That Mountain Race really “BLEW”!

The morning of September 10th,  my alarm went off at 3:45am and like all mornings I enjoyed my pre-run coffee and Chobani yogurt.  While the day started completely normal, I was about to toe the line at a race that was far from anything I had ever done before and was going to challenge me in more ways that I could imagine.   One of the most exciting aspects of this race is my son, Anthony, who was toeing the line with me and this was going to be his first ultra!

Flat John is ready!

Leading up to this race I had spent 3 of the last 4 months in Kuwait.  That meant the elevation was about 90′ and the greatest climbing I was going to get on any run was stepping onto a 6″ curb.  Put differently, my last 50k training run in Kuwait had 161′ total of gain.  Regardless of the environmental challenges, my coach did a phenomenal job getting me ready for this race on a treadmill!  We simulated the race (as much as possible) on the treadmill with grades from -3% to 15%.

Going into this race I felt GREAT!  My training had been spot on, had zero injuries, and this was going to be the race of my life!   With a gust of wind, that plan began to blow away…
“We started the race with 45-mile-per-hour winds and gusts of 60 miles per hour, which made many runners fight hard to stay on ridge lines and stable on the peaks. To say it was a wild start to the first Texas Sky Race was an understatement,” race director Rob Goyen commented.

I had run these trails around Franklin Mountains a lot over the years since our oldest lives there with his family so I was not a stranger to what I had ahead of me.  When we toed the line I didn’t start in the “front”, but I did start right behind the lead pack.  Not because I thought I was fast, but the first 2 miles of the race were through a section of trail that was going to end up being a lot of “stop-n-go” congo line type movement and I wanted to push through this section and get on with the race.

Rob Goyen sounded off with “GO!” and we began pushing towards the trailhead for the “Upper Sunset Trail”.   The winds that we had coming across the Franklin Mountains that morning were CRAZY!  We had 45mph sustains winds with 60mph gusts.  As we made the first small climb runners in front of me were literally being blown off the trail, runners were losing their hats, and I even say headlamps go flipping into the night sky from the wind.  It was at that moment I realized this was not going to be a normal race.    After 2-miles of a brutal cross-wind we finally turned and headed downhill off the ridge.   Usually running downhill is an opportunity to pick up the pace a bit and let gravity do its job;  this was the first time I HAD to walk because the wind was so strong.  Every step you took was a gamble on where the wind was going to allow your foot to land.  The first 5mi of the race looped around to the “finish line” where I had a drop-bag positioned.   I came through, dropped my headlamp, grabbed my second handheld, and I was off on the single 26mi loop up, over, and around the Franklin Mountains!

The first 12mi would take me to the North Peak of the FranklinMountains and I spent a good majority of this time running with Team TROT runners DB and MG, and a few others that I really look up to as runners!   I absolutely loved the first half of this race.

All of my races up to this point have been multi-loop races.  That meant that the lead runner, at some point, was likely going to loop me!   You would think on a single-loop race I would be safe right?  No.  As I was making the climb towards Mundy’s Gap I turned around and guess what!  I was about to be looped on a single-loop race by Maggie! Go figure😉   Oddly enough, that one moment was the most memorable for me.  I don’t know why I found it to be so entertaining, but it was!  So Maggie;  thank you for making Franklin Mountain so enjoyable!   Not only did Maggie provide a memorable part of the race, she also saved my life while climbing to the Aztec caves!

Maggie helping me up Aztec!

After passing Mundy’s Gap Aid Station, the climb up the switchbacks to the North Peak began.  Regardless of how many times I have done this climb, I still fall victim to the many “false summits” you pass along the way.   About a mile from the top I finally  began seeing runners coming off the peak.  The most unfortunate part about this section is I was in such a hurry to get down off the mountain and into the Sotol Forest that I didn’t even stop to look around.   Of course what would a TROT race be without an awesome photo by Myke!

Reaching the summit of the North Peak

Now 12mi into the race and really feeling good!  Once I realized my lofty goals where blown away at the start of the race I opted for a solid race with a strong finish but chose to not push into the pain cave!  My original goal was a top 10 finish (which in hindsight was CRAZY).   Coming down off of the peak I finally saw Mark Henn and Anthony (my son) climbing the peak.  Based on where they were I was guessing they were about 2-hr behind me.   Coming down off the peak was also when I took a nice dive down the rocks (which was oddly enough my only fall!).  Ended up with minor scratches on my hand and scratched my new Goodr glasses.  I am pretty certain I may have a slight fracture on my little finger too, but who cares!

Speaking of Goodr!  I ordered these at the last minute for my race!  They are a VERY cheap alternative to expensive running glasses but these turned out to be the absolute BEST running glasses I have used!   Absolutely zero bounce, light weight, badass colors, polorized and inexpensive ($25 each!)  Check them out at https://www.playgoodr.com/

Goodr!

Before I knew it I was down off the peak and tackling the rollers along the east side of the Franklin Mountains.   I have always loved these trails. Running in and around the Tin Mine and through the Sotol Forest while looking out across east El Paso and Fort Bliss.  I did get to spend a few miles with Katie G through here.  Katie, another Team TROT member, is yet another fantabulous runner and inspiration.  It was great to share some miles with her while we tried to figure out Rob’s marking strategy and made-up trails that he took us through!  lol

The miles ticked away and finally I came upon the East Aid Station (Mile 20.6).  This is was the only aid station on the course that I had a drop bag (other than the finish line).   I grabbed my Tailwind from my drop bag, another Epic Bar, and began the trek to the West Aid Station (final Aid Station of the course).    By this point the climbing was finally starting to take a toll on my thighs and quads.  Each climb and descent, regardless of how small, was noticeable.   From a positioning perspective I was still where I wanted to be so I began walking a bit more during the climbs.   This section of the trail was all new for me.  I had never run through the pass or on the west side of the Franklin Mountains.   I REALLY enjoyed this section!  My next time out in El Paso I will have to come back here and run this for fun!   Before I knew it I came across Mary at the West Aid Station.   Her and the team of volunteers went through a tough time.  They weren’t able to put anything on the tables due to the wind (yes…still windy) so this aid station was a “made-to-order” stop.   I grabbed some pickles, topped of my hand-helds, and took a Red Bull for the road (not sure why but it seemed good).

Glancing at my watch I had been running about 7hrs at this point and based on the pace I was anticipating a finish around 8:30 or so.  This, while the easiest part of the course, was also the most boring.  Really didn’t feel like running because it wasn’t fun so ended up doing a run/walk shuffle.  The last 6mi to the finish I ended up passing a few more people and chatting with some other runners.   Before I knew it I crested the final hill, turned the corner, and off in the distance I could see the line of spectators looking over the valley at the runners that were approaching the finish.

I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line.  Not because it was over, but because my family was there waiting.  As I climbed towards the finish line (yes…climbed) I could see my wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grand daughter all holding signs cheering me on.  No matter how many times I finish a race, seeing my family waiting for me is always the most emotional part.

Like EVERY Trail Racing over Texas Race, Rob was standing on the finish line waiting with my medal!   While I didn’t finish with an age group award, I did receive first place in a different (self identified) division!  I finished first in the gnome division!

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I finished with a time of 8:31.24 35/229 athletes!   It was an absolutely amazing experience and can’t wait until the Franklin Mountain 50k next year.  I gained some valuable insight into my training, what worked, and what I need to work harder at for next year!   I can honestly say that had it not been for my coach Karen, this race would have been pure hell!    Karen gave me everything I could have possibly needed to be successful out there and I was!  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

I even got to meet another fellow Orange Mud ambassador Joel!

Fellow OM Am-badass-adaor!

 

After my race, all that was left was to wait for Mark Henn and our son to finish.   This was the longest race Anthony had ever done and this was to be his first ultramarathon.  At 10hr 42 min, Anthony became an ULTRAMARATHONER!  He did amazing on a super challenging course!

Leading up to this race I wanted to do something strange!  At all of the TROT races I have been in a “costume” of sorts.  This time I was going to run as a Garden Gnome.   My wife absolutely HATED the beard and once the race was over (and she made a donation to Septembeard in support of Prostate Cancer), the #Ultragnome took a break.   Not to worry, if I get into Western States 100 this year, the gnome is coming back!

The end of the gnome!

 

This ended another absolutely amazing race weekend with my family and friends.  The TROT family has given me so much and I look forward to giving back to both Rob and Rachel whenever I can.   Until next time…

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Special thanks to my amazing wife Elizabeth, my family, and amazing friends that continue to encourage me along the way to craziness!  These races are strange for me.   Without my wife, none of these races would be possible.  While I know many of these races scare her, she always stands by my side!   My next challenge will be for her to hug me after a race while I am all sweaty!  Perhaps Brazos Bend 100?

Thank you Tailwind Nutrition, Orange Mud, Goodr Running Glasses, SKORA Running, INKnBURN, and Injinji!  We have been on an amazing journey together and you have all contributed greatly to where I am today!  :D
So what’s next?

