Monday, December 12, 2011

Say What?!?!

OK, so last night, 12/11/11, was the End of Year Party for GUTS.  As it turns out I, along with Scott S., James T., and Mike D., won Super GUTS Volunteer of the year.  For all of my services that I had rendered over the past year, I got to smile my sheepish smile in front of 6,000 people, give a coronation speech, and received a kick-ass North Face gear bag.
When Janice (my coach...bless her heart for putting up with my slackness) announced my name I was like huh?  So, I went up and then she started listing all of the things I've done.  I don't know that I ever really tallied up the stuff, but there is a good bit.  Even though as I write this, I still don't think I did all that much.  I just love this club, its people, and in general really genuinely like to help out.  In a way I almost feel awkward for accepting this award.   I volunteer because it makes me feel good, I like to do it a lot, it is a lot of fun for me, so...I don't know...I just feel honored and weird at the same time.

Janice presenting the kick-ass gear bag, me holding my beer, Mama Kim striking an awesome pose, & Len's wife Shannon.
(Photo: Ryan C.)

So why am I writing this?
Partially for me.
For my mom, brother, and sister who don't follow me on Facebook.
AND to say thank you to all of my friends that said thank you to me.   
That's stupid...huh?  This post may be reverted to the bone-yard where some of my other posts have gone.

The Kick-Ass North Face Bag.  Yes, it already has stuff in it :-)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pine Mountain 31.5

This past Sunday, December 4th, was the big day.  Was I ready for it?  I don't know, but all in all I did surprisingly well, and the weekend was a lot of fun, full of things I've wanted to do for a long time.

After waking up following a good night's sleep Anna and I took our time getting ready and started the trek down to Calloway Gardens where we would be staying Saturday night.
After checking in at race headquarters we set out to get out tickets for the Fantasy in Lights.  Let me tell you, every Georgian should see this at least once.  It's pricey, but worth it...especially if you have kids...they would love it!

Evening sky at the Country Store Overlook.
Before our 10:00pm viewing of the lights we drove around the park, headed over the The Little White House (which closes really early), and then onto Warm Springs.  WOW we thought as we entered this 1/8 mile downtown...this is a tiny little Christmas romantic...we should have stayed here.  So, we got out and walked around a little and even went into a shop...that's all it took was one shop...we ran for our lives and were glad where we were staying where we did :-)
We had dinner at the Country Store (which provided me a few laughs on the run) which, though it had a lot of potential, wasn't really all that good...oh well.
About ready to enter!!

After making my rounds and receiving my dose of customary heckling it was time to get to the start.  Standing next to Shannon, he remarks to me "Aaron, next week I am going to run a 5K, drink some beer and smoke a cigarette afterward."  We had talked about this on our way back from Pinhoti, and it seemed even more fitting at the moment...what were we about to do?
"OK, GO!" or something like that and we were off!

Hey, I know this place!  I need to turn left!  I was at the famed Buzzard's Roost.  I have to give a special thanks to Joel for letting me know about this.
(Photo: Joel T.)
Holy tornado batman!  Shortly after the Tuscaloosa tornadoes hit, Georgia received a taste of them...acres and acres of trees were down...  It was really interesting seeing the patterns of how all of the trees were lying.  You could totally tell what direction the wind was coming from.  Personally, I found this section of trail extremely difficult to run…especially on the return.
Tornado Wasteland.
(Photo: Ronnie H.)
"On your left." said Len as he passed a walker.
"One more passing you on the left." was what I said, following right behind Len.
Apparently, this didn't sit too well with Mr. Angry Runner.  For the next quarter mile or so he followed me right on my heels.  At one point he tripped as we were climbing some rocks, hits me in the back, and then yells at me something like "I just need to get around you man."  Did I smell bad or something?  Then he does the same to Len.  Fortunately for Samantha, who was also running with us, she never passed him.  Len turned around and gave me this look like "What the hell is his problem?" And, that is exactly what I was wondering.

