Thursday, October 4, 2018

Grand Canyon R2R2R 2018

Joe and I just got back from a wonderful trip to the Grand Canyon with the Rockhoppers.  A bunch of us did the rim-to-rim-to-rim journey.  It was my second r2r2r, and Joe's first -- in fact, his first trip to the Grand Canyon, period.  I love the desert scenery of the canyon, and it was fun being on those trails again, and especially fun to get to share the adventure with Joe this time around.

Going into this run, I was only about 75-80% sure I'd be able to finish it -- it's a real challenge, and I haven't been feeling very fit lately.  Since my expectations about my ability level were pretty low going into it, I'm even more stoked about whole thing.

You can read Joe's report for more relevant (and probably more accurate) information. My report will mostly focus on the things I personally found entertaining.

Inauspicious Start: South Kaibab
The day got off to a rough start when our drivers pulled into the South Kaibab parking lot -- led by Rich, right past the "Do not enter" signs -- and we all got yelled at by the park ranger.  He commanded us to all get back in our cars and drive back to the road.

Here's a typical portrait of the differences between me and Joe:
My reaction: I got back in the car.
Joe's reaction: "Get your stuff, dude.  Get out of the car!"

Everyone scattered into the bushes, and we started down the trail.  It seemed like there were two or three other large groups starting at the same time as us.  It was crazy crowded for a couple miles, which was annoying.  It was very different from the last time we did r2r2r, in 2014, when we were the only crazies out there at 4am.

The number of people all around us made it hard to relieve ourselves, which was an urgent need.  This resulted in us having a version of Paul McCartney's song in our heads for most of the day: "Pee on the Run."

Possible verse:
"When you have to go, so you go in your clothes,
in front of everyone . . .
And you pee on the run"
(doo-doo-do-do-doo-do-do)

*Note: This verse is not representative of what actually happened.

Adventure-filled Middle: South Kaibab to North Kaibab
I accidentally left my poles by the water spigot at Phantom Ranch when we filled up there.  I didn't realize it until we'd left the area, and I didn't feel like backtracking.  I wrestled for a moment with the worry that they'd be in people's way, versus the relief at not having to carry them through the relatively flat stretch of the box canyon.  In the end, it worked out perfectly: I didn't have to carry them through the box canyon, and they were still there, exactly where I'd left them, when we returned to Phantom Ranch on the way back.  I had them just when I needed them, for the hike back up to the South Rim.

Random thoughts from this stretch:

Best comment from passerby:
"You could beat us going down.  But I could beat you in an arm wrestle."
-Mustachioed, cowboy-hat-wearing mule train driver to Joe

Most memorable conversation related to a tunnel:
"There's some shade!  We can rest!"
"That's Supai Tunnel."
"I'm gonna Supai the shit out of that tunnel."

Most-used phrase by Joe: Bony old Behind!



On our way up to the North Rim, we ran into MJ, who entertained us with her story about picking up hitchhikers on her drive to the rim.  She, along with Jeanie and numerous others, were Good Samaritans who helped a lot of people over the course of the trip.  It was nice getting to catch up with her, as she used to live in our neighborhood but has recently relocated to Colorado.

Joe and I topped out at the North Rim around 12:30pm.  I ate a good meal of a sandwich ball (in ball form because of its position at the bottom of Joe's bag), chips, and a big cookie.  We had fun catching up with the Rockhoppers who were already resting at the rim, and cheering for each new Rockhopper who arrived while we were there.

Friend-filled Finish: North Kaibab to Bright Angel
On our way down from the North Rim, at Coconino Overlook, a ranger named Beth asked me how far we were going.  When I responded that we were going back to the South Rim, she looked really sad for me and told me, "You don't have to do that."  Despite her concern, we forged ahead.

Somewhere around Supai Tunnel, Stefan and Edward decided to slow up and run with me and Joe.  Together, we waited out the three mule trains coming back up to the rim, dodged the enormous pools of mule piss, and trotted back down to Manzanita Springs.

Coming into the springs area, the wind picked up.  It was blowing my floppy hat right off my head, blowing my hair all crazy, and blowing dust into our mouths and noses.  But it was so fun.  The whole experience -- to be running with friends, out in this beautiful landscape, and sharing it all with my husband.

By the time we got to the springs, we were quite warm, so we took a dip in the springs as Joe helped filter and refill water bottles for some hikers that had only brought 16.9-ounce plastic water bottles into the canyon for some reason.

