Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's On: The Age vs. Beauty Grudge Match

I tend to do my insane endurance training and races every other year. I'll do one crazy year of training and racing, followed by a year off lollygagging and posie sniffing with the occasional bike ride or run mixed in. Look at how the past couple of years have gone: 2008 = Ironman Arizona, 2009 = off, 2010 = 5 XTERRAs and the XTERRA World Championships, 2011 = off. So now that 2011 is drawing to a close, I find my brain has recovered from the burnout stage and is once again finding races and events to sign up for. I figured I'd return back to endurance mountain biking, but I've found the pendulum has swung the other direction and I've turned to endurance running. Somewhere in the October timeframe I started running regularly again. I also started traveling a lot for work, and running is the easiest sport to fit in, as well as an outlet for stress.

I also picked up another running partner. For quite awhile, I was running with The Boulder on a regular basis, but he had another woman enter his life of the short, bald, toothless variety (ok, he had a baby). But we still meet up about once a week at The Canyon (Sabino Canyon) for a torture fest. He also roped me in to doing the Tough Mudder race on January 14th. This may have been payback for previous races I roped him into...I'm not sure the tally at this point. So to be truly crazy, I decided to sign up for the PF Chang's 1/2 marathon for Sunday, January 15th, thinking it would be cool to run Chang's wearing my Tough Mudder shirt. The Boulder has hedged on Chang's, but he could pull a last-minute sign up at the expo race weekend on me. My running partners are always suspect for such actions.

My new running partner shall be referred to as The Dark Warrior (DW), for several reasons. First, he's a martial arts expert which means this has opened up a whole new world of night running in sketchy cities while on business travel. Some women run with a big dog, a can of mace, or a gun. I have a trained killer. Second, it matches his sense of humor, which is why we get along quite well. Third, it's actually the meaning of his name. So there you go.

The DW and I have actually worked together for a few years, but only recently started running together. He has a cabin in Colorado and about a year ago mentioned the Pike's Peak Ascent. I checked the website and it looked like a truly insane race, but wasn't on my radar as I was still in the midst of my XTERRA madness. However, this year we had several business trips together, and started running together while on travel. After our first trip he came by my office and mentioned Pike's Peak again. Well, he will learn that he caught me at a bad time of year, when I'm over my recovery and looking for truly insane and challenging races. So this time I said sure, I'd run it with him. Never mind that I've never seen Pike's Peak in person, or experienced that type of elevation in my life. Nope, when I say I'm going to do something, I do it. "I'm going to finish the Ironman." Did it. "I'm going to build a car." Doing it. I'm going to run Pike's Peak with The DW.

He then coined this as the "Age vs. Beauty Grudge Match." Being in his mid-50's he claims to be "an old man." Having experienced many triathlon courses where men of that age group and beyond have passed me on the course (I know because their age is sharpied onto the back of their calf), I know not to trust such claims. Besides, he's a martial arts expert. How many mid-50 year olds beat the shit out of teenagers on a weekly basis? This one does. For fun. So I'm going along with the grudge match. Neither of us is the type to back down once the gauntlet has been thrown. And, of course, we both immediately began our secret training runs during the week. My strategy was to run hills of every kind. His was to hit the treadmill. I'd rather poke my eyes out than run the treadmill. So we'll see how this turns out. My other friends have immediately taken advantage of the situation. Liane asked what I was training for, and I mentioned Tough Mudder, PF Chang's and The Ascent. "Oh so you're doing a lot of running then," she exclaimed (I'm suspicious at this point). When I answered yes, she said "So you'd be up for running the Grand Canyon rim to rim with me this year in May." Normally I'd think this was insane, but since I was roped into Pike's Peak and threw my brain out the window I now thought of Liane's idea as a great training run, and agreed. Liane, was of course, happy with the agreement and happy I had lost my brain.

The DW is also a writer, and I finally got up the courage to ask if I could share his writing on my blog as the counterpoint to my writing about training. He agreed, so I will share with you the first few entries of his to get caught up (his writing will be in blue).

Fools Run In (with apologies to Mercer/Blo​om)
And so it begins. I'm not sure who the muse of over aged runners is probably some nymph with a name like Velocepidia or some such. But here I am, committed to attempting the Ascent on Pike's Peak. How does an over fifty near retiree end up on such a quest ?