Hill Country Ragnar – 21/22 October – Comfort, TX
TROT Trail Running Camp – 4-6 November
Wild Hare 50 mile – 19 November
Brazos Bend 100 mile – 10/11 December
Bandera 100k – 8 Jan

Until next time…

#Ultragnome

Stop and love the trails!

My running nearly always takes me to the trails.  Trails are always changing, take me away from the busy roads, and allow me to find a calm that I can’t find elsewhere while running.

This past weekend my wife and I hosted a “group run / product demo” at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnett, TX.  My wife deserves so much more credit.  None of this would have been possible without her.   She did so much to make this a reality!  The plan for this event was to share those trails with others and give people a chance to try the products that I personally love and use.   For many, their exposure to different products comes at races and races are the last place you want to be trying something new.  This event provided a fun relaxed atmosphere where people could try many different products without worrying about any negative impact to their race.

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All of the samples and product demos for the run!

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A few of the prizes provided by the amazing sponsors!

A few of us arrived early on Friday to get the trails (course) marked for our group runs.   Tammy, Roel, and I set out around 2:30 to mark the 10k course while a nephew of the ranch owner set out on his mountain bike to mark the 9mi course.   I am so grateful that the ranch assisted us in marking!  We were actually going to start marking at 8am but there were some Airmen out on the ranch doing sniper training so we had to wait!   Had it now been for the ranch, we would not have gotten the courses marked!  It was during our course marking where a bit of realization it me. We have been running for years on such beautiful and miraculous trails;  we just never stopped (slowed down) to truly appreciate them.

The weekend started with a 5k night familiarization run followed by some time to relax around the campfire.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it out for this as I was assisting one of our runners get their camper situated.   The following morning we began the day with another 5k run followed by a door prize give away.  As soon as that finished, the group set out on a 9mi adventure around Reveille Peak Ranch.

As I logged miles Friday and Saturday on the trails of Reveille Peak Ranch something occurred to me;  I have never stopped to look at the ranch.   Much of my time at the ranch, prior to this, was during a race.  I have run a Captain Karls race on the ranch, which was during the night, as well s several other ultras on these trails.   Like many, my focus was on the trail in front of me.  Rarely did I get a chance to see what these trails offered to everyone.

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My typical view on the ranch; watching the trail.

 

This group run / product demo changed that!  I talked with another running in the group about this very thing.  It is amazing how much different these trails looked when you stopped to enjoy them.   The wild flowers and blue bonnets that riddled the ranch, the wildlife, the beautiful rock formations, and even the cactus.  When you stop to take it all in, it is like you are running someplace for the first time.  This is exactly how I wanted to spent my weekend;   Sharing that experience with friends.

So while this weekend was about giving others a chance to try out some amazing products on the trails it actually did so much more!   For me, this weekend was about finding something on the trails.  This weekend gave me a chance to really enjoy the trails, spend some time with some amazing people, and enjoy life.

Once I stopped to love the trails, this is what I really found…

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Our Saturday morning 5k to start the day!

 

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During the morning 5k I had to take a break to take in the view across the water from the rustic bridge!

 

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Another shot from the rustic bridge!

 

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T.R. discovered an amazing waterfall that we used as a backdrop for our group photo! Thanks T!

 

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When you cross a sign that says “Epic” it demands a group photo with an Epic Bar!

 

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Running up the granite on the way to Decision Point (The cross)!

 

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Some of the cacti out on the ranch looked absolutely amazing! Hearts and flowers… Simply had to take it! One of the runners made a comment. “This is a reminder that love can be prickly at times!”😀

 

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This cactus actually made me laugh; I call it “Cyclops Mickey Mouse”

This was going to be my last big group outing until September when I make an appearance at Franklin Mountains 50k.   In a few weeks I will be headed across the pond for four months.  I will miss you all!

This turned out to be such a great event!  Next year it will be a “Product Fat Ass”

Here are the amazing sponsors that made this event possible.  Be sure to visit their site and show your support!

At the end of the weekend it all came down to friends, family, and the trail community!

Our group photo before our 9mi run! PC: T. Roen

Our group photo before our 9mi run! PC: T. Roen

Naked Bavarian (un)Race Report

As with all of my races, there is a race report tail that goes along with them.   While this race was far from what I expected and prepared for, it is the race report that allows me to grow, identify areas for improvement, and identify collect lessons-learned (which there are many).

Before I get into the details, I will sum it up with a simple acronym.  DNF

This race took place in Pennsylvania just 12mi from where I grew up.  While the elevation in Pennsylvania is greater than what I am accustomed to, and the course had more climbing than I was accustomed to, I was well trained, well prepared, and had a race plan that was going to get me to a sub-7 finish.

To put it simply, I have been a pain here in Pennsylvania.   Even while we are here on vacation I was still adamant on what I was going to eat the week leading up to the race ensured I was well hydrated and adequate amount of fat to support the race plan.  I did everything possible to set the stage for what I was hoping was going to be a perfect race, except for one thing; I did not account for any type of contingencies that may have transpired during my race.

Over the last 4-hours I have gone over every detail of the race seeing if there is something I could have done differently to change the outcome and there is honestly no point.   Everything that I did prior to this race was done for a reason and what I planned on doing.   There is absolutely no room for any type of “what-ifs” to be considered.   I simply need to take what happened and move forward.   My coach said to me “You are allowed to be mad, sad etc for about 5 minutes. Go….”   Well 4-hours later I am now ready to go!

Gear

Shoes – SKORA Tempos

Hydration Pack – Orange Mud Hand Held / Gear Quiver

Drop Bag – Victory Sport Design Bear II

Socks – Injini Trail

Headgear – Orange Mud Buff / TROT Trucker

Prep Day

With the race being only 12mi away, there was very little prepping that needed to be done outside of the norm. #FlatJohn had been prepared the day prior, my single drop-bag was prepped and packed, and the coffee pot was ready to make my coffee.

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I even had Elizabeth mark my aid stations on my arm so I know when to prepare for the aid stations! The only thing left was dinner and sleep.  Dinner was pretty simple.  We had pasta for dinner and salad.  This isn’t unusual and nothing that I haven’t done in the past.   Honestly I don’t really plan anything for dinner.  I just avoid fiber and grease to ensure that I have a happy stomach on race day.   Here is where the first “difference” comes.    Before every long run/race I have a gluten-free beer (Angry Orchard) the night before my race.  Unfortunately there was no Angry Orchard available so I had Wood Chuck instead.  While made with apples, this one wasn’t gluten-free.   Personally I don’t think this had any bearing on race day, but it was still outside of the norm.

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Race Day! 

I woke up at 4:30am to begin my preparations.  TYPICALLY my race day preparations include coffee, Chobani yogurt, and a Banana.   Since I was treating this race much different than past races I thought it would be wise to get some more calories prior to the race.  Instead of the yogurt and banana I stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way to the race and had a bagel with cream-cheese (2-hours prior to the race).   This is where I am going to get the “tsk tsk” from people!  ;)    I have never gone into a race with a bagel and cream cheese and today should not have been the day to start.   Much like the beer, I don’t know if this caused an issue, but it was still different.

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I arrived at the race around 6am to patiently wait for the 7am packet pick-up and enjoy the rest of my coffee before the race.  This is mainly for people watching and talking to people.  I talked to some of other runners, actually met some that we share mutual friends with, met another SKORA and Orange Mud Ambassadors;  I did what I do and had fun!  The race actually didn’t start until 8am so I had plenty of time to allow for my bagel and cream-cheese to get into the system, drank my final bottle of water, and patiently wait.   About 15min before the start I went over my race plan one last time, looked at the course profile so I knew where the climbs were, and did a final gear check.   I was ready; the gear was ready; my race was READY!

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After yet another visit to the porta-me (this is very common for me before races) I made my way to the start line.   I didn’t line up where I typically do (towards the back), I was on the line with the lead pack!  Yelling over the German music that was playing I heard the RD make the final countdown;  5…4…3…2…GO!

The first 1/4mi of the course was actually on the road before entering the trails.   I wanted to remain in top 10 hitting the trails and I did just that.  I was able to secure a position that I want and from that point fell into MY pace that I was ready to hold throughout the race.   My goal was to keep my HR in check through the climbs and to avoid chasing any rabbits.   My fueling and hydration were spot on.  Every 1mi I took in a big drink and every 20min I took a SMALL piece of protein (Epic Bar).   This is the approach that I have been using on my fueling runs and it had worked perfect in training.  Here is where another slight difference came;  I had been training with an uncured bacon Epic bar.  For this race I was using Beef.   I didn’t think it would matter;  Epic is Epic, but… who knows.

The Aid Stations where staged 3 – 3.5mi apart.   My plan had me skipping every other age station which had me stopping every 6.5mi, which is also how I trained on my fueling runs.   This part actually made me REAL happy.   I came trucking through the first aid station, tossed up a wave, and thanked the volunteers as I pushed my way through.   In order to hit my race plan, stopping to talk was not an option!   The miles started ticking away and before long I was at 6.3mi and it was time to prepare for the aid station.   My goal here was to be in and out of every aid station within 10-20sec.   I drank the remainder of my Tailwind (which was only 1-2 mouth-fulls based on my fueling strategy) and grabbed another Tailwind pack from my Orange Mud Gear Quiver.   When I rolled into the Aid Station the cap was already off my hand-held, Tailwind was already added to the bottle, and I was ready for water.   MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  I hit the water and was back on the trail in under 10 sec!  This had to be the most efficient aid station EVER and my next 2 were mirrors of this process!

