Category Archives: Running

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?


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.

Country Music Marathon – New Course

The organizers of Country Music Marathon in Nashville have changed their course for this year’s race.  It used to start at Centennial Park and avalanche its way toward the Honky Tonks on Lower Broadway, but now it will start downtown.  There will no longer be that wonderful downhill that inspires and captivates runners as they spill into Music City and not everyone is happy about it, but I think it’s a good move.

Thousands come from out of town for this race and it will make logistics way easier for those staying downtown.  It will also make it easier for me, and that’s kinda the real point.

BUT, I think they can still make this race a lot better.

I’ve done the half marathon twice but really have no interest in the full, mainly because of the course.  It’s almost like they locked themselves in a room until they created the perfect first half, then, a few days later said, “Oh shit, we need 13 more miles!”

The first half (the half) is great, but after that, the luster quickly fades.  I know there are a million road complications, but I feel like this marathon could spend way more time in downtown, giving better exposure to the awesomeness that is Music City AND spectators could see their favorite runners more often.

For example, instead of torturing runners with that Metro Center stretch, the course could utilize more of Germantown which is loaded with cool homes, shops and soon, a sweet new baseball stadium.  Just wind the route in and out of the neighborhood known for crepes, hotdogs, and beer, then sit back watch the festivities unfold.

That would be around mile 15 or so and I’d imagine it would thin out enough to roll it back into town on the bike path along the river into downtown.  Then bring the runners back up 1st avenue and over Shelby into East Nashville.

And there is certainly more they could do with East Nashville, other than make you run out and back on Davidson Street, which is arguably the ugliest section of town.  Take them out Woodland and cut down Eastland toward Family Wash, then back down Riverside into Shelby.  Way more awesome than an out and back into the park.

Then circle around in the park a bit and come back down Davidson… better yet, screw Davidson and figure out how to come back through East Nashville.  Maybe even Shelby Avenue.  So many awesome little neighborhoods and hills.  Ohhh… not hills.  Yes, hills.  Do it . . . make the CMM legit.

The more I run these kinds of races the more I wish they were laid out better for scenery and spectators.  I just think the whole Davidson/Metro Center thing is a cop out.  I run these streets all the time and nobody wants to run in those places.

Obviously participants don’t care that much because 30,000 people pay a lot of money to run — but in a world where everyone is trying to squeeze out more profit, it would be nice if Competitor went above and beyond to deliver something truly memorable.  And while they’re at it, maybe talk with someone at LP field this year so you can let runners into the concourse if it rains.

Running With Momentum

A friend of mine called the other day and relayed some bad news.

He’s a triathlete and was looking forward to this season, but the pain wasn’t going away.  Finally he went for an MRI and they said his knee is shot.  No more running.

No more running?  Two years ago I may have welcomed that news, but now that I have realized its joys, that sounded like a crushing blow.

He was fairly upbeat and said he could probably do one triathlon this year, but he shouldn’t train by running.  Just let it all hang out and deal with the pain later.

Then, of course, he said he could get a new knee.

A new knee?

I always hold out hope that the body can repair itself when treated right, but he didn’t seem so sure.  He’ll get some “silicone like” injections that will help his joints move better, but in the end he doesn’t think he’ll be able to rebuild the cartilage he’s lost.

But we did talk about running style and how it can lessen the impact on your joints.  Mainly by changing your gate.

It’s not easy, but it’s pretty simple.

Pounding your joints and bones for a long time will cause more damage and I have really thought about this hard since I’ve started running.  I have focused on a soft stride on the ball of my foot and a quick lift.  The weight of your body will destroy itself over time and the best way to combat that is to reduce impact.


Shorter and more frequent strides.  Pick em up and put them down.  It just makes sense.  The less time your ankle is on the ground the less impact it will absorb.

I remember when I started running as a kid.  I had these long ass strides and taxed the crap out of my muscles to run.  It was hard to run like that because you’re not using momentum.  Now, I think about momentum all the time.  Swim, bike, run.  What’s harder to stop than momentum?

So much of being able to use momentum is trusting it.  In running it is that feeling of “falling forward” that seems intimidating.  It’s more about “catching yourself” than pushing off.

Sure, that’s pretty simplistic, but the reality is using momentum makes any sport 50% easier.  Momentum is an unspoken force of physics that’s undeniable but runners rarely use it.  They tend to land on their heels instead of hinting themselves forward.  I’ve heard a 200 lb man landing on his heels actually is like catching 800 lbs.  Over time, you can see how this would do damage.

