Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Merrell Road Glove Review

Robillard's got one up already, and I'm sure Josh, Christian, and Justin won't be far behind. I didn't read any of the other reviews intentionally so that I could assess the shoe fairly. A group of us minimal shoe bloggers (we've dubbed ourselves the B-listers) were privy to some of Merrells offerings for next year.

To spread the success of the trail glove to other markets, a more road friendly version of the Road Glove is set to release. I got a chance to run a 5k in the prototype Road Gloves back in June, but had to keep it on the lowdown. The prototype and the production model are the same. 

After a few runs in the Road Gloves, I can tell that these will be my preferred shoe for non-trail running. I use the term "non-trail" instead of road because I like them for anything that is less than technical. With many minimalist options like FiveFingers, huaraches, or water socks, I find myself wondering, "will I be going on gravel or debris-covered roads?" before I head out. Granted, this problem is more specific to those with a complete arsenal of minimalist shoes than people with enough sense to keep it simple. The Road Glove provides enough insulation to run gravel, chip and seal, rocks, and other rough stuff. The tough exterior doesn't greatly diminish the Road Gloves efficacy as a true minimalist shoe. Like the Trail Glove and the rest of Merrell's lineup, Roads are on a zero-drop platform.

Merrell's Sonic Glove(left) and Road Glove(right)
The differences between the Road and Trail Gloves are slight, which is favorable. The sole is a bit more flat, which increases groundfeel on the road and flat surfaces. This also made the shoe feel a bit less constrictive on my foot. The thin rockplate is absent on the Road Gloves, which is one of the attributes that improves road quality significantly. 

The lug pattern on the sole is quite similar to its loamy soil seeking counterpart, but much less aggressive. As you can see, there is still enough there to keep a runner stuck to the ground on a variety of surfaces.

The tread pattern on the Vibram outsole has smaller lugs than the trail version.
Since the Road Glove didn't deviate much from the successful formula for the Trail Gloves, some of the same drawbacks carried over. Several people have complained about the arch of the shoe touching the arch of the foot. Though the materials that compose the arch aren't significant enough to provide any support. The snug midfoot and heel are intended to keep the shoe tight and allow for a loose toebox(and therefore forefoot splay). I found the arch to be more noticeable as I walked around the airport in the shoes. While running, however, its virtually undetectable. On the road shoe front, the Merrells aren't leading. With zero dropped road shoes like the Somnio Nada and the upcoming NB Minimus Road tipping the scales at less than 6 ounces(3.5oz for the Nada), the Road Gloves need a diet. As an everyday trainer, the Merrell gets my vote.

So far, the shoe has given me no hot spots or blisters from sockless wear. The upper on the Road Glove is even smoother than on the Trail Glove. Though it doesn't have the sophisticated lacing system of the Trail Glove, it fits quite well and allows for some adjustability. I found it aesthetically pleasing. It looks like a standard road shoe and comes in some cool colors.

I think the Merrell Road Gloves are a huge step in the right direction. They reach out to the newest adopters of barefoot or natural style running. They reminded of the simpler days of running when I just wore my road shoes for all but the most technical trails. Traditionally shod runners who want to go minimal will love these. Most minimal shoes are built on the idea of starting from barefoot and building up. The Road Gloves feel more like a traditional road shoe that's been stripped down. Take a modern road shoe, strip away arch support, heel, and cushioning, and you've got the latest offering from Merrell.  If I'm ever in doubt of which shoe to grab and go, I'll grab my Road Gloves.

The toe spring in these pictures is sort of an optical illusion. Its negligible while running.

The Road Gloves were provided by Merrell. Though I'm a bit of a moral deviant, I can't be bought that easily.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Airports Are Boring

Here I sit in the airport in Grand Rapids. After a fair amount of rushing to get here, I found out my flight was delayed a couple hours. Looks like I wont be in New York for the Barefoot Run all that early after all.

