, but then it cleared up and for now it's just windy.
Looks like the best bet for tomorrow will be to go south of the Cape. Saturday will be New Smyrna Beach's day. I'll try and update with some pictures from Jetty Park or Cocoa tomorrow.

So now we wait...

Drove over to the beach at dawn this morning.
The surf is a lot more disorganized than last night and the wind is fully onshore. Hurricane Irene is starting to show herself. We're only under tropical storm watch here in Florida so we'll probably only get 25mph to 45mph winds.
The news people were on the beach trying their hardest to sensationalize their stories. A few young and dumb surfers were preparing to paddle out. A few traveling surfers were in their cars or on the beach sleeping. I remember those days when I was in high school and our gang would all paddle out during the worst and most gnarly part of the storm. It's exciting and seems adventurous when you're 18-years-old. To an experienced surfer or an older surfer it seems flat out retarded. I'm saving my arms for tomorrow and Saturday when the storm is to the north and the Coriolis effect causes the winds to pull offshore and the surf cleans up. That will be our window. Timing is everything as it'll blow the swell down quickly. Hitting it at the right time is key. Stay tuned for more updates!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hello Irene!

Surfed the first incoming long period sets from Hurricane Irene this evening at the Sunglow Pier in South Daytona Beach with a few friends. Waves were a little overhead on me (I'm 6'7") and had a slight chop to them as the wind was onshore, but light. It was a super fun time, but a little test for paddling. Definitely the biggest waves I've surfed this year. I rode the 9'0" Walden Magic. Tomorrow it looks like it'll be washed out with heavy onshore wind. After she passes to the north and heads to North Carolina (stay safe my Outer Banks friends) the winds are forecast to go offshore here Friday and Saturday. That will be the window of opportunity. I'll try and post up some pictures tomorrow and of course when it cleans up a bit. This could be the swell of the year??? Time will tell.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A little random humor...

Last weekend I sold my kayak and ping pong table on Craigslist. The amazing thing is both items sold in less than an hour of making the post. The other day I decided to do a little experiment with Craigslist to see just how far I can take it and still get someone to buy something.

The subject: My old TV that is collecting dust and taking up space on the back porch.

The experiment: Can it be "sold" with a bit of salesmanship and humor?

The control: The TV is outdated and worthless.

This is how the posting (click the link to see the actual Craigslist post) reads:

"Oh man, do you like the look of an old school color television??? We're talking 2003 here. Yup, before 1080p...z...g or omega alpha high definition HDMI this or that! This retro television set is box-like and heavy with a good size 27-inch screen. No theater view here. We're talking full on square-shaped screen! Yeah, that's right. It's also manufactured by Symphonic (Model WF2703). Never head of that brand? It's okay, I haven't either. It was purchased from the quantity over quality-minded people of Wal-Mart during one of those Blue Light Specials. Wait, is that's a K-Mart thing? Nevermind. Getting back on track. This television was made in Malaysia probably by some poor Asian dude working for $2 per day, but I'll tell you what, it works and it works well! Hook up the cable and tune in some Price is Right or Judge Judy. Bust out the popcorn and throw on the John Wayne Westerns. Fire up that old Atari and hit the Pac-Man. Features include 27" Stereo Sound System (built in of course), Video L-Audio-R on the front and back! And of course Video in cable jack... and don't forget the remote control so your butt can stay comfortably on the couch. It takes only two AA batteries and has lots of buttons!"

So far the only calls I've received have been people asking if I've sold it out of curiosity. The answer.... no. One lady even asked if I'd take her number and call her if someone buys it because she has one she wants to sell too. My answer? No!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

North Face Endurance Challenge 50K

My First Ultra Marathon!
The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k (June 4, 2011 - Sterling, Va.)

Quote of the Race
: Paramedic 1: Looks at Paramedic 2 with great confusion and concern while taking blood pressure reading.
Paramedic 2 to Paramedic 1: "It's okay, that is normal for 'these people,'" after seeing Jenny's finish line blood pressure of 100 (systolic) over 65 (diastolic).