Other ways Joe was a super hero:

  • He carried (and ran with) a full-size backpack for 50 miles.  In the backpack, he carried my sandwiches, as well as a full-size bag of chips.  
  • He let me run and hike ahead and set the pace.  He never left me behind, even though he is much faster than I am.
  • He filtered all our water throughout the hike, so I didn't have to bother with bringing my own filter.
Places we soaked in the cool water on our way back to the South Rim:
  • Manzanita Springs
  • Cottonwood
  • Ribbon Falls (I soaked my head only)
  • Phantom Ranch (where I got my trekking poles back -- a r2r2r miracle!)
Each of these water stops was refreshing, as even in the shade of the box canyon, it was quite warm.  The heat seemed trapped in the canyon, with no breeze.  In between, we mostly jogged.  Edward and Stefan would pull away, and then they'd sit and wait for us to catch up.  I was fueled by my SnackzelTM -- a conglomeration of melted chocolate-covered pretzels that had fused together into a log.  Brought to me by the makers of SnacklogTM, which was Edward's invention during Bigfoot 200.

I was eager to get to the Colorado River before dark, and we made it just in time.  I love watching the water roll past under my feet while walking across the silver bridge.  The glow of the setting sun on the mountain was pretty magical, too.

At the Colorado River, Edward and Stefan pulled well away from us.  Joe and I slogged through the sandy trail up and back down, and then up toward Indian Garden as darkness set.  It seemed to take forever before we made it there.  By that time, the stars were out, and they were incredibly brilliant.  We took advantage of some benches, refilled, saw Edward and Stefan take off, and then headed toward the next landmark, the 3-mile hut.

At the 3-mile hut, I wanted to sit and rest a moment, but Joe was raring to go.  "Let's get this shit over with."  So we continued power-walking to the 1.5-mile hut, where we saw Stefan recovering from a bonk.  This time Joe wanted to stay lying down, looking at the stars, but Stefan mentioned that the pizza place at the South Rim was open until 11pm, and it was only about 9:15pm, so I made Joe get up and get going.  Joe, Stefan, and I stayed together until the Bright Angel trailhead, where of course, Jeanie was waiting for us.  It was about 10pm; the hike/run had taken us 17 hours and change.  Jeanie stayed up all night greeting Rockhoppers as they finished, bringing us into her warm room, feeding us, and driving us back to our rooms.

Joe and I went straight to the pizza place.  We enjoyed trying to convince the people at the table next to us that we'd done a double crossing of the canyon.  They'd smile and nod, and then ask us again a couple minutes later, "So you went all the way to the river and back?"  After a bit, Rob and CJ joined us, and Rob took over the task of trying to explain to them the silly thing we'd done.

The real end of the story came the next day, around noon, as Rich, Don, and Janet finished, to the cheers of all the Rockhoppers who were gathered at the Bright Angel trailhead.  It was incredibly inspiring to see this group of 60+ years-young runners who had persevered through the heat of the canyon, the unending climbs to the rims, and a sleepless night to finish this monumental task.  I sincerely hope Joe and I can be as strong and full of life as we continue to age.

At the end of r2r2r, as soon as we finished, we agreed that we'd never do it again.  "Good job!  Now let's never speak of it again."


But never say never, right, Joe?

Monday, September 3, 2018

3rd Annual Whataburger Challenge -- Race Directors’ Recap

3rd Annual Whataburger Challenge
Race Directors’ Recap


The thunder was rumbling in San Antonio this Labor Day morning . . . or was that the sound
of competitors' stomachs anticipating revolt?

Twelve hungry competitors vied for the coveted title of Whataburger Challenge Champion
this year, to the delight of numerous spectators and photographers. Notably missing was
much-touted course-record-holder Brian "Banjo McNaturepants" Ricketts. Ricketts has
turned out to be a one-and-done eat & run challenger. Some critics have been overheard
wondering whether his first win wasn't a fluke, since he refuses to toe the line for a rematch.
He was seen at the final WB location today, driver there perhaps by fear of losing his CR.

Another noted absence was Matt "The Assassin" Smith. Although Smith vehemently
protested recent criticism that he is all talk and no walk, he "pretty much validated
everything you guys said" by failing to show up on race day, according to Chris Russell,
an objective source.

After a quick pre-race briefing by RD Joe Schmo, the gun went off at 8:12 and the gorging
began. The first racer out of his chair was John Denny, heretofore unknown by
Whataburger competitors -- a ringer brought in by The Sheriff to compete in his stead. By
his speed in putting away his #1 combo, though, he was clearly The Sheriff's superior,
thereby earning him the nickname "Chief." The other competitors soon followed down
Dezavala Road, highlighted by Sweet Chris and his usual harem of female supporters.