Merrell has been great, flying a few of us barefoot/minimalist shoe folks to NYC for a gathering. We'll be discussing shoes, running, and other shenanigannning. I'm sort of on the Disabled List for the time being, but I'm still in decent enough shape to run a few laps on Governor's Island in the Harbor. I'm still not sure what a company like Merrell sees in a guy like me, but apparently I don't have to be the best runner in the world to get some special treatment once in a while, just best at doing...whatever it is I do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Log Road to Recovery

Just some musing here. I'm not doing much running, but I'm doing some thinking.

I've decided to let running go for a little bit. I'm awaiting a doctor's visit to see if this knee issue is runable or not. As of now, I can run flat roads at my normal pace with little pain. It's not an impact or weight bearing issue, but rather a pain that arises when I exceed a certain degree of flexion. 1 hour of mountain biking causes about the same amount of pain as an hour of running. Possible culprits are lingering strain from descending Pikes Peak a few weeks ago(best case), a torn meniscus of unkown origin(not unlikely- I've been doing lots of firewood cutting and haybail hauling lately), or even arthritis from the catastrophic motocross injury it sustained 4 years ago(not likely, but a scary possibility).

Until I know, I'll just let running slip through my fingers for time being. As fall comes in, it's a perfect time to run for the sake of getting outside and enjoying the falling leaves around me. Even the monotonous roads around my Michigan home are starting to present me with spectacular views. The all - to familiar state parks are transforming from a mosquito-laden greenhouse to a comfortably cool playground. The colors haven't popped yet, but the occasional yellow or red leaf shows itself as I wander around under the canopy.

Today, I found a way to spend some time outside and be productive for a change. I grabbed the chainsaw and a splitting maul and headed out back, where a pile of logs awaited my arrival.
 My parents have been using wood to heat their home since they moved in about 30 years ago. Since both my mother and father are extremely self reliant, my sister and I have found ourselves to be junior lumberjacks since we can both remember. As we grew stronger, our responsibility increased. As we grew older, so did the age of the wood we could carry. Summer and fall were spent preparing for winter.

It reminds me that memories are totally dependent on one's frame of mind. At the time, I found cutting wood to be an rather unpleasant slog. I became bored easily and tired quickly. The weather was hot and humid, bugs were plentiful. Looking back now, these were some of the more important and prominent times of my life. I spent time with my family, learned how to work(as well as some clever ways to avoid it), developed an appreciation for the outdoors. Though I didn't bother to formulate the thought completely, I understood that we were taking from nature to heat our home.

Lost the thought. I'll post it anyway.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Woodstock Weekend: Ain't That a Bitch!

This should be a pretty damned brief race report.

I set out to run my first 100 miler this weekend at the Hallucination 100 in Pinckney, Michigan. After my success there over the past two years, I figured this venue would be an ideal place to attempt my longest run ever. My first ultra experience was the 50k in 2009, and my first ultra win was at the 50mile in 2010.  The course almost seemed tailored to my strengths last year. Enough roads to drop a comfortable 6ish minute pace, hilly enough to keep the muscles from becoming tense, and cool enough to keep from overheating. The aid stations are close, keeping the need for excess baggage to a minimum. I would have a top notch crew of knowledgeable runners- My usual training partners Jason Robillard and Jeremiah Cataldo and my college teammate Evan Groendyk. If there was ever a person who had every tool for success at their fingertips, its this fellow right here.
I found a wig and a Nathan Vest in Jason's "ultra box."
Not sure which item to ask about first.
Shelly said I look like Snookie.
The above picture is the result of the 4pm start of the Hallucination 100. Give me all day to dick around, and this is what happens. I ate a prerace lunch of McDonald's and 1 pack of candy cigarettes. We had a ton of fun goofing around in the days leading up to the race and it really helped quell my nervousness.

Shirtless clown with the afro. Damned humidity...messin' with my fro.

When you only run 25% of the race, you look pretty fresh in all the photos.
The race started and I felt pretty relaxed. The humidity was higher than I'm used to, but once the sweat got going it went mostly unnoticed. I was toward the front of the pack, but knew it was too long of a day to count any chickens. You can't win a 100 in the first few miles, but you sure as hell can lose it.