"Len!  Look, there he is again!  We caught back up to him!"
"Does he think he is running?" Len pointed out (exactly as I was thinking the same thing) because he was doing the most fantastic ultra-slow-motion run we had ever seen.  It was truly laughable.  We laughed at him behind his back…literally, and then later in front of him.
"What should we do?" I asked.  Honestly, I didn't feel like dealing with him again.
"This time we are going to pass him and put some distance between us." So that's what the three of us did...we were like a machine…like a freight train.
We never saw him again.

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE seeing my friends at aid stations?  Hearing them scream my name is insane and it gets me mega-pumped every time!  AND, seeing your girlfriend at an aid station a little past the half-way point was exactly what I needed.  Anna asked me how I was doing, I told her, she wished me luck and I was off.  But not without the requisite fist bumps, grilled cheese sandwich, and threat of death from Frank who brought his sling shot to get me out of the aid station of course.
CLOSED! (I so loved seeing this!)
(Photo:Frank C.)
Then it happened.  I twisted my ankle…my bad ankle.  At this time Len had run ahead and Samantha was a little ways behind.  I was running with some girl I only know as Miami, so I sucked it up and kept on.  Then it happened two more times.  Eventually Samantha caught back up and the three of us walked into Mama Kim’s aid station where her and Tracy were taking care of us.  Mama Kim yelled at us to leave, and then I told her to shut up.  I was pretty pissed off at myself at this moment and took it out on her…sorry Kim.

Yep, shortly after leaving the aid station with Samantha I did it again.  My ankle had become totally unstable and unreliable even with a brace on.  I sat Samantha run off in the distance as I seriously contemplated returning to Mama Kim’s aid station.  No, I pushed on.

And that was it.  I walked to the Mollyhugger Hill aid station where Phillip was patiently waiting.  I was way past the cut-off.  The sweepers were right behind me.  The aid station was almost all packed up.  Phillip would have let me go, but I wouldn't have been an official finisher and I would have kept the sweepers out on the course a lot longer than was realistic, and for what?  So that I could death march the last 8.5 miles?  So that I could really hurt my ankle?  So that I could completely ruin running for myself forever?  No way.  I was done. 
And with that my race was over at 31.5mi…8.5mi short of the finish.

I am VERY satisfied with how this race turned out and the whole experience in general, even though I was met with some questions like “What the heck happened?” and “Are you OK?”, threats on my life like Joel trying to use Frank’s slingshot to shoot off my left nut, and finally, another friend who shall remain nameless (to protect her identity) who turned to me as this 900 year old guy crossed the finish line and said “If HE can do it…”. 
I do have to say that the most meaningful comment to me was “I am so proud of you.”
Thanks to all of those that helped and gave up their weekend to volunteer.  Y’all rock!!
Trail Sign.

Where Have I Been?

So, it has been quite a while since my last post about the Mystery Mountain Marathon back in October.  Wow, as I write that I find it hard to believe that it's almost been two months.  Well, here's the deal:
I have been in a running funk lately, longing for a normal (non-ultra) training plan.
What ever happened to the weekends of 10mi long runs?  I don't want to spend my entire day on Sunday running when there are so many other things to do.
Am I giving up on running?  HELLS NO!  I really just want to get back to basics.
I want to improve my form, speed, and work on other parts of my body as well.
That's all, and I've found that I (me personally) do not have enough time in the week to do this while training for an ultra.
Could I find the time?  Probably.
Do I want to sacrifice other things to do it?  No.
So, where have I been?

On the weekend of November 5-6th Alabama became my destination of choice.  Somehow I was elected the GUTS aid station crew chief or something like that.  In the weeks leading up to the race there was a good amount of behind-the-scenes work that had to happen such as, but not only:
Organizing volunteers.
Making a mix CD (that I never got to play).
And then my favorite, buying the food for the fried egg and cheese and sometimes bacon and sometimes Spam sandwiches.
This is only part of the supplies.  After posting in FB I had to go out and buy was a good thing I did too!
All in all I had a good time getting the stuff ready for the trip, right down to packing up all of the stuff in the “Sawgger Wagon” and making it fit like a super big jigsaw puzzle.
The Swagger Wagon loaded and ready to go.