Good question, if I figure out the answer, I'll tell my therapist. It started innocently, like the Trojan War, or the Black Death; I was discussing running with my new Program Manager: a nice young thing who likes to run.....a lot. We got around to the stupid things that long distance runners do; like run accross the desert on utility trails without water at noon on the 4th of July, or running through a national forest without a map, or phone, or gun. One day I mentioned the Pike's Peak Ascent. Who knew that she'd google it, or be lying in wait. I walked to her desk one day after a moderate run and said "we should run the Pike's Peak Ascent", she said "Ok, let's do it this summer". Crap. And so we start. She informed me that there is a qualification ; a half marathon. Double crap. I meant what I said, and I said what I Idiot's truthful one hundered per cent.

So, here it goes; I'm writing this because this is one that should be documented, for surviving generations of middle aged men as a guide to what not to do. I'll try to keep this up every weekend until the event. Maybe someone will finish it for me posthumously.

Saturday Oct 22, 2011 - After diligently hitting the treadmill for two weeks, I attempted to break 8:30 miles over a 4 mile run. Did it : 8:22s. Never want to run that fast on a treadmill again. F'ing thing is too short. You're either against the panic bar or back to where you are about to step off into oblivion. The only thing you can do is stare at the digits. It's like Chinese water torture. However, I have faced a mental hurdle and know that it is at least theoretically possible to qualify; and heck, that young thing in the running tights that I accidentally coughed phlegm on was way too young for me, anyway.

From here on out, it is run and always press the time. The tendency for someone my age is to jog (don't want to outrun your walker). I'll always have to overstride in order to make the time.

Next weekend, it's the desert by Hoover Dam.
At this point I was running a few times during the week, at 5 miles each, then Sabino Canyon with The Boulder on the weekends. At the office, The DW and I started throwing back and forth how we were planning on cheating on our training to beat the other.
Me: "I have Mt. Lemmon in my back yard."
Him: "I have a cabin at elevation in Colorado."
Me: "You don't swim. I can swim to strengthen my lungs."
Him: "I go to Colorado every summer. I can train on the course."
Anyways, the subject of cheating came up in his next journal entry.
She Cheats
Of course she cheats; she's young, agile, and runs like the wind. She has all of the high tech gear, heart rate monitor, GPS, elapsed time, Hell for all I know the computer tells her when to step sideways to compensate for Coriolis effect. Myself, on the other hand, I'm old fashioned. I tell my time splits by the number of fingers of shadow on the lee side of parking cones as I pass them. I time my pulse by blinking with each red flash after a run and counting them off on a second hand.

But, no matter the age, running distance is running distance. You make deals with yourself (I'll turn around at the next hill, honest) and then breaking those cheat.

Eventually, you get to the end, and you promise yourself "That's good enough to qualify". The next week, your out there again saying "I can cut ten seconds off last week..I slowed to look at my watch, I won't do that this time". And so, you lie again.

This weekend was an opportunity to run an out and back that I always liked. I was in Las Vegas, staying at the Hacienda for one night before going out for yet another age innapropriate activity the next day. Behind the Hacienda there is a trail that leads down to a bicycle trail that runs along the deserted track of the gravel train used to build Hoover Dam. The trail takes off across the waste on a nicely paved bike trail; not one intended for runners. In the summer, it gets to 117 on a cool day. But today, it will only be a balmy 88.

No need to carry water and be slowed by it. I carry a cell phone so that the Coroner can find me by the GPS.

I'm up at 5:30, but I must wait until dawn before I can set out. The initial path leads down a sheep trail and has a steep drop and no lights. One would not want to step in the still steaming evidence of sheep only to fall a hundred feet to one's death. It would be useemly to be laughed out of Hell.

I start running and converge with the bike path. Soon I come across the first mileage marker. I'm struck by how much it looks like a small tombstone. It's a desert and most of these people are must make for a dry sense of humor. I use the mileage marker and the clock on my cell phone to clock the pace. Shit ! I'm only doing 12 minute miles. I try to pick up the speed. I run through a cut in the mountain, only to see more mountains and valleys. I think to myself "One of these valleys is wear the other dinosaurs went to die." But not for me, not today. Pretty soon I see a sign that says "steep grades". Only then do I realize that I have been running up a grade. Optical illusions in the desert are great practical jokes.