Within a mile, I noticed that I was favoring my right knee. My form felt a bit off as I reluctant to bend it in the normal range of motion while running. For any other distance, this wouldn't have phased me, but knowing that I had about 95% of the race left in front of me, some negativity started creeping in already.

Knee pain aside, the first lap flew by. I talked with a few other people who were running the race. Everyone I ran with was entertaining and seemed in good spirits. We all knew we had a long night ahead, so we may as well enjoy some company early on. I was in excellent company at this event and found it really humbling. Brad, who was in first at the time, had completed an Ultraman even in Wales just a couple weeks prior. I also ran a few miles with Mark, who won the race last year.

I ran the first lap in about 2:25, which is slightly faster than I ran any of my laps the previous year. I felt incredibly calm, relaxed and happy throughout this section, with the exception of my knee getting increasingly more sore.
already favoring my favorite leg, but still in a great mood.
At this point I still hadn't mentioned my hurting leg to my crew. After a week of being nervous about the pain going away, I figured it wasn't a great time to bring it up. Seeing my crew and aid stations gives a bit of a high because it breaks up the monotony a little.

After finishing the first lap, I started to feel the effects of my altered gait. Muscles were sore that had never been sore before. Rather than simply bending my knee to clear logs and rocks in the trail, I abducted my leg and swung it over the obstacles straight. This caused issues with my back, other hip, and quads because I was running with this slight nuance. Shit. I was feeling like mile 60 at mile 17. Being unable to bend my knee greatly inhibited me on downhill sections of the course.

I ran a couple miles with Mark, last years winner, after he came up behind me. We talked a bit and I tried to hang on as we ran into the dark. I told him about my knee woes, but said I was thinking of toughing it out. Then a bee flew into my mouth and stung my tongue. "Ahh, fuck it." I ran some more with Mark, but had already resigned myself to my first DNF. He told me he was going to stretch out a bit on a flatter section and took off. I instantaneously came to a halt.

I was done. I walked to a gravel path on the course, but headed to a small lake with a clearing near the water. My shoes were touching the lake's edge as I looked out, taking in the view. It had been overcast for a couple hours, but there was a hole in the blanket of clouds that happened to line up with the sun. The water reflected the light as the cat tails swayed in the breeze. Some fish flipped up above the surface in the time I was watching. This made me realize that no matter how important I perceive these races to be, the world will carry on in the event that I fail. I'm every bit the person I was before I decided to pack it in. Running doesn't define who I am. Running allows me an outlet to show the world who I am, even if few listen. Not every attempt is successful.

I walked the rest of the way to the Richie's Haven aid station. The mosquitoes were drawing my precious Colorado altitude blood. with about a mile left to go, I was passed by the guy who would eventually go on to win the race. Jon Hastings put together a solid performance and finished the race in just over 19hrs.

I walked up to Jason and Jeremiah, and they seemed confused as to what to do. They knew I wouldn't be walking if it were serious, but still attempted to convince me to "get my bitch ass moving." I had too much time alone and I knew the knee wasn't a typical soreness or even an IT band flare-up. I can usually roll those out, as can be seen here at my last 12hr event:

As one might infer, I cannot decide whether to be the stoic running warrior or the childish jackass.
I'll make the decision someday.

Needless to say by now, I failed in my first attempt at 100 miles. Though I didn't complete the distance, I do consider a few things to be successful.
- I ran my own pace. I let Brad get away and was ok with it. He was looking fantastic and I knew I had to listen to my own body and run at a pace that was comfortable. In the same token, I didn't freak out when I dropped a couple others. Just being young doesn't make me a newbie. I have some experience behind me now and ran a bit more confidently than usual.

- I kept hydrated and fueled. Usually during ultras, I neglect food and water in the first couple hours because I'm letting adrenaline pull me along. I kept the GU and water coming early and often. I could feel that I was pretty close to optimally fueling.

- At a really easy pace, I on par to meet time goals. I was heading for a 16hour-ish 100miler. Believe me, I'm well aware that its a long day and I did plan on slowing down, but I will take this sample as a good sign. Downhills are usually a relative strength, so my pace without my "A game" on the downhills was encouraging.