- Sterling, Virginia (Washington D.C. area)
Cost - $75 to $110 for 50K based on sign up date. More for 50 mile and less for all other distances. See website here.
Year of Running - 4th year at this location.
Sponsor/Race Directors - The North Face, Gortex, Jeep, Nuun, Gu, and various local sponsors.
Charity - Karno Kids, Challenged Athletes Foundation, Leave no Trace, Bonneville Enviromental Foundation and runners have option to run for their own cause/beneficiary.
Number of Participants - 325 finishers (50K), 211 finishers (50 mile), 199 finishers (marathon).
Available Races - 50 Mile, 50K, Marathon, Marathon relay, Half Marathon, 10K, 5K and kid's race spread during two days.
Course Condition - Mostly single and double track trails. Little or no pavement surface. Moderate to advanced technical trail with some steep inclines and declines involving switchbacks, rocks, gravel, mud, stream crossings, tree stumps, and lots of dirt/sand!
Pace Groups - N/A. Pacers are allowed for 50 mile participants toward the end.
Expo - Not really. Packet Pickup is held at the North Face retail store in Georgetown.

ORGANIZATION, SUPPORT & SPECTATORS: - Great! I felt The North Face did an excellent job for this event. Everything from registration to packet pickup to getting home after the race went smoothly for us and as described on the event website. Race organizers described the event accurately on the website and made available a super informative and environmentally friendly race package downloadable in .PDF format. They also didn't provide any plastic bags upon packet pickup and encouraged participants to bring their own reusable bags to promote a message of sustainability. Everything seemed simple and easy as it should.
Support was adequate if not above par for a trail race. Aid stations were well stocked, manned and seemed to be placed at "just right" distances along the course. Volunteers and organizers were visually "in touch" with each other using radios and cell phones and I witnessed paramedics along the course multiple times.
Due to the nature of the course spectators are very limited to access. There's an area in Great Falls Park where there were hundreds of spectators camped out and then also at the finish line, but that's about it. A few times I came upon day hikers that looked more confused about the runners than anything else. In my opinion it was just right for a trail race.

Not bad at all. Instructions regarding this were very clear in the race package. As instructed we arrived at an offsite parking lot and were easily taken into the park to the start line in a school bus. The location of this race is accessible from multiple airports including Dulles International, Regan International and Washington/Baltimore International. We had family members to give us a ride, but there are plenty of car rentals available. I'm not sure if the Metro goes close to the start line. I'm guessing it does not.

Awesome! The North Face is one of my favorite apparel companies for a number of reasons, mainly because their high quality products and their corporate responsibility. Depending on the distance each participant races they receive some or all of the the following swag with each registration: The North Face Technical running T-shirt, The North Face arm warmers, The North Face water bottle, personalized bib number and timing chip, hot meal ticket and finisher's medal. Living up to their environmental friendliness, The North Face asks that runners bring their own reusable bags to packet pickup instead of giving out hundreds of plastic bags that will end up in landfills or worse.

Yummy! Each participant gets a meal voucher. The meal was catered with several options for hot meals. We also received and used our vouchers for a free beer that tasted oh so good! There was also the normal bagels, bananas, water, etc., as much as you want. The post race awards were held on a small stage and done in an appropriate manner. There was an "ice bath" area with multiple tubs, horse troughs, buckets and coolers full of ice water. Runners could chose how much icing they prefer. Paramedics were standing by at the finish line in case anyone needed help. Multiple venders/sponsors also had display tents around the finish area.

