Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tennessee’s “Secret Race” is a Beast! #ultramarathon

Wow, this discovery just got the hair standing on my neck.  And after combining the insight from my first trail race with the unbelievable information below, I am even more convinced that wilderness runners salute a twisted code that encourages legal forms of masochistic humiliation.

That said, I am currently VERY disappointed about two things:

  1. I’ve never heard of this race.
  2. No one I know has run it (that I know of)

Fist PumpPhoto © Geoffrey S. Baker  (photo links to source)

Here are a few tidbits about this race that I pulled from here:

“Only 14 runners out of about 1000 have finished within the 60 hour cutoff.”

“Runners climb 1,500 feet in the first mile.”

“Humility awaits.”

“Son of a ditch. 10 feet wide, 10 feet deep.”

“Descending Leonard’s Butt Slide. The first few hundred feet are on muddy slopes at a 45 degree angle down to book 3.”

All of these words are attempting to describe the horror that is referred to as The Barkley Marathons — 100 Mile run (and 60 mile fun run) in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee (which is just outside of Knoxville).

This race is so awesome (yet unknown) the NY Times wrote this piece titled, “Few Know How to Enter; Fewer Finish.

There’s even a book about it.

What’s also great is this little nugget (posted on an unofficial website) about how to enter the race:

The entry procedure is secret. There is no official website. This is not the official website. This site mostly has pointers back here. The race is not listed on any calendar. You have to email the race director on a certain day of the year. The race will fill up on that day. In 2010 there were about 200 entries and 35 were accepted.

Now, I can honestly say I have zero interest in doing this race, especially after struggling to finish my first trail 1/2 marathon, but I wish someone I know would step up and take the challenge.  I mean, only 14 runners have ever finished within the 60 hour cutoff time?  That’s ridiculously awesome.

I know a lot of you out there are drooling.  Who’s gonna step up?


Dry Creek 1/2 Trail Marathon Race Report

Not many would call me country, but what transpired in the deep woods of Tennessee yesterday will soon have dozens of Crushing Iron readers calling me a nature boy.  The Dry Creek Marathon (and half) was another spectacular example in the long list of contributions  Nashville Running Company has delivered to a growing, and wildly masochistic, running community.

I woke at 5:30 am, walked the dog, then followed my printed Mapquest directions to the covert Dry Creek Race Headquarters.  I shared war stories with Corey, Wasky, and Jim, then dug into my pre-packed race bag.  First thing I noticed was (even with the uncanny day-before-planning) I forgot my Swiftwick’s.  Luckily I was wearing a pair of Timberland over-the-ankle-hikers, but this adds to my increasingly controversial history with socks.

The race started predictably enough.  Wasky shot out of a cannon, and I stayed with Corey for a couple miles until I realized our 9 minute pace goal was in the 7’s.  I dropped back, but an unexpected “ab flash” by NRC Kingpin, Lee Wilson, gave me the adrenaline I needed to attack the wilderness.

Around mile three, we turned off the rather smooth roads and plunged down a steep, single track–covered knee-deep in leaves.  It reminded me of my childhood and I took a retroactive risk by falling to my ass and gliding across the leaves like I was riding a luge.

It was dicey to say the least, but I crashed at the bottom of the hill, dusted off my Vince Wyatt for judge tech shirt, and tore through the rushing creek.  That’s when the race got unusual.

While crossing the first creek, my foot slammed the rocky bottom, narrowly missing a helpless turtle flipped on his back.  I was somehow flooded with a surge of compassion and decided to rescue the powerless creature.  I tiptoed into the water, grabbed the outer edges of his shell and somehow avoided the turtle’s vicious snap that would have quickly removed my forefinger. I moved him to deeper water and watched like a proud father as he swam into the sunrise.

The creek bottom gave way to a gorgeous meadow and, while drifting into meditation, I was startled by a piercing screech.  The loud, Macaw-like gobble was a heinous distraction, but clearly a cry for help.  I tread lightly as the commotion unfolded before me and I spotted a wild turkey with its talons trapped under a boulder.

I approached the frightening scene with caution and, for reasons I can’t humanly explain, started calling the helpless bird, Frank.  I calmed him with Zen mantras, “Ohm little bird,” “be at peace wild one,” “soup, soup, relax.”  Frank responded with timid unrest as I softly pet his mane.

I sacrificed race hydration by unloading my water bottle at his feet and watching in bewilderment as the hard soil turned to mud, releasing the talon to freedom. Unfortunately my generosity did not confirm our connection as Frank took a wicked parting swipe with his claw that broke skin through my stylish knee wrap.