- I knew when to quit. This race was going well, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that one detail(like a faulty knee joint) can take a person out. The writing was on the wall that my knee was getting sore in a linear fashion. The pain never subsided the entire time I was on the course, and got progressively more debilitating. Whether I DNF'ed at mile 24 or mile 60, I wasn't going to make it.

...I can talk quite a line of bullshit from the sidelines, can't I?

Everyone on the course was excellent and inspiring. Roughly 30% of the field finished, so those folks deserve a special appreciation. The mud became the main obstacle of the day, reaching knee depth on parts of the course. I dropped out before it got dark, so I was never even on the course when it got bad.

I spent the rest of the day watching the spectacle that is Run Woodstock. My two close friends, Mark Robillard and Shelly Robillard, finished their first 50milers each did a hell of a job in the challenging conditions. I crewed and paced for Shelly since I suddenly found my dance card to be wide open.

The race for the 50mile overall spot was incredible. My course record didn't even make it a year. Peter Hogg ran sub7, beating my time by 6 minutes despite the course being a muddy shit show. Josh Wopata, Ben Vanhoose, and John Clinthorne gave chase and ran amazingly well. I can say with a degree of confidence that the competiton is stronger in the mid west than in the mountains. My age group is stacked with badasses. The only advantage I have is being the relative baby of the bunch.

I'm not sure where to go from here. Perhaps a couple days of self pity and existential meltdown. Appointment with the sports med doc next week, then I get to determine just how early I'll take another crack at a 100. Maybe a fall Marathon(Philly sounds fun), or just some mountain biking and cross training.

Either way, fall is here and its an excellent time to be outside.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Until Next Time, Colorado: Pikes Peak Marathon Race Report

Another late race report for me to add to this memoir.

a foreword for a race report? I'm a whole new level of douchebaggery.
I got the chance to live a dream. Much to my delight, life has unfolded in an incredible way for me in the past few months. The entire summer was one of the most fulfilling times of my life, and racing the Pikes Peak Marathon was the best way to punctuate it that I could ever imagine.

Several months ago, I decided that I was growing weary of living in fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being socailly inept. Fear not making a difference. Fear of not being able to satisfy a yearning for...I don't know what.

I took an internship in a career that I wasn't even qualified for. Only too late did I realize what my true desires were for my future occupation. Therapeutic Recreation is not totally unrelated to exercise science, and my experience outside of academia with people with disabilities falls under the category. Why the hell not? The idea of using movement and organized sports and play to rehabilitate the body and mind after trauma is what got me through the most challenging parts of my own life. I believe its the best means to a happy, healthy life in our society. I just never knew it had a name. Maybe that trip to Taco Bell instead of the counseling office all those years ago wasn't such a great idea after all. Hindsight's 20/20.

Even in my personal life, I knew that I was at a crossroads. Though outgoing to a fault at times, I still made certain to surround myself with the comfortable. I wanted to grow as an individual and make deeper connections with more people. I value relationships much more than monetary or social gain, and I wanted to show myself and others that my motives learn from others while helping them are genuine.

On the running front, I knew that it was time to jump into a big pond and see just how quickly this little fish would get eaten. My ultra experiences at smaller venues had treated me very well, and I think the competition here in the midwest is vastly underestimated by our mountain dwelling counterparts. That being said, there was a nagging little voice in my head that prodded me to seek bigger venues. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a great runner. Hell, I've only run a sub 17:00 5k once in my life, and it laid me up for a week. I can barely crack 3 hours in a marathon. Elite is not an accurate descriptor. My successes at longer distances, no matter their ranking on the totem pole of running accomplishments, made me want to see what I was made of.

These seperate yet deeply intwined reasons led me to feel that this move to boulder wasn't some sort of fantasy summer vacation, but an absolute necessity to my fluourishing on a personal, professional, and physical level. This change of locale would provide the catalyst I needed to chase dreams.

The Pikes Peak race would by my last weekend in Colorado before Samantha and I headed back to Michigan for her to go back to college. After an entire summer of pushing my limits and finding my stride, it was time to see if I had learned anything. I was invited to race the marathon by Ron Ilgen and the great people behind the scenes of "America's Ultimate Challenge."