Last summer we were doing one mile intervals around a track.  We started slow, then picked up to our half marathon pace.  For the last mile I kept pace but decided to run the last two laps as fast as I could.  I was hot, spent, and ready to be done.  But as hard as those last two laps were on my breathing, I really noticed how much easier it was on my legs.  I was picking them up and putting them down.  I was trusting the momentum of the run.  It was almost literally like I was flying.  I didn’t feel the pain of the steps like I had for the previous 10 miles.  I was floating on air.

I was also in pretty good shape, but it makes you wonder.  The less you pound, the less it will hurt.  Are you trusting the momentum?

Like “The Flying Monkey” Isn’t Hard Enough

UPDATE:  All the “hundreds” of 2013 Flying Monkey Pics have been moved here:  Crushing Iron on Flickr

Tomorrow I will witness a legendary running race.   I will stand, shivering on the sidelines as a bunch of friends and other brave souls tackle one of the harder marathons in the business, the Flying Monkey.

It is a beautiful, yet brutal run that kicks off at 8 am with a starting temperature forecast of 25 degrees.  Making matters worse?  It’s not supposed to get above freezing.  I am totally jealous.

It’s easy to rock a race when conditions are perfect, but weather is the great equalizer.  Tomorrow, we’ll find out how tough everyone is and they will carry that badge forever.  It reminds me of the cold rainy day at my Rev3 race in this Spring in Knoxville, the blistering heat of Ironman Louisville this summer, and 30 degree air for the Ironman Lake Tahoe swim this Fall.  All three had very, very tough weather conditions, and tomorrow, Flying Monkey will join the club.IMG_4551

These are the races that create fraternity for the competitors.  Runners will forever be able to say “I ran the Monkey below freezing.”  Alumni will be able to spot each other simply by looking in their eyes.  A subtle confidence will emanate from their being.

“Hey, did you run the Monkey in 2013?”  “Why yes I did.”  “I knew it!”  High five.

So, if you’re running in the morning and are fortunate enough to read this post before the gun, consider yourself blessed.  Keep your form, don’t let snot freeze on your lip, and beat the shit out of this monkey.  It will suck for a while, but the legend of this race will live a long, long time.  That means years and years of conversation that will be much more enjoyable if you wipe the weather from your head, let go of the pain and leave it all on the course.

And if you want to feel sorry for someone, think of the unlucky spectators who are standing there shivering as you bathe in glorious sweat.  Or, even me, who will be crouched down with frozen fingers taking pictures of your happy faces.

Go get ’em you lucky bastards!

2013 Flying Monkey Pics
2013 More Flying Monkey Pics
Even More Flying Monkey Pics

How Do You Follow Up a 110 Mile Bike Ride?

Sometimes you get a sense that everything is fine, and that’s how I felt after Saturday’s 110 mile ride on Natchez Trace.  It was my longest cycling experience by nearly 40 miles, but for some reason I wasn’t nearly as wiped as any of these much shorter rides.  I have a feeling it had a lot to do with nutrition, but also increased mileage an fitness.

As we ate the post-ride meal at Corner Pub, I could tell I was tired, but it wasn’t one of those beat down exhausted moments.  Robbie, Jim, Allison, Wasky, and Marc chatted around me and I had a renewed energy for Ironman Wisconsin.  It started with a break-thru swim on Friday, now 110 miles (half in pouring rain) on the Trace, what would be next?

On to Sunday.

Those first few steps out of bed can be telling.  I shuffled to the bathroom and was amazed I could stand.  I fully expected to put off my two hour “easy ride” to the afternoon, but I felt surprisingly good at 8 am.  Let’s do this.

I started sipping Perform and did so for about an hour until I clipped into the bike.  Then it was off to Zone 1 (I’m still not quite sure what that is) for a trip to the Dam and back.  Rebekah joined me and it was nice to take in some scenery after yesterday’s blazing ride that glued my eyes to a rubber tire.

I didn’t “push it,” but did do a little slow climbing to work things out.  I felt pretty good and as we coasted down the street toward home I realized I had been sitting on my Adamo race seat for 8 hours in the last calendar day.

But it wasn’t over.

I was gonna do a straight up brick, but was advised to take an hour, so I ate a peanut butter/jelly sandwich with some chips and salsa.  (Triathlon cravings are ridiculous).

Then, I had a big decision.  Which shoes should I wear?