Welcome to my first 50 kilometer race! I should probably write a disclaimer at the bottom of this warning "do not try this at home." I really don't recommend anyone go about their first ultra marathon the way I did. Buy a book, get a training plan and follow the route that experts recommend. However, for entertainment value only; here is what I did. Please also keep in mind that Jenny actually trained for this race correctly with several long runs in access of 26-miles and a proper taper, but that's her story.
Most of the winter and spring since the Donna Half Marathon was spent recovering from my nagging and ongoing Achilles Tendinitis that has plagued me for two years now. After the half marathon I continued getting weekly treatment at a chiropractic clinic and by doing physical therapy. All this meant no real long runs, speed training, hills or anything abusive or interesting. Jenny's goal since her 35th birthday was to run 35 miles at one time. This spells ultra marathon all of it. She started training for it before picking a race. When it came time to decide upon a race it was looking like the final contenders were a trail race in North Carolina or a trail race in northern Virginia (The North Face). At that time (only a couple months) I decided that it would be a good idea for me to also participate in said ultra marathon. I mean, surely I should be able to come up with a strategy only focused on finishing without injury and still be able to finish, right?
When I told Jenny she looked extremely concerned. With some effort and reassuring I "think" I was able to get her to not worry about me and focus on her own race as this race is about her more than me.
In the few weeks leading up to the race I was able to get in a couple long runs, but nothing longer than 11 miles. Mixed into that was the Bay to Breakers 12K race, which my cousin and I actually ran at a respectable pace. I also concentrated on running a lot of 5-and 6-mile runs during the weeks leading up to the 50k. Thinking back, this was completely insufficient and naive for ultra marathon training. Other than being completely retarded my major concern was further injuring my Achilles tendon. It's an overuse issue with me and it seems to get angry every time I increase my mileage so this ultra was in part an experiment to see what the minimum amount of training I could do without injuring myself, but still being able to finish. Yes, I know. I'm stupid.
Fast forward to race day!
We arrive ultra early (it is an ultra) and the sun is rising over the Potomac River. The air is cold and I can see my breath. There is steam fog rising across the glassy water of the river. Just last week temperatures in the metro D.C. area were topping out in the upper 80s and I'm thankful for this unusually cool weather for this time of year. Jenny is covered in goosebumps as we wait in line for the bathrooms. We stretch. We eat. We check in our bags. We eat some more and then we wait near the start line trying to stay warm. Jenny sees some rays of light and moves into the grassy patch of sunlight. I see that she is standing right next to Dean Karnazes and I do not follow. She is looking right at him nearly 6-feet away and doesn't recognize him. He is a small man. Shorter than you'd think until you see him. Jenny looks back at me like I'm insane for not sharing the warm sunlight with her. Then she looks again at Dean. Her face slowly changes from confusion to "oh my God," as she realizes who he is and she hurries back to where I'm standing. The entire situation causes me to laugh out loud. While we respect Dean for the good that he does for the sport, charities and how well he markets himself, we've never really been a fan of his ever since watching his documentary.
A few speeches are made. A few hundred runners that would be considered crazy by an average Joe gather around the start line. Finally, a feeling of "this is completely normal" is in the air around me. An air horn sounds and we're off just as the 50-milers started two hours before and as the marathoners will start two hours later. It's simple. It's easy actually. I tell myself that my only mission is to keep a constant state of forward motion no matter what happens.
Starting only a few dozen runners back, I'm tall enough to see the lead runners blazing down the trail at a pace that would kick my ass in only a couple miles. It's crowded the first few miles. The trail is double track at the most and each time we happen upon a narrow section it bottlenecks slightly, but eventually it thins as everyone settles into their own comfortable paces. I run with Jenny for about two miles in the crowd. It's very apparent that she wants to start passing people and run a faster pace. I tell her to go kick some ass as my strategy is much more reserved. For the next two or three miles I keep catching glimpses of Jenny ahead in the distance, but soon she is gone.