Soon, I realize that I am being followed by a large crow. I figure I can expect buzzards or vultures, but a crow ? It's a Labor state, maybe they have a trade agreement. The crow follows me out to the near summit of the path, maybe 4 miles out. I look back at the casino across the desert. It looks like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz; only much, much smaller. I turn back and the crow turns with me...I'm maybe half way back and I'm passed by a cyclist. He has flashes through my mind that I can mug him and take his water. At the speed he's going, if I stick a foot out, they'll find him a half mile from the path....with no water.

Eventually, I make it back to the path to the casino. There are people running it. Old people, maybe 45. I run past them, one must keep appearances. In the end, I make it in almost exactly 88 min. Eleven minute miles. It will do.
Weeks of travel for work return and we are up at 5:30 AM and meet in the hotel lobby each morning to run. One doesn't want to be the one that slept in while the other was out running. Even when my body was wrecked and rebelling from travel, I still met The DW in the hotel lobby. Co-workers on the trips figured we were insane when we mentioned we had run 6 miles starting at 5:30 AM. Nope, just not willing to back down on a grudge match. The women would then ask how I could run in the dark and not be afraid of getting mugged. I replied that I brought my trained killer with me.
Thanksgiving rolled around and The Boulder was out of town, so I invited The DW on my weekend Sabino Canyon run. I was surprised when he agreed to show up, given he lives in Nevada. Ok, he lives on the west side of town. But it may as well be Nevada. My plan for this run was the standard out & back on the road, but to add the half mile of switchback trail at the end. The DW claimed he hadn't been to Sabino Canyon in 30 years, so I narrated the trip as we ran. As we crossed the bridges I think he was getting tired of the hills because he mentioned pushing me over the edge. "I can swim" I replied. "Not with a broken ankle because I stepped on your toe as I pushed you over the edge" he replied. Hmm...perhaps he wasn't enjoying the hills.
She almost killed me
First rule of training if you've challenged someone to run an insane race (like the Pike's Peak Challenge) : never train on your competitor's turf. It's sort of like challenging a gunfighter to a fight and letting him have his choice of weapons, letting him have the sun to his back, and finally, letting him count to three.

In this case change the pronoun to feminine. I'd change it to sneaky if there were such a thing.

The course was on the other side of town. Almost in another time zone. Beware of someone who says "the parking lot fills up early, so let's get there just before sunrise". Like a lot of men, my body has to retrace all of the steps of evolution as it wakes up. This means that, as the alarm rings, I'm a one celled organism. I don't hit primate until after coffee. However, if you're going to run over seven miles, don't drink coffee beforehand. Not unless you plan to have your partner run around the restrooms while you go...multiple times.

When I got there, there was a damn running club getting ready to take off into the pre-dawn twilight. All of them cheery, the bastards. I can only hope they were hit by a tour bus.

It was cold, very very cold. Al Gore can take his global warming and shove it, someplace warm. As we started to run, I noticed that I was running on non-responsive lumps of frozen flesh that used to be feet. It's really nice to try and be graceful when the only feedback you have on your stride is "thunk", "thunk", "thunk".

Of course my partner has the grace of a gazelle, even when frozen. I hate her. We soon crossed a patch where there was a sign stating that Mountain Lions were occasionally present. I was hoping for one, preferably one on a low fat diet; I'd be safe.

After running 2 miles that were suspiciously mostly uphill, I get the statement, this is the last rest before we go uphill. Then I noticed her thighs. Power to weight ratio. I was about to be a dead man. Now I was simultaneously sweating and freezing; great, my body was schizophrenic. I'm halfway up a long, long hill and ,of course , she's way ahead of me. I notice this peculiar sound; much like a tea kettle. I realize that it is me wheezing. As I am dying, it occurs to me that Pike's Peak will be worse, much much worse. I'm a dead man.

I get to the end of the road and she is patiently running loops, waiting. "Shall we add more ?" And we do. Up stairs, up a dirt trail, along wet slick rocks.