More and more miles started ticking off as I went into the largest climbs of the course.   After the 6.5mi aid station I went after the 4 largest hills of the course which were all back-to-back.   Mile 10 was the only mile split that I was off on as this segment had the “ski slope”.   All of the other splits remained exactly where I wanted them.   After the 13.5mi aid station the next stop was going to be the start/finish line to do it all again!   This section of the course had the least amount of climbing and was smooth sailing.  I played hop-scotch with a fellow runner through this section.

Along the way I noticed something… I was CHAFING!  How is that possible? I ALWAYS use something to prevent that… Well it was “always” until that morning.   I never used anything while getting ready that morning… OOPS!

Shortly after mile 16 things started going south.   I was getting real sharp pains in my stomach and something wasn’t right.  It wasn’t “cramping” but there were sharp pains and I was getting spasms every few minutes.   Soon I found myself on the side of the trail leaning against a tree.    Something has made my body unhappy.   I have read numerous blogs from runners and the commonality was “I threw up and after that I was back on track!”.   I kept going over that in my head and began pressing.   That didn’t term out to be the case.   Not even a mile later and I found myself holding onto another tree for another bout.   The more I pressed the more off my body felt.  Now I was having strange sharp pains going through my back, legs, and arms that I can only attribute to the lack of fuel and fluids in my body.   My goal at this point was to get to the start/finish so I could get back on track.  I rolled into the aid station, checked in on my Spot3, and began to triage!   I grabbed a fresh bottle of Tailwind, drank some water, grabbed some solid food from the Aid Station, and grabbed a cup of ginger ale.  I needed to do something to get something back in my body and try and keep my body at bay.   I didn’t even make it out of the aid station before I got sick again and off I went.  CRAP!  I still forgot about the chaffing and turned around to get that taken care of.   By this point I wasted 4min at the aid station and was getting annoyed with myself.   To the trails!   By this point I had lost my 8th place OA and had no idea how far I dropped and wasn’t overly concerned.   I was new plan was to save something.

My efforts at getting my body under control were not working.  I continued to have sharp pains throughout my body and emptied my stomach yet again.   There was now nothing left in my stomach as it burnt coming up.    I came back around to the 23.4mi aid station (3.5mi) and waved at the volunteers yet again and kept going.  I was determined to try and maintain some resemblance of my plan.   The more I pushed through the more I knew something wasn’t right.  I wasn’t fatigued and physically felt great, but I kept getting sharp pains in my stomach, back, legs, and arms.   I suppose the only advantage was my stomach was empty and the nausea turned into dry-heaves on the side of the trail.

When I arrived at the 26.5mi aid station I needed to make a decision.  I had not been able to keep anything down for the last 10 miles and that was not going to go well for my body.  After this aid station I was about to go back into the big climbing section of the course and I was concerned that the lack of fluids and fuel was going to end poorly for me.   This is when I made a call that weighed on me for 4-hours after the race.  I had to drop from this race.   Luckily I came across an amazing bearded guy that proved to be my running savior who introduced himself as Leon.  I knew his face but wasn’t thinking clearly at the moment.  It wasn’t until I sat in my car did it click that I was just taken back to the start line by Leon Lutz and his epic beard!  Thank you Leon!

I sat in my car after being dropped off and didn’t know what to think.  I had a wave of emotions going through me.  I was mad, sad, happy, PISSED, concerned, etc.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone and was even afraid to message Elizabeth to tell her what happened.  I know no-one would have thought differently of me but I felt like I let people down and didn’t know how to accept that.   I even took me awhile to tell my closest friend and coach.

Now that I have had a chance to think about this there is no single thing that I did wrong, but there were several things that I did differently that may have contributed to the outcome.   Elevation difference, cold, different food prior to the race, different beer the night before… There simply don’t have an answer but I know what to look for in the future.

With everything there is a silver lining.   I was on track to have the best race of my life and I still walked away with a 30k and Marathon PR on the trails with over 2200′ of climbing.   That is something that I can be proud of.

With that… My 5min is over!

Thank you to @Vets2Victory @Epicbars @Trailtoes @OrangeMud @GoTailwindNutrition @SKORARunning @VictorySportDesign @TrailRacingOverTexas and @Injinji   You were all spot on when it came to taking care of me!  Next I need to work on me!  :)

This was an absolutely great learning experience for me and will not set me back.  This is a stepping stone to something greater!

 

Veni Vidi Vici…Rocky Raccoon 100 DNF

So proud of my runner this weekend! Despite the DNF, we really had a great weekend! How do you top it off? She has been sucked in to pace me at Brazos Bend 100 in December! 😀

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As I sit here trying to decide how I feel exactly, this Latin phrase rings through my head in a chorus of simple four letter words. I came, I saw, I conquered or in this case WE came, WE saw and WE conquered.

Rocky Raccoon 100 did not transpire the way it was planned. SURPRISE! You can make all the plans in the world but when it comes time for execution of those plans you have to be ready for the inevitability that you cannot control everything. Really? Have you heard the phrase, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray? (Robert Burns) Well, this past weekend was a perfect example of this.

Now you may be wondering how in the world can I say that we came, we saw and we conquered IF things did not go as they were planned. I’m going to tell you!…

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Disabled Veteran != stop!

 

For years I have looked at Veteran’s Affairs’ (VA) evaluation of being disabled as something negative almost to the point that I was embarrassed for people to know that I was considered disabled.   There is a list of ailments that the VA identified that makes me disabled.   Things such as degenerative arthritis, breathing disorders, to the numerous list of damaged joints that resulted in my time in the Army as an Infantryman.  That list is actually extremely MILD compared to many of my brothers and sisters but the purpose of this blog still remains the same.   Being categorized as a disabled veteran does not mean that life has to stop; More importantly, it doesn’t mean that your physical activities have to stop.   It is just an opportunity for you to overcome those challenges and learn how to move forward despite those injuries (both physical and mental).

Since retiring nearly 10 years ago, much of my “disabilities” were tucked into the back of my head as I looked for ways to continue moving forward despite doctors telling me that the days of running were over.

From my time in the Army I amassed several broken ankles, dislocated joints, torn tendons, muscles, and ligaments.  Mostly this could be attributed to me being accident prone, but the fact still remains; the injuries still stacked up within this now older body.  Now, 23 years after joining the Army, all of those small injuries have been compounded and I am finally willing to accept that I may not be in the same “physical” shape that I once was, but that still doesn’t mean I have to stop!

A few years after I retired I had reconstructive surgery on one of my ankles in an attempt to reverse all of the damage that had been caused from the fractures and repeated injuries.  Agreeing to the surgery was actually a difficult decision for me.  If you are not familiar with, many of you have heard the rumors of military doctors and surgery.   You know, if you go in to have surgery on your left knee there is a slight possibility that you might have surgery on your right wrist instead.  That or you will leave surgery with less mobility than you original had.   This has always been the running joke (except for those that may have actually experienced the negative effects of the surgery).

Prior to my surgery I ran about 5-10miles per week (if that).  It was mainly to attempt to do something physical.   By no stretch of the imagination would I have considered myself a runner! I had never been in a race and the extent of my running was PT while I was in the Army.   The day of my surgery, the doctor told me “after this, you will likely not run again”.  While never considering myself a runner or even having the slightest idea of running, I was not happy with this statement at all!  In fact, I was so unhappy with this prognosis from the surgeon that the day I came out of surgery I not only registered for my first race, but it was also a half-marathon.   This was not only going to be my longest run ever, it was about 11 miles longer than anything I ever would have voluntarily run at a single time!!

While I don’t think I had something to prove, nor was I being ornery, I simply wanted to be the director of my own destiny.   “Disabled” or not, it was absolutely not something I was going to let control my life.   The 4-months following my physical therapy I began running.  Following the physical therapy, it was like learning to run all over again.  While the pain was actually gone, the joint just didn’t seem to move like it once had.  Over time I learned how to run on my ankle and was slowly able to go further and further.  Even the people I run with likely couldn’t tell which ankle I had surgery on.

February 12th was when the prognosis was officially changed.   I toed the line of the Austin Half Marathon and thus begun a new part of my life.   I finished my very first half marathon in 2:08.   For me this wasn’t about how fast I could run or where I finished within the pack, this was more about taking control over my own destiny and overcoming that which I was told I could not do!

Since that day I have run countless half marathons, many marathons, and even went beyond that to run about a dozen ultra marathons, my latest of which was Bandera 100k.   Me being stubborn back in 2012 actually set the stage for what would transition into a late life running adventure.   For the last year I have averaged over 50 miles per week (mpw) running and have begun to put more emphasis on how to overcome those “disabilities”.

While I wake-up everyday in pain and even simple tasks like standing up can be painful, I have actually found a considerable amount of pain management through running.  As odd as it sounds, the degenerative arthritis in my lower extremities actually feels better WHILE running!