Eric, feelin' fine at WB1
Leaving the first WB location, Steffan lamented, “I’m already kind of full” -- a sentiment that unfortunately hinted at the poor showing he would have.  Meanwhile, Zmolek noted with confidence that this challenge was far from the most disgusting thing he’d ever done, having once eaten a stick of butter for $5.

Zmolek, not at all intimidated by all the Rockhoppers
For the third year in a row, Schmo was the first to arrive at WB2; but for the first year ever, he was also the first to finish the #2 combo and leave.  Joe T and first-time WB entrant Edgar Gonzalez arrived at WB2 together a few minutes behind Schmo, and ordered their food as Schmo started eating. It was here that the drama increased -- Charles S. (possibly irked by his 12-1 pre-race odds) was the 4th to order, but when the next tray of food came out, he claimed it ahead of Joe T and Edgar, at which point he hurriedly zipped outside to eat.  In his defense, he gave the WB employee his number as the food came out, but the employee still handed it off; nevertheless the nickname “Hamburglar” was born.

Hamburglar dining al fresco
Zmolek and Steffan both quit before finishing their 2nd meal, while Edgar, Tom, and Larry persevered through their 2nd meal only to DNF by not ordering a #3.  Although an admirable technique, Edgar’s trick of dunking his burger patties, buns, and fries in water, in a dip-dip-chew pattern did not ultimately help his race as he got lost on the way to the third WB.  Even WBC veteran Tom “Wrong Way” Bowling added a bonus mile due to a wrong turn on the way to WB3 (although in light of his longstanding nickname, we suppose that isn’t so surprising).

Chris R trying to pawn off some of his fries to Chris P at WB2
On the run to the 3rd WB location, Joe T was practically flying.  He passed John and Charles, and was gunning for Schmo, fueled entirely by hamburger grease and raw fury over his mistreatment at WB2.  

Schmo, although not moving quite as well as before, arrived several minutes ahead of the
others at the third restaurant and ordered the #3 combo (triple patties) that has plagued him
so severely in years past.

Joe T arrived second.  After ordering, he remained at the counter, hovering there to ensure
that he (and only he) would get his order as soon as possible.  When he finally took his seat,
he carefully chose the exact seat that had been graced by his meat sweats on this day two
years ago.

Joe T ordering at WB3

The meat sweats
Joe T bore down immediately while Schmo hit the wall (as usual) halfway into his burger and slowed significantly.  Demonstrating the same awe-inspiring greatness of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Phelps, Joe “Jose Mañana” Tammaro became the 3rd annual Whataburger Challenge champion with a time of 1:56!  Upon finishing, he immediately power-walked outside to puke (in front of several delighted spectators) and came back refreshed, grinning from ear to ear.

Without pain, there is no joy
Sometime while the two Joes were battling it out, the Chief arrived and started eating his #3.  He was starting to regret how quickly he’d eaten his first two meals, and his underling, the Sheriff, was protesting how many fries the WB employees had heaped on John’s tray -- no doubt thinking they were doing him a favor with their generosity. Although he looked almost as miserable as Schmo early on, even stating “I don’t think I can finish it,” at some point he got a second wind and toughed it out to finish his meal in a time of 2:25.

Chris P encouraging the Chief to press on at WB3

The Chief, taking care of bidness
Meanwhile, Charles visited the restroom for a routine evacuation, only to be overwhelmed by the terrible smell and spontaneously lose all the food he’d so carefully piled into his stomach.  Not wanting to order a penalty Patty Melt, he called it a day.

Don Flynn, listening to Jock Rock vol. 2 for motivation (we presume)
Schmo kept plugging away, determined to slay his past WB3 demons, and finished less than 10 minutes before the 11am cutoff in 2:39 -- the slowest recorded finishing time to date.

Schmo giving a speech and wiping away tears before consuming his last fry
Schmo would be the last finisher, but ageless eater (well ok, he’s age 63) Bleeding Don Flynn again destroyed most of the younger competitors, earning a 4th place finish based on the weight of uneaten contents.

