Thursday, July 25, 2013

El Scorcho 50k 2013 Race Report

About every year or so, I take the family down to visit my parents in Dallas.  Dallas is a fantastic place to play tourist, but due to the whole academic schedule, we're usually there in July or August.  You might think that northerners like us would wilt in the heat, but the truth is we do very well.  Since we don't have air conditioning, we're typically better acclimatized than the locals. 

Well enough acclimatized for El Scorcho?  Keep reading.

El Scorcho is a 25k or a 50k, made up of 5k loops in Trinity Park in Fort Worth, in July, and the race starts at midnight.  It's a bad idea, and even the race directors admit it.

Pre-race Prep:

We got to Dallas a week before the race, and I proceeded to completely wreck both my diet and my taper.  We stayed till closing at the  zoo on the day before my race.  I was also on my feet all day that week for Summer Adventures At Fair Park, which I want to plug here for anyone interested.  

About Summer Adventures at Fair Park?  Have you ever gone to a carnival and said, "This would be awesome if I could ride all the rides and never have to wait in line!" If so, this is a fantasy come true.   They also have the small but lovely aquarium open, so you can take a break.  

This is Love Bugs,  the best ride ever!  Made in 1971 by the Oscar Bruch company.  It's fun, it's beautiful, and when we told the operator that we loved it, he gave us a huge smile.... he knew.

And the eating.....  the eating.... the eating.  We ate well.  One of the highlights of our trip was getting to finally getting to cross eating at a Hare Krishna restaurant off the old bucket list.  Kalachandji's in Dallas has won a bunch of awards, well deserved, IMO.  Hare Rama Yum!  
Best Dal EVER!

And we also got some ethiopian food (and Shiners) at Lalibela, which was delicious.  I know the kid looks grouchy, but she loved the meal.

And my pre-race meal was the best tamales ever from Hot Damn Tamales in Fort Worth.

A fun vacation topped with a 50K?  YOLO?

Getting to the Start:

Here's what I was wearing - Luna Sandals, Adidas shorts, a dog collar for my D-tag, and an Alo bamboo tank from Spreadshirts with a Banksy design.  More on the shirt later.

It was unseasonably cool - in the low 80s, but was also more humid than expected.  There was a super nice breeze, though.  Weather was better than I would have anticipated, but still on the hot side.

I drove to the race, which, if you know me, is a big deal.  I barely drive, but I suck it up if I think it is going to be worth it.  It's about an hour and a half from my parents house to Fort Worth.  In the rental car.  In the dark, on strange roads.  I was practically in tears when I got there.   

I was hoping to run into my cyber-pal Dave, who blogs at (Not so) doomed runner, but I couldn't find him at the start.  He described himself as a short bald guy, but there were quite a few short bald guys and it was dark.  Nobody can EVER find me because I just look like some lady. We managed to meet about four minutes before the start.  Dave said he wanted to start out at an 8:00 pace.  I said I was going to try 10:30, but might slow down.  Then I left him to go line up with the ladies.  

The First 25K:

And we were off!  About 150 people started, but it didn't seem crowded because the paths were fairly wide.  I think Trinity park is pretty - but it was dark, you know.  There were two aid stations along the course in addition to the one at the finish line.  Also, there was a cheering section around mile 1.  The aid stations had lots of enthusiastic volunteers handing out water "WATER! WATER!" in cups, and handing out electrolytes, and loud music and...  and...  

The music, the frequent aid, the aid brought out to me rather than having to go to the table, the cheering, the crowd.... well, it threw me more than I would have guessed.  I've been running so many trail ultras, and this is just not at all what I'm used to!  Yeah, I knew it was going to be like this, and I'm grateful for the enthusiastic support.  I'm genuinely surprised at how anxious it made me.   Maybe I'd just overdone it on the caffeine.

It didn't help that about 2 miles in, some guy kept making comments about my shorts and my rear end.  I know he didn't mean anything by it, but it's  disconcerting to be chased through a park at midnight by a guy making comments about my backside.  This isn't the first time this has happened to me.  Dudes, can you PUH-LEEZE knock it off?  Another guy passed me and said something super snarky about "blowing out my flip flops".  His running buddy shot him a dirty look and then told me, "GREAT JOB!"  