Recently I have been introduced to a remarkable program called Vets 2 Victory (@vets2victory) that takes disabled vets and provides them with a structured coaching program.  This program not only exposes those many disabled veterans to a coaching program, which they may never have pursued on their own, but it also builds confidence in themselves, increases their motivation, and serves as a daily reminder to them that being a disabled veteran is not something that has to be a “disability” on life.

For many years I was embarrassed to be considered a “disabled veteran”.  It wasn’t something that I announced or talked about.  I just went on my life as a Retired Infantryman and that was the end of it.   Oddly enough I didn’t even talk of being retired very often for some reason.  Much of that is purely mental.  I refuse to consider myself old and when you hear “retired” it just carries (in my head) a negative connotation that someone is old.    Everyone knows I am still 22 years old anyway😉  Clearly I can’t be considered old and retired!

Each and every disabled veteran holds something inside of them and carries something with them everyday.  They carry with them experiences, memories, and in many cases pain.   20,000 men and women were wounded during service in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, which drove an increase in the numbers of disabled veterans.   Many of those disabled veterans don’t wear their disabilities on their sleeves or even share with you their stores.  That does not change who they are in the slightest.   I have also heard people criticize those people with “DV Plates”, especially when they don’t “appear” to be disabled.

What you see on the outside very well may have nothing to do with how they feel on the inside nor the circumstances that surround what each of them went through.

I have had the honor of working with amazing men and women over the years that have been paralyzed, lost limbs as a result of a tragic incident, or even suffer from PTSD or other mental challenges.   What sets many of them apart from others is resilience and their ability and desire to overcome their challenges.

While I do not represent each and every one of our men and women who are disabled veterans, I would like to exist as a reminder that being disabled does not have to be the end.  While they very well may not perform things the same way they once could, this may just be an opportunity to experience something new that may end up changing your life!

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Being a disabled veteran doesn’t mean you have to stop, it means that you are being given a second opportunity to go!

Bandera (Rockfest) 100k

Steven Monte said it best…”This is where rocks come to die”

With that, before I delve into the race report, we need to talk about the rocks!  While I was running, I kept thinking about this very thing that Monte had said during his 3 loops leading up to Bandera 100k and I believe I have figured it out!

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Photo Credit – Steven Monte (Twitter: @CajunScoopMonte)

I live in the country and my country looks kinda like the parking area at Bandera.   There is not a manicured yard.  There are random holes, tree roots, and ROCKS.   Even with it not being a manicured lawn I still do have a responsibility to cut the grass;  This is where it all goes wrong!   While cutting the ground cover, if I come across a rock (they are always there regardless of how many times I remove them) I grab it, and toss it somewhere on the property where I don’t cut.  After spending 13hr 52min on the trails at Hill Country State Natural Area I believe I have an explanation.  There must be a secret portal somewhere on my property that drops all of those rocks out onto the trails.  So for the love of all of the runners, EVERYONE, please stop throwing rocks away!  They all mysteriously land on the trails at Bandera! If you are going to throw them into this mysterious portal, please paint them lime green first so I can see them better!😀

While I have run a 100k prior, this was actually going to be my first 100k trail race.  I have had my eye on Bandera 100k for several years now.  The reasoning for that is rather odd, but I was REALLY looking forward to it.   In all of the race reports that I have read over the years on Bandera as well as hearing the stories from friends, there was one thing that I wanted to “experience” and that was the sotol!   I was looking forward to experiencing the small razor-like slashes on my legs.  I wanted to see what it really felt like!    Truth be told, it didn’t provide nearly the pain that I was hoping for.  It was actually very mild.  Even the shower afterwards was very tame compared to the stories I had heard.

I maintain a very consistent running regime and for the last year I ran 7-days per week for my running streak.   Over the last year I was averaging about 60 miles per week.  Going into this race I really felt good!  I think a lot of that has to do with something new that has recently been incorporated into my training.   Over the last 3 months my training was no longer just running;   I have been working with a coach  (Karen Kantor) that has had me working on very specific training.  I have been working speed work (which I have NEVER done), hill repeats, focused long runs with speed work.   I really think the training has paid off!  in the short 3-months I actually set a PR on every distance from 5k to 100k (counting Bandera 100k of course!)   My last 100k was at Jackalope Jam.  This was a timed race on a FLAT pavement.   My time was 15:59.   When looking at the time for Bandera… I would say there was significant improvement!

Going into this race I had developed 3 goals ranging from sub-17 to obtain a WS100 qualifier and my goal time grew faster the closer we made it to Bandera.   The training leading up to Bandera felt great and with each passing training run I believed I had a little more in me than my previous goals for Bandera.  As we got closer to Bandera, I was going to shoot for a 13hr finish.   This was going to be almost 3 hours faster than my last 100k (which was only 3 months prior) but I felt pretty good about hitting this!

This was actually a pretty exciting race for me on several fronts.   First and foremost, Liz and I were going to be going down there with our new camper TOGETHER!   She has been such an amazing support team for me.  Without her I would not be running and having her there at the race with me was all that mattered.  No matter what time I finished… She was there.

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Our camper at Crossroads Aid Station

Second, I was going to feel pain from the sotol (don’t judge me), and lastly, I was READY!   I have grown a lot with my coach and this was the most prepared I felt for any race.  Just a few days before race day another bonus was added.  I found out that Karen was actually going to be at the race too!   Granted she was coming in to crew Michele Yates (who I finally got to meet!!), but Karen was still there!   I say that now, but part of me was a bit nervous that I would see her at random aid stations and she would be disappointed in something I did or was doing.  Never did that happen.😀

My last bit of encouragement came for this race at my last long run.   My last long run was 5x 10k intervals on a similar (or as close as can be) trail to Bandera.   The purpose of this was to treat each aid station as its own race.  My vehicle served as an aid station and I had individual drop bags made up to simulate 4 different aid stations (exactly like I would have at Bandera).   In doing this I actually recorded my fastest 50k and felt GOOD!   After that race, I knew Bandera was going to be “OK”.

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Liz and I at packet pickup! Photo Credit: JoAnna Brand

My gear was spot on for this race!  While Tailwind Nutrition was at the Aid Stations, I used my own (pre-mixed) bottles that had the calories that I was accustomed to.  Each of my bottles has 250 calories where-as the aid stations were made at 200 calories.  I wanted to run with what I trained with.  On top of that I had my Orange Mud Gear Guiver and Orange Mud hand held to get me through the race.  All of my gear was spot on and had absolutely no issues at all!!!  I walked away with absolutely no blisters thanks to Injinji, Tailwind kept my fuel and hydration dialed in, and Orangemud made it all look badass and allow me to carry my Tailwind and Spot 3!

Gear

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What would a race be without Flat John!

The morning of Bandera 100k Liz and I drove down to the start line early so we could get down there before the bulk of the traffic from Bandera.  Even with us staying at Crossroads Aid Station with the camper, there was still a lot of traffic getting to the start line!

We moseyed our way to the start line and started the morning meet and greet with everyone!

It was great seeing so many friends out there and amazing runners.  Getting caught up with all of the “hellos” is actually what got me in trouble!   Before I knew it they said “GO”.  I quickly gave Liz a kiss, jumped into the crowd, and moved along at THEIR pace.   It was at this instance that I made my biggest mistake of the race.   The first 20 miles I put down the hammer and had an average pace of a 9:40 min/mi.  While it was so much fun, I also hammered my legs way to soon on those rocks and hills.   At mile 15, when I came into Cross Roads aid station for the first time my legs were already pretty pissed off at me and I was not overly happy.  While I had a blast running with the fast(er) kids;  I also didn’t follow the plan.  It was this Aid Station that I would see Liz during the race.  I turned the corner into the aid station and had a plan and it worked perfectly!   As I came in I saw Liz sitting there waiting for me and also saw Karen who was out and about pacing people.

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Coming into Crossroads (1st time) after my fun little hammer fest! Photo Credit: Elizabeth Stasulli

I came in, topped off my Orange Mud handheld, grabbed a potato, gave Liz a kiss, and headed towards the trail.  I actually needed to let some other people leave ahead of me.  Up to this point I have been glued to this pack and I needed to let them get ahead of me so I would have enough legs to carry me to the finish! lol

After I left crossroads I had a another short leg until I came back into Cross roads for the 2d time.  This was to be a short stop as I wasn’t expecting support at this one.   Liz was standing at the camper (which is conveniently located 10′ from the trail) so I snuck in a quick kiss, topped off my handheld with more Tailwind Nutrition, grabbed a potato, and back into the course.    I must say it is this last 10 miles of the loop that I personally think are the worse.   There are more climbs and more rocks and many more areas that the trail is not as runnable.   That said, many people find this section to be runnable.   It is this type of terrain that my crusty old ankles become unhappy.  Rightly so as I ended up rolling my crusty ankle several times.

