Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rise Up ... Swimmers?!?

This is part two of my injury report. I hope this is a more positive post than my initial injury post. Truth is, at this time of Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful that I injured my meniscus. Yes, my knee is not the same anymore, but I have gained far more than I lost in the transaction.

I suppose I should share how the summer after the injury was sort of frustrating. If you ask my wife Megan she'll tell you I was depressed for a little while, feeling sorry for myself and overall a little bit of a grouch. It was a bit hard not being able to do simple things like go up the stairs easily, ride a bike, or hold my kids for long while walking on the boardwalk at the beach. But that part of the story is kind of boring. I'll skip ahead to and indeed past the surgery. The surgery itself went very well. I had a great surgeon and an excellent anesthesiologist. I was walking later that day, and I must have had a very good local block because it didn't wear off until later the next day.

The surgeon performed a partial meniscectomy, meaning the torn portion of the meniscus was removed and the remaining part was sort of cleaned up a little bit. Due to the location and extent of the tear, a repair was not possible. The good news is that the recovery is much faster with that type of surgery than a repair so I knew I would soon be exercising again very soon.

The first week afterwards, I started going to the pool at 5:15 in the morning when it unofficially opens. I was relieved to feel that when I kicked in the water it didn't feel all wobbly and goofy like before the surgery. I could push off from the wall with minimal pain. I felt mostly whole again.

I can't say I really loved swimming at first, but it was something aerobic I could do in the morning before the kids got up and going, and it was certainly low impact. I decided to try to stick with it a few weeks and see how it felt. Somewhere along the way, I found I could swim for longer periods of time with less effort and really started to enjoy how I felt as I was leaving the Y after I swam. And boy did it make me hungry, and I sure do like to eat.

So, I stuck with it. And then I thought again about the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim next June that I had mentioned wanting to try to qualify for. So, I went ahead and swam the qualifying swim of three miles in about one and a half hours. By that point I was hooked and started thinking about the Masters Swimming program at the Y.

I talked a little to our own Wood Frog about it, and he was very supportive. Go figure, Keene supportive and positive about something. Next thing I knew I had fired off an email to the team and was attending my first practice. I have only been a couple times, but I already like it a lot. Like the RUR crew, this is a very friendly group of people who enjoy exercising and all the positive experiences that brings along the way.

I have tried to run a few times so far, and each time hurts like crazy but feels a little better than the time before. Someday, I may be able to run pain-free for more than two to three miles. I'd be thankful for that. But for now, I am happy to swim and bike and row on the erg and use the still very adequately functioning body that I still have to get my heart rate going and enjoy the mental cleansing I feel with a good hard workout. I know my injury was quite minor compared to what others have gone through and most likely I will face far more serious health problems in the future than a small bit of torn cartilage.


Monday, November 24, 2008

BBRRrrrr...A Seashore Marathon Race Report

(From left) Laura, James, Dominic, Keene, Lori, Joel, and Valliant celebrate, space-blanket style, after the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon on Saturday, November 22.

Earlier this year, many of our Rise Up Runners didn't know each other, and certainly hadn't run together. Completing the Tuckahoe 10-mile loop in the spring was the first time Joel had run more than eight miles. And after his first or second run around Easton in the dark, Dominic coolly said, "Yeah, I might be game for trying a fall marathon..."

Fast forward to this past Saturday. Friendships forged on the roads and trails and Keene and Joel comprised a marathon relay team, with Joel voicing his goal of running a sub 2-hour half-marathon. A recent move to the Eastern Shore and James Woodring was one-half of a team with Katherine Binder, who found herself having to pull out due to a car accident (we hope Katherine continues her recuperation), but thanks to Megan Cook, Laura Divjak was able to step in at the last minute and keep Team Woody on track.

Meanwhile, the speedy Dominic came into race day after a much needed taper with lofty goals for himself; marathon veteran Lori stepped up to give the First State's inaugural Seashore Marathon a go; and Valliant was gunning for a sub 4-hour effort after a strong summer and fall of running.

The speedy James Woodring (center) bursts past the competition between loud YAWPS! of enthusiasm and pouncing on unsuspecting RURs as he passed them.