Most of my runs have been in Pearl Izumi Streaks (which are now out of print) but after a problem at Muncie, I bought Mizunos that I thought I liked, but am not so sure after a few runs.  The Pearl’s were my main squeeze until Muncie but my feet started burning like nobody’s business and I dropped them like they were hot, literally.  THEN, I got the same burning sensation from my bike trainer ride a couple weeks later and realized I was wearing the same socks that I wore in Muncie.  Hmm… could it be the socks??

The Mizunos felt great at first, but after a few runs they seemed a little too stiff and my left foot would start slapping the pavement after 5 miles or so.  Something just wasn’t right, so yesterday, I pulled out the trusty Pearls and set out on my two hour run.

This was supposed to be a build/feel run.  30 minute easy, 30 faster, 30 faster, then cool down for 30.  My Garmin didn’t charge so I was relegated to a chrono watch and this process was not easy.  I tried to use the mile markers on the Greenway, but kept forgetting times and whatnot, so I just worked on a steady pace with small gains in effort.

I have no idea how far I ran, but it felt far and my legs were dead.  This was the indicator day for me.  This is how it will feel on September 8th . . . probably worse.  Legs shot and all you have left is your mind to carry your marathon.  I’m guessing I hit 13 miles and the thought of another 13 was daunting . . . but didn’t seem out of the question.

So, now, I put my faith in the conditioning that is left and the taper that will follow.  How will 112 miles and a marathon feel with strong and fresh legs?  The same, better, worse?  I guess time will tell.

Running in Nashville – The Nasty

Last night hundreds of East Nasties gathered on a sweltering evening to knock out the group’s signature run.   If you live in Nashville, you’ve probably seen the black and white “East Nasty” bumper stickers, and all those people have earned it by finishing The Nasty.

The Nasty is a 5.9 mile run, laced with several rolling hills and 6 “big” climbs, including, Mount Nasty, which is a relatively short, but steep ascent at mile 4.  The legend that surrounds this route has an intimidating aura and most expect the worst, but I’ve come to really enjoy the challenge and think it always makes me a better runner.

The mood after running The Nasty ranges from exhaustion to exhilaration.  Mark or Duane stand around and reward everyone with their stickers.  The big one for the first time runners, and the small circle Mount Nasty for repeat offenders.

I feel lucky to have started running in East Nashville.  The Nasty, is basically a collection of the best climbs and descents my neighborhood has to offer.  You start with a slow downhill, into a climb, then a couple blocks of flat followed by another long climb, then two short steep descents and climbs, etc…  Then you get a long, very gradual decline to prepare you for Mount Nasty.  After that, it’s down into Shelby Park, around the lake and back out with a gradual, snake climb back to Shelby Avenue.  Then, it’s down into a big valley, followed by a final climb before you turn and head home to 11th and Holly.

While Nashville is no Boulder, I think we have a great hilly/urban environments for training.  If I’m looking for a flat/fast course, the Greenway is about a half mile from my front door, but if I go any other direction, I’m bound to collide with a bunch of hills.  And the more I run hills, the more I crave them.

Last night I ran the course with John Wasky (+2) who is training for Louisville and typically ready to crush the road waskywouldin front of him.  We talked a lot about the fatigue of Ironman training and ran most of the route (plus 3.25 extra miles) with heavy legs.  What amazed me about last nights run wasn’t that I was able to plow through tired legs, but how the cross training of triathlon is making my body so resilient.  Normally my feet, hips, and knees ache after a run (and especially in the morning) but last night and today I remain cautiously optimistic that I’m turning a corner with nickle and dime pains.

I told Wasky early in the day I wasn’t putting up with any of his “Sub-7 pace BS” and for 8 miles he seemed to agree.  But as we turned onto Shelby for the second time of the night and began a long descent that transformed into a longer climb, he turned on the jets and didn’t look back.  It was all I could do to stay on his heels as he seemed to pick up speed on the hill.  We crested, and I expected a deep breath or two to turn into a jog, but he rounded the corner hard on his way home.  I tried to relax as we belted our way past a porch party full of women for the 3rd time of the night, and he wasn’t letting up.  It was a 6 block sprint to the finish and sure enough, I looked at my watch and we were dabbling in the sub-7 range.  He casually lured me to sleep then tried to break my will, but I am schooled in his shenanigans.

Great run on a humid night in Nashville, TN.  The only bad news was that it wasn’t Pint Night at Nashville Running Company.