I don’t really know how to describe the next 30 hours so here is a list of the highlights:
  • I picked up Shannon at o’dark thirty on the side of the road near his crib in Marietta.

Pinhoti trail blaze.
  • The only real highlight from the first aid station was seeing all of my running friends HAPPY.  And runner #59 of whom we shall never speak of again.
Like a witch stirring her cauldron of eye of newt...I mix the HEED...

Joel T. - all systems go!

  • After breaking down, we went to the Mellow Mushroom in Oxford where Shannon used his good looks and artful skill of persuasion to convince them to let us fill up our water jugs…30 or so gallons in all.
  • Now, this is funny.  Once we headed out, following Len to the Pinnacle aid station, Shannon and I decided that it would be funny to throw Lionel fake signals as we travelled down these back country roads.  I would turn the left blinker on for 90sec…the right for 30sec…the hazards for 10sec…and then I would just do it completely at random.  It was funny, especially when Lionel started flashing his headlights and began signaling back.  (Maybe you had to be there.)
  • On the rock dirt road up to the Pinnacle it was decided to give the swagger wagon all it had.  The tires were spun many times, and though it may sound like abuse we actually had a reason for doing this. If we hadn’t Lionel would have never found the aid station. He simply followed the burn-outs.
Pretty rocks and trees at The Pinnacle.
  • When Meltzer came through I offered to fill his water bottle.  I did this as fast as I could, and even still he was anxiously waiting for me to screw the cap on.  Really?  75miles in and you are just itching to run…AWESOME!
Look how awesome The Pinnacle aid station looked at night!
  • I think I made about 985 fried egg and cheese sammies.  100 of these were charred and Shannon ate all of them…dang…it actually became a joke when one would accidentally end up a little toasty.  I would hand them off to Shannon and he was like “I can’t eat any more.”
I love awful pictures of myself!  (Frying eggs.)
  • Three of my most uplifting moments were seeing Joel T, Jason S, and Jason R come through.
    Joel just looked strong…he owned this race.
    Jason S was just smiling as he strolled in with Wayne…you couldn’t help but to smile back.
    Jason R was the last through…dude gave it 100%...what an inspiration.
  • After we packed everything up and started down the dirt road.  We smelled gas and thought it was just the generators.  At the end of the road we both were having trouble breathing.  I went to the back and some knucklehead placed the gas cans on top of the equipment, they fell off and started leaking all over the swagger wagon.  We had a 2 hour drive back to Marietta and had to go the whole way with the windows down freezing our butts off.  Mama Kim didn’t kill me, though I thought her husband was going to…
    P.S. The swagger wagon is now called “The Tanker”. 

This trip got me to thinking.  Thinking a lot about running.  It added to my funk.
Shannon and his favorite "Industrial Skyline Sunrise" photo.


Welcome to the finish line!
On November 19th my friend Bobby organized the Duncan Ridge Trail 50K/30K and, well, I decided to volunteer for this with Anna.  The aid station we were working was at the ‘low point’ on the Coosa Backcountry Trail in Vogel State Park and we would be assisting the runners on their return.
This race was rather uneventful with the exception of a couple of things:
  • This crazy dog belonging to some hikers came out of nowhere and ate all of the stale peanut butter and jelly sandwiches off of the table.  The owner was pissed, but all Anna and I could do was laugh at it.  It was just so cute!  PLUS Anna got to make more PB&Js!
Playing Angry Birds with Anna.
(Photo: Chris L.)
  • Sometime late in the morning this older couple came up to me and we started talking about the race.  The woman says to me that they are there to see their son and that he knows one of us.  So, of course I asked who their son was, and when they said Willy, my eyes about popped out of my head.  In a burst of excitement I was like he’s already gone through!  And off they went to congratulate him at the finish!  I thought that it was awesome they came out for his race while they were in town for Thanksgiving.
  • Between the 30K and the 50K runners we had some down time, so to keep ourselves occupied I decided to try out my Steripen.  A Steripen is a water purification thing that allows you to treat a liter of water in about 90sec.  So, Anna scooped me some water from the nearby stream, I zapped it, then I drank it, and no adverse side effects.
Tempting fate...
  • There was one runner of particular note that came through.  He was near the end of the middle of the pack, and this was his first 50K.  After talking to him we found out that he had only run a half-marathon before this.  What a ball-buster of a course for your first ultra!  AND the best part was that he was all smiles!  I could not believe it.  It was so awesome!
  • Eventually it was time to shut down.  But where are the sweepers?  No one knows what happened to them.  We left at 7:00pm and some people went back to check on their car at 8:30pm and there was still no sign of them.  Apparently they made  it out OK, but it is still a mystery what happened (at least to me).
Our awesome campfire dinner of Stove Top Stuffing and cheese burgers.