The weekend was made a number of ways: 1) Dominic headed up the house hunting brigade and landed a posh pad for crashing the night before the race, as well as post-race showers, recouping, and family time, 2) The chance to run together, get to know each other and spend some time chilling, and 3) the fact that everyone accomplished their individual goals.

I encourage anyone who wants to write up a report to do so, and we'll post various takes up here. But there were some common factors worth relating. The start temperature was roughly 27 degrees with winds up to 20 mph. It was cold and with the wind it was damn cold.

The course was beautiful, well marked, excellent support, flat, though a couple sneaky hills found their way in, and the Breakwater Trail is running nirvana on most counts. Dominic's skills as a meteorologist are questionable ;), and the post-race party was stellar--a great spread of food (world's best mac and cheese), free Dogfish Head Ale for runners, massages, etc.

Valliant shows his strength by crushing an ice and water filled paper cup, while Lori tries to deny that she knows any of the Rise Up Runners around her.

There are a few weekend photos posted in the story here, but let us never forget how nice it is to have our pal DDP Joel Shilliday as RUR photographer. The full smattering of Joel's photos can be viewed here.

Dominic imagines seahorses as he crosses the finish line on the boardwalk in 3:29 and change. Hey, is that an Atayne shirt he's wearing? :)

The photos are worth their weight in Clif Shots (which are tough to get down when they are frozen). On top of that, a search of the official results yields some cool information:

Dominic made his marathon debut in just under 3:30. Wow!
Joel and Keene combined for a 3:36 or so, with Joel running a 1:53 for his half
James and Laura netted a cool 3:47 relay time
Lori motored to a 3:51 and speedy and consistent a marathoner as you'll find
Valliant notched a 3:52 and change, breaking under the 4:00 mark, goal accomplished


Keene comes through the arches in a 1:42 half-marathon time, wondering if the guy on the left stole his watch...

Laura speeds down the boardwalk to a stellar half-marathon finish. The funny thing is, just 24 hours before finishing the race, she didn't even know she was going to be running it!!

My parting words here are, if you are looking for a nearby fall marathon, you couldn't do better than the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon. Flat, certified course with scenery and multiple surfaces, great support, winning festivities after the race. Look for the Rise Up Runners to return next year, with an even bigger posse, and maybe even a house along the course for party central for friends and family.

As for more story lines from this year's race... I'll let someone else bust out the deer hunter. Do what? Look through the photos...that's not in there by mistake. Thanks to all the RURs for a great race weekend!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Race Report: Derek as a Mountain Masochist

Rise Up Runner/Team Slug Grand Poobah Derek Hills contemplates levitating up some of the 9,000 feet of vertical gain that constitutes the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile Trail Run.

I’ve been debating with the idea of writing a race report. For some time now I’ve struggled with the idea of posting my thoughts online, as there are many “bloggers” (particularly ultrarunners) wasting bandwidth with incessant self-dramatization. However, I do hope to share some of my thoughts on the 2008 Mountain Masochist Trail Run with those who couldn’t be there, and perhaps inspire someone else to get out and push themselves a little more. So, I’ll apologize in advance if anything comes across as boastful.

Boring Stuff
I left the office around 11:30 am on Friday for the five plus hour drive to Lynchburg, VA in hopes of making it to the pre-race check in and dinner at a reasonable hour. The weather was absolutely perfect-upper 50’s, without a cloud in the sky. Oddly, we had identical weather on race day (I’m used to either rain or 100+ degrees/humidity). Traffic was sparse, and Mapquest landed me in downtown Lynchburg in 5 hours 16 minutes. I found my way to my hotel (I stupidly got a room about a mile from the “sponsoring” hotel, as they only had smoking rooms left), checked in, unpacked, and took a walk over to the Kirkley Hotel to get registered and check out the pre-race dinner.