Pre Race Shenanigans

Our lease was up on the Wednesday before race weekend. I had my final session of helping out at wheelchair racing, frantically packed up my belongings from my subleased trailer, and prepared to head out of town....after a night out and crashing at a friends apartment.

The wagon was packed to the roof(and on top of it) with three months worth of stuff and we were off to Colorado Springs to our temporary housing in a hotel. We were running late, so we had to head straight to the press conference. Of course, we were awkwardly early and decided to walk around a bit and kill some time.

cool building near the expo/start line.

Want people to assume you're a wannabe Tarahumara?
Show up to a press conference in these bad boys
The press conference was quite a cool experience. Though I was invited as a fellow competitor, I was quite amused at the notion of me being of equal running ability to these real mountain runners. I have to be honest, I did no "recon" to figure out who anybody was that would be heading up the mountain with me in a few days. I knew I was just a goofball kid from Michigan who was given a shot on a whim.

After some milling about and attacking the party sub at the back of the room, I took a seat in the crowd and watched the competitive runners take their seats on the panel. There wasn't room for all of us, and I sure as hell wasn't going to assume the seat of a previous age group winner, local legend, or higly esteemed mountain runner. I happily sat among the press and public. I'm so nerdy I even took pictures.
Not a huge turnout for the press conference, but it was still cool to meet the
local legends and upcoming forces of the Pikes Peak races.
We were each given a chance to say few words to introduce ourselves. After those on the panel mentioned their accomplishments and goals, the rest of us were handed the microphone. I was sitting next to the unassuming and humble Martin Mudry, who would be running the ascentI was the last to go, and obnoxiously said that Pikes would be my shortest race of the year and that I would have to "try to run fast for this shorter and more intense race." I believe I even used the term "take it down a gear" fecetiously. Based on a few facial expressions, this came out completely wrong. Those that know me are aware that shorter races magnify my lack of focus and my tendency to back off when things get tough. To those that don't know me, it probably sounded more like this:
"blah blah blah! I am an arrogant young person and a huge tool! Blah blah blah!
I talked to a few volunteers and several of the racers. Once I was fully intimidated, I grabbed yet another hunk of sandwhich and a cookie before heading out the door.

I'll fast forward through the rest of the weekend. Though Samantha and I had a good time sight seeing, I wish I had something more productive to do. I was exhausted from simply walking around. I think I was making myself into a basket case by thinking too much and allowing negative feelings to flood my mind. Dwelling on my relative lack of preparation and inexperience was quite literally making me sick. How could I, the supposedly laid back ultra hippie, finally succumb to the pressures of running? I think the answer lies in the lead up. in every other race I've done, I've flown in under the radar. Had I just been one of the regular entrants in this race, I'd be one of nearly 1000. Since I was a given the opportunity to run as a competitive runner, I was one of 10. The silver lining is that on race day, we all toe the same line. Being one of the 10 runners who got competitive entries doesn't garauntee a top 10 spot.
Running on Friday with Martin at Garden of the Gods helped alleviate a little tension. I hadn't run in the last 24 hours due to time constraints, so not having that familiar "post run" feeling in my legs really made me feel ill at ease. Thanks for the run, MM(Martin ended up winning his age group at the ascent. Check out his film about running in Kenya here). After sme prodding from me, he mentioned his average weekly mileage leading up to the race. It was roughly twice that of mine. He was running half the distance this weekend, and had in twice as many miles as me each week. My inner monologue sounded bit like this: "I am so f**ked."

This area never ceases to amaze.

Some cool trails located right in the Garden of the Gods Park

Nothing like some natural wonder to make our little issues seem insignificant.
We saw some cool things while I grew nervous to the point of exhaustion the day before the race. Once my anxiousness hit critical mass, I finally decompressed. I quit caring. I realized that I had no expectations and that I was going to run this race as an observer of myself and the race that would ensue. I read a book and chilled out. We all have our security blankets in life, and one of mine is the book, "The Dahrma Bums" by Jack Kerouac. 

