Saturday, May 18, 2019

2019 Ice Cream Challenge Race Recap

Ice Cream Challenge 2019
Race Recap

The second annual Ice Cream Challenge dawned bleak and humid.  To the surprise of everyone, Matt “The Assassin” Smith was the first to arrive at the starting line.  He even brought his own spoon, for some reason.  The other competitors trickled in prior to the 10:00am race start . . . except for the Spleens, who maintain their own schedule. 

In a repeat from last year, “Sweet” Chris had his entire Chipwich in his mouth immediately after the starting gun.  Fellow competitors and spectators looked on in awe, having only taken a bite of their own Chipwiches, as Chris took off on his first lap.  Tom was next to leave, followed by Mike “The Ringer,” Matt and Jason, and the rest.

It quickly became obvious that Matt would dominate the race the entire way.  He was first to arrive at the start/finish, with a 10:40 loop one (1.7 miles).  Next in was Blaine “Grizzly” Adams, followed by “The” Steffan, who also made up time on the run.  As the competitors ate their second novelty treat, a Klondike Bar, Steffan made the first of many complaints that his “teef hurt.”

The third novelty treat was a Drumstick.  By this lap, it was already a race for second, as Matt arrived in 22:40, and took off for his third loop in less than 3 minutes, long before another competitor was even in sight.  Second place at this point was Blaine, followed by Joe, then Tom, with Chris hot on his heels.

The first to finish was Tanya, the smartest one of the group, having signed up for JV, which ended after three loops.  When asked why she didn’t upgrade to Varsity, she responded with a litany of reasons, each of which were very good, such as having just completed Miwok 100k two weeks ago.  However, she was miffed upon hearing that Jason (who also did Miwok) was dropping down to JV as well, calling his decision “ridiculous.”  Unfortunately, since he dropped mid-race, this earned him a DNF. 

Runners slowed down in the fourth and fifth loops – Snickers and Popsicle.  That is, except for Matt, who proclaimed, “The ice cream still tastes good” while eating his Snickers treat, and took off just as fast as ever.  While Chris’s running had slowed down (he was heard to complain that “This course has too much running”), he was just as fast in eating as he was at the start of the race.  Steffan captured the overwhelming feeling of the spectators with his one comment about Chris’s instantaneous consumption of his Snickers bar: “Oh shit!” 

Around this time, Matt came in for his final challenge: the lap 6 pint of ice cream.  He had the easy confidence of a winner, remarking, “This [pint] is going down easier than I thought.”  It was around this time, too, that he declared his decision to take on the Triple Crown: having won the beer mile and now the ice cream challenge, he was now throwing his hat into the Whataburger Challenge ring well in advance.  Taking off on his last loop, he would ultimately lap every competitor except for Tom, and finish with a new course record of 1:18:26, decimating last year’s CR of 1:37.  His victory speech: “This is the biggest day of my life.”

As runners ate their 5th treat, a Popsicle, they were asked for their pint flavor request, as there was only one of each flavor.  Chris asked for mint chocolate chip and then took off on his 5th lap.  Steffan was then asked for his flavor.  He also asked for mint chocolate chip.  When told that he’d have to beat Chris back in order to nab this flavor, Steffan got a determined look in his eye, and proceeded to outrun Chris by a good margin.  He had already started into his minty ice cream when Chris arrived and was told, to his chagrin, that mint was taken.  With an intensity driven by resentment, Chris plowed through his pint of chocolate chip and took off for his final lap before Steffan was halfway done with his.  On the way out, Chris muttered to Steffan, “That’s for eating my mint.”

Daniel handing Steffan his mint ice cream. The smile wouldn't last.
Despite arriving second after loop 5, Schmo left in fourth place after eating the pint, with Tom and Blaine severely outperforming his ice cream intake.  Tom would maintain his lead for 2nd place, but Schmo passed Blaine during loop 6 to take 3rd.  Blaine had the honor of “Biggest Bonk” for the race, slowing down to a crawl at the end.  He professed that “The sugar doesn’t bother me.  I’m just tired from running.”  As Tom finished, he noted, “5 minutes faster than last year.  That was my ‘A’ game.”  His wife Michele could be seen beaming with pride near the finish line.

Poor Chris was having a bad day in general.  He complained about his legs hurting, being undertrained, not getting his preferred ice cream flavor.  And yet, he was happy with his finish, since he beat his arch nemesis Steffan.  His first words after crossing the finish line were, “Well, I beat Steffan.  That’s all that matters.”

Mike came in next, for 7th place.  At one point during the race he lamented that he really has not been running lately.  Unfortunately, there was 10 miles of running, and Mike was not able to get redemption from last year’s 4th-place finish.  Bryan “Lacy’s Husband” finished despite a pounding headache, which he attributed to eating so much dairy, and earned the coveted DFL.
Bryan fought hard all day
Next in the eat-and-run series will be the 4th annual Whataburger Challenge, on Labor Day.  Stay tuned to see whether Matt can pull off the unprecedented Triple Crown.