I'll cut this short. I almost died. My life didn't just flash before my eyes; it played the full length, uncut version. Needless to say, somehow I survived to make it back to my computer. And I didn't drown her at the first bridge (not that I could've caught her). I must now train hills. Next Time.

Oh yes; I had the time of my life.
Early December we had a business trip to Kauai, and on one of the days had enough time for a trail run (or so I thought). I had always wanted to do the 2 mile section of the Kalalau Trail to the 2 mile offshoot Hanakapi'ai Trail to the falls. Zac and I had hiked the 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail to the beach and back a few years ago, but didn't have time to do the falls. This time I was a much more experienced trail runner.
The reviews of the trail on Yelp were interesting. "The image of the falls was so beautiful I cried," (Really?), "I should have worn sandals rather than my trail running shoes," (Um, ok), and my favorite, "Don't do this trail if it is wet! We had to spend the night out in the jungle with no food or water!" (Idiots. If I'm 8 miles from my car I'm hiking out no matter what, even if I have to crawl).
I had packed my Camelbak and filled it with water, along with my snacks. The DW carried nothing. "Too hard to run with water" he usually exclaims. We found a parking space at the popular trailhead and headed in. Forget that it was mid-afternoon when The DW and I started the run. We were going to get to the falls. Also forget that it was the rainy season on Kauai. The trail that was once dry was now covered with slick mud. Trail builders had tombstoned the trail with rock in the steep sections, which just turned slippery when rained on. A few sections of the trail at the beginning were dry, so we decided to run those. As we passed by people there were several comments, mostly reserved for The DW. People would just say "hi" to me, but have some sort of sympathetic comment for The DW, like I had forced him to be out there.
Certain parts of the trail were covered in wet rock, so we resorted to using our hands and feet to get over those sections. This resulted in us becoming quite muddy. At the first river crossing people were taking off their shoes to cross. I plunged in to use it as a chance to wash some of the mud off. Besides, my trail running shoes had been wet before. Gotta love the people afraid to get their feet wet.
The jungle became darker as we headed inland through bamboo and trees and endless stream crossings. Most of the time there were little orange flags tied to trees to find where to cross. The trail was highly technical, requiring climbing over boulders and hanging onto trees to get up hillsides. At least it was a trail. Once you've been through the jungle of Saipan on an XTERRA with no "trail" to follow your standards of what is a trail become lowered. In fact, I told The DW that I usually pay for such experiences. Add an ocean swim, a mountain bike ride on the first part of the trail, and this part of the trail as the run and you totally have an XTERRA quality course.
The number of people on the trail increased as we got closer to the falls. It required crossing the river several more times. At one point we caught up to an older guy who started to follow us. "I hope it's not that much further" he said. Turns out it was another half mile. We finally made our way to the bottom of the falls. When we got there it was kind of like "Yep, that's a waterfall." It was ok. Not really what we'd describe as "magnificent," and we didn't cry. Most people had planned to swim in the pool below, but with the clouds overhead and the water cooling on the 200 ft descent, the water was too cold for many. We took a brief rest on the boulders below and I offered The DW some of my water, which he finally agreed to take, only after I showed him how to work a Camelbak bite valve. A college kid full of way too much testosterone had climbed half way up the cliff next to the falls, and we were waiting to see if he was going to jump or fall. Nothing happened as he just sat there, so we decided to turn around.
We passed by the older guy sitting on the rocks eating an apple. "You made it" I said. "Yeah, but the trip back out is gonna be tough" he said. He wasn't in very good shape, and I could tell he was going to be going slower on the trip out than the trip in. The DW and I re-traced our steps along the trail and crossed the river endless times. We were racing the sun back.
We hit the beach with 2 miles left to go. I stopped to wash the caked mud off my legs in the river crossing, while a couple asked The DW if the trip to the falls was worth it. This couple would then turn into the most annoying couple on the trail. They wouldn't let us pass, and kept varying their speed. Finally, with a mile left we decided to start running and smoke them, despite the slippery rocks. We got back to the rental car just as the sun was going down. The DW consumed all drinkable liquids in the car and the drinking fountain at the restrooms. We then began our search for food. It took forever to cross the quiant little bridges when all we wanted was food. I started getting quiet, slipping into my "lack of food coma." I literally closed my eyes for part of the trip. At one point I opened them and spotted a Brickoven Pizza. "Turn here!" I yelled. "Park here!" "I've got to call my wife..." The DW said, but I was already out of the car before it reached a stop. I ran inside, grabbed seating for two, and made the path of least resistance to sustenance. I told the waitress 2 iced teas and 2 buffets as I grabbed a buffet plate. The DW walked in to the restaurant. "We're sitting over there and you're eating the buffet and drinking iced tea" I said. Thankfully he was fine with that and understood my mood when exhausted and lacking in calories. We downed caffeine, carbs, and salt, and once we were a bit more cheery as the food hit our systems we joked that the old guy with the apple was still out there on the trail, probably having to spend the night. I should check Yelp to see if he wrote a review.
The runners diary - from Hell (looks Like Eden - it isn't)
Ok. By now you probably have the idea that I am in over my head. This would be an understatement; like saying that the saber tooth tiger sinking into the tar pit was in over his head.

