Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sometimes a Heartfelt Thanks is the Best!

H9 50/25
So, my most recent adventure took me to the mountains of North Georgia around Vogel State Park and the surrounding area to volunteer for the RACE FROM HELL!  From having run some of the trails on this course I knew that Perry was going to accomplish what he set out to do.  This is probably one of, if not the most challenging trail race in the southeast.  As far as volunteering, hell, I was going to do anything and go anywhere and had no idea of what or where, but I was in!

Course Map

Arriving at the park Friday afternoon I met up with Kena and Perry and pretended to help out while they unloaded their cars.  Earlier during the week Kena asked me to bring my drill and some bits so that we could make the finishers' awards, and that we did.  I sat around that afternoon outside of the cabin drilling, sanding, and coloring in the dragon designs.  OK, it took a lot longer than that.  My buddy Tom showed up and we started having beers and...well...I had to text Amanda to bring me more.


Getting crafty with the medals/
Amanda getting crafty/

Later that afternoon / evening Kim, Amanda, Scott, and a couple of other runners showed up and we sat around eating s'mores that Tome made, drinking beer, telling stories, listening to Scott make 'squatch' calls, and working more on medals.  You can not beat this!

Tom the marshmallow roaster extraordinaire.

Where in the hell are we going to be...for real...
I don't really know what time Tom and I got to bed, but it was LATE.  On our way up to the cabin he said "Last one there sleeps on the floor."  I didn't care, I had my camping gear, so I was going to let him have the bed anyway.  After I got out of the bathroom, Tom had vanished.  Thinking that he went on one of his wandering night walks I set up my tent and slept outside through what would be a beautiful night.  I love camping and sleeping outdoors.  There is just something about it that really appeals to me.

At about 5:00am I was woken up by a car starting up and threatening to run my tent over.  At about 6:00am that same car returned and threatened to run me over again.  It was Tom!  Come to find out, he never slept in the bed, rather stayed in his car all night an went to McDonald's for breakfast.  I guess it is time to get up.  DAMN!  I am breaking out with poison ivy all over...it was my body's last bout with what was left over from the H2T.  I needed some Benadryl bad!  Tom to the rescue...sort of...seeing as no one except Perry knew where the hell anyone was Tom didn't know how to find me after he went all the way into town to get me a pack.  There's a friend or you!  For real!  Even though I never got it it was awesome you bought it for me!  Much appreciated.

Pre-race briefing.

Perry and Kena - love this pic!

Everyone began to gather for the race.  It was almost time!  After saying hello to a bunch of friends, picking up drop bags, and listening to last minute instructions, the race was started with an"...ok go..." from Perry and a 'squatch call' from Scott...ha ha ha!

And They're Off!  Brad in yellow and Candy in pink.
(Photo: Jenn C)
And We're Off!  Perry told me and Jenn that it was 10min to FS39 and then another 40min down that bumpy dirt road to our aid station, so we were literally racing the racers to get set up before they got there!

Aid Station setup #1 a.k.a. The Fire Pit.  Where the hell were going to put the fire?
It turns out that Jenn and I almost had it right.  See that lieelt road going up to the right?  Yep, we were supposed to drive 100yds up that hill to where we were supposed to be.  How did we find out we were in the wrong place?  A runner heard our music and was lost in need of help.  CRAP!  So, we helped him the best we could...which was, I think the right way, and then we relocated.

Aid Station setup #2 a.k.a. The Real Fire Pit.  See the pit?
(Photo: Jenn C)

There isn't much to say but that we aided runners over the next 14 or so hours.  Here are a few highlights:
Scott showed up for a bit and we all goofed around.  In fact we thought about taking out some wild boars and a swarm of scorpions that were threatening the runners.  It would have went down if not for an emergency call I received.
Taking aim at the scorpion swarm...OMG WAIT!!  EMERGENCY CALL!!
(Photo: Jenn C)
KENA: "Aaron, I just heard from Willy...he said that the course at the top of Coosa Bald is not marked correctly."
ME: "Oh Crap!"
K: "You know your way around up there right?"
M: "Yep, I'll go check it out and do what I can."
K: "Pull the flagging from the wrong trails and side trail to Wolfpen Gap."
M: "You got it!"
I changed out of my jorts, got my ankle brace, trail shoes, and hydration pack all on and then I was off up and up and up to the top.  While I was making my way up there I couldn't help but to admire how Willy (the guy running in the lead) was able to navigate through the chest-high stinging nettles, briars, and poison ivy and stay on the trail the whole time.