My strategy is a simple one. Run 5-miles. Then walk 1-mile and then repeat until finish. The idea is to sustain a respectable pace without injuring myself. My brilliant plan works for about, oh, I don't know, two or three miles and then is blown out of the water when we encounter our first large hill. It's single track at this point and all the runners in front of me start walking up it. Apparently, their strategy is different than mine and there's no good way to pass them at this point. As I start to walk and realize how damn steep this hill really is I decide that their strategy is far more superior than mine. Yes, walking all the steep hills is definitely the way to go. If I ran up this sucker my legs would be trashed in no time! We sure as hell don't have any hills like this in Florida!
The race continues on and I'm amazed at how friendly the people running around me our. Small talk and conversation commence. One guy is running his first ultra just like me only the longest other race he's ever ran is a half marathon. The runners thin out after the first aid station 5 or 6 miles in and soon I've got lots of breathing room around me. I turn on my iPod and start jamming out to some tunes. I start eating my Sports Beans. Before the race I dumped two packages (24 count) in my pockets and decided that after mile 6 or 7 I would eat one each time my Garmin indicated another mile ran. It is my reward. My pockets are bulging with all these beans and lots of other nutrition. It's hard to imagine that by the end of the race it will all be gone.
At around the 10 mile mark (I think) I start to see 50-mile runners heading back. It's the leaders! The first guy is all alone. Then I see two guys a few hundred meters behind. Then I see a face I recognize. There's a friend of Jenny and mine that is part of the Florida Track Club named Andy Robinson. He's super friendly and happens to be super fast as well. I'm not sure if it's really him so I don't say anything. Who ever it is he's only a few minutes off the leader and he's looking strong with only 10 miles to go after running about 40. Amazing!
The North Face uses ribbons tied to tree branches to mark the trail. Each event distance has a different color. As long as you see the color of the race you are running you are on the right trail. At first there's a ton of ribbons at each marker. As we progress they start disappearing. At the aid station near what would be the half marathon distance there's only three ribbons left; marathon, 50k and 50-mile. This aid station is in the Great Falls Park and it's where the marathoners will turn around. It's also the most accessible spot for spectators on the course. From here we go into the park and run a loop. Those 50-mile freaks run the loop multiple times before heading back. After running 13 miles of trail it's nice to see civilization again. People are cheering us on, there's tons of food and drink to be had at the aid station and the weather is still good. As I leave the aid station I notice only two ribbons remain, mine and the 50-mile color.
"Wow, I'm really doing this," I say to myself.
I'm officially beyond the marathoners, which just seems nuts to me at the time.
I'm not tired yet and I've done a great job of pacing myself. I know from the topo maps that there's some crazy hills ahead of me. I create a mantra at this point to tell myself again and again until the end of the race.
It's simple. It's true and it's easy. I must continue forward at all costs.
Great Falls Park is absolutely beautiful. I'm not sure why I never visited this place when I lived up this way. The trail is anything but boring. There are tree stumps and boulders to jump over, creeks and mud puddles to avoid or cross and the river is heavy with rapids. At one point I'm so in awe of the view I start going the wrong way. The guy that is running his first ultra follows me and a woman behind us yells we're going the wrong way and saves disaster. Part of the loop requires runners to go on a short out and back before rejoining the second half of the loop. During this section I see Jenny running back. She looks strong. I yell "hey Jenny" as she almost doesn't see me. We turn as we pass each other. She says she's good and I tell her I'm fine. I also tell her I think I saw Andy Robinson. At this point Jenny is about 15 minutes ahead of me.
I make it back to the aid station at the park and with the loop behind me it's time to start heading back, but first I decide to refill my hydration pack and change my socks. I anticipated that changing my socks would help avoid blisters and perhaps make my feet feel better. It's an old hiking trick I've used in the past on all day hikes. This takes me about five minutes and then I'm back on the trail and still feeling strong.