I meandered through the lobby, and found myself in a long line of runner-types waiting to get registered. I recognized a few familiar faces, including Tom Green who was going to run this race for the 26th year (sadly, Tom DNF’d due to an injury which he was having surgery on the following week). Standing there, I began to feel overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. Most of these folks were the typical tall, lanky, sinewy mountain runner types. And there I stood-- the short, stocky flatlander. Just then, David Horton (former MMTR Race Director and ultrarunner extraordinaire) walked up the hallway, noticed a strange face, and introduced himself. I stumbled over my words at first. He asked where I was from, and when I told him “The Eastern Shore of Maryland” he jokingly replied, “Lots of hills over there!” My downward spiral of doubt accelerated, so I sped through the check-in, grabbed my number and swag bag, skipped the dinner and hotfooted it back to my hotel. Once there, I flicked on the TV, organized my gear, prepped and tape my already gnarly feet, obsessed over the alarm clock, and was asleep by 9:00.

Race Day
I woke up around 3:30 a.m. and began my race day ritual of coffee, shower, prep., lube, gear check, etc.. Drove over to the parking lot at the Kirkley, checked in, and hopped on a warm bus around 5:45. As we sat in the parking lot, I tried to shut my eyes and block out all of the conversations going on around me. The bus left right at 6:00 a.m., and the drive over was dark and uneventful. When we arrived at the start area, the bus pulled right up to the port o’ johns, so I promptly got in line. Despite multiple layers (am temps were in the low 30’s), I began to shiver as I waited a good 15 minutes. After my turn, I slipped back onto the warm bus, reviewed all my gear and drop bag contents, and ate a power bar while it was still pliable. I waited until two minutes before the race start to get out.

Having obsessed over the course maps and elevation profile for months now, my plan was to crank it out to the first aid station, which would involve an out and back section on pavement (up and down a hill). This would ensure a fast warm up, and would provide a good “systems test”. While I cranked out the first few miles around an 8:00 pace uphill, and felt OK, I noticed that I wasn’t too far behind the “Team Montrail” and “Inov-8” shirts. At the turn around, it was downhill again, so I maintained the same pace while the frontrunners surged forward. It was going to be a long day, and I would need to conserve energy for the mountains. As the road leveled, I eased up the pace and maintained a steady 10 min. mile pace on the roads. There were a few long climbs that necessitated some short walk breaks, but the pace was overall easy, and as dawn broke the scenery of all the fall foliage along the river was nothing short of spectacular.

The course soon diverted into the woods. The first few miles were on single track, with a few tree hurdles, climbing, loose rocks and roots—plenty of excuses to get cautious. Knowing that the long climbs would be a huge time draw, I knew I’d have to push it and get a bit more careless with the trail conditions as long as the inclines weren’t too tough. The strategy worked well enough, although I was somewhat surprised at the next aid station that I was within 30 minutes of the cutoffs despite my decent performance on the roads. At that point, it became obvious to me that the cutoffs weren’t arbitrarily based on an even pace per mile for the entire 54 miles—they had to be based on historical data from aid station to aid station. Mentally, this would be the toughest challenge—knowing that in order to at least skim the cutoffs I would need to at least maintain consistent effort from point to point, regardless of the conditions.

Those first twenty miles were certainly hillier than I was used to, but tolerable. At the 26 mile aid station, I was dragging a bit. Mentally, I was beside myself, as I was only 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff. Physically, I was overheating a bit. I ran to the aid station, called out my number and dropped to the ground by my drop bag. I immediately stripped down to shorts and a tee shirt, and downed a Starbucks double shot. I felt somewhat delirious when I looked up to find Annette Bednosky filling up my Camelbak. A few familiar faces were standing around, but I was in a desperate rush to get the hell out of there.

"You mean we're running up that thar mountain??"

The real climbs began. And they continued. And continued. The first real climb up Buck Mountain was harsh. Maybe 3000 feet in about 5 miles, with few sections I considered runnable. Fortunately, the trail was mostly wooded and cool, and footing was decent. I pushed forward, trying to run the short inclines, and speed hike everything else. One of the runners I had been yo-yoing with (on his 6th MMTR) was starting to have a tough time, and told me that it would be hard work to escape the cutoffs at this point. My legs were feeling pretty heavy, and his comments made me nervous. Then, I heard something. Far off in the woods, from somewhere up the mountain, I heard some familiar music…Rocky. Yup. The Rocky theme. Now I usually don’t run with music, and I’m not really a big movie aficionado (or a Rocky fan), but between the music and several inspirational posters with scripture verses that appeared out of nowhere, I caught my “second wind” and started running uphill towards the next aid station.