Yes, this is the trail.
At the top of Coosa Bald I discovered that it appeared as if some hooligans deliberately moved the flagging to a trail that dead-ended into nothing.  It was hard for me to see the trampled brush where a couple of runners that were ahead of me tried desperately to find the trail...I felt bad.  So, I fixed it!  I even made a 'runner's chute' out of the logs that were surrounding the fire pit...it was my goal to make this as clear as possible.

Fixed!  See the chute?
Back down the mountain I go.  I passed several people making their way up, most notably Herb and Kat.  It was so good to see Herb working so hard on this trail and getting it done.  In retrospect I wish I slowed down a bit to talk to them, but I was having a phenomenal downhill run unlike any I have had in MONTHS and I just couldn't bring my selfish self to stop.  Sorry yall, I kind of feel like a jerk :-(
Finally back at the fire pit it was time to get the blaze on.  Normally I am the pyro, but Jenn had me beat.  She talked to the fire, sang to the fire, poked and prodded the fire, collected 90% of the wood for the fire, and even tried to set my jorts on fire as I was hanging them to dry.

My jorts...my jorts...my horts are on fire!
(Photo: Jenn C)

Let me tell you this.  There is nothing like seeing a runner's headlamp blazing through the woods in the middle of the night.  The first of the 50 milers in was Kerry.  What a race he was running.  You could tell that he was totally exhausted but we kept him focused, fueled him back up, made sure he was OK to continue, and then sent him in his way.
Quite a while later Shannon called Jenn.  "I'm done.  I'm at Mulky Gap, can you have Perry come get me?"  Jenn convinced him that he could make the 4mi to our aid station where she would then take him back to the start/finish.  After what seemed an eternity his headlamp was shining through the woods.  It gives me chills.  To see this guy giving it 100% just to make it to mile 44 is inspiring.  I wanted to give him a big hug when he got to us, but was afraid it might send him into shock.  After resting by the fire, battling some cramps, and refueling, he and Jenn were off.
Alone in the woods...sort of....except for the occasional text messages from Tom who was equally alone and Anna who was back in civilization wondering how the race was going and what I was up to.  I have to say that I don't have any problem with being in the dark alone in the middle of nowhere, but it was reassuring that I had these two to talk to.
PERRY!  I heard the sound of the truck he was borrowing pull up and I hopped up to greet him.  We chatted for a good while about everything from getting our chores done around our houses to the race itself.  I really enjoyed talking to him, and then it happened again.  Two sets of headlamps.  It was Brad and Candy!
Slowed to a mere walk because of the difficulty of the terrain they, especially Candy was ready to run!  I knew she had it, even if she didn't, and Brad had her back!  Fueled up and ready to go, these two kicked ass and got it done. 

I left the aid station around 2:00am after breaking everything down with Perry.  I had intended to camp again that night, but I had run through some serious poison ivy and desperately had to get home to take care of myself.  4:30am...home...showered...safe.

So, I set out initially to have a good time, and I did.  It was freakin' awesome!  So, what does it mean?
That night at the end of FS39 at 2:30am Perry and I stopped, shook hands, and he thanked me, and really meant it.  Over the next couple of days I got a bunch of e-mails and Facebook posts from people for how grateful they were for me doing what I did.  I didn't expect this.  I was doing something I wanted to do.  Never had I expected a thanks.  Never had I expected as many SINCERE thank yous as I received over the last few days.  I don't know what to say but:
"You're welcome."
"And, thank you."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We sometimes lose perspective because of the company we keep, but 21.24 miles is a LOT of miles. : )

That was a message from my friend Kim when I thought I was out.

When I planned out this year I had a ton of aspirations of running like there was no tomorrow.  I was really starting to get good and I knew it and then I got my slap in the face.  On January 29th I, being the kid I am, hurt the heck out of my right knee fooling around in my house.  Ever since then I have had one injury after another, and am still being haunted by it.  Most recently I had a really bad ankle sprain that is just kicking the shit out of me.  Because I've had to reduce my running, I have picked up some extra weight and I am beginning to notice a slight reduction in my leg strength.  Boo!

I ran this race with a plan in mind.  Run - rest - repeat.  After reaching a 50K I was so stoked thinking I was cured of my ailments.  This technique worked awesome for me and didn't strain e much at all.