It's about 5-miles or so until the next aid station. The air temperature is quickly warming up at this point. I'm also doing the math in my head and at my current pace I might be able to beat 6 hours. I don't have a time goal, but that sure sounds good for my first ultra and at this point I'm feeling way better than I thought I would and there's no hints of impending injury. I decide it will be a good idea to pick up the pace a little. Hell, maybe I'll even run up a hill.
All goes well for a few miles and then I discover I'm low on water. In fact, I'm freaking out of water! Hydration pack status = EMPTY. According to Mr. Garmin it looks like I've got about two more miles to the aid station. I guess I'm at around mile 23 or 24ish where I should be hitting "the wall" in a marathon situation. Only thing is, I'm not hitting a wall. I'm just thirsty. REALLY thirsty. My body confirms this with my first cramp. It happens in my left calf muscle. It's not what I call a full on "Charlie horse" style cramp, but more of a mild "you can still run, but I'm going to speak to you with each step," type cramp. I've been carrying with me a package of Shot Blok 3X Sodium that is Margarita flavored.
"Why the hell not," I ask myself as I tear into it and start eating the little gummy cubes one by one. It's hard to take Shot Bloks without water and it's definitely not recommended, but for my plight it beats the alternative. I soon start to feel better and I have to admit I'm now a believer in Shot Bloks.
I finally reach the aid station and refill my hydration pack and force myself to eat some food. I start running again and now I'm officially past the "marathon" distance. It's a bizarre feeling that I don't think I can describe with words. For so much of my life I felt that marathoners were crazy and that 26.2 miles was the ultimate distance. I never imagined that I would run a marathon. Then I did one. Then I did another. Then I felt that ultra-marathoners were crazy and that I'd never do one. Well, I must be crazy because now I'm passing 27 miles and looking for 31.
Miles 28, 29, 30 and 31 are surreal. I seem to lose perspective of time. I tell myself forward, forward, FORWARD, but it's slow going. I hit a series of "mini walls" and find ways to get past them. At the last aid station with two miles to go I ask "how much further," and upon hearing the answer I confidently say, "I can do that!" With two miles left I don't think food is going to do me much good. I take some water and dump it on my head and start running, or at least trying to run.
I become somewhat irrationally emotional with myself in the last couple miles. Everything seems to blur together. At one point there's a small levy with about 6-inches of water slowly flowing across the top. It's about 100 feet long. There's a wooden bridge off to the right that most runners use to cross. A girl in front of me that is running the marathon distance runs straight through the water. I weight my options. If I go to the bridge that will require two steps up and two steps down. If I run through the levy my shoes will be soaking wet. I'll take soaking wet shoes over two steps up and two steps down at this point. I charge through the water splashing wildly and it feels refreshing on my legs.
With less than a half mile to go I can see the parking lot and finish line. Just before the finish line I see Jenny walking with her father. They have their backs to me as I approach. At this point I actually start crying a little bit. I'm really going to finish a 50K! Jenny turns around and sees me. She yells my name and jumps up and down. I run up to them and start walking next to them to chat. It's wild to think I'm 100 yards to the finish line and I'm walking and it doesn't bother me one bit. Jenny has just finished doing an additional 4-miles after finishing to accomplish her goal of running 35 miles for turning 35-years-old. I hand her my camera (yes, I carried my camera with me) and she runs ahead to get a picture of me crossing the finish line.
I approach the finish line and they announce my name. By now it's about 80 degrees and I'm ready to finish! I cross the finish line and I'm all alone. It's amazing how spread out runners get over 50 kilometers. A couple of paramedics ask me a few questions, determine that other than being crazy I'm physically ok and then I'm awarded my finisher medal, given a North Face water bottle and released into the finish area.
In retrospect, I didn't beat 6-hours as the last 10 miles were incredibly slow for me, but I did accomplish my real goals. I finished an ultra marathon and I did not injury myself. Jenny and I would also learn that it really was Andy Robinson that ran past me earlier in the race. We didn't see him again that day, but later learned he took 4th place in the 50-mile race. See his recap on his blog here.