By the time I reached the next aid station I had gained a reasonably significant lead over the group I had been plodding along with, and had actually made up some time on this leg. I departed with a new spring in my stride, and covered the next, largely fast, downhill stretch in decent time.

The next aid station marked the entrance to the notorious “loop” section. While the terrain didn’t look bad on the elevation profile, I’ve heard that the loop will quickly humble even the most skilled runner. Expecting the worst, I was surprised to find myself running on some beautiful downhill single track for the first mile or so. From there, it started to get ugly. First a few wet stream crossings over some loose rocky areas. Then rocky/rooty ascents and descents, all densely covered with leaves, so you had no idea what you were stepping on. Fortunately, I managed to stay vertical, and survived this 5+ mile leg in just over an hour. On my way out, I came across another familiar face…err, head—a young runner I’ve often seen at several events whose trademark is to shave the race initials onto his head. We chatted a bit on the way out of the aid station, and yo-yoed along for a mile or two, comparing war stories.

The remaining 10 miles were tolerable. A few decent climbs, which proved difficult on tired legs in the warmer afternoon temperature. I was pleasantly surprised when one girl I had been running with earlier caught up to me. Apparently, the guy she was running with (the 6 timer MMTR dude) had dropped and she was now on her own. We held pace together for a while, and forced the other to run when the other would slow down. At the next to last aid station, I was still 15 minutes ahead of the cutoffs, so I checked in and left right away. The trail led me straight up the final hill of death. The overall distance of this section wasn’t terrible…maybe about a mile or so, but it was all nearly straight uphill…the type of climb where you had to stop every so often to catch your breath, and grab a tree to keep from going backwards.

After finally reaching the last aid station, the remaining 5 or so miles were a gift. A couple of mild, runnable climbs, with virtually all descents on gravel mountain roads. A few wet/rocky crossings here and there, and a very fast final couple of miles back out to pavement. I caught up with another young girl named Becky I’d been yo-yoing with for most of the day. It was going to be her first Masochist finish as well. As we approached the finish, we passed another runner who was hobbling along on fumes. A few of Becky’s friends drove past and cheered us on. As we picked up the pace for a final sprint to the finish, she summed it up by saying, “I’ve been going all day for this!” and offered to cross together. My slug roots came through…I knew we were approaching the 12 hour cutoff for an official finish, and there was a possibility that I could at least snag the DFL title, so I graciously let her go first. David Horton was right there, wildly cheering us across the finish. Eleven hours, fifty three minutes and fifty seven seconds.

The bus ride back to the Kirkley hotel was an experience in itself. Dozens of exhausted, stinky runners were packed in, with the heat blasting, as the bus wove through the mountain roads. It was a war zone—folks were moaning, others were stretched out on the floor. Many rested their tired feet on the backs of the seats in front of them. I chugged another Starbucks double shot and chatted about the days events with a gentleman sitting next to me named Lew McGrath, who had just finished his 6th MMTR (in 9:25), after previously winning the Iron Mountain 50 miler (Eric Grossman’s 50M race held in October—now on my “must do” list for 2009).

About an hour and a half later, I was back at my hotel. I peeled off layers of dirt, grit, salt, and clothes, showered for a half hour, and headed out the door for a few post race recovery beers and sandwich. It felt great to zone out and stuff my face.

Final thoughts
MMTR is not just another 50-miler. Any rumors you’ve probably heard about it are true. It’s beautiful, it’s incredibly challenging, the volunteers and race organization are absolute top-notch. When you finish it once, you’ll want to go back and do it again. Yet it’s not a race that you can just “go and run”, especially if you’re even a mid-packer like myself. It is a course where each of the 54 miles, and 9200 feet of gain and 7200 feet of loss demand your respect.

--Derek Hills

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Plus Four...

Just a quick note, hoping to post more later, to say that we have added four names to the list of folks who have completed the Tuckahoe 10-Mile Challenge. Congrats to:

Mike Bickford
Dan Bieber
Brandon White
James Woodring

Who joined Lori Callahan and Valliant for a windy and capital MUDDY loop this morning. For the record, Valliant, Lori, and Brandon opted for the aquatic creek crossing (dedicated to water crossing pioneer Landy Cook), while Mike, Dan, and James scampered across the log. That's a 50/50 ratio on a cool November morning.