The following morning we ran / hiked the Coosa Loop ourselves.  I love this trail though it is one of the hardest in Georgia.  At the top of Coosa Bald and Slaughter Mountains we were met with some pretty dense fog, rain / sleet, wind, and some chilly temps.  It was strangely eerie and out of all of the nicknames we heard from the runners the day before none were more fitting than “The Evil Forest”.

I absolutely love our trips!!

Life is way too short to not enjoy yourself...make faces...laugh :-)

Coosa Bald.

Slaughter Mountain.

Spooky Sign.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mystery Mountain Marathon

EARLY 2010
Shortly after registering for the 2010 MMM 12 miler I sent Kim an email that was worded something like this:
"Dear Kim,
Should my training surpass my expectations, would it be possible for me to switch from the 12 mile option to the full marathon?"
Well, my training didn't go anything like I expected and I ended up running the 12 mile option as originally planned. 

9 APRIL 2011
I knew that I wasn't going to be the first place finisher, so I had to try my best at coming in first for something.  Well, I did it!  I was THE FIRST PERSON to register for the 2011 MMM!  Which, consequentially won me a sweet ass Moon Pie technical running shirt.  SWEET!
Also around this time, maybe a little earlier, Mama Kim (the Race Director) and I had been e-mailing back and forth about things I could do to help out with the race. You see, this is one of my favorite places in Georgia to run, and is one of my favorite races to run, so I had to be involved in it more than just running.  We talked about a ton of things from t-shirt designs to medals.  As it turns out I would end up making the finisher's medals for the 12mile and Marathoners.

I have to give Mama Kim most of the credit for the design of these.  All I really did was sketch up some different logo options, offer opinions and suggestions on different shapes for the background, layout of the bear, and color schemes.  Once we finalized the design and determined a quantity, it was time to put them into production (one week before the race).  Here are some images of the production and final product.

Preliminary sketches.
Pieces and parts.
Some of the stencil cutouts...I spent a lot of time with Mr. Xacto.
Someone thought it was funny for the bears to "escape" across my kitchen counters...
Marathon bears stenciled and drying.
Discs stained and drying.
Do you want the logo or the bear centered?
I can't even fit them all in the shot!
Finished medals - 12miler on left and Marathon on right.

OK, I didn't do this all alone.  Anna helped me a TON on these things as did my neighbors Ed, Stacey, Justin, and Liz.  AND with the final assembly again, Anna was there as were Greg, Tracy, Rebecca, and James.  The six of us did in 40 minutes what would have taken me and Anna 4 hours...I learned a lesson on this that I can't be afraid to ask for help...that's actually a difficult thing for me to do.
Wind blown and goofin' around after our work was done...and that is a Schweppes tall boy...

Love the colors...
Never miss an opportunity...

After finishing up the medals we had planned to camp out with some of the volunteers and runners at the Primitive Campground.  Admittedly, that would have been a TON of fun, but in a nick of time Officer John stepped in and offered us a place to stay in his nearby cabin.  Holy freakin crap!  Me, Anna, John, Jim and Kate all had a very restful night and I can't say thanks enough for putting us up!
When the morning finally came we lay in bed awake when Jim knocks on the door making sure we were getting up.  This was the last alarm and we sprung into action with 22 minutes on the clock before we had to leave.
Getting to the park I stopped and said hello to a bunch of friends while I made my way to get marked for the marathon.  I can't believe how many people I know at these events!  Funny, though we joked about it, I was never really nervous about this race.  It was the hardest one that I would ever do, but I knew I could do it, and I was going to run it with my buddy Frank which I also knew would be a huge plus.