My official stats:
145th out of 229 male finishers
48th in my age division (30-39) out of 78 (ouch!)
Chip Time: 6:46:37
Average pace: 13:03
The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K TallGuySurfing grade = A

And I'll close with a few pictures!

My nutrition that I carried along with me. Here's a list of what I actually consumed during the race:
4 Gu energy gels
2 whole bananas
1 orange
An unknown amount of potato chips
An unknown amount of pretzels
2 packages of Sport Beans
1 whole package of Shot Blok 3x Sodium
1 hydration pack full of Gu Brew (2 tablets)
2 hydration packs full of water
2 cups of Gu Brew per aid station
1 bagel (Blueberry flavor)
1 gulp of Mountain Dew (I thought it was Gu Brew!)

Steam fog on the Potomac before the race start

Jenny and I just before the start

Seconds before the start

Dean says a few words at the start

Brooks Cascadias!

And we're off! (I had the Karate Kid running behind me for a while)

On trail!

Across creeks

Along the river

Only two ribbons left (50K and 50 Mile)

Great Falls Park

Absolutely beautiful!

Running on the edge!

Finishing my first ultra marathon!

Monday, June 13, 2011


Oh where has the time gone???

It's now June and while I've been charging life full speed ahead as usual, I just paused for a second to look back and realized I haven't updated this blog since February. Holy dolphin farts!

A few comments by some awesome bloggers on some of my old posts (thanks to Jes at Begging For It and Heidi at TriAngel) made me realize how negligent I've been at sharing life's adventures.

The simple fact is I've been slammed. I work in real estate and this winter was crazy in this part of Florida. For whatever reason, the northern winter vacationers all decided to buy this year. It's a good thing because it means I'm not going in the direction of bankruptcy anymore, but the downside was definitely less time to write blogs, which I enjoy.

We did manage a few adventures between the chaos and I'm stoked to share them with you!

Keep the stoke ya'll and I'll promise to try and keep my blog a little more up-to-date in the future. I've obviously got a ton of reading to do in my Reader as I feel like I've lost touch with everyone.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blue Grotto & Devil's Den (Scuba Diving)

Two of my best friends are both named John. I call them the Johns. They are very much alike, yet very different at the same time. Both of them love the water and everything about it... fishing, surfing, diving, you name it. Myself being a waterman, there's no wonder we all get along!

The other day one of the Johns call me up and said, "let's go diving!" That's all I needed to hear and I was game.

The plan - leave early in the morning and drive across the state to the tiny city of Williston and dive Blue Grotto (an ancient sink hole) and then drive across town to Devil's Den (an underground cave entry spring with ancient fossils. Both offer crystal clear visibility and a glimpse into Florida's massive aquifer system. Neither require divers to be cavern certified and are open-water diver friendly, yet offer a feeling of diving in a cave. Both of these locations have been bucket list items on my dive list since I got my certification at 12-years-old.

Here's a few pictures!

The entrance to Blue Grotto. We were a few of the first ones there!

At about 45-feet there is an "air bell" with oxygen being pumped into it (as seen in the top of the photo) under the ledge or ceiling of the underwater opening to Blue Grotto. It offers divers a chance to have a conversation. In this photo I was trying to capture the large size of the grotto while also showing the visibility. It's very low light so it's not an easy exposure.

Another shot of a diver right on the edge of where the light fades at about 50 feet deep. Blue Grotto is about 96-feet deep and it's super dark at the bottom!

Myself and one of the Johns pulling a funny on me near the bottom of Blue Grotto.

The entrance to Devil's Den. Divers walk down into this cave to get to the spring.

A view of the inside platform at Devil's Den.

A large catfish that was following me around.

I really wish some day that those that are addicted to smoking would realize that the world is not an ashtray! Finding a cigarette butt at the bottom of Devil's Den is not a laughing matter.

Finding a fake human skull at the bottom of Devil's Den is a laughing matter!

I think myself and the Johns were the only divers at both locations wearing surfing wetsuits and not ones designed for scuba diving. This is me after diving Devil's Den and being totally stoked!

It's contagious and I'm infected with S.U.P.

