Sunday, November 27, 2011

Week ending November 27

Wednesday 11/23 9 miles at Croft: felt dead-legged and a bit sore for some reason, which didn’t bode well for the Turkey Day 8K.
Thursday 11/24 9 miles, including 4.6 Turkey Day 8K (well, almost 8k) in 31:51. The Turkey Day 8K started seven years ago as a bet between two friends. Entry fee is a can of food, and 40 people showed up the first year. This year there were 735, by far the largest race in Spartanburg. Tempo felt easy and relaxed. I had no idea I was running that fast (6:47 pace). Warm-up and cool down with Seth and Carroll (on his bike this year) is a Thanksgiving tradition.
Friday 11/25  11 miles at Croft: felt a little dead legged, but not sore at all.
Saturday 11/26 4 miles on Cottonwood. Yeah.
Sunday 11/27 11 miles at Croft, including 8 x 120 yards barefoot on football field. Felt pretty crappy at first, maybe the result of a late night watching huge guys bash each other and toss around an oblong air bladder.  Felt stronger as the run went on.
Total: 44 miles
Thanksgiving week often turns into a mini-camp: days off from work really help. The accumulation felt great, the first week over 40 miles since June. Nothing particularly long, but good mental training with tired legs.

Had this song in my head for most of my runs this week. Saw this show a few weeks ago.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Carlos

Carlos Agudelo is an important person in my family. The artistic director of Ballet Spartanburg, Carlos retired after a successful career several years ago. His importance to us is as my son Quinn’s ballet teacher.
But not just any ballet teacher: Quinn started taking ballet when he was 5 after seeing a dancer on Sesame Street. He always said he wanted to do ballet so he could “pick up girls.” And here in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Quinn has had all-boys dance classes now for nine years, all taught by Mr. Carlos. 
Carlos takes these classes seriously, and teaches the boys the French terms for what they are doing from the beginning. When Quinn was 7, he took a class with girls taught by another teacher. “She doesn’t use the French words, Dad,” he told me indignantly. “I know the French words.” After every class, the boys shake Mr. Carlos’s hand, and thank him. I told Carlos that if I did some of the workouts those boys do, I’m not sure I’d shake his hand.
Carlos teaches all the boys that come through the program. One of his graduates dances professionally, and regularly comes back to town to work out with the boys. Quinn is always impressed.

photo by Alex Hicks, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Carlos has been teaching a class for Parkinson’s patients here in town for a couple of years, too. The class is of course very different from Quinn’s: the dancers sit in chairs, and some of them are very restricted in their movement. But Carlos treats them the same way he treats his boys. He uses the French words for what they do, and he teaches the movements as though he is teaching a group of professional dancers, expecting them to do the things he does.
But as with Quinn, he teaches to their level, too. No one is made to feel inadequate, or incomplete. In an article in the local paper, Carlos said he does not view this as a therapy class, but as a dance class. “No matter how old you are or what your physical abilities are, as long as you can move, you can dance." 
I observed Carlos’s class recently at a presentation by researcher Dr. Mark Stacy. In front of a crowd of about 500, Carlos and his students acted like no one was watching. Most of the members of the class were elderly, but there were a couple who seemed to be in their 50s. There were two women whose movement was very restricted. 
I cried at their willingness to dance in front of such a large crowd, and thought of my father’s own nervousness about telling others of his affliction. All of them sat up as straight as they were able, on the edges of their chairs. They knew the routine, but as with Quinn’s classes, Carlos added new moves. After the half-hour session, they stood and bowed to the audience. They all thanked Mr. Carlos.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Focus, Un-Focusing, and Running Far with a Purpose

