Sunday, August 6, 2017

Birthday Bridge Repeats

Each year on or around my birthday I do a Birthday Challenge. It involves doing some sort of something a number of times corresponding to my age. It frequently involves running--I'm so one-dimensional. For my 50th birthday, I ran 50 miles with my friend K2, who's birthday is also in July and we are the same age (well--he's actually 17 days older.) We've done hill climbs, which ended falling way short of our goal. I biked my age once, which was not really a big deal. In 2011, for my 52nd birthday, we did 52 bridge crossings on the Arkansas River RR Pedestrian Bridge. Our mileage total, since the bridge is a 1/4-mile one way, gave us a perfect half marathon and it was 103 degrees when we started. It was a battle, but running on the shaded bridge is actually not that bad when a good breeze blows along the river.
Picture by Eva McCarthy
It's hard to come up with something different every year, so it was no surprise that this year would be another running event. This year I decided to go back to the RR Pedestrian Bridge but instead of doing 58 crossings, I’d do 58 out and backs. That would add up to around 29 miles, and that’s just what I needed in my training schedule.

I sent out a Facebook invite to 200 of my running friends, and the interest was high. 35 people confirmed they were coming, and there were about that many “maybes.”

This event was also significant because in the next few weeks the RR Pedestrian Bridge is being demoed and a new fancy schmancy bridge is being erected in its place. Our old bridge has decades of fond memories and it seems like once again progress is blasting away another piece of art and history. Having this running party gave a lot of people a chance to enjoy their bridge one more time.

Picture by Clint Green
I left in time to get there by 7:00 pm, but I didn't allow time to drag my huge-ass ice chest loaded with water, Gatorade, various beers, and ice .8 of a mile, so I rolled in about 7:10. There was already several people there--some waiting, and some had already started knocking out some repeats. I was thrilled to see so many friends showing up!!

Picture by Chrissy Whitten
One such friend was Chrissy Whitten. Chrissy and family recently moved to Tuttle, OK (130 miles away!) and she made it to my birthday run. Chrissy had 58 repeats dialed in, and she never misses her mark. I was honored that she came. :-)

Picture and shameless selfie by Clint Green
There was no formal start or finish. Some people had already begun, and runners came off and on through the evening.

Picture by Clint Green
I took a short break every 5 laps to fill my water bottle, and drink a Gatorade. A couple of times I had a shot of Fireball or a beer. I was not the only one who brought a cooler so there were enough refreshments to supply a small country. Clint caught me opting to run with a Dos Equis instead of my water bottle.

Picture by Johnna Ellison
My buddies BfkaM and Travis ran several miles together. I'd catch up, or they'd lap me and I'd hang with them for a bit,  eavesdropping and drafting all the while.

Picture by Eva McCarthy
This sort of thing is really FUN for me, but I was surprised at how many people told me it was the best birthday party ever. I don't know about that, but running with friends IS always enjoyable.

The following picture and quote were borrowed from Laura Bower's Facebook wall. She clearly illustrates the difference in desired ways to spend a birthday. :-)

Picture by  and quote below by Laura Bower
"Ideal birthday according to me: Sleep til noon. Spend all remaining hours wearing stretchy pants and stuffing my face with cake until I pass out, a contented smile on my buttercream frosting-coated lips and a defibrillator and my Last Will and Testament at the ready just in case 
Ideal birthday according to TZ: Run up and down the pedestrian bridge 58 times to celebrate 58 years, thus completing the world's flattest ultramarathon as the very picture of health, vitality, and questionable life choices. 
Gosh, I love being friends with psychopaths. Thanks, TZ, for letting me be part of your rampaging lunacy!"

You'd expect miserably hot weather the first week of August, but we have had a change in the weather pattern and the highs have stayed in the 80s. With a steady southeast wind, it was a near perfect night for running. When the sun went down, the temperature dropped around 10 degrees, and if felt like a late September evening.