The podium

Applause for the champion

Whataburger love

Results

Place
Runner
Time/Food Remaining
1
Joe “Jose Mañana” Tamarro
1:56
2
John “Chief” Denny
2:25
3
Joe “Schmo” Schmal
2:39
4
“Bleeding” Don Flynn
0.686 lbs remaining of #3
5
Eric “Game Time Decision” Lamkin
0.818 lbs remaining of #3
6
“Sweet” Chris Russell
0.875 lbs remaining of #3
7
Charles “Hamburglar” Steinkuehler
Puked at WB #3
8
Edgar “We Run” Gonzalez
DNF after WB #2
9
Tom “Wrong Way” Bowling
DNF after WB #2
10
Larry “Ocean” Kocian
DNF after WB #2
11
Matt “Put the Wet Stuff on the Red Stuff” Zmolek
0.115 lbs remaining of #2
12
“The” Steffan Andersland
0.675 lbs remaining of #2

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Runniversary


At last weekend's Capt'n Karl's race at Reveille Peak Ranch (RPR), two runners got married on top of the granite dome during the 10k.  Although Joe and I didn't get married at the ranch, it's also a special place for our relationship.  

We started dating the night before RPR in 2016.  On Saturday (race day), we carpooled to the race together, ran our races (Joe did the 30k, I did the 60k), drove back to San Antonio together in the early hours of Sunday morning, separated for a few hours so Joe could buy a washer and dryer and I could get one hour of sleep, and then we got back together for Mass at the Cathedral, a walk on the River Walk, dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, games at Main Event, and finally a Rockhopper picnic.  Whew!  It must have been new love fueling that big weekend.  Nowadays, we don't have nearly that much energy.

Another key remembrance about the RPR 60k in 2016 was that Joe had to wear a t-shirt of my choosing, since I won our bet about the Fossil Valley 9-hour race.  We had Chris Russell help us figure out a handicap for the bet, and we ended up saying Joe would win if he ran two more laps than I did.  It turned out that we ran the same number of laps, so I carefully chose a My Little Pony shirt, which I gave Joe the night before the race, as his punishment.  He dutifully wore it for the entire race, and actually got some nice compliments on it.  I think the fact that he wore it with such confidence is what won people over.
FB reminded me that this was our first photo together!

I made him stand in a boat for some reason.

He's so adorable. 💕
Hopefully in 2019 we can both run the race together again -- and for many more years to come! Love you, Joe!

Reveille Peak Ranch 60k - my 6th year in a row

On Saturday night, I ran the 60k at Reveille Peak Ranch.  I love that race.  However, on Saturday afternoon I was still feeling like I'd rather stay at home with Joe and the girls than leave by myself, drive up to Burnet, and stay up all night running.

In the end, of course, I'm glad I went.  I felt like I was able to push myself to keep running much better than I was able to a few weeks ago at the Colorado Bend 60k.  I know that I still have a ways to go to get back to the ultra-ready type of fitness I've had in the past.  But maybe my plan of "racing my way" back into fitness is showing some results, anyways.  I've also been doing one hill repeat workout a week, which I hope will pay off as well.

According to my GPS, this year's course was 34.5 miles.  (A 60k is the equivalent of 37.2 miles.) The ranch is under construction, and the course had to be re-routed slightly, so I wanted to go back to my old data to see whether it was drastically longer than in previous years. I can't compare it to my GPS data from 2017,  because my watch had died mid-way through that race.  However, in 2016, my data said the course was 35.4 miles, so maybe it's always been a bit short.

If this year's course was shorter than last year's, that's sad for me, because that means I'm not only slower than I was last year, I'm even slower than my times indicate:

2018 - 7:59:23
2017 - 7:30:14
2016 - 7:57:01
2015 - 7:43:20
2014 - 7:39:31
2013 - 8:11:00

Ultimately, the wins for me are that I was able to keep running during the race -- although I definitely slowed down on the final loop -- and that I was able to come into the finish strong.  I'm nervous about this weekend's 50k, because unlike Reveille and Colorado Bend, Alamo City will be in the daytime heat, and it's 5 loops, which will be tough mentally.  At least it's at a beautiful place where I have happy times running with Joe and the Rockhoppers.  And I know where I can get a cold beer after I finish!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Powerlines run and TMI

Today has turned out to be that day each month when the reality of our infertility crashes down on me in full force.  Although the doctors have told us that we have essentially a 0.8% chance of getting pregnant each month (compared to about a 15% chance for typical couples where the woman is my age), I still pray and hope for a miracle.  When it inevitably doesn't happen, I crash hard.