My stomach hurt the whole time.  I was happy that it wasn't worse, though.  Given the way I had eaten, I had expected to need my own porta john.

During the first 25k, it was so hard to run my own race.  Many of the 25k'ers were super fast, and were lapping me. Many of the 25kers were walkers and I lapped them.  Should I take a walk break?  Should I pace off of someone running an 8:30 pace?  (I was hovering between 10:30 and 12:00).  I couldn't get into a groove, nor pick up anyone for support.   I saw Dave around 23K (Loop 5), and was hoping he was stepping back to a slower pace and might run with me.  Nope.  Dave had hurt his ankle and was going to drop, and the look on his face told me that I wouldn't be able to talk him out of it.  Bummer.  Get well soon, Dave!

The Second 25k:

There's a point in a lot of races where you think, "This is a really dumb sport.  It's not fun and I should just stop right now".  Never does that hit harder than at 3AM on a loop course in the middle of the summer in Texas.  So easy to drop.  Every time I passed through the finish line, there were people drinking beer - including a dude sitting on my cooler (he was super nice about it)!  It was tempting to join him - there were beers in the cooler, but instead, I just grabbed some ice to shove down my shirt and kept on running.

The crowd thinned out as the 25kers finished.  I started to relax and began to enjoy my run.  At 20 miles, when I should have been "hitting the wall", I hit my stride.  FINALLY.  The night was beautiful, the moon was up, and I was happy now to see the only slightly less enthusiastic volunteers.  
This is what Trinity Park looks like in the middle of the night.

Despite the thinning crowd, I managed to find people to run with during the last couple of hours.  I ran for a mile with a guy that had "El Scorchnado" written on his chest.  On my last mile of Loop 9, I picked up Dan, and we ran our last victory lap together, chatting about biking, running, and swimming.  It was great to have company!  On our last mile, the sun was starting to come up.  A pair of runners passed us, looking incredibly fresh... and I realized, they weren't part of the race!  They were just out for their morning run.  This happened again two more times during our last mile.    

I crossed the finish line feeling fantastic at 6:21:20.  I thought I had done terribly, but it turns out my standing was better than I would have expected.   I was  44th out of 74 finishers, and 11th out of 25 women.  About 150 started.  I guess I didn't do half bad after all!   

The lunas performed great, although already after only 125 miles, I need duct tape on the ATS laces.  

I also recommend the bamboo tanks for warm weather running.  Jason over at Barefoot Running University has been in a frenzy over the idea that tech fabric is for cold weather running and non-wicking clothes (aka cotton) are better for warm weather running.  I think he's about half right on that one.  These bamboo products are somewhere between cotton and tech fabric on the wicking spectrum, and are way softer (less chafing) than both materials. I definitely feel more comfortable in these in hot weather.  Be careful if buying one from spreadshirts, though.  Any design on it doesn't breathe.

The finishers bling for this race is fantastic.  I've never really been excited for medals, but these I like:

Many props to the El Scorcho team!  It was indeed a well organized, great event!    

The aftermath:

Six hours after finishing El Scorcho, I was airborne and headed back to Massachusetts.  My husband thought this was a dumb idea, and he was right.  I didn't get to sleep on the plane, unfortunately because my name is Mom.  But the trip was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated.
I used full-fledged drug store compression stockings on the plane for the first time.  Wow, they felt great!  I'll be using these again, possibly even next time I fly, whether I run or not. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

Summer Plans, 2013

Training for the Bear Mountain 50 mile race has more or less consumed the past 5 months of my running life, so the big question is, what's next?  I really enjoyed that race, so I'm thinking about doing more like it.  If anyone has suggestions for a similar type of 50 miler in the fall, I'm all ears.  I like technical courses with a lot of elevation change.  What's good in the Northeast?  Anyone?