We ordered up some pizza and cinnamon bread, had it delivered, and pigged out. An early awakening was upon us since Sam was supposed to be at her aid station to volunteer at about 6am. I arranged a wake up call and we both set our alarms so I could sleep.
I'd like to say we split this, but Samantha ate only a little of each. There were no leftovers.
Gycogen stores topped off!
Finally,  the Race

I arrive and park in an empty lot about a block from the start line. I go to the bathroom mill around, and anxiously adjust things I seldom think to adjust. About 30 people were hanging around the start line, the rest were jogging, stretching, getting in the zone, whatever people do before races. I just kind of creeped around looked at the creek. How many races will I do before I stop feeling like an outsider? After realizing I was holding an empty water bottle, I headed over to the water coolers. The start line was starting to look busy, so it was time for me to meander over there. I talked to a couple of cool people who had run the race before and wished I had a pen and paper. This shit sounded tricky. I'm not sure if I was just more perceptive of the tips at this race, but they seemed to be in an incredible abundance. I've gone into nearly all my other races completely blind, so why wouldn't I use that strategy(or lack thereof) this time?

Ron, the RD, started talking over the loudspeaker, then handed the mic to the first woman ever to run the race, for she would be starting us off. Though explicitly invited to run this race as a competitive athlete, I still couldn't bring myself to nudge my way through to the front. Time would tell if those with more confidence than me deserved to be there. There were roughly 40 people in front of me.

...and a cannon goes off.

I forgot that marathoners don't start races by walking. I started out nice and easy
inthe back of the front pack.
Photo: Samantha Long 
I wasn't wearing a watch, but I would assume that early race adrenaline and the rather mellow uphill grade was pulling me along at a decent clip, probably in the 6-7minute mile range. We took a turn downtown onto Ruxton, then the grade immediately increased. We weren't even on the trail yet, and I was feeling the uphill. Non-technical, steep climbs are the bane of my running existence. Though hurting a little already, I attributed it to a little rust and powered past a couple guys before hopping onto the Barr Trail.  I was told that the first few miles of trail were some of the steepest. I was decidedly well informed, or at least I was hoping it would turn out as such. I was feeling pretty good at this point, so I got a couple passes in when the trail became wide enough. I also felt the sting of being passed early on in the race. I tried being aware of when a person was looking ready to get around. It takes so much energy to get someone on steep, technical stuff that its hardly worth the effort sometimes. Knowing this, I tried to be as sportsman-like as possible in hopes of good kharma.

The first aid station came up quickly, and went by just as fast. I tossed my t shirt to the side and grabbed  a cup of water. It was too early to fill the bottle or take any time, so I pressed on. I was hoping the Barr Trail wouldn't feel as steep as my semi-daily ascents of Green Mountain. How naive. Some more climbing and I actually reached a section that felt flat. If there's one nice thing about 15% grades, it's that they make 6% grades feel pretty nice. I saw a couple volunteers I met early on in the week and it made me happy. It's funny how a little suffering made a girl I met once three days prior such a sight for sore eyes. She smiled and I felt better for a minute. A little more trudging and speedier running on lesser grades and I was up to Barr Camp. This was one of the more happenin' aid stations. One can feel the history in these classic races. The area is hardly accessible, and yet so many people make the arduous journey to help out some hardy folks out to run up a 14'er. Though I was part of nearly 1000 people who were in the 56th running of Pikes Peak, I still felt like I was part of something special.

The trail began to get more technical as the terrain got more rocky. The rocks began to get larger and I started to approach uncharted waters. I hadn't done a continuous climb longer than 2 hours or so. As I searched for optimistic thoughts, I realized that I've grown to be pretty comfortable outside of my comfort zone. I thrive on awkwardness. I never know what I'm doing. I'm a chubby athsmatic with metal knee braceswho turned himself into an mountain runner Getting here was the hard part. This was the part I was looking for.  I was in search of an opportunity to really focus and put in a true 100% effort. Here goes nothing.