I’ve started in on the serious training for the long races I have planned for the first six months of 2012. Yesterday I headed to Croft State Park for an 18 or so mile run, my first over 15 since last summer. Through this focusing time I’ll push my long runs up to 25-30 miles in preparation for the Highlands Sky 40 miler in June; every other week or so I’ll do that mileage in back-to-back runs on the weekends. 
Part of these runs is of course to build fitness, but much of the focus will be on building mojo, the mental toughness to spend hours on the trails putting one foot in front of the other. I’ll remind myself of what Christy has said on long trips: we’re getting closer.
As usual in our southeastern hardwood forests, late autumn brings deep leaves covering everything. I ran some lightly used trails, ones that have no blazes and only an occasional ribbon marking something of the way. Usually the tread is obvious, but now the thick covering of leaves makes the trail nearly invisible. I go by memory, and I go by acting like the trail, I say, heading where the trail ought to be. Yesterday I stopped a few times to scan the woods. 
Bristol the Enduro-Dog was with me, and he did a lot of leading. I remain amazed by his trail-finding abilities as I pick my way over the covered roots and rocks. He seems to understand when I am “lost,” and pulls to the front to take over.

Bristol the Enduro-Dog loves trails.

Those rough trails slow me down when the obstacles are hidden by leaves, or snow (yes, occasionally the snow is deep enough to hide the trails even here in sunny South Carolina). I tighten my vision to what’s just ahead, and the focus sometimes keeps me from seeing my path. I thought yesterday that in order to follow these trails when they are this obscure, I need to un-focus my eyes, to pull back so I can feel the trail better. These are times when I am really locked in, though, on the moment, feeling my legs and feet, gliding through the woods even on days like yesterday when I still felt heavy-legged from last weekend’s race. I remember that I can push myself into this zone, and hone my training to know the feeling. It’s mental “muscle memory,” I reckon, pretty useful in the bad times of any run. 
Another piece of my focus came into place this week. My fund-raising efforts will benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. I’ll be running as a member of Team Fox, whose members run in races and triathlons all over the world. They have set up a terrific support system; among other things, they give me my own donation page, which you can access by clicking on the Team Fox logo on the right side of this page. I have set a goal of raising $10,000 dollars, and I’ll need your help to do so. 
Over five million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's disease -- a chronic degenerative neurological disorder whose symptoms typically progress from mild tremors to complete physical incapacitation. In the United States, 60,000 new cases of PD will be diagnosed this year alone. There is no known cure today. Your donation will help to find that cure, and also find new ways to treat the symptoms of the disease to improve the quality of life of those living with it.
My dad’s hands shake. He has a hard time walking, and shuffles his feet, making steps, curbs, even the transition from wood floor to carpet difficult. Yesterday, I ran seventeen miles over rough trails hidden under leaves. My father’s efforts were much more difficult, and exhibit true “ultra” form of putting one foot in front of the other. He’ll tell you he’s soldiering on.
He has other symptoms, some of which I’ll talk about in future posts, and some of which he’ll write about here, too. When I finish my race, and he congratulates me at the line, he’ll still have much more to go. It’s the least I can do to run far with this purpose.

Week ending November 20: 
Tuesday, November 15:  7 miles at Croft
Wednesday, November 16:  4 1/2 miles on Cottonwood: dead-legged and tired
Friday, November 18: 10 miles lunchtime bike ride
Saturday, November 19:  5 1/2 miles, including 10x120 yard barefoot striders on practice football field at the high school. I reminded myself how much I love running barefoot on grass.
Sunday, november 20: 17 miles at Croft
Total: 34 miles

Monday, November 14, 2011

Running with an Olympian

I’ve always believed in recording my brushes with fame. Yesterday at the Camp Croft Half-Marathon, I was thrilled to get to run with Olympic athlete Joan Nesbit Mabe, who ran the 10,000 meters for the US team in 1996. 
I knew that Joan, who coaches a team of women called See Jane Run, had signed up and was bringing several of her mentees with her. We lined up to start the race on a cold morning, and after the gun sounded, I found myself beside a small and obviously fit woman.
“Are you Joan Mabe?” I asked.
“I am,” she beamed. 

Joan Nesbit Mabe accepting her age group award.