In the mean time,  I have a few goals for the immediate future:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Race Report: 2013 North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain Gore-Tex 50 mile

Why run the Bear Mountain 50 mile?

In early December, I registered for the North Face Endurance Challenge Gore Tex 50 mile race at Bear Mountain, in Harriman State Park in New York. Why? Well, because I really love Harriman State Park. Back when I was in my 20s, I lived in New York City and used this park as my backyard. I was up there at least monthly, in all weather. But I wasn't much of a runner then and now I am. I couldn't resist the urge to run all my favorite trails in one day! 

Also, I had tried the 50 mile distance before, and I really didn't enjoy myself much at all.  But the course was boring, and I tend to enjoy harder courses much more.  Not in the "liking pain" way, but I just seem happier overall on difficult courses.  Bear Mountain is rumored to be one of the most difficult in the Northeast, so why not?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Social Media - Bane or Boon to Trail Running; Blog Symposium

This is written in response to the blog symposium at Trailrunner Magazine.  The May 2013 topic is Social Media - Bane or Boon to Trail Running.

Meet my friends Julie and Adam!   Julie, Adam, and I have a few things in common.   We like to run near Mount Wachusett, we sometimes run ultras, and we like social media.  Don't they look like nice people?  They are!

Now meet Sarah.  Sarah and I have a few things in common, too.  We look alike.

We both used to run trails in Inwood Hill Park in New York City.  I left in the summer of 2003, when I moved for work.  Sarah stopped running there on May 19, 2004,  when she was murdered on the trails.  Her body was found nude and ritualistically arranged, which brings us to the other thing we have in common: a self-proclaimed psychic by the name of Dimitry Sheinman.  Sheinman often tried to chat me up when I ran through the park, but he creeped me out, so I kept on running.  He either witnessed Sarah's murder or committed it, but the police don't have enough evidence to say it's the latter. Of course, I've often wondered....  why Sarah and not me?  I think about her often, and her memory influences some of the choices I make in regards to my running and my safety.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The cemeteries are beautiful today.

Here are a couple of pics from my run this afternoon.  Enjoy!

Finding Water for Trail Runners - Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series on water and trail runners.  You can find the first part here.  In the first part, hopefully, I've convinced you to not drink from streams.  So what options do you have?

  1. Bring enough water.  Okay, while this seems obvious, I'm going to tell you to bring extra in your car.  Because if you know you have a couple of liters in your car, you might be more willing to....
  2. Just get dehydrated. Suck it up, buttercup.  You'll run slower, but you won't die.  Oh, you'll feel miserable, and possibly get a wicked headache.  You probably don't need to worry about heatsroke, though - that's a myth.   If you want to learn more about that, read the 2008 Science of Sport coverage on that, which you can find here, here, and here.  But hey, I don't know where you're running, and maybe it's Death Valley.  I'm in New England.
  3. Call ahead and ask.  A park employee might know about sources of potable water that aren't necessarily easy to spot on the map, including wells installed for parks work or at a research station.  They also might tell you where the water is particularly bad.
  4. Ask Bear Grylls.  No, don't do that.  It's gross.

    Okay, very well.  You've decided to drink some water out on the trail anyway.  Let me help you out then. 

    First, pick  your water.  Go for a stream rather than a lake, and don't drink from a green lake.  Some of the algae that can grow in lakes can make a compound called microcystin, and this can cause liver failure.  They even cancel triathlons for microcystin.

    Second, if you can, go upstream from any livestock.  