Never, ever go on a run with a trail runner if she describes the run as "technical". "Technical" is a polite euphemism for "Jesus Christ! I'm gonna die!". Technical describes climbing out of Lucifer's pit, on hands and knees, across burning coals. Ok, you've been warned.

We were in Kauai on business. She brings up the fact that there is this four mile trail into a very beautiful waterfall. It starts where the road around the island ends. the end of the world ! Are you reading what I'm writing ? Why does the road end there ? Because it's too difficult to go any further. Also, beware of any conversation where an experienced trail runner nonchalantly says "It's humid, I'm going to bring water". This should cause every alarm bell you possess to go off; expect mummified bodies along the trail. But alas, I am foolish and eagerly agree (like a lamb to the slaughter).

We park the car at the end of the world (oops meant to say road); ready to begin our "technical" run. She has on a backback filled with water (***warning***); I naively have a bottle of vitamin water that I leave in the car because "I'll probably be thirsty when we finish". Much later, it will be the thought of this bottle that will sustain my only hopes of survival.

We start up the path, ready to run the 4 miles to the waterfall, observe it's beauty, and run back.

Soon, all too soon, the grade steepens, and slickens. Imagine the dietrus from hundreds of years of decaying vegetation suddenly getting wet; and adhering to the rocks; like slime.

My running partner points out "these are tombstone rocks covered with mud, it's probably better when they're dry". No shit ? We're talking about black slime with the consistency of 10-40W motor oil. Step wrong and you'll be kissing the rocks. A 15% grade. Slick. 3.95 miles to go. I'm going to die.

We pass a woman headed down with her arm in a sling. A fresh sling. My partner is still cheery. "I'd hate to be her headed down those rocks wit my arm in a sling". Where up ahead does she think that said arm encountered said sling ?

We find dry road and begin to run. People are shouting their encouragement and pity? to me. Looks like she has you on a mission (?). Good luck !

We reach a river crossing. Swift water. She steps into a rather deep part to get around a couple in front of us. I follow; up to mid thigh. "you do realize that I can't swim ?" Answer "Oh I forgot. I hate being behind slow people". Apparently, she hates being in front of people who are still breathing.

As we proceed, there is more mud (lots more); and river crossings (6, but whose counting).

My favorite recollection is being on a 45 degree rock face and losing my footing. When in doubt, sit down. I catch myself with my feet dangling over a precipice; sitting in the mud. I get up to run and catch up (by now she's a hundred yards in front of me). I pass a family ("daddy, that man is all covered in mud"). I catch up to my partner. "Did you fall ?".

We break into the clearing with the falls. It's anticlimactic. Sure, it's beautiful, but the real thrill is getting there, alive, while following one of the best trail runners that you know.

I won't burden you with the tail of how we made it out. Suffice it to say that we did. I will admit to whining : "Can I have some water ?" And the all too gracious reply "sure. I told you so." During the last 2 miles, the only thing that kept me alive was borrowed water and the thought of the vitamin water that I had left in the car.

In retrospect, I made it. But, I wouldn't have tried without my partner; and I certainly wouldn't have finished without her help.

And this is how the Age vs. Beauty Grudge Match has begun. The Pike's Peak Ascent is in August, so we have 8 more months of training to go.

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