As I went through Last Chance aid station I was on my way back around to the Lodge to finish my first loop.  Regardless of hammering my legs the first 20 miles, or rolling my ankle, I was having the absolute best time possible!   I came into the lodge and needed to secure some gear for the last loop.    I came into the aid station and saw Rob Goyen and Jeremy at the lodge!  It was awesome to see these two guys.   I loved that they were out there on the course supporting all of the #TROT  family!   Give my inability to run without rolling my ankle I needed to make sure I had my headlamp (just in case).  I had my primary headlamp at Crossroads but I wanted to make sure I had one just in case I needed it!  I secured my headlamp, Patagonia jacket, gloves, topped off my Tailwind and potato and I was set!

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Mile 31 at the Lodge Aid Station.  Photo Credit: Trail Racing Over Texas for personal use only.

I spent less than 2 min at the lodge before I was back at it.   I was feeling good despite my stupidity at the start of the race and kicking rocks.   This last loop I needed to take a different approach.   I hiked all of the hills and ran the flats and downs (as much as possible).   I felt like I was moving along pretty well but this new strategy did put me behind on my planned times.   I came into Crossroads about 30min behind schedule and when I arrived there was a note in my drop bag from my wifey to see if I needed anything.  With the temperatures dropping she was bouncing in and out of the camper.  I would have never thought to leave me a note!   Needless to say, I didn’t have to leave her a note.  As I was there she came out of the camper!    This was actually my longest aid station stop.   Right before coming into Cross roads there is a water crossing and my feet didn’t move nearly as fast so I did not displace enough water.   As a result of that, when I came into Crossroads I needed to swap out the socks.    Once I was done I kissed the wifey one more time and I was off!   The temps for beginning to drop now and sitting there so long changing my socks I got cold.  On the way through the aid station I grabbed a hot chocolate and set out down the trail!   This segment between the 2 crossroads aid station is where you get to REALLY play with the sotol.  This was going to be my last time taking in the pain so I made the best of it and deliberately ran through as much of it as I could!  (again…don’t judge!).

Circling around I swung by the camper to give Liz and idea of when I would be at the finish line and found a Karen in the camper too!  This wasn’t a social visit so said my peace, drank a bottle of water, topped off my tailwind and headed off into the now dark sky.   From this point I had about 9 miles to go and was super excited.  While I knew I wasn’t going to hit my personal goal, I was going to still do MUCH better than my initial 15hr goal.   The last 9 miles actually ended up being more difficult than the first time.  Not because of my body, but the rocks and night time.  I have a real hard time seeing and running at night so I had to dial my pace back even further.   Sections that were runnable I opened it up and was hitting a 9:00 – 9:30 min/mi.   Unfortunately those sections didn’t last very long before I came across another climb or more stupid rocks that I had tossed through the portal!

Coming through Last Chance for the final time I began the last few climbs.  The only thing that was going through my mind at this point was stopping by the food truck right after I finished and getting a cheese burger!  I was HUNGRY!

I finally came through through the fence and into the field running towards the finish line.  You could actually hear the cheers from the finish line about 2-miles out and the continued to grow louder and louder as I zig-zagged back and forth down the trails.  I ran towards the finish line and with the blink of an eye… it was over.   When the sun went down the temps dropped and I was so glad I didn’t see Liz out there.  Being in the truck staying warm was a MUCH better place!   I crossed the finish line and saw Rob and Jeremy there again.  Just like their own races at Trail Racing Over Texas they stayed there at the finish line to support all of their #TROT family.  You could not ask for two better guys and I am honored to call them friends.

I crossed the finish line and I didn’t grab for my buckle.  The first thing I did was shook Rob and Jeremy’s hand and thanked them.   Then I received my buckle.

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Mission Accomplished

While the buckle and experience are pretty amazing, the Mountain Hardwear Fleece is absolutely awesome!  I LOVE IT!  So much so that I wore it Sunday on the way home as we went walking around the San Marcus Outlets!

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The strategy that Karen and I worked out for this race was great!  The logic going in was that I was not running a 100k, I had individual races from Aid Station to Aid Station.  The furtherest aid station was 5.8mi which was shorter than my long “interval” runs.  I focused on the current race, made it to the next aid station, re-evaluated and was back into my next race.   For Bandera this was a great strategy as each segment had something to be aware of and plan for accordingly.  The strategy from Nachos to Chapas was not going to be the same thing as Crossroads 2 to Last Chance!    I gained a TON of valuable insight into this race and my racing and can’t wait until next year!

That wraps up this adventure!  I learned a lot of things at this race that I am going to take with me to my next one!   With all of my races, I had FUN and that is what matters to me the most.  Just look at my picture from the 1/2 way point!😀  I had the chance to catch up with trail friends that I don’t get to see very often and had the chance to meet even more!  That is the amazing thing about our trail community!

So what is next you ask?

Next I will be headed out to Rocky Raccoon 100 (with the camper again) to pace one of my dearest friends for her 2d 100 mile race!   My next race will actually take me to Pennsylvania to run the Naked Bavarian 40mi on March 6th.  Between now and then I want to focus on preparing for this race.  The terrain is really tame, but for all intense purposes it will be self supported for me.   The race consists of 2x 20 mile loops with a drop bag at the start/finish.  I am looking for a 7:30 finish time at this race!

Unfortunately that may be my last race until Franklin Mountains Trail Run 50k in September.  I will be headed across the pond in May and not retuning until the beginning of September.

You WILL see me at random Trail Racing Over Texas events between here and there though!  Depending on the schedule I will make an appearance for a surprise run or head out and volunteer for Rob and Rachel!

I almost completely forgot to circle back around on something!  I did qualify for Western States Endurance Run 100!  That means December I will be at the mercy of the lottery to run WS100!

Until next time… #MilesAndSmiles

2015 Blog in review

Wow!  My blog was viewed 1500 times year!  Who knew!   The final blog of the year will be coming in a few days!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Grinch that Stole the Lead!

The period of time surrounding Brazos Bend 100 was so surreal that it required yet another blog post.  Like many of my posts, this is raw, unedited, and just FUN!

This is an unusual “race report” simply because I wasn’t running! My entire plan for BB100 was to volunteer for the setup, prep, and the race itself. Since I was going to be running an Aid Station again for this race, I couldn’t possibly do it without having FUN! Rob’s forecast called for 100% fun so it was only fitting right?

While out in El Paso working at the Franklin Mountains Trail Race I was told what the theme of the race would be and what the shirt would be. I knew INSTANTLY what my costume was going to be…I was going to be The Grinch! The Grinch is actually a very fitting costume for me for several reasons. 1) I may come across a bit harsh at times 2) Like the Grinch at the end of the movie, I will bend over backwards for people, and 3) This is probably the most important! I had the chance to use LIME GREEN makeup! I have a thing about lime green so this was just the icing on the cake!

I was getting more and more excited the closer we came to the race. After completing Jackalope Jam, my wife and I actually bought a camper. This race was going to be the first time pulling the camper out!! Couple the new camper outing in addition to the race itself.. There was a lot of anxiety building up!

Let’s talk about this camper a bit. After we bought the camper, my wife went through and began making it a home and making sure it had EVERYTHING we needed. We had cleaning supplies, trashcans, coffee, toaster, first aid kit… We had EVERYTHING! Even though she wasn’t with me, she made this trip flawless with all of her preparations! I cannot wait to go on a trip together with her!

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I have arrived at Brazos Bend State Park!!!!

I pulled into the park late Thursday afternoon and quickly jumped in with Rob and James; It was now time to start working! We worked pretty quickly and got all of the aid station tents set up (except for one). We wrapped up well before sunset which gave me the chance to head into town (not exactly close; I ended up driving 20mi to get some dinner) as well as get out with the alligators for a little bit. I must say, Brazos Bend State Park is DARK, DARK, DARK at night! I was literally the only one around the pavilion Thursday night so there was no noise, no light… just me, my camper, and my generator!

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My home for the weekend!

Friday morning we were going to start working “bright and early”. In typical fashion, before we started the day, I needed to get in a run. Since I didn’t have much time to run and shower before we started working I just ran the first 5mi of the course around 40-acres lake, Elms lake, and back to the start line. Let me tell you something that I learned about Brazos Bend State Park in the early morning hours. So I absolutely LOVE running at night. There is something about the stillness and solitude that I really connect with. Well at 5:30 in the morning, there is no solitude in that park! As I was running towards 40-Acre lake I realized that on both sides of the trailI was being watched! I was looking all over the water and edge of the trails in hopes of finding an alligator (secretly I wanted a selfie from a distance!). While I didn’t see any gators, what I did come across was the splashing of gators in the water feeding in the morning. While having a love for the night; this was VERY unsettling! I couldn’t see them, but I heard them and that was enough for me to run a bit faster! It was so fun and exciting…I almost wish I was going to be toeing the line Saturday morning! That was only short lived… I have been patiently waiting for this race to get here…I had other plans in store for the world!

After my run I returned to the camper, took a shower in my shiny new camper, and sat outside enjoying my “special” coffee.

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mmmmm… Coffee!

While waiting for everyone to show up, I began hanging all of the Christmas decorations at the Aid Station with one of the volunteers. All of the Christmas lights were up and working and the snow man took his spot on the corner of the tent! We were FESTIVE!

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The Aid Station is festive and ready to go!