    What's in the water?  Nothing nice.
    Next, if you see a lot of pipes sticking out of the ground, keep on walking.  PVC or metal.  While these could be a number of things, one possibility is that this is a monitoring well.  Monitoring wells allow hydrologists to periodically analyze underground water.  Why do hydrologists want to monitor the water chemistry?  Hmmm.....  most likely it's because something ain't right down there.  Uranium?  Arsenic?  Who knows?  Well, maybe you if you called ahead.
    Okay then.   So you've picked a stream with some water in it, and you want to try to make it as potable as possible, right?  Now, keep in mind, you're never going to get it as clean as what you've come to expect out of your tap, so we're really looking at lowering your risk of getting sick. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finding Water for Trail Runners - Part 1

Every creek is Shit Creek.
Summer is coming up!  You may already know this, but I'm a microbiology professor.  My research interests are in groundwater quality.  A lot of my trail running friends ask me if it's okay to drink creek water when they are out on the trail, but for the most part, they are looking for someone to validate their poor choice to drink creek water.  Should you drink creek water?   Yeah, it's not such a good idea.  In this post, I'll explain why, and in the next post, I'll give you some alternatives.

But Heather!  I drink stream water all the time and I never get sick!  Hasn't hurt me yet!

Well, congratulations?  Do you want to keep rolling the dice?

I can't get really sick, can I?  

Yeah, unfortunately, you can get really sick, and possibly dead.   In the US, we tend to take our water quality for granted, and I don't think most of us appreciate how amazing it is that we have clean water flowing out of our faucets.  I do, and I'm thankful for it every day.

How bad is it out there?  The EPA thinks it's reasonable for "only" 1 in 28 beachgoers to get diarrhea after swimming.  And that's after swimming, not after chug-a-lugging several liters.  Fact - there's poop in the water.  And you can't get away from it by going into the forest, because there's animals there and they all have butts too.

All those fuzzy forest critters and even some of the birds are capable of shedding microbes that make us sick.  Sometimes, public lands are even used to graze livestock, and their feces can end up in the water as well.  You won't necessarily be able to spot that.  Assume every creek is shit creek.

The consequences?  Well, perhaps, nothing will happen to you.  We're all warned about giardiasis, but the truth is, only about half of the people that get infected actually become sick.  You could get lucky.  Hooray!  Or, maybe you'll get a little sick.  But some of the illnesses you can get can be debilitating.  When a friend of mine had giardiasis, he practically lived in the bathroom.  You couldn't even have a conversation with him - and this was before smartphones and tablets!   A case of Hepatitis A or crypto might take you out of racing for an entire season.  There have been instances of water-borne transmission of E. coli  0157:H7 - and that can kill you.

But let me get a little cynical here for a second.  Are your other friends telling you that it's cool to drink from streams?  I think your other friends just want you to poop in your running shorts and blog about it, or spend most of your race 20 feet off the trail, so they can win the pint glass. If you end up sick enough to be out for a while, they might even pass around rumors that you've become a triathlete.  I may be a fan of good bathroom stories, but I'm a much better friend. 

I grew a beard, but everyone still recognizes me.
In addition to infectious diseases, water in the forest could be flat out polluted.  Do you really know the land use history for the places you are running?  For example, if you're running trip involves trails that go up into the mountains, there's a half decent chance that any given water source could be contaminated with "mine tailings", and you'll be drinking mercury, arsenic, lead, and cyanide.  Is it enough to hurt you?  I have no idea.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Productive Winter

I haven't used this blog much, but I've been considering writing a bit more about my running other than race reports.  So I thought I'd recap on how running has gone for me this past winter.

Early in the winter, I made the decision to sign up for another 50 mile race.  I ran my first at the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge last spring, and didn't enjoy it all that much.  But the course is boring, and I'd run it before.  Fall went well for me, and I knocked nearly 20 minutes off of my 2011 time at Bimblers Bluff, despite running a couple of bonus miles.  So I decided to give the distance another shot.

This time, though, I'd pick a more interesting course.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

TARC Spring Thaw 6 hour, 2013

Again, another post in the "Better late than never" column....  On March 24th, I ran the 2nd TARC Spring Thaw 6 hour, which is a fantastic event run by Emily Trespas.  I ran it last year, and had a fantastic time.  You can read about it here.  Last year, the weather was glorious, but this year?

This year?

Yeah, there was a little bit of snow.  A lot, actually.  This is where we put the drop bags:

I know, right?  Spring Thaw my frostbitten foot.  Actually, the weather wasn't too bad.  It was in the 30s and sunny, so very comfortable for running.