Knock them all you want (Lord knows I have). Call them what you will. Stand up paddle boards are here to stay. In the past decade these boards have gained popularity and seem to be spreading across the nation and world like a virus. From Hawaii to California to Florida to a random lake in Kansas the concept is absolutely brilliant. Simply put, you have the billion dollar plus marketing machine that is the modern day world of the surfing industry (although it seems only a small percentage of the people involved in that industry "actually surf) and NOW there's a way for EVERYONE to surf... well... kind of surf. The allure of "surfing" that this mass marketing machine has created across the globe is NOT something everyone can do. First off, you've got to have a beach geographically in reach. Then that beach has to have ridable waves and favorable conditions to learn. And finally, you have to have a little bit of athletic ability in conditioning, balance, strength and stubbornness. Learning to surf waves is not easy no matter who you are and a lot of people get frustrated and give up!
Now take a large stable board with a massive amount of floatation and give someone the ability to have a higher amount of environmental control -- the paddle -- and calm flat water for beginners and just about anyone can enjoy it on their first time. Just check out this picture! BRILLIANT! It looks like a surfboard. You stand on it. It must be surfing, right? I don't think so, but... well, that's the marketing brilliance of it.
Stand up paddle boarders take a lot of shit from surfers. This is probably in part because of a few SUP guys getting into situations where they don't belong. There are a lot of SUPs at my local break (one of the most crowded and territorial in Florida). I talk to the regular ones. They're nice guys and mean nobody harm. The trouble with SUPs is when they allow a beginner to get into a situation where nature would not allow them on a traditional surfboard. Then chaos soon follows and an out-of-control 11 or 12-foot board, paddle and out of shape human in the line up is bad for everyone. I will say in defense of SUPs. Anyone that knocks stand up paddle boards and says they don't belong in the surf needs to watch Laird Hamilton rip the hell of a few waves in this video here. Perhaps watching that very video influenced me.
After careful consideration and a lot of thought I decided to finally give it a try. My idea was simple; get two stand up paddle boards and Jenny and I can use them to explore the river while getting another type of cardio/core workout other than running and most importantly, it's on the water. Jenny was sold on the idea instantly when I pointed out to her some of the endurance SUP races held around the country. Something to train for!
We asked around, did research and eventually decided to buy a couple of SUP ATX boards. They are by far not the best boards ever made, however, for our budgets they get the job done. We got identical boards with different paint jobs. They are epoxy and they included the deck pad, fin and carbon fiber paddle in the discounted price. As popular as these boards are I know that I can always sell them on Craigslist without losing much money and buy different ones if needed.

As I clicked the "order now" button on the website I felt as if I was betraying the brotherhood of surfers. I was excited and weirded out at the same time.

Jenny was 100-percent EXCITED when she clicked the order button!

We had them shipped to my office. You should have seen the look on my co-worker's faces! The box was so big it hardly fit in my truck.

Later that night we opened them up in my living room. Jenny is ready to go! Each board is 11' feet long and 4.5" thick and 28-pounds light.

We picked a calm, wind-protected canal for our first attempt. Neither of us had ever tried it. The plan I devised was to push off on our knees and paddle around for a bit on our knees to acclimate and then stand up. I was shocked to see Jenny hop up to her feet only after a few seconds on her knees. It was even easier than I thought!

In only a few weeks we've been exploring all sorts of waterways. I own a touring kayak and I can confidently say I'm going to sell it and never kayak again. You can see SO much more on SUPs. So far I've paddled within a few feet of redfish, flounder, manatees, dolphin and even a bonnet-head shark. It's also been a great learning tool for Jenny and her surfing. She has practiced her paddle and pop-up on the SUP in a controlled environment and is now taking it to the waves on her normal surfboard. It's helping and I'm stoked!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Half Moon Bay!!!!

Monterey Aquarium and Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay

Growing up I was always coast bouncing back and forth between Florida and Northern California. I have family out there so we were always visiting. I learned to ski and snowboard at the ski resorts around Lake Tahoe and Lake Donner (amazingly, I didn't ski the east coast until I was in college). I even drank my first alcoholic beverage in California. Berkley, Sonoma, San Francisco, Sacramento and Richmond were all hot spots for me. In recent years I've returned to visit friends living in the area along with the same family members. A few weeks ago I was stoked to be bringing my girlfriend to the area for the first time. When she mentioned the Monterey Bay Aquarium and how she'd like to see it I realized that I never have explored south of the San Francisco Bay area.