 

Around 9am the crew began showing up and that meant it was time to get busy! The Uhaul pulled up and that only meant one thing; It was time to get unloaded and get cracking. While there was a lot of work to do, we all worked really well together and had the UHaul unloaded and semi-organized pretty quick. All of the volunteers that were out there were awesome! No-one asked questions, no one BSd…We simply did what needed to get done! Once we had the truck unloaded, we began sifting through the food and distributing everything across the 4 aid stations. This is where I think I had somewhat of an advantage. Being that I was the main aid station, we just had to drag all of my food and boxes a few hundred feet. Once we finished the aid stations we quickly jumped over to the start line to get all of the electronics set up. Next thing you know, we were done with the day’s prep and getting ready for Santa Claus to conduct the race briefing!

I must say, Rob really does put a lot of heart into his briefings. It was informative and FUN! How could it not be fun! He was Santa Claus!

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Santa “Rob” Claus killing the race briefing!

The rest of the evening I spent getting my aid station organized, filling my water jugs, and walking around chatting with everyone! This is one of the many things I love about trail running. The community is absolutely awesome and this race was no exception! I even got to spent some time talking with Marc at the Orange Mud tent (and even tried pitching products on people!). After making my rounds, it was finally time to head back to the camper. I had to wake up at 3:30am if I was going to make a timely appearance at race start!

The moment of truth had come… My alarm went off at 3:30am and it was time to get started. I kicked on the generator (sorry everyone) and made some coffee. I WAS only going to make a few cups of coffee, but I came across several people that had inquired about coffee so I made 2 big pots of coffee and put them in the thermos for those that wanted to get some coffee prior to their race. Once the coffee was made, there was only one thing left to do… BECOME THE GRINCH!

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The tools of the trade!

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Let the transformation begin!

I had gone through a practice exercise putting on the makeup a week prior to the race. This was going to be my first attempt at makeup so admittedly I was a bit nervous. Truth be told (ok… a lot of people know this) I am a it of a perfectionist. I didn’t want this costume to be ok… I wanted this costume to be perfect! I opened up the youtube video and began going through the steps to transform myself into The Grinch! After all was said and done, it took about an hour to apply the makeup. While I think there are things that I could have done differently, I was really pleased with how it came out and couldn’t wait to walk out of the camper and assume my position at the main aid station…

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Allow me to introduce you to… THE GRINCH!

Many of you have worked aid stations, run through aid stations, or watched aid stations. I had the absolute BEST volunteers at the aid station with me and can only hope I get the pleasure of working with them again! As each race distance started, I moved over to the start line to help Rob wrangle the runners and get our athletes ready to hit the trails. I actually had A LOT of fun doing this! Once we kicked out the 100mi and 50mi runners the real fun started. I actually led out the runners for both the 13.1 and 26.2 races. So there was a period of about 100′ that I can say I was ahead of some AWESOME runners!! (Sorry Jeff lol)

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The Grinch who Stole the Lead!

Once all of the racers took off, it was time for us to get busy at the aid station. For the rest of the day I worked with the rest of the volunteers to make sure all of our runners were taken care of. Filling bottles and bladders, making sure everyone had the calories they needed, proving basic first aid and Trail Toes to runners as needed, and even taking breaks to take pictures with runners and kids in the area that wanted their picture with The Grinch.

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“Candy Cane” and I!  Candy Cane was the winner of the runner’s costume contest!!

While I have worked Aid Stations in the past, this was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had at a race! Around 4:30pm came around it was time for me to put on my chef hat! We were getting the Aid Station ready to provide hot food for the runners as we went into the night. We were cooking ramen, mashed potatoes, and grilling quesadillas. One of our volunteers actually educated me on the art of potatoes and ramen. He was combining these! I had never heard of or tried this before but it seemed to be a HIT with the runners! I was having such an awesome time helping runners. I don’t think it could have gotten any better! I was wrong…

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The buffet and AWESOME Main Aid Station volunteers!

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Waldo and I having a BLAST at the Aid Station!

I guess around 7pm or so I was approached by a woman. For the life of me I can’t recall her name so I will just call her Cat’s mom! She came up to the aid station and was really concerned about her daughter Cat that was out running her first 100mi. Her mom said she didn’t have any pacers, was in a bad spot, and needed help. I was responsible for running the aid station so I couldn’t simply drop everything. One of the other awesome volunteers Lisa said that she would stay at the Aid Station if I wanted to go assist this runner. I went and talked to Rob and next thing I knew I was getting changed out of my costume and was getting ready to go pace this complete stranger. In typical fashion, I hadn’t been staying on top of my own hydration while working the aid station so I began getting rehydrated, mixed up my handheld of Tailwind, stuffed some Tailwind sample packs in my pocket to refuel on the course, and waited to hit the trails. Since I had been using my PETZL NAO headlamp I had to put it on the charger and hope to get enough charge to make it through the entire loop (good luck with that). I was in such a great mood. I just hoped that Cat was ready to deal with me once we got on the trails! I knew she was in a bad place so one of two things was going to happen. Either I was going to get her out of that low or I was going to be pushed in the mud!

Cat finally materialized and it was time to hit the trails. We left the aid station and headed into the night.

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Cat and I headed off into the darkness!

And what happened then? Well, in Brazos Bend they say
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

And then the true meaning of Christmas came through,
And the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!

And now that his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his racer towards the bright morning light.                                                      ~Myke Hermsmeyer

I have had so much coffee in me, I ended up talking A LOT! We talked about anything and everything I could think of. I wanted to make sure that her focus stayed on anything but the race to give the evils a chance to leave. We talked about my work, her work, running, triathlons, my family and wifey, dogs.. everything… Less than 4mi into our loop that is when it happened… The mud was VERY VERY slippery from the sporadic rain throughout the day. I was wearing my SKORA so I didn’t have the best mud traction so I slipped with practically every step. That is when it happened. My feet came out from under me and I landed flat on my back in the middle of the mud. I honestly wish I had my camera out… it would have been a rather entertaining picture! Luckily this happened not long before the 40 Acre Aid Station. Once we made it into the Aid Station, Cat hit up her drop box and I went into the bathroom to try and remove some of the mud from my hands and water bottle. Once my hands were clean, I was ready to go. Before long we hit the trails again and we were off on our journey. Now that we made it through the first section of the course we were going to have a lot of runnable section until we approached the backside and approached the other aid stations. I was really impressed with the pace that Cat was running. After 4 loops she still had a lot of strength, was in a great mode, and was moving along GREAT! It was around this point that I think she finally began getting sick of me (I know if I was her, I would have gotten sick of me long ago). She ended up putting her headphones in and we moved out in silence. While she didn’t say it, I am pretty sure she just didn’t want to hear me anymore and that is perfectly fine! I was there to help her any way I possibly could. If that meant I stopped talking and simply provided silent company then so be it!

Throughout our loop we came across another runner that was sitting on the side of the trail in bad shape. I actually had Cat go on ahead while I talked to this runner. She was also in a bad spot and didn’t believe she was going to be able to finish. I did my best to encourage her and try to get her to continue moving. I don’t know how successful I was, but I tried. Once it was said and done I headed back out on the trail chasing after Cat. Apparently I stopped to talk to this other runner longer than I thought. I ended up having to run run sub 7min/mi to catch up!

The rest of our loop was on and off chatting. I actually had a lot of fun talking with Cat during those few hours and was honored to have the opportunity to pace her! In addition to pacing her, I also got to chat with all of the runners I knew out on the course! I really had A LOT of fun out there! After we cross through the Windmill Aid Station we came across another obstacle. My headlamp finally began to die. What’s worse, it died on the worst part of the trail where I actually NEEDED the light. From the Windmill Aid Station all the way to the Sawmill Aid Station I ended up relying on Cat’s headlamp and only turned my light on in case of an absolute emergency. Luckily this portion of the trail wasn’t very runnable by this point so it wasn’t that big of a deal. We rolled into Sawmill and I came across a savior. Julie was now there working her shift and she let me bower her headlamp! (THANKS JULIE!) We kept on pushing through and before we knew it, we were approaching the start line. As much as I wish I could have taken Cat out for her final loop, I really needed to get back to the Aid Station. I just hoped that I was able to lift her up enough to kill the next loop. Before long she was off into the darkness by herself. I promised her when she left that I would be at the finish line at the end of her race and I was going to make sure that is exactly where I was.

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My SKORA Running Tempos didn’t look so green at the end!

After pacing Cat, I jumped in the shower, cleaned off “The Grinch” and took a quick 2-hour nap. I came out of my brief nap to see that the world had unraveled while I was sleeping. There were tents blown all over, tents broken, and volunteers hanging onto tent poles to make sure they didn’t blow away.

Whatever happened, the focus had shifted to tent survival. For the next few hours, our job was simple… hold onto the tents so they don’t blow away. At 6:00am (about 2-hours later),we collapsed the main aid station under the pavilion and that marked an end to the aid station responsibilities.

At first light I quickly packed up the camper and patiently waited with the other volunteers for the rain to let up so we could begin packing up. Every runner that came in I looked to see if it was Cat. It was windy, raining, and cold! Around 7:30am the cold front blew through and it felt like the temperature dropped 30 degrees.. it got COLD and it got cold QUICK!