Look at me I'm invincible!  I''m run the hell out of this race!  I'm going to beat Jenn by a second if I that's all.  I'm going to get a PR with a sub-6 time!  Which of those did I do?  NONE :D
OK, the LC50K was kind of an eye opener to me saying that although you feel good you are not totally healed.  Toward the end of the race my ankle started aching a good bit and really slowed my pace down to something stupid.  In the days following the run I really paid for it.  There was swelling and the aching didn't go away right away, even after icing it. 

I love seeing this sign...it's actually kind of spooky seeing it in the dark...

This is my second timed event.  We get 8 hours to run around a 1.18 mile track as many times as we can.  If you've read my friends' blogs you know the details.  But here's the jist of it:
  • To start things off it was 985ºF outside with a relative humidity of 600%.  
  • The hills were covered with broken glass, punji sticks, and set at a consistent 98% grade.  
  • The flat spots were booby trapped with swarms of killer bees, scorpions, and venomous black mambas.
  • At one point a crocodile was seen coming out of the water of "Piranha Creek" with a freakin' grizzly bear on it's back. 
  • The aid station was being controlled be Monsignor Frank who continuously forced his religious beliefs on everyone.
  • On my penalty lap they made me walk barefooted across the hot charcoal briquettes from the grill.
  • Oh, yeah, and I also got arrested!
This race is no joke!

The thing I love about the crowd I run with is that at these small races I know a good percentage of the people.  It really makes me happy to talk to my friends before, during, and after the race.  It's really hard to explain.

Jenn (Yes, you get top billing this time!)
Jenn has become my nemesis on the trails.  After beating her only once she has kicked my ass every time since.  I've lost one bet to her and almost a second one this weekend, fortunately she does not remember our conversation from Friday about me running one more lap than her.  We started the race out together and ran probably about half of my miles together.  It was awesome.  She would sing to me, yell to me that she could see my blonde hair (as she caught up to me), and did just enough pickin' to keep me on my toes but not so much that I wanted to kill her. I have to say that I have some mad respect for the way this chick runs though.  Don't let her pretty smile or sweet southern accent fool you...She can, and will, lay the smack down on your ass and run circles around you while you hope for death. (OK, enough being nice...I am going to get sick.)  For real though she did great and I was happy to run her last lap with her, which, yes I did get credit for even though I stopped running an hour plus prior to that.
My nemesis and me...she slowed down so I could catch up for the picture.
(Photo: Sean Oh)
Getting Arrested:
A couple of weeks ago after a training run my friend John warned me that there was going to be some heckling going on at the race.  Little did I know that he would slap the cuffs on me and throw me to the ground only to let the other runners kick dirt in my eyes.  It was no fair, and probably cost me winning the race, but oh well.  I definitely had it coming.  John, that really made my day!
Officer John doing what is right...I was bad...
(Photo:Carol Downey)

Monsignor Frank:
One of my favorite running friends on Tuesday nights, always offering sage advice when I need it most and he even started a fund raiser to help me get air conditioning for my old car!  Now, that's a friend.  Every lap he filled my handheld with holy water, and as the race went on started reminding me that I needed to drink more.  He was right!  Even the heckling as I got back from my ankle ice breaks was great. "Aaron, it's been an hour...where have you been?"  "You need to run this nest mile in 8 minutes." "I don't know what's wrong with my holy water.  It doesn't seem to be working for you."
Monsignor Frank!
Mostly everyone out there knew I was running with an injury and it seemed like they were keeping an eye on me.  Sean came over and hung out with me for quite a while on one of my ice breaks.  We talked about everything from his new coaching job to exercises I can do to strengthen my ankle to how much better and recommended it is to do shots of tequila while you are running. Sally, who eventually told me that I was done running (and then later told me to run one more lap) was a lifesaver.  I think she knew I was contemplating continuing on and told me what I needed to hear...I needed to stop.  The fall is right around the corner.  She also offered some suggestions on how to make myself stronger.  What a cool group of people!
Thanks to everyone for not letting me feel too down about not making my goal...even, and especially those not at the race but who told me that they were really proud of me for what I had accomplished.  It all means a lot to me!

If I want to be able to follow in the words of Bill Keane I need to recover.  I really want to get back on track and beyond where I was in January, where I am now.  I am excited, but at the same time know I need to take it easy.
Anyone want to go hiking?

I did the strike-through because, well, it was depressing to me, but I needed to save it as a reminder.