Also for the record, Bieber was doing some math in his head, and thinks that Keene's record is breakable. I'm not trying to start anything, mind you, but...;)

Thanks to everyone who got out there this morning. A great run and stellar way to kick off a Sunday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rise Up Rehab Part 1(The Injury)

Somehow it has been just under five months since I acutely injured my medial meniscus on my right knee while running a marathon. It has not been an easy thing for me to write about until now, but enough time has passed that I thought an injured reserve update was in order.

My injury occurred June 15 while running in the Lake Placid Marathon. I decided to run this race since I was attending a continuing medical education conference in Vermont that weekend anyway, and my wife Megan's sister was already running the relay with a group of people from their hometown of Massena, New York. Megan decided to do the half marathon and her parents came down to watch the kids while we raced. It seemed to just fall into place. Lake Placid is a very pretty town and is not at all a bad place to host a marathon. The race started routinely enough for me as Megan and I hung out and talked some before the race. She had asked if I was going to run with her for her half marathon(a little slower than my usual pace) or try to go a little faster. Coming off one of my slowest and most painful marathons, the Delaware Trail Marathon, I was anxious to see what I could accomplish this time so I opted to run solo. Turns out I should have run with my wife instead and perhaps that is lesson #1 in my story. Always listen to your spouse. At least in my case, she is usually right.

But of course, I did not. Before the race started, there was a man with a megaphone talking over some pretty loud, pumping music trying to get the crowd psyched up. I remember thinking, I'm really not at all into this. Can't it just be low key, sort of like the start to the trail marathon I had recently run? There were maybe 1500 people at the start with a combination of marathon runners, half marathoners, and relay runners. I said good luck to Megan, gave her a hug, and slipped over to the side of the road near the first third of runners and sat on the curb to wait until the start. Finally, the man was yelling more and more into the megaphone, the music got even louder and the race was on.

The first three miles were very nice. I concentrated on running slowly and constrained as people all around me were getting settled into their paces. I felt like I could see plenty of people going out too fast, although one thing I have learned in running marathons is that you can never predict a runner's speed by their body type or form. Still I know what someone looks like when they go out too fast from adrenaline at the start, and there were plenty of those folks around. The race looped around a pretty lake for the first few miles before turning sharply down a hill to head out of town. I was shooting for easy eight minute miles with a goal of seeing whether I could break 3:30 and if I was feeling strong at the half, I would increase my pace and see what happened. I felt really strong through the first few miles and then came this monster downhill. I tried to run the hill slowly and controlled, but it was far steeper than anything we have seen in flat Talbot County. About 50 yards in I thought, "This isn't working for me"so I let it unwind a bit and tried to increase my turnover some. Another 50 yards and I let 'er rip and opened up. I imagine it was a good steep half mile downhill or so. In retrospect, I wonder if I set myself up for the injury on that stretch. It is hard to say though because it felt very natural at the time. Anyway, things leveled out a bit after the hill, and I ran by the Olympic ski jumps before heading out a country road to a turnaround at mile eight.

Somewhere along this rolling country road near mile six, it happened. I was running along feeling strong and relaxed at an easy pace when I planted my right foot and instantly felt and heard an ominous pop. I instantly felt severe pain and the feeling like my knee was collapsing on the inside with each step. It was obvious to me that something bad had happened. Nonetheless, we runners are well, a bit thickheaded when it comes to these sorts of things, so I tried to walk it off some. I shook my leg, gently walked on it and tried to run again. Again, it was blatantly obvious that something was terribly wrong. There were a few runners around me passing me every few seconds and a several offered words of encouragement like "Just shake it off" or "work it out". I remember telling one well meaning runner "I don't think this is something I can just work out". She replied, "Oh sorry..." Most people just passed me silently as I tried to hobble along. There was no water stop anywhere near me and certainly no medical station so I figured I would hobble along walking with a straight leg until I could drop out at the next aid station. Somehow I made it to the turnaround spot on that road at mile eight where there was a water stop. I asked around about getting a ride back to the start so I could wait for Megan, and a guy who seemed to be in charge made a call on his radio then told me to wait a few minutes and someone would come to pick me up. Well, I waited and waited, eventually seeing Megan come by who asked how was doing. I filled her in and told her I'd see her back at the finish. I waited some more.