One of the things that really gets to me is, the last two times this has happened, it's been during a run where I had big goals.  Last month, I had set out to do a 50k on Leon Creek.  Today, I was planning to do 18 miles on the Powerlines.  The 50k was doomed because my cramps became so bad, I could barely walk.  Today, I honestly could have kept going past mile 12, despite the cramps, but I was too upset to continue.  When I sat down and cried at mile 11.5, I knew for sure I was calling it a day.  When this happens, I feel like the universe is telling me, "Not only are you a failure at getting pregnant; you're also a failure at running." 

That feeling is a big part of why I've been trying to up my training lately.  Partly, I'm doing it because I want to be prepared for our Grand Canyon run.  But really, I just want to have something that I'm successful at again.  I don't know if that's realistic, to get back to where I was before my burnout last year, but I want to try.

In the midst of our personal challenge, it's easy for me to lose sight of the bigger picture -- that Joe and I have a lot to be thankful for.  I'm so thankful for our marriage, for our family, for our home, for our health.  And if we are able to ever have children, I'm sure all our struggles will make us that much more grateful.  One of the things I do on almost every run is think of 7 things I'm thankful for, and for each one I say a "Glory Be" prayer.  It's never hard to come up with 7 things.  At the same time, I can't deny that there's one thing I want with all my heart and cannot have.  And that's what makes me sit down and cry in the middle of a run.

All I can do is promise myself I'll get back out there tomorrow and finish that Powerlines run, and just keep praying that I'll be better at trusting in God's will for us.  Thanks for any prayers you can send our way!

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end,
Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

I finished an ultra!

I knew that running the Colorado Bend 60k would be a good litmus test of my fitness and my preparedness to run Rim to Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon at the end of September.  I honestly wasn't sure I'd be able to finish the race, as I haven't done that distance (or anywhere remotely close to that distance) since February. 

The good news is, I finished!  I feel happy to have the reassurance that I can still cover an ultra distance.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to keep running for so long into the race, as I've really struggled with much shorter runs of late. 

It felt great to be running a race again, to be out on the trails under the bright stars all by myself for the first loop, and then to be running with Joe on the second loop.  I have so many great memories of Joe pacing me at races.  I couldn't even say how many times he's done that service for me, it's been so many.  It's so fun to chat and laugh about silly things together during races. 

Despite these happy feelings, I also felt and still feel disappointment over my race performance.  I've run that particular 60k enough times that I have some data to compare my times to.  Here are my five finishing times from Colorado Bend:

2013 8:03:24
2014 8:33:09
2015 8:02:11
2016 7:28:29
2018 9:06:43

Clearly, I'm not in the ultra fitness I once was.  I sure felt that during the race, too.  While I was still making a running motion on the second half of the final loop, it was much closer to Billy Crystal's power walking in When Harry Met Sally than to actual running.

I hope this is a good starting point, and that I will be able to race myself back into ultra fitness.  I'm registered for two more ultras in the next month, so time will tell . . .

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Dead legs and HICT

My legs have felt dead all week, which I'm blaming on last weekend's 5k.  I haven't made myself run that fast in a long, long time, and I think my legs were angry with me.  I've struggled -- I mean, really struggled, in my runs this week.  I did a 10-miler on Monday, which involved about 6 miles of straight-up walking, because my legs just didn't want to work.

Needless to say, I was hesitant to go into the gym this week.  I didn't want to trash my legs even further in advance of my 60k this weekend.  But I haven't been to the gym since mid-June, thanks to our travels, a busier work schedule, and my desire to spend my free evenings with family.  And my gym time is important to me -- it makes me feel strong, and I enjoy the social aspect of chatting and laughing with the folks there.  So I texted Phil, the gym owner, and made plans to come in on Thursday.

When I got to the gym and explained my "dead legs" problem to Phil, he recommended that I do the light program he had laid out for me, and then cap it off with HICT (high-intensity circuit training).  For that, he had me do two rounds of 6-8 minutes of biking -- with the bike's resistance set to 24, and one pedal push every 1-2 seconds (with 5 minutes' rest in between sets).  

The gym time was super fun -- especially because my friends Travis and Martha happened to come in at the same time, and we got to chat and catch up.  And my run the next morning, though admittedly only 3 miles, actually felt really good.  The one downside is that the backs of my legs -- hamstrings and calves -- are a little sore from the workout.  But I really believe the HICT took away that feeling of my legs being filled with lead.  Hopefully they'll feel quasi-okay for the 60k . . . but who am I kidding?  That race is going to be a sufferfest of epic proportions.  Stay tuned for the race report . . . and wish me luck!