Crossing through the A Frame aid station was a blur. I grabbed a cup of gatorade and a cup of water. I dumped one on my head. Guess which one. Yep, I dumped a cup of lemon-lime gatorade on my head. Immediately after leaving the AS, I used half my water bottle get all that sticky sports drink off me. Not the first time this happened, and certainly not the last. I laughed about it and headed up to treeline.

Popping out from the trees was nothing short of breathtaking. Seeing how high we'd climbed since leaving Manitou Springs. The humbling effect of the mountain views isn't something I totally understand, but I know I haven't had enough yet. Knowing there were only a couple miles left to the summit renewed some of my vigor. The course was proving to be fun as it changed entirely over so few miles. Switchbacks were getting closer and closer together as we made our way to the top of "America's Mountain." The gravel and rocks were making for tough footing, but the frequent switchbacks were keeping the grade fairly runable. My adrenaline surged as I passed 3 or 4 people, running as they were walking(keep reading, I get my comeuppance).

Well before I could see the summit, I see a blast of white flying down the trail. It, of course, was mountain legend Matt Carpenter. He was leading the race, as he does each time he enters.

 I rounded a corner where a lady greeted me with a smile and said "welcome to 'the stairs.'"  I laughed, knowing the sadistic side of the trail running community. Any thing that sounds pleasant generally isn't. Seconds later, I was bending my knee up near my chest to climb up the rocks that composed the last section of trail. The part of the course notorious for breaking peoples strides actually put a smile on my face. This was just the type of running I sought out on my runs at Chatauqua Park over my summer meandering in the mountains. It sure wasn't easy, but at least it felt familiar. There were crowds of people at the summit when I finally reached it. I saw the clock at the top and was suprised. 2:56:11. My time, at the halfway point in this marathon, was within 30 seconds of my marathon PR. I was told by several people that the ascent is equivalent to a tough marathon. Apparently it's true. I grabbed a boston creme pie off some girl's stick and turned around. 11th person to the summit.

The first thing I noticed when I turned around was the endless stream of people. Since I was 11th to the top, that meant that I sould be passing about 990 people on my way back to Manitou springs. At this point, the run consisted of a lot of jumping down from rocks and avoiding people. Race directions instructed us to yield to the downhill runners, but on some of the blind corners and narrow trails it was nearly impossible. It was only a few minutes ago that I was the disoriented climber, so I stayed out of the way as best I could. Having only 1-2 hours left to go felt good. My legs weren't tired quite yet, and my lungs were still feeling pretty good at altitude. Sun was high in sky by this point and the heat was becoming quite noticeable.

The switchbacks above treeline were an absolute riot. I felt as if I were doing some sort of combination of skiing and downhill mountain biking. The loose gravel on the corners allowed me to lean over like a speed skater, nearly dragging my inside hand on the ground. Jumping from rock to rock as I picked my way by the upcoming runners gave me a head rush. Was it the most efficient way down the trail? Probably not, as made evident by the couple racers that passed me. They were looking great and I wished them well.

This is the point in most races that has me torn. I'm slowing down, but on an emotional high. Maybe I'm just a lifelong hobby jogger.

About as quickly as I plunged back into treeline, I started hurting a little. Clearly I had gotten a little excited after turning around. I snuck a peak behnd me and saw nobody coming down, so I used the alone time to relax and get myself back into a more even flow. From that point to the next aid station, I ran alone and was feeling more rejuvenated. I believe I got passed a couple times in these middle miles, but also did a little passing.

Back in these middle miles of the Barr Trail, the footing was less technical. About the second I relaxed, I really wished I hadn't. On a relatively easy section of trail, I kicked a rock and proceeded to fly "arse over tits," as my friend Kate the Brit would say(thanks mate). My feet actually went over my head as I slid about six feet on my shoulder. My head hit a log(set on the trail to prevent erosion), and my knee collided with something, probably my other knee. I initially thought I had done some real damage, but I inspected it for a minute as I picked some rocks out of my shoe. I had some blood running down my back, but it was just some superficial trail rash. I rubbed it off with my gloves and dug a handful of rocks out of the liners of my Brooks Infinity III shorts. I remember saying aloud to myself, "Gravel in my ass crack. Shit's about to get real."