By this point, I would guess 40 minutes had gone by. There was no sign of the guy who I spoke with and no sign of help on the way. So, I trudged on peg-legged and made it back down the road a couple miles to around mile 10, where there was another water stop. This group seemed much more on the ball, and the guy in charge made a call and gave me some ice and a nice seat on the tailgate of his pickup, and I waited. This time, it was only about 30 minutes or so, but help did arrive eventually. I couldn't help but think, good thing I am not having a heart attack. I can only imagine they figured I could safely wait hours if needed and didn't want to get in the way of the runners on the course. Anyway, the ride back to the start was slow as well as the truck the picked me up stopped a few places along the route to talk to other volunteers and the police directing traffic. I don't recall exactly but he may have also picked up his dry cleaning and some things for dinner. Seriously, I was thankful for the ride, but it took forever. Eventually I made it back to the finish area where Megan was waiting with my in-laws and our kids- two of which immediately wanted to be held by me.

Prior to this race, I had always wondered why people dropped out of marathons. I couldn't fathom not trying everything I could to finish. But that day, my decision was quite easy. Running was not possible, and my body very clearly let me know that running was not something I should continue to do. I was thankful for that, but it made it no less difficult.

Up next, Part 2: From injury to surgery


Monday, November 10, 2008

The RUR's in Bay Hundred

The Sunday morning crew - Pierre, James, Valliant, Dominic, Joel, Keene and Katherine, in Keene's shop before departing on a 6 a.m.'ish 13-mile run.

Drivers along Route 33 between St. Michaels and Tilghman, Md., are not used to seeing runners spread out along the road in the early morning hours. Neither are residents of Wittman, home of RUR stalwart Michael "Wood Frog" Keene.

But it's fall racing season, and the Wood Frog invited the RUR crew down to his neck of the woods to get in a good training run for upcoming marathons and half-marathons. We've got quite a crew gearing up for racing the inaugural Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon on Saturday, November 22. Dominic, Lori, and Valliant are signed on to give the full marathon a go, and relay teams of Keene/Joel and Katherine/James, will see each runner complete a half-marathon to finish the full distance. Come the weekend after Thanksgiving, while we're all figuring out what to do with those extra calories, Pierre will run them off at the North Central Trail Marathon, outside Baltimore.

For our Sunday run, we ended up with a hodgepodge of runners, working at various speeds, engaging in various conversations, and running with different folks, accordion-style, closing in on and catching up to one another, and spreading out, all reconvening at Keene's after 13 miles. Pierre saddled back up and ran another 7+ miles back home and beyond to get in his last long run before his marathon.

Rather than give you a narrative of the run, I offer some thoughts that Keene shared with the group later on. The things that stuck in his head:

- Katherine’s muffins (I think there were 6 fewer muffins then when she left her house; Woody?)

-The sunrise over Harris Creek and the warm light hitting the trees.

-The great conversation I had with a French marathon runner

-Joel talking a little louder than usual because he had his IPod earphones in his ears.

-Joel, talking louder than usual, when he asked me if I “owned tights” as we passed my waterman neighbor who was getting his newspaper out of his box.

-Joel doing pushups on the Tilghman Island road.

-Joel running one of his longest distances he’s ever run

-Woody running over the Tilghman Bridge and me wondering if he really won’t shower until the 22nd

-Wondering if, in deed, Bieber is qualified to critique graphics

-Wishing there was someone on a bike distributing Gatorade and muffins to us dehydrated and fuel starved runners

-Wishing I had my new Clif gels from the backseat of Lori’s car

-Wondering if Derek ever wants to run on flat ground again; Route 33 is a dream, except for that hill leading up to the bridge

-Wondering, “Charlie who?”

-Dominic closing gaps in distance between runners on a whim.

-The thought of Katherine’s muffins waiting back in my barn to be eaten

-The expression on my neighbor Margaret’s face when runners kept turning into our driveway at 8:30 in the morning

Very many thanks to Keene for hosting and route planning, and to Katherine for muffin-baking, and for all who came out to run!