I knew then I would run as far as I could with her. “I’m thrilled to meet you,” I said. “Thanks for coming down to run with us.” 
We rolled along at a comfortable pace, even though I knew it was faster than I wanted to go. We chatted all the way up a slight rise to the start of the trail, and then rolled down the steeper hill that ends at the first mile mark. We talked about running, our children, our respective ages (she’s turning 50 in January, and to celebrate she plans to set the American record for her age in the mile). 
I told her about the course, that the toughest part is the beginning, that I thought there would be some mud. We hit the first mile in about 6:05, way faster than I figured I’d run, I told her. But we had a good groove going, my friend Mackay running with us in a pretty big group of eight or so. We all stayed together until about 4 miles, when Joan dropped us and I dialed back my pace, and Mackay stayed with me. 
Mackay and I continued along, Mackay talking fairly incessantly as he is wont to do. He had been part of the Smoky Mountain Relay team, but the birth of his third child and a slew of other obligations resulted in our not running much together since. We had a terrific chat as we climbed to the Radio Tower, and dropped from there down to the lakes that define the mid-point of the race. 

Mackay and I talked and smiled the whole time.

We continued along that way until about mile 10 when I let Mackay go. I knew I had run my race in reverse, the first part hard in my glee of running with Joan Mabe. I found myself alone for the last few miles. I was surprised when I rolled up behind Joan.
“What’s up?” I asked as she stepped off the trail to let me pass. 
“I fell a couple of times, and I don’t want to get hurt,” she said. “You go on,” she told me, “you have a good time going.” 
I’m going to beat Joan Mabe, I thought. I ran on, climbing the hills slowly, running as hard  as I could. I caught one other runner in the last half-mile, and climbed the hill to the finish in 1:53:00, good for 22nd place out of 109 finishers. As usual, I thought, top 20%.  Joan finished about 5 minutes later. 
In those last few miles, I remembered the song I had put in my head to start, “I Want to Be Seduced,” by Leon Redbone. I ran through the song a few times to make sure I had the lyrics down, and laughed that as I slowed, so did the pace of the song.
That’s what I’ll say to introduce the song when Snidely plays at the awards ceremony, I thought. Then I realized that since I had run most of the first part of the race with Joan, I would also assure everyone that the song was not dedicated to her. That whole ramble just added to the fun of my day.
I had no pain at all, and ran comfortably. Big ups as always to the race director, all the great volunteers, and those who came out just to spectate.

With the warm-up, I hit 35 miles in four days for the week. I realized too that I wouldn’t run on Sunday as I’d thought, but that I’d had an excellent week, the first full week since mid-October, the second since early September.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Injury, the Camp Croft Half-Marathon and "That's not your man"

In early September, I planned a long run at my favorite nearby state park, Jones Gap, where 2000 foot climbs abound and the scenery rivals about anything I’ve ever seen. I've run most everything there, but had always opted to run the spectacular Rim of the Gap Trail rather than the entire length of the Pinnacle Pass Trail. That day, cloudy and cool, I would complete Pinnacle, adding another 1500-foot climb to make a seventeen mile or so jaunt with about 5500 feet of ascent.