This little crash took some wind out of my sails. I lost another position as I sat there trailside. Dude didn't even ask if I was ok! If you saw a bloody individual on the side of the trail clutching his knee, would you acknowlegde his presence? That's a whole different blog post altogether.

I was only a couple corners form the Barr Camp AS, so I kept pushing onward. The spill caused me to land on my water bottle, popping the cap off of it. A quick bottle refill and I was off and running. From here out the trail was steeper, but the mile markers seemed to get further and further apart. Some Roctane helped as the deliciously weird pie filling-y goodness of blueberry pomegranate sat in my mouth. About the time I tasted it in a burp, I felt refreshed. A few points that I remembered from the ascent were whizzing by as I tried not to eat gravel again. I grabbed the fenceposts and swung around as I descended the last few miles of the Barr Trail. Every corner I rounded made me think, "this is the last one!" but alas, it never was. Perhaps setting foot on a course before running it does have its perks.

After a bit of a low, I could hear voices over a loudspeaker booming up from the city of Manitou Springs. I reached the aid station where I left my shirt. This felt good because I knew I was less than a mile from the road. This section of trail was inundated with hikers. If it were possible to be polite while screaming, "Incomning! Runner Coming!" I certainly would have been. Most were pretty understanding, especially since it had happend to them about 20 times since this morning already.

The dirt ended and I was back on the road. For a second, I was dismayed. This would be the last time for quite a while that my shoes would touch Colorado singletrack. No time for crying or being nostalgic. I had 1.44 miles left to run. I blew through the final aid station. I knew I had plenty of fuel left in me, and one hell of a paved downhill to drop a fast mile. Though I felt a bit shitty about overtaking 4 people in the last road mile of a mountain race, but I had to use the rest of my fuel up if I was going to go home happy. My stride lengthened, I drove my knees forward and kept my back straight. This was the only time in the descent that I didn't feel as though I was fighting gravity. Guys that had blown by me as if I were standing still on the moutain were getting closer and closer as I reeled a few in one by one. I made a noise and tried to encourage a few to follow. Some did, some didn't. (I hope this didn't come across negatively).

I could hear more and more cheering for those ahead of me. I was reeling in the finish line of one of the most challenging footraces in the world. I was living a dream. I had no idea what place I was in, but it made no difference. The sun was shining brightly as I ran into the cattlegates to round the final corner. I could hear my name and hometown of Muskegon, Michigan called as I ran over the finish line. One of the toughest marathons in the world, and I put it all beneath the soles of my shoes. Never has a midpack finish felt so good.
It starts and finishes like any other marathon

Someday I'll just buy suspenders to keep my shorts up.
 A finisher medal was hung around my neck and my tag was pulled off my bib. I meandered over to a seat and plopped myself down in it. I could see the sun shining outside of the dark finisher tent, and felt a sense of accomplishment that I hadn't really felt before. It felt better than a race won or a PR set. It came from inside me somewhere.

Smiling like an idiot to myself.
Bittersweet moment as I already start missing the CO trails.
Getting the rocks dug out of my back and the cuts cleaned up.
PPM staff is top notch.

I was "between homes" at the moment, so I prepped for the 1300 mile drive
by taking a post race shower at the car wash.

The midwest was well represented in the 20-24 age group.
Luke Demmel and Peter Kostelnick from Iowa took 1st and 3rd, I took 2nd for MI

I also saw a really fat chipmunk!
I got a chance to pick the brain of mountain man Matt Carpenter,
who took the top spot yet again with a 3:48 finish time.
The first year he won this race was the year I was born, 1987.

This amazing opportunity took the place of a long run as I prepare for the Woodstock 100 back home. Here's hoping the intensity will suffice in place of distance.

Here's a quick breakdown of some technical stuff(as technical as I get anyway)
Pre race meal- bread and Nutella
1 GU prior to race
4 Roctanes and 2 cups of Gatorade, Boston creme pie during race
Shoes - NB 110
Average training week - 65 miles (16 hours combined with hiking and work stuff)
Time: 4:46(16th overall, 2nd age group)
Ascent: 2:56(11th to summit)
No watch.