Throughout this entire ordeal I was able to witness a remarkably resilient woman. Cat’s mom, through the wind, rain, and cold stood or sat out in the rain watching the start line waiting for her daughter to finish her first 100mi race. She was such a remarkable woman for being there and supporting her daughter. She would make anyone proud! It really made me happy when her mom came to the pavilion to wait rather than waiting in the rain. Through the rain we finally saw a runner approaching the finish line. Both her mother and I were unsure if it was her until she got closer and we realized it WAS Cat! We both hurried to the finish line to great her as she crossed the line and finished her first 100mi race! All of the runners that were coming in were soaked and cold. One of the volunteers was nice enough to use his vehicle to warm up the runners as they came in. Cat’s race had come to an end and she retreated to the car to slowly warm up. While Rob was the one to award Cat with her 100mi buckle, I had the opportunity to give her the next best thing! Not only did Cat finish her 1st 100mi race, she was also the 3d Overall Female finisher for the race! I took her 3d place award to her in the car and congratulated her again. Giving Cat her award provided me with a sense of closure.

Having the opportunity to pace her that night really meant a lot to me. I had paced my best friend on the exact same course the year prior so being asked to pace someone again out there really meant a lot to me. Cat endured a lot during that race and overcame a lot of obstacles. While we didn’t know one another when I put my costume on that morning, I was honored to have made a friend that night at Brazos Bend 100.

There was such much that happened at this race there is no way for me to capture it all… From meeting some of the great TROT runners, working with and meeting many of the TROT ambassadors, and meeting such amazing athletes like Patrick Sweeney, Alex Ramsey, and Arnulfo Quimare!

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With Arnulfo Quirmare after finishing his 50mi race!

This race would not have been possible had it not been for my wife Elizabeth.  Like always, she made sure everything was perfect!   The Grinch existed because of her.  She did a fantastic job on the shirt!  It came out better than I could have imagined!  The camper was perfectly stocked with everything I needed (and those things I didn’t know I needed!).  The only thing that was missing was her!

I hope you all enjoyed the post and had an amazing time at the race!   Don’t worry..you will see me again (in costume) at another TROT race in the future!

My next adventure will take me to Bandera 100k (with the wife) where I will actually be racing for a change!

Thank you everyone for making this such a memorable event and to the amazing volunteers and runners that make each and every TROT race a success!  A special thank you to Rob and Rachel for allowing me to be a part of this journey with you!   The two of you have done such great things for our community…I am honored to be a part of it!

Pounding Pavement – Jackalope Jam Race Report

First off… This is LATE, LATE, LATE.  I had meant to get this out several times and it just never happened!   My bad!  Here it is!  :D

Coming back from Afghanistan I needed a race to do and Jackalope Jam peeked my interest; it was a new race, had a buckle, and was a step for me into the “distance” world. As many of you know, I primarily run trails and have NEVER run a timed race before. This race not only took me off the trails, but was also a timed event.

So a little bit about the race. Jackalope Jam was a 6/12/24 hr race hosted by Trail Racing Over Texas. First off, if you have never attended one of their races, the RDs do a fantastic job and each and every race they put on. Whether it is a kids race, or a 100mi race. They give everyone a top notch race experience! Jackalope Jam was no different!

I was feeling good going into the race; My training was where I wanted it to be, have logged all of back to back longs rungs getting the body used to running on tired legs, and dialed in my nutrition. Much of my training leading up to this was all in Afghanistan running along the side of the road in the sand/dirt (admittedly I REALLY dislike running roads…come to find out that is going to bite me later on). Once I returned back from Afghanistan in September my training dropped back a little bit, but still felt great on all of my runs. I was still hitting my long runs, but was spending more time with the family. That reality still exists for me… Family > Running and that will never change.🙂

Going into this race, I had some bigs goals. this was going to be my first 50mi, first 100k, and was hoping for this to be my first 100mi as well. I knew going in that this was going to be on a 1mi track and that was going to be the biggest challenge for me. For those that have run with me in the past, I absolutely despise loops.  The smaller the loop, the harder the run is for me.  I would much rather do a point-to-point race or BIG loops. The problem for me is that once I see my car, wife, or fun at the start line my mind starts wondering and I want to park it!

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Flat John is ready to rock!

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The truck is loaded and ready to go!

This race was pretty exciting for me because my wife was going to be joining me and camping out at out the start line (which in itself resulted in something pretty cool!).   We travelled to the park the day before the race and made several stops on the way to go shopping.  (Why not right!).  We were actually the FIRST ones to arrive at the park.  We arrived, setup the tent, and just kicked back and relaxed.

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Our racing paradise! lol  This is camping🙂

 

In the midst of all of this I wanted to check out the course so I set out on an easy 1mi walk/run to see what I had ahead of me.   That is when the degree of mind-pain set in for me.   I already knew this was a mile loop (which is expected in a timed race) and I even saw the “course map” on the site before I arrived.   The map on the site almost looked like an out-and-back course but I just assumed it looked that way as a result of the map scale.    Guess what!!  I WAS WRONG!   The course was literally a 1/2mi out-and-back.   That made this pretty challenging for me.

That night, my wifey and I went out, had dinner at a local restaurant, stopped and filled my water jug with water so I could make mix my Tailwind Nutrition and returned back to the tent.   At this point, there was nothing more I could do to prepare.  All I had left to do was sleep.

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Go Tailwind Nutrition!

The next day one of our friends (Elizabeth G) drove all the way down from Killeen to hang out with us.   I can’t thank her enough.  I wasn’t worried about people being there to support me… I was running a 1mi loop… Not too much support is needed for that🙂    I was more worried about someone for my wifey to hang out with.  :)    While we had our tent neighbors, it was great that my wife had a “FRIEND”!  THANK YOU ELIZABETH!!!!

RACE DAY!

The morning of the race I did what I always do… I woke up at the buck-crack-of dawn and realized something was off… I HAD NO COFFEE!!!   First things first.. I jumped in the truck and went out looking for my coffee!  Once I came back I sat outside the tent enjoying my coffee wishing I had the missing ingredient;  I didn’t have Bailey’s!    About 2-hours before the race start I began setting up my aid station along the route (which was only about 20′ from the tent).  I had my cooler in place with Tailwind Nutrition, boiled potatoes, and extra socks (just in case).

The time finally came to toe the line and jump into this next journey. My plan as simple.  I was going to do a 5min run, 1 min walk as long as I could mentally take it.   As always, I started off a bit brisker than I had wanted, but since I as going to be turning around in only 1/2 mi I wasn’t too worried about it.  I quickly got into my grove and just began moving forward.    The course itself was actually a 1/2 mi pavement path through the park.   Since my ankle injuries and surgery I have never enjoyed pavement/road/etc.   Put simply… the pounding on the hard surface hurts my old joints.   Funny that one of the things that began bugging me first was passing the same people every few minutes.  I am accustomed to greeting everyone on the trail as we pass.   After waving to people a few dozen times I fell into my own little world and just casually smiled at times.     One thing I did note is that Jeff Ball lapped me 9x during his 6hr race!

Throughout my run I did get a chance to chat with A LOT of people and really had a great time.  I had the chance to meet a lot of great runners from many different places and had an absolute blast!

My plan going into the race was pretty solid.  No matter what happened, I was leaving with a buckle and a new distance PR, and injury free and I walked away from that race with all three goals accomplished!   My initial goal was 100mi.   After the first 30mi on the course I reassessed those goals and focused on the 100k instead.   While my body felt great throughout the entire race, it was the pavement and the 1/2mi out and back that did it for me.  :)   The other piece that was weighing heavy on me was we needed to pack up and drive 3 1/2hrs to get home the following morning.

After reevaluating my goals, I turned the race into a FUN time!  I focused on the running community, chatting with people, and hanging out with my wife and Elizabeth.   Yes… I said hanging out!    After I reassessed my goals I stopped at my tent every hour and just hung out with them… I kicked back on my hammock and enjoyed the company and time.

HUGE kudos to people that compete in timed races.  That takes a special kind of mental strength to get out there and endure that 1mi loop for 24hours.

At 16hr (after several hours of BSing with friends and family) I completed my 64 miles.   The board said 62 but my Suunto said 64.  Either way.. It was a 100k and I walked away with my first buckle!

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Dorky picture but I have my buckle🙂

TRAINING ASSESSMENT

Now comes the strange part.  This race actually ended up being my first 50mi AND my first 100k.   Truth be told, that 100k number was scary.  I have my eyes set on a 100mi TRAIL race in 2016, but for some odd reason 100k concerned me.   Well after I finished my race I sat down in my hammock and had an “Apple Juice”.   For those who know me, there is no question in your mind what I drank!   I used some Body Pills and cleaned up a little, packed up my aid station, and crawled onto the air mattress to get some sleep.  I went to be feeling great but I was honestly expecting to wake up sore from the 64mi of pavement pounding.