The podium
1st place – Matt “The Assassin” Smith 1:18:26 (Course Record)
2nd place – Tom “Bro-Ling” Bowling 1:32:01
3rd place – Joe “Schmo” Schmal 1:33:23
4th place – Blaine “Grizzly” Adams 1:34:36
5th place – “Sweet” Chris Russell 1:44:22
6th place – “The” Steffan Andersland 1:50:00
7th place – Mike “The Ringer” Ruhlin 1:59:30
8th place – Bryan “Lacy’s Husband” Buchorn 2:18:04

1st place – Tanya “Head Spleen” Espalin 46:00
2nd place – Jason “Spleen” Espalin (dropped down from Varsity)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Running & Infertility

Note: I wrote this post back in November.  As an update, I'm now off the medication described below, giving my body a chance to "reset" for a cycle, and I'm finally able to run again after four weeks off.  My poor legs and lungs feel like they've atrophied a bit, but I'm motivated to build back speed and endurance over these next six weeks.

At the very beginning of this year, I settled into the idea that this would be a non-ultramarathon-focused year.  The plan was that Joe and I would try to have a kid.  Honestly, I'd burned myself out doing too many ultras too close together in 2017, and I needed a break, so it seemed like perfect timing.  As it's turned out, though, it's not that easy to just go have a kid for some couples -- including us.  Man, that's a bummer discovery to make at age 36, when you feel the pressure of the clock ticking down.

It's a given that pregnancy destroys your running.  But you have a baby at the end of it, so who the hell cares?  What's interesting has been the discovery that infertility, too, can hijack your running.  Let me count the ways.

But first I'll start with the positives.
1. I'm definitely getting a rest and mental break from running.  So whenever I'm able to return, hopefully I'll feel the fire and be able to work hard towards some "A" races.

2. Through this bummer of a year, I've gotten to see the amazing support of people such as Victor Ballesteros and Jena Rose, of Victory Sportdesign, who are committing to keep me on Team Victory, and Rob and Rachel Goyen, of Trail Racing Over Texas, who are keeping me on Team TROT -- despite the fact that I haven't won a single race in 2018, and am not sure I'll be racing in 2019 either.  I'm not keeping up my end of the bargain, so to speak, in terms of getting out there and doing well in races, and yet they continue to support me, which feels like a huge act of love on their part.

3. Over the past five years, my identity has become so closely aligned with being an ultrarunner that it's almost like I didn't think I had an identity beyond that.  Take that part of my identity away, and now I've had to find out what else makes up the core of who I am.  That's probably not a bad thing to have to figure out.

4.  Without the pressure of training for races, I've been able to just walk out the door and go any distance I feel like during my daily runs.  I've even gone watch-less a couple times, and haven't posted them to Strava, which is very unlike me.  (Did these runs even count??)  Running has just been about maintaining fitness and enjoying being outdoors, instead of feeling the pressure of a quota of miles to hit for the week.

And then, of course, there are the challenges.
1.  Not being able to plan for the future messes with my running and racing, as well as my motivation.  Take, for example, Cactus Rose, which was at the end of October.  I have run 450 miles at Cactus over the past 5 years, and was thinking I could do some distance, maybe the 50 miler, this year.  I asked my nurse if I could run it, and she told me I wouldn't be able to, because I'd be taking a medication at that time in my cycle that wouldn't allow for the bouncing that running involves.  So I didn't sign up, and didn't train.  As it turned out, I wasn't put on that medication at that time, so I could have run it after all.  Now I'm being told I'll be taking that medication probably at the end of November.  It's just a moving target that causes me to not be able to plan for any races at this time.

And I certainly am not able to make plans for next year, either.  Joe's thinking about racing another Hardrock qualifier, while I'm sitting here hoping my brains out that I'll be pregnant by then.  And if not, I'll still be stuck in this purgatory of fertility cycles.  Who knows?  I'll likely as not end up not getting to do any races, for no good reason, as happened with Cactus.  That's pretty frustrating.

2.  That motivation part is hard some days, when it's not clear what the point of my run is.  Without a race to train for, I can easily tell myself that just going for a 3- or 4-mile run is fine, and not push myself to go farther or faster.  In allowing myself this slack, I miss out on the pleasure I used to feel in pushing myself to accomplish things I wasn't sure I'd be able to do.

3.  I do feel the loss of my identity as an ultrarunner.  I know that I can come back to it, whether that's at age 40 when we give up trying to have kids, or here and there when we have a break from cycles of trying, like I did this August.  But that doesn't allow for ramping up to ultramarathon fitness and achieving my best efforts at races.  I can finish ultra-distance races by fitting them in between cycles of medication, but I can't really hope to win races with this sporadic approach.  There's something disheartening about knowing you're putting in less when you remember how it used to feel in the past, to give it your best and succeed.

4.  I'm also feeling a little bit of a loss of community.  As soon as I moved to San Antonio, I started running with folks; that's how I met people here and made friends.  The Rockhoppers have felt like my family here, and I love hanging out with them at group runs and races.  This past year, I've still gone to some group runs, I did a couple races in August, and I volunteered at a race in the spring.  But I've missed a lot of races, and have avoided a lot of social media, such as Facebook and some people's Instagram accounts (because I can't stand to see posts about people who have kids), so I do feel a little "out of the loop."  However, at the same time, I know I'm still part of the Team TROT and Rockhoppers family, so it's a bit of a stretch to put this item in the "negatives" column.

Typing this all out has been a good exercise.  It's helped me see there are as many positives as negatives in this process -- even though the negatives (especially #1) feel a lot weightier than any of the positives.  My comfort zone during this whole process has been Negative Nancy -- because it's easier than being positive, getting my hopes up, and having them slammed down again.  It would be an improvement, at least, to be Middle Ground Mary, and at least consider the positives as well as the negatives -- maybe I'll strive for that.

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"

*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


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