I was sitting at 21 laps here. I am assuming BfkaM and Betsy had about the same. Once night fell, little by little people called it a night. More people rolled in even after 10:00, so up until midnight, there was a continual stream of runners on the bridge.

I stayed pretty steady as the temperatures dropped, but somewhere around 11:00, the wind died down and the heat and humidity raised their ugly head. I started mixing in a 100 step walk break per lap and stayed steady on the shuffle on the rest.

The spiders were out in full force, but they politely stayed on the side railing. This husky orb spider seems to have snared the moon.

Calm water formed a brilliant reflection of downtown Tulsa. This was the best of several of my iPhone picture attempts.

Picture by Justin Walker
Justin Walker aka Jwalk photographed the total downtown Tulsa area caught in a massive spider web!! 

Around midnight, the crowd began to dwindle. Despite being determined to finish what I started, the thought of quitting crossed my mind. I had entered the falling-asleep-on-my-feet zone--usually the beginning of bad things. I had run a few laps with Kathy earlier on, and I told her I was not here to practice DNFing. Spitting out things like that especially on social media is good reinforcement to NOT QUIT.

We finished the last bridge crossing in a sprint. Keep in mind that my sprint near the end of a long run seems fast to me, and would win no age group awards.
BfkaM had brought a huge poster for us to write our laps. 
58 times, I made a mark on this page. 
Kathy Bratton and Cameron Plate also completed 58. 
Chrissy got in 58, and then stayed and ran 13 more with me for a total of 71. 
Lots of other people ran over the half marathon distance. Thank you so much to all who came out!! 
My running friends are the BEST!!

My friend Jwalk summed it up like this: He said he loved the bridge, but this would be the last time he ran it. He wanted to remember the last time as the Birthday Bridge Run.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Short--very short vacation--and no running either

Every summer around our birthdays (Mine is July 27, and Dana's is July 29) we try to schedule our vacation--but did not all come together this year. Dana was able to get off work, but we had birthday celebrations planned by our kids over the weekend, and a grandson birthday Monday night--plus I had to work Monday. So, what could have started on Friday or Saturday for a 6-day getaway was reduced to Tuesday through Thursday. But having family time is awesome too.

Dana and I scored matching kayaks for our birthdays, and we were itching to christen them. I thought the Elk River at Noel, Missouri would be a good place to ease back into the sport. Honestly, I have kayaked twice and Dana once--but I still feel like an old pro yakking. We have Pelican Argo 100s, 10-foot sit-inside kayaks, and we were both very pleased with how they handled. We paid River Ranch Floats in Noel $20.00 to take us upstream to their 8-mile drop point. The driver unloaded us as well as some other kayakers and rafters, and he had no more pulled away when I noticed my life jacket was still on the bus!! I called the main office and the courteous counter clerk said she'd try to radio the driver, but made no promises since radio coverage is spotty. :-/ But five minutes later she called back and said the driver would be on his way back. It did take another ten minutes or so, but he brought it back and was so apologetic, even though I told him it was my fault. I was impressed with their operation. They seemed organized, and they sure helped us out of a jam.

The weather was absolutely perfect. As you can see, partly cloudy with big fluffy clouds taking turns giving us shade that kept our un-sun-screened legs from cooking much past medium rare.

There were occasional rapids and only a couple of passages where there were enough big rocks to make you fret. One such place had a huge tree that was ripped out from a past flood that was tucked tightly along the bank of a narrow swift turn. I took a conservative track to the inside bend of the river with swift but shallow water. Dana drifted to the outside and got wedged against the big trunk of the semi-submerged tree. In a split second, she was hanging on while her kayak was swept under the tree. She hollered out that she might need some help. I quickly beached my boat and ran across to do whatever I could as she managed to get her legs out. Her life jacket kept her high enough in the water that she was able to keep from being swept under the log. She tossed me the soft ice cooler and her paddle, and I grabbed the tow rope and we pulled her kayak across the stream to more shallow water, flipped it over, and reloaded things. All was well, but had we not got my life jacket back--and with me being a sorry swimmer, she would have probably been swept under the log into a tangle of submerged branches.