I was waterless, bloody, and facing the meat of the 700 feet gain.  A beastly two-mile climb stood in my path and my valiant rescue efforts were falling on deaf ears.

Halfway up the monster, I locked eyes with a fainthearted deer, and let me tell you, the expression “doe eyes,” is no joke.  The rough winter had taken its toll and this animal was obviously struggling to find food.  I stopped again and approached her with a handful of quinoa which she eagerly lapped from my hand before bashfully begging for more.  I reached into fanny pack and pulled what was left of my nutrition to feed the starving doe.

I wanted to stay, but these interruptions were a major drag on my time.  Thankfully this new Zen Racing approach is paying dividends in other ways.

At mile 7 my favorite race photographer, Carolyn Wasky, snapped a fantastic shot of me before I flew back through base camp.  Little did she know, the story on my face was showing much more than pain.  It was a life altering 7 miles . . . and the last 6 would never live up . . . or would they?drycreekm2

Virtual high fives greeted me as I lumbered though the campground and Jim graciously took the above picture with his iPhone.  I stopped in my mind to give him a hug and he wished me well before swearing to uphold his oath as 2014 Social Chairman at my above ground swimming pool backyard resort.

The road was rocky, but all that was left was a 3 mile out and back.

It’s always painful to see competition going the other way but in an unbelievable move of generosity, the leader, Connor, graciously stopped in his tracks and poured what was left in his water bottle over my aching ankles.  A true pro.

Shortly thereafter, I saw Bryan, of Pearl Izumi fame glide by me with complete grace while answering email on his phone.  It was a remarkable show of “endurance racing” meets “stalwart employee.”  I was absolutely captivated when he flashed a picture of the new Pearl Izumi Road N-zeros and delivered a quick, yet heart felt sales pitch on the move.   Consider me sold.

One by one, Wasky, Corey, Daniel, and Steven flew by in the opposite direction and, rather than lose my cool, my mind drifted to the creatures I had saved that morning.  It was a wonderful day for nature lovers and I secretly inducted myself into the fraternity.

Around 1:56, and easily under my 2 hour goal, I staggered to my first Trail 1/2 Marathon finish.    I stood tall, soaked in the magnitude of the day’s events, then slowly walked to the food table . . . and ate everything in sight.

My First Trail 1/2 Marathon is Sunday

I haven’t run on trails much, period, and now I’ve decided to hit the woods for the Dry Creek 1/2 Marathon put on by my friends over at Nashville Running Company.  This will be another first.

My “goal” is to use it as a training run, but since it is technically a race, we’ll see how that goes.  I should also probably run in my trail shoes once before I do a half marathon.

The thing is, I’m really thinking about how to run this (and future events/workouts) as pure meditation.  Not that I won’t push myself, but how do you stay in that gliding zone?  How do you move the mental needle and get faster without grunting and killing yourself along the way?

I mean why do we feel trepidation over something we know we can do?  I really think it’s fear.

This how fear could crush me this weekend.

I could be worried about my shoes.  I’ve never run in them and I’ll surely get blisters and new foot pain.  Then, I will be waiting for it the entire run in an effort to justify my thoughts.

I will also worry about getting hurt.  Trails are “dangerous” and it’s not worth the risk to wrench an ankle.  So, I will be running scared.  Thinking about running rather than running.

I’ve never run this trail, so I will imaging rocks and limbs and boulders to be bigger and more imposing than the reality.  I will abuse my comfort zone before I show up.

But this is how I will not let fear crush me this weekend.

I will marvel at how awesome shoes are these days.  It’s not like when I was in high school where you had to break in your ProKeds for two painful weeks before they worked.  I will embrace the comfort of my Pearl Izumis Trail N1’s (which are available at NRC…mention Crushing Iron to get no discount).

Instead of worrying about injury, I will think about how much stronger and well rounded running on uneven ground will make my muscles.  A half marathon on trails will demand more energy, but cross training remains king in my book.

And instead of imagining the worst, why not embrace the beauty of the trails?  The Zen-like nature.  The solitude and peace.  I live in what most would consider a “rough” part of town, but it is really quite serene when the pit bulls aren’t barking all night.  My preconceptions of the neighborhood had me creating false illusions long before I moved in, now you can find me running often at 10pm.

So, I don’t expect any records and I don’t expect it to be easy.  But I will not give myself premature blisters, injuries, or beat downs.   The mind is a powerful place and I will be using a lot of it on Sunday.