Along the Rim of the Gap Trail
I arrived just as the gates were opening, and packed up. About ten steps from the car, my familiar calf-cramp seized up. Thinking I was already done for the day, I carried on. My calf didn’t complain on the initial hefty climb up the Blue Ridge Escarpment that makes all these trails so tough, though I could still feel it. I decided then that I would cut my day short since there was no way out once I passed the six mile or so mark.
Returning down the escarpment, my calf did complain, and I dialed back the pace. Since then I’ve had pain that sometimes receded enough for me to think it was gone, and sometimes made it hard to walk. My plans to run a hard Camp Croft Half-Marathon went by the wayside. With the race tomorrow, I’ve had three or four hard runs in the past eight weeks, including a speed day—my first formal fast workout in a couple of years. I’m expecting a hard training run, but not much more.
This week and last I’ve been pain-free. I didn’t push much last weekend, but this week has included two fairly hard runs. Tuesday I had a running meeting with the cross-country coach in the town where I’m doing some work. We are planning a greenway along their sewer right-of-way, and I wanted to show him and get his support. We had a fantastic run that included some bushwhacking that left me a little bloody from the briars, and then a quick loop of their cross country course. Mostly we had a terrific chat about running and life in general.
On Wednesday I was out at Croft to help my buddy Seth by marking the last 4 ½ miles of the course. I came back by the road in the dark, and for no reason whatsoever it turned into a good 2+ mile tempo effort under 7 minute pace. As I was finishing up, I noticed headlamps on the wrong side of the road, opposite the trail. It was the Sheriff’s Department tracking team out training. As I approach I saw the bloodhound on a line, and heard the deputy saying, “That’s not your man, that’s not your man.” I was pretty glad I was not his man!
Tomorrow’s race should be fun: with recent rains, it’ll be a mud-fest, for sure. I had thought I’d run in the Montrail Rogue Racers that I love so much, but will instead go with the Montrail Mountain Masochists I just bought. After the run, I’ll perform with Snidely Sidewinder and the Unrepentant Uke Boys, so my afternoon will, after the beer drinking required for any Snidely performance, involve a nap.
Sunday I’ll get Bristol the Enduro-Dog a little exercise as we both gear up for the hard training I have planned this winter. I’m guessing all that will add up to about 40 miles in five days. Here’s hoping my calf cooperates.

Bristol the Enduro-Dog

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fifty Weeks to Fifty Miles at Fifty Years

A few years ago, my dad (EO) slipped on some acorns and fell while walking in from the garage, breaking his ankle. The healing process took a long time, and through the process, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. As it turns out, he had had mis-diagnosed symptoms for about five years before that, like stumbling occasionally on the steps. His doctor told him “to pick up his feet.” EO’s still pretty pissed and bitter about that.

The symptoms have increased fairly dramatically since the diagnosis. Used to frequent travelling with my mother, he did not slow down, and their schedule wore him out. He got sick, and walking became more difficult. He didn’t want to tell anyone that he had Parkinson’s, and allowed others to think he was “just getting old.” He and my mother moved into a retirement community a couple of years ago. EO uses a walker now as his mobility has decreased significantly.

I started running when I was 21 years old, needing some kind of outlet while taking a semester off from college to try to locate the motivation I needed to finish school. My younger brother had taken up track and cross country in high school, and within a couple of years his three brothers had all followed. I felt good and strong from the beginning, and now, 28 years later, I’ve run on two continents, 47 states, in hundreds of races, and into my second marriage.

Around the same time EO fell, some friends and I decided to run an overnight relay as an ultra team. Six of us split 205 miles through the Smoky Mountains, on trails, dirt roads and backcountry paved roads. The experience left us with the long-distance bug, and I and my two best friends signed up for ultra-marathons, races of longer than 26.2 miles. Now, after three 50ks with more on my schedule, and approaching my fiftieth birthday, I decided to run a fifty-mile race while fifty years old. 

This blog will tell those stories: one man losing his ability to get around easily, the other training to run a very long distance in a short time. One is the story of a man approaching one of those milestone birthdays that often causes us to undertake something that proves we’re not getting old, and the other the story of a man who can’t escape the wearing down of functions that proves he is. It will be the story of dealing with the breakdown of a father, and of a wife caring for her ailing husband. Finally, it will be one of those ultra-runner blogs with stories of adventures on trails and in the mountains, highlighting the fifty weeks of training and racing leading up to my goal event, the Ice Age 50 in the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin. Thus the idea for 50 weeks to 50 miles at 50 years was born. 
As I worked out the details of my endeavor, I sought a way to make this whole thing mean something more. Raising money to benefit the research going on to understand and cure Parkinson’s Disease was an easy leap. I’ll provide more details about that part of my quest soon.