Earlier during the week my friend (for anonymity purposes lets call him) Obediah found plans to create a 'freakin' mega canon blow up explosion bomb thing' that would be used to start the race.  The first version looked cool and all, but Obe was encouraged to make one that was three times as large.  Fearing nuclear winter we dialed down the charge on the cannon and then with a gigantic boom and mushroom cloud the race was started like that. 

Frank and I ran and heckled and ran and heckled and ran and heckled some more.  We followed some woman he affectionately called 'East Cobb' for like 8 miles.  This was her first trail race and first time running on anything with a hill.  Fortunately for her, she was only doing the 12miler.  Also, there was this guy that would passing us and then fall just as soon as he got by.  It was strange.  At one time Frank commented to him that he might want to consider dropping out...holy shit that was funny...but not...but funny...but not...but yeah, it sort of was...
Frank (#20) and me charging down the steps at the stone tower.
(Photo: Russ Johnson)

At the top of the Tower look I came across of the Grim Sweepers.  We traded a hi-5 and he then says to me, "I'll see you on the 301."  I looked that bastard in the eye and said...shit, I don't remember what I said, but it was something like "The only place you're going to see me is at the finish."

A few months ago I was hiking in Cloudland Canyon when this guy runs by.  Being the person I am and recognizing his Scenic City shirt I called out to him.  We had a short conversation and then he asked me if I had something written on my leg during that race...why yes I did...It was 'Rapture This'.  We chatted for a little bit, and then he was off.  Well what do you know?  As I approached the Park Entrance aid station this guy from behind me says the same was him again.  What a small world!  I so wish I knew his name, I never introduced myself or asked him his name...dang.

Now it's time for the fun to begin.  At mile 11 the marathoners split off from the sissies (totally kidding...the 12miler is a hard as hell course) and climb the dreaded power line.  I don't know what is harder, the 10 minute plod up the hill or the 20 minuite baby-step descent down the loose rock steep as all get out other side.  Ugh what a the the the the right bicuspid.  This was just the beginning.
Here we are...ready to die...this is less than half way up.
The rest of the marathon course is rolling up and down until you get to the illustrious Conti's Climb, named for Frank who almost died at Franks Falls (which is at about the halfway point) on one of the training runs over the summer. During this stretch we talked about all kinds of things from $50 hair cuts to cannolis to how we were going to cross the finish line together as a team.  You see, in the months leading up to this race we have been encouraging each other and talking about how we were going to beat this "ball buster" of a a way, it was our mission.
Yes, it's a 2 mile climb starting at mile 19...gotta love it!
(Profile: Jason Rogers 2010 MMM)
Then it happened.  Mile 21.  After cresting Conti's Climb, Conti Cramped.  He cramped horribly.  I stuck with him a good long while until he turned to me and said "Aaron, please go on.  You will make me feel better if you don't wait for me."  He had asked me to go on several times leading up to this point, but now I had to.  It was part of that team thing.  It was hard leaving him there but I ran on...hard...I was going to catch and pass some people.
At the "Last Gasp" aid station I told them about Frank, talked to Blake who drove up to see his girlfriend finish the marathon, got a refill from Bobby, ate some food and took off feeling stronger then I had in a couple of hours of running.
I passed 2 runners.  F' yeah!
Now I am at the top of the power line...back where I started from.  Yeah a tear or two might have fallen, but it was probably from the cobra the bit me on my right eyelid.  I let out a cheer and looked off in the distance where I saw Samantha...I am going to catch her!
At this point my legs are toast.
I am running at 90% effort.
The pain in my quads was insane as I charged down the hill after her.
Look...there I am coming down the hill...she never knew.
(Photo: Russ Johnson)