I May Milk This Until I Die #IMWI

IMWI-Finish-KeeperMedI  finally pulled the trigger on race photos.  It cost $100, but that’s a small price to pay for a Wisconsin kid who . . . went back home, ran under the Ironman arch, then got a picture of it with his favorite State Capitol in the background.

My life isn’t THAT boring, but I do think about this moment a lot.  It’s not about how awesome I am, in fact the thought I have most often is:

It just doesn’t seem real.

As much as I trained . . . as much as I built my confidence for Ironman . . . it’s still 140.6 miles of endurance.  Back in the day, using those numbers and my name in the same sentence would have gotten belly laughs from my homies.

One year before Ironman the conquest seemed as realistic as climbing Mt. Everest, swimming the English Channel, or getting a good night’s sleep.  But, as the picture proves (assuming you don’t think I took a short cut) I actually did complete an Ironman.

It was really, really hard, but something propelled me to pursue the unthinkable that day.  My furthest combination of swim, bike, run before that was 1/2 the distance.  Half.

But the body and mind are truly capable of more than we know.

Sometimes I ask myself if I could have ran even one more mile that day.  I know the answer is yes, it would have been the most painful 10 minutes of my athletic career, by far.  Did I have two more miles?  Probably not.

It’s crazy how we adjust our goals to a specific target. I was mentally programmed to go 140.6 and that was about my limit.  What if I had trained for 200?  What is our real potential?

It really makes me wonder.  Not only physically, but mentally.  I mean, realistically I pulled this feat together in just over ONE YEAR . . . at 50 years old.  What else can I do?  What else can you do?

Until I figure out what’s next, I’ll probably keep looking at pictures of me and that guy in the blue shirt while trying to understand Ironman Wisconsin on a deeper level.  It was a wildly surreal experience that took forever, and went by in a flash.

IRONMAN New Orleans 70.3 is Lurking

My buddies are beating me up about making a decision on IM Louisville, but I have a pretty big fish waiting to be fried on April 13th.

Signing up for New Orleans 70.3 feels like a good and bad decision.  On one hand it has forced me to kick things into gear, on the other, it is very soon and I’m nowhere near ready.  This will have to be the perfect storm, or I will just have to accept it as an early season training day that also happens to be a race that will forever shine an internet glow on a potentially awful time.

I’m not really a fan of bad times, though.

My thinking is, that if I’m gonna do this race, I might as well crush it.  I mean, this is Crushing Iron after all.  But it could easily be Crushed By Iron if I don’t get my ass in gear.

One mental road block is this damn swim course:SWIM2I mean, I don’t even know why it freaks me out so much, but it just looks like trouble.  I can practically feel my body contorting on those hair pin turns and sighting seems like it may be tricky.  But, really, sighting would be tricky for me if the landmark was a mountain.

Then I hear the real problem isn’t the swim course, it’s the wind.  It looks protected, but I guess Lake Pontchartrain is pretty choppy.  And the bike course can allegedly get very windy as well.  Add that to the fact I’ll be in that retched aero position 80% of the time and my back is already tense.

I’m actually looking forward to the run.  I did the 1/2 marathon in NOLA last year and it was pretty cool to run in and around the French Quarter.  I’m planning to play one of my buddy’s favorite Bourbon Street games, “Homeless or Hammered?” while I run.

But really, that’s as funny as the pain I’ll likely be in by that point.  How much of a base do I have from training all last year for an Ironman?  Does it really “leave” or just take a while to access again?  I’m waiting patiently, but NOLA is lurking.

Positive Attitude Goes A Long Way

The Fourth of July, 2009.  I bounced through downtown Nashville on my mountain bike on my way to a friend’s annual pool party.  I knew there would be tons of laughing and positive energy.  My friend attracted that vibe.

As I pulled up his street, 10 emergency vehicles surrounded me.  Police cars, unmarked vans, ambulances, sirens, and flashing lights.  I picked up my pace in fear that something had happened at the pool.

By the time I got into the alley behind the condo complex, cops were rolling yellow crime tape and my mind was reeling.  No one stopped me, so I slid between the gate and saw my friends standing around drinking beer as police scurried with indecision.

The action wasn’t at the pool, but across the alley at a duplex.  It was Independence Day, the sun was shining, and Michael Jackson pumped from the speakers.  We tried with all our might to celebrate, but an ominous scene lingered at arm’s length.

We didn’t know what happened, but my friend said it was Steve McNair’s condo.  The party showed bursts of energy, but mostly the mood was sullen.  A bizarre combination of freedom meets doom.