A plan was formulated and we were off! Landing in San Jose, my aunt's hometown, we rented a car with my cousin (Robert and his girlfriend, Athena, both down from Portland, Oregon) and headed south to Monterey. The plan was simple - start in Monterey and work our way north through Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay and finish in San Francisco for the Bay to Breakers 12K 100th year race.

Sometimes it's best to tell a story with photographs. The following is my story.

We started in Monterey, famous for fish canning and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck amongst many others. . .

The Monterey Aquarium is truly epic or any ocean lover. I've visited Sea World, The Atlanta Aquarium, The New Orleans Zoo Aquarium, Marineland, the aquarium in Atlantis on Paradise Island and even one of the world's largest in Osaka, Japan... but Monterey is my favorite so far! It's not too big. It's not too commercialized. It has a meaningful purpose. And I would go back again.

The Aquarium is located right on the coastline and draws nutrient rich water straight from the ocean. You might recognize it from the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

There are many ocean species here that an east coast surfer like myself has never seen. For example a leopard shark (pictured), a seven gills shark, sea dragons, sea otters, etc.

It wasn't long before Jenny found her dear sea turtles (green turtles pictured). Before going to graduate school she did sea turtle research in the Caribbean and Florida.

I've never seen a sea horse that looks like this. Amazing.

Just outside the Aquarium we found plenty of real wildlife including these harbor seals resting on some rocks. . .

And one of the reasons we really came to the Aquarium was for Jenny to see real sea otters. What we didn't expect was to see some in the wild along the coast line.

Next we visited Santa Cruz. This was VERY exciting for me. I didn't expect my travel companions to fully understand my excitement (Santa Cruz should be a pilgrimage for any surfer), but they were excited about the boardwalk. Robert and I decided to do hand stands and continue the tradition we started last year in Hawaii.

Santa Cruz is rich in surfing history. It's everywhere. Home of Pat O'Neil amongst many others.

Probably one of the most famous breaks is Steamers Lane (a right point break north of town). It wasn't very big the day I was there, but there was a decent lineup of all types of surfers.

I immediately climbed over the guard rail (knowing it's the way surfers get to the cliff to jump off when it's firing) and Robert, Jenny and Athena followed. We were soon able to watch the surfers directly below us. I soooooo wanted to rent a board and suit and paddle out, but there were more exciting things for all of us ahead.

There's a little tiny building right at Steamer Lane that has a free surf museum outlining the history of surfing in Santa Cruz. Definitely worth a visit and they appreciate donations!

The Pacific Coast Highway is awesome! Heading north from Santa Cruz is like driving in a car commercial most of the way. It dips into valleys and rises over cliffs of a jagged coastline bearing hidden paths to isolated beaches.

I need to learn to kite surf! It's apparently the thing to do when it's blown out and choppy.

Alas! Half Moon Bay, California - Home of Mavericks! This town is so unlike most coastal cities in California. In a way it hasn't lost it's charm. It reminds me of New England for some reason. The population is fairly small and the homes look more like Northeastern homes than west coast. I dig it.

Jenny, Robert and Athena really couldn't understand my excitement, but the followed me in support as I homed in on Mavericks like a cruise missile approaching its target. After a short walk along the harbor we came upon this shrine remembering Mark Foo.

I walked out to the point below the cliffs. I felt the freezing cold water run between my fingers. I looked out at the rocks protruding out of the water directly offshore. It was flat - hello... it's May. Just what I expected, but in my mind I imagined a January swell with 30' faces crashing down and sounding like thunder. Oh, how amazing it would be to watch from this beach?
After a few minutes we hiked back to the car, bid farewell to Half Moon Bay and continued on to San Francisco and the race awaiting us, but that's a different story.