The next morning I woke up, scooted myself off the air mattress and stood up.   What I learned is that all of my training up to that race was spot on.   There was no soreness, no pain, not a single blister, cramp, NOTHING!!   Not only did I run my first 100k, I didn’t have any DOMS to go with it!   In fact, that day I still went for a run and was back on the trails doing my thing the following day.

Now that I put that scary number behind me, I was ready for the world and my next trip would take me to Bandera 100k!

GEAR

Gear and Hydration is was spot on.   I ran about 40 miles in my SKORA Running Tempos and my FEET felt absolutely awesome!  While my feet felt great, the pounding on the pavement was starting to get the best of my old broken ankles.  :)   As far as fuel/hydration goes, I stayed on my normal fueling routine and kept the Tailwind going.  I was taking in approx. 250 calories per hour of Tailwind throughout the entire race.   I do also add boiled new potatoes to the mix as well.  Not for the calories but to relax my mind.   Sometimes I just get happy eating🙂   A special thanks to SKORA Running and Tailwind Nutrition.   They offer phenomenal products that have really changed the way I run!

THE RACE

The race was put on by Rob and Rachel Goyen over at Trail Racing Over Texas.   If you have never been to one of their races, you simply MUST start.   Regardless of the location or distance, Rob and Rachel go all out and put together a first class event!   Their races are 100% fully supported to include fantabulously stocked aid stations and volunteers!    While the Jackalope Jam was a timed race, that didn’t change a thing.     They treated this race just like a 100mi race or any other ultra.   There was a fully stocked aid station, course markings (yes… even on a 1/2mi track), and some of the best volunteers out there!

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TROT always has awesome, awesome volunteers!

This was the first year Jackalope 6/12/24hr was run, but it is definitely a must do Trail Racing Over Texas race!  Be sure to check out the next one!!

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My new addition to the bib board!

WHAT’S NEXT??

Before I talk about what is next I need to thank the single greatest person in the world… That is my wife.   While I may be the one doing the running, it is her support that allows me to do just that.   She always makes sure I have what I need, everything is packed (and then some), and gets out there and supports me when she can.   We are a union and in order to be involved in the sport I love, I need the support of the person I love.   Put simply… Races are not the same without her by my side.   I love you honey!

So what does that possibly have to do with “What’s Next”?

Well one of the challenges we have with races is the duration and availability to facilities.  Without getting into the specifics… we need to have facilities available to us when we go somewhere and tent living doesn’t exactly provide that.  So how do you fix that?  You buy a camper!!!
On the way to the Jackalope Jam we actually stopped at an RV place and took a look at them to get an idea and see what would work for us.   I honestly wasn’t expecting much to come out of that, but I was wrong!

A few weeks after the race we went to Fun Town RV in Waco.  We are now the proud owners of a camper!  The best part about it… That means my wifey will also be at Bandera 100k with me!!   I could not be more excited😀

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Now we are glamping at races!

240th Army Birthday 10k Afghanistan Review!

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Army Birthday 10k Birthday Cake

For millions of Americans and supporters around the globe, June 14th is not only recognized as Flag Day, but for the military and its veterans, it is also the United States Army’s Birthday.  During the early morning hours of June 14, over 400 multinational service members, DoD civilians, and government contractors began gathering at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan to celebrate the 240th Army Birthday with a 10k race.

The Bagram Support Group Commander, COL Stephanie E. Gradford provided 1LT Tanner Glodt, of the 414th Military Police Detachment, the opportunity of providing all of the tenants of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan with the 240th Army Birthday 10k run. It was a spectacular event that set the standard for future organized events on Bagram Airfield. The 240th Army Birthday 10k was only a success due to the combined support of numerous organizations to include the US Forces Afghanistan Bagram Support Group, United Service Organizations (USO), Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), and Military Auto Source (MAS).

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Organizers preparing to cut the cake post-run. Photo by #US4A

Bagram, Airfield offers an amazing opportunity for running as you can run upwards of 10mi without double backing on any of the roads. This provides a perfect stage for any number of races from a 5k to even 24-hour races. While there are many opportunities to attend races, I have found that the majority of races here at Bagram are very much like the secret race scene that you would find in Fast and the Furious. Very rarely do you hear about these races and when you do, it is usually because you see a group of runners barreling down Disney Drive towards the finish.

The 240th Army Birthday 10k was definitely the exception, and in my opinion was the best-organized and executed race that I have been a part of at Bagram Airfield. This wasn’t simply a race, the organizers did an absolute fantastic job at the planning and execution and made this an actual event!

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At the start line getting ready to race!

For several months leading up to this day, there were flyers posted all over Bagram announcing this monumental race that would include free shirts, prizes for the winners, guest speakers, and even a birthday cake! In the past, if I heard of a race, of any distance, that was my queue to toe the line with the rest of the runners and use it as an opportunity to set new Personal Record (PR), which I have done twice since I arrived in Afghanistan. With the significance of this race and celebrating the Army’s 240th birthday I wanted to do a bit more; While I am a government contractor in Afghanistan, I am also a retired Infantryman and hold the United States Army close to my heart.

I reached out to SKORA Running and talked to them about the possibility of sponsoring the race. My original plan was to personally offer a pair of shoes to the winner and asked SKORA if they would match my offer. Instead, SKORA came back and offered to provide a pair of shoes for both the male AND female overall winners! I was absolutely elated by their support for me, the race organizers, and our military service members and civilians here in Afghanistan. After speaking with the race organizer, 1LT Tanner, we were set!  There was a race, amazing prizes, and I was going to have the opportunity to represent SKORA Running and give out some free shoes, talking with people about Tailwind Nutrition and handing out samples, and just engaging with people!  I was EXCITED!

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Amazing prizes for the winners!

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Safety briefing and Announcemetns

I arrived at the event around 4:30 AM to link up with 1LT Glodt and chat with the many runners from all around the world that were all beginning to flock into the Warrior Bazaar to register for the race and pick up their race packets. The 3d Infantry Division Band was also at the registration performing for everyone. This really added to it. The band didn’t only perform your typical military-type pieces, but also incorporated some fun and entertaining pieces. Two pieces that jumped out at me in particular was the theme song from Super Mario Brothers and Game of Thrones! There was a mix of runners wearing their race event shirts for the 240th Army Birthday 10k, unit t-shirts from their respective military units, Physical Training (PT) uniforms, or random civilian running attire by those civilians partaking in the race. The field was comprised of runners from all walks of life and all fitness levels to include those running in body armor and even walking. Regardless of how they completed the 10k, the important part is that they DID complete the 10k.

Prior to the start of the race, 1LT Glodt and COL Gradford briefed everyone on the safety on the course, what actions to take in the event of any attack, and thanked everyone for his or her support and attendance. In addition to the race organizers, Maj. Gen Mike Murray, deputy commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan – Support also addressed those in attendance and spoke of the significance of this race taking place on the Army Birthday. After MG Murray finished his speech, I was invited up to the podium to introduce myself and announce the prizes I was offering to the overall male and female winner. Once all of the introductions and announcements were finished, there was only one thing left to do and that was to start the race!

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Me announcing SKORA Running prizes!  Photo by #US4A

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MG Murray speaking to the runners. Photo by #US4A

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Ready to race!

All of the participants gathered outside at the start line preparing to race. With this race taking place in Afghanistan, the organizers don’t have access to sophisticated timing or individual timing chips, the winners are based on who crosses the line first. This is not uncommon so those runners that were there to win arranged themselves on the line in the front of the pack. Many of them lined up with their hands strategically placed on their wrists ready to start their own watches. Before long, the race announcer, a Specialist in the United States Army, grabbed the megaphone and prepared the field… GO!

The 10k course, which actually ended up being a little over 11k consisted of “Warrior Loop”, an out-and-back course that took the runners past a small arms firing range to “four corners” where they turned around and headed back for a final lap around “Warrior Loop”.

41 minutes after the race started, at the sign of our first runner, the 3d Infantry Division Band once again began performing pieces to cheer on the finishers as they crossed the line and add to the esprit de corps of the event.

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Overall Male Winner…Photo by #US4A

The overall male winner of the race was Andrew Unsicker, 38, of Elkhart, Indiana with a time of 0:42:00. Andrew is a Major in the United States Air Force and an attorney. Andrew’s preferred races are marathons and half Ironmans and his goal is to get a sub 2:40 marathon and sub 11:00 on an Ironman!

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Overall Female Winner…Photo by #US4A

The overall female winner was Martina Skalova, 25, of the Czech Republic with a time of 0:44:11. Martina is a 2LT in the Czech Army and a representative of the Czech Army Pentathlon team and competed in Rio at the World Championships in 2013!  While a member of the Pentathlon Team, her favorite discipline is the run. Her preferred race distance is 5k and 10ks, but has the utmost respect for distance runners.😉   Like many runners, she uses running as a way to clear her mind!

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Me presenting our winners with their free shoes!

The best part of the event for me came when Andrew and Martina crossed the line and I had the honor of presenting them each with a pair of Tempos that were graciously provided by SKORA Running! I look forward to their first run and can’t wait to hear their feedback!

Until next month… Get out there and find your run!

A special thanks to SKORA Running and Tailwind Nutrition!  This was a great event!