The cops wouldn’t say what was going on, but eventually one confided, “This will be national news.”

Our pool party was closed off by crime tape.  No one was allowed to come or go for the next four hours and eventually word got out.  The former quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, and arguably the most popular man in Nashville, Steve McNair, was shot and killed.

Each end of the alley was blocked, and soon populated by hundreds of somber fans and news crews.  The party was officially over and, after four hours, I quietly hopped on my bike and peddled away in disbelief.

The guy throwing the party that day was Justin Levenson.  He is truly one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known.  Talented, caring, and always looking at life from the bright side.  He welcomes everyone without judgement and you can stay as long as you’d like.

Every time I saw him I’d ask, “How’s it going, man?”

His response was always, “Life is good, bro.”

And he meant it.

One night I happened to be playing drums for a local media talent show at the famous Wildhorse Saloon and looked out to see Justin on the panel of judges.  I told our “band” we were in good shape because my buddy would hook us up.  But as it turned out our final score landed us outside of the top 3 in the contest.

I walked up to Justin, shook his hand while he smiled and told me, “Life is good.”

I said, “That’s fine, but what’s up with the judging, man?  How come we didn’t place in the money?”

Without missing a beat Justin smiled and said, “Gotta keep it real, bro.  You guys weren’t that tight.”

Justin is honest, too.

We laughed together and hung out for a while sharing old stories his compassion and great attitude astounding me once again.

I haven’t seen Justin in quite a while, but like most I keep up with friends on Facebook.  A couple weeks ago I saw him post a link to his new blog.  I was happy to see him writing, but then  looked closer at the title, “It IS Brain Surgery.”

It was more than a little wake up call and I hesitantly clicked the link.  I feared the worst, but should have known Justin would spin it into a positive.  I read through his blog posts with pride and admiration.  He unveiled that he has a large tumor in the the left frontal lobe of his brain, then followed it with this line, “This tumor has apparently been there for quite some time which may explain why my head is so damn big…haha…kidding!  :)”

He has written several posts and they are laced with positivity.  He is facing this challenge straight on and wants everyone to know he will be a better person in the end.  He admits it’s challenging, but he will not let it bring him down.  I feel so fortunate to have met such an incredibly passionate and optimistic person.

It really makes you think.  Here’s a guy facing brain surgery with endless hope and optimism, but half the time I am deflated by something silly like a sore ankle.  I definitely need to channel more of my inner Justin.

I stopped by his Facebook page and the outpouring of love is endless.  An streaming and diverse list of friends thankful to know him spreading love up and down his page.  Even though I haven’t seen him much lately his attitude and love of life has left an undeniable impression on my soul.

Justin is 35 years old and is having brain surgery today.  I am sending all the positive energy I can muster in his direction.  Justin never sweats the small stuff, and as it turns out, the big stuff, either.  Here’s to ya, bro.  Thanks for everything and I’ll see you soon.

UPDATE:  Just over an hour after I posted, I noticed this awesome update from Justin’s dad on Facebook:

“This is Justin’s dad. He’s out of surgery and joking with the nurses. Surgeon says it went superb, actually routine.”

Run Like a Kid #running

Note: I wrote this many moons ago, but never posted it. 

I am still reading Born to Run and it is an absolute gem of a novel.  There is one great story after another, loaded with compelling thoughts on running as well as life.  It is especially intriguing to me right now because I am still hobbling a bit after relatively short runs compared to the distances they talk about in this book, which routinely exceed 50 miles at a crack.

Now, I realize I wasn’t “born to run,” or was I?  The last chapter I read is mainly focused on the zen of running and what is going on in the mind of the Tarahumara as they glide across the the hilliest of terrain.  The thing most people notice when watching Tarahumara run is how happy they seem.

There is a great story, told by Kenneth Chlouber, the founder of one of the world’s most treacherous trail runs, The Leadville 100, that summed it up for me.

Chlouber was hanging out at the 60 mile mark where medical staff checks vitals of runners that reach that point.  He said most are starting to get angry by then.  The terrain is pulverizing and after getting clearance to continue, runners must hike up a very steep dirt hill to get back on the trail.  He said most runners struggle and often crawl to the trail, but the Tarahumara were climbing it like kids, smiling and laughing while they sort of skipped their way to the top.

It was literally like they were still kids.  That impulse to have fun while you run had never left them.  They ran to run and while the race was clearly a race, they never thought of it that way.  It was a new adventure.