It's me...focused!
(Photo: Russ Johnson)
Once I got done with the power line section there was a mile left.  At the top of the hill Sarah (I think) was cheering my name.  I cursed out loud as I ran up and over the hill "That's the last f'ing hill..."  I regret that.
Samantha was gone...out of sight.
I ran on.
As I rounded the lake I heard people yelling...was it my name I I don't think so, but at the time I thought it was, and it kept me running...harder.
Then there she was...I caught a glimpse of her.
I ran even harder.
26 hard ass miles already on my legs.
I caught up.
We chatted with each other.
WE started running even harder.
Shit, it was on.
She wanted this, and so did I.
I think we shifted gears three or four times.
Even faster.
I make no apologies.
I ran faster...
...all out...
And won by half a second.
Look...we're both smiling.
(Photo: Candy Findley)
Should I have let her win?
No.  I haven't asked her, but have a strong feeling that if I did she would have been disappointed.  "This is a race, not a charity event" as I said.  We both ran our hardest.  We're equally matched (she's probably actually a lot better than me).  We ran the same distance.  It was all fair...I have some mad respect for that effort!
Anna gave a medal, a pint glass, and told me congratulations and that she was proud of me.  It took forever for me to run this race.  She waited nearly 7 hours for me to finish.  Really?  Who does that?
Fortunately Mama Kim put her to 'work' during the day so that she had something to keep her occupied through the whole thing.  I'm really grateful for that...for both of them. :-)

So, what happened to Frank?
My buddy Frank.
Well, after the race we sat around chatting.  I told the story of Conti's Heckling, Conti's Climb, and Conti's Cramps.  It seemed like the afternoon had completely drifted hours.
It was 7 minutes.
For some strange reason I looked up.
I let out a scream!
"It's frank!"
"Hell yeah dude!  You got this man!"
He picked himself up and kept pushing on.  This, my friends is what it is all about.  It doesn't matter how fast you run, or even if you finfsh.  It's about giving your all.
This is one of the reasons I run.  In the span of 7 minutes I experienced 3 people, including myself, giving 100%.  I can't describe how that feels...
I love this picture of me and Anna!  And, Lionel just makes me laugh :-)
(Photo: Kate Dycus)
MMM - my favorite trail race experience ever.
There are so many people I want to thank, but really can't list y'all...and I don't want to leave you out.  If you think I would thank bet your ass I would.  So, Thank You people out there that made this a fantastic experience.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Weekend in the Mountains


It's no secret that I've been out of town almost every weekend for the last long while..I like it a lot...but this coming weekend is one of those where I have nothing planned, except for a friend's birthday party.  What am I going to do with myself?

Anyway, here are some pictures from my latest trip.  This time to I went to North Georgia to a small town outside of Helen with Anna for a wedding.  On the docket I had planned a 22 mile run on Saturday morning, but as it turns out, I didn't know the distance from where I was running and solely ran on time.  I think I ended up doing about 19-20, but it could have been a little less.  What happened?  Well, I stopped so many times to take pictures and enjoy the scenery that by the time 3½ hours had passed I just wanted to get back!

Here's what I saw.

Rehearsal dinner.  It was simply a beautiful night and weekend, it couldn't get much better...
Highway 255 just before sunrise.
Eerie fog.
More eerie fog.
Highway 17.  I noticed the sun in the road reflectors so I turned around.
Even more eerie fog.
I learned all about the industrial revolution from Tommy.
Dam it!
Helen, GA.
Moo cows.
So, I am on my way back and what do you know?  I see these two turkeys stroll out from someone's yard.  As I got closer I prepared myself to deal with the impending attack as they would surely try to peck out my eyes as they crap in my hair just before they take off.  Well, that didn't happen.  I could have caught one of these with my bare hands.  Were my friend Paul here, he could have checked one off on his life list.  Anyway, these two clowns, obviously preoccupied with with gettin' it on, had no intentions of moving...I knew where I wasn't welcome so moved on.
Cue the Marvin Gaye...
So, that's about it!
The wedding was AWESOME!
The reception was AWESOME!
The afterparty was AWESOME!
Congratulations y'all!  I'm so glad that I got to come out this weekend!  May you have many many many many happy years together!