The only other bumps in the road were a couple of places where drub bottom. Good thing I had on my water shoes. 
Our 8.25 mile trip took us nearly 4 hours, and at times, the sun would come out, the water was still, and there was no breeze. 82 degrees, while wonderful for August, can still seem hot.

I could have gone a little further, but honestly, we were both ready to be through. Food had become a priority. Cotton Eyed Joes, known for great BBQ, also had great burgers. 

Kayaking was the only adventurous excitement on our trip, but we did have one other fun excursion.

We drove home through Bentonville, AR, and stopped by Ozark Mountain Bagel Company. I was taking a couple of pictures of the new store, and we must have been spied as we were ambushed by the owners as we entered the front door.

Bill and Sheila fixed us u with bagels and coffee to go (best bagels I have ever had too!) and a super cool Ozark Mountain Bagel shirt. We miss seeing our friends as often as we used to--but really, Bentonville is not that far away, and there are miles and miles and miles of awesome single track trailz here--and some good places to kayak too. More adventures are in store!!!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Full mOOn 2017

Here's my report on the Full mOOn. Usually, my race reports are kinda long, but this one will be shorter. I signed up for this race a couple of months ago, knowing that it sometimes sells out. And knowing that late July can be hot and on the forest service roads near Lake Sylvia in Arkansas, it is always humid, I signed up for the 25K instead of the 50K. My grand plan was to follow the 16-mile race with a 15-16 mile run Sunday. I was riding with a friend who was also doing the 25K, and we'd leave after we were through and get back to Tulsa super ate but early enough to sleep some and not waste Sunday. But things happen. A health emergency canceled my friends trip, so I hitched a ride with Jana and Jenni--both were doing the 50K.

I have extensive experience with the 50K here. Besides the H&H, miles 9-26 have the worst hills and by that time, most runners are so fatigued that climbing hill after hill brings in thoughts of diving head first off the nearest cliff. But hill training is what I do now, and the more I thought about it, the more I was leaning to "up" to the 50K. So as I stood in line to pick up my packet, I rehearsed my plea to pay the difference and do the real mans race. But--I was told a flat no. and was jabbed with the snarky "If you want to do it, you'll have to come back next year." Maybe I misinterpreted the packet officer's remark, but it seemed snide. I didn't argue though. 25k would be just fine.

This race has really grown. The last time I was here, there were probably less than 100 entrants, and it was a fat ass run. Now, a paid entry gets you a nice tech singlet and first class fun aid stations. The 50Kers were served first, getting their packets and race start an hour earlier than the 25K. This seemed to streamline the flow of runners at the start line and through the aid stops. Good planning. At 7:00 pm sharp, the army of eager 50Kers were sent off. I had an hour to kill before my race, so I did the usual pre-race things--nibbling, hydrating, bathrooming, and making sure I had everything I needed.

At 8:00, we were sent off. I started at the end of the pack and shuffled along at a lower than walking ace it seemed. I just didn't seem comfortable running at all, but I knew that would come around. a mile of asphalt to some nice smooth gravel roads and the beginning of a 4.2-mile climb. A lot of people moaned and groaned about this hill, but the initial climb of 659 feet give an average climb of 157 foot per mille. That pales in comparison to some of the other hills ahead. I did my usual run 100 steps, walk 100 steps, run 200, walk 200, kind of going with what felt doable at the time.

I was one of the last 5-6 runners when I started the climb, and I passed a few peeps every now and then on the way up. At the first aid station, the road leveled out and we actually had a downhill or two. I had caught up with Misty, and we ran together for a mile or so. She charged the last hill coming up to our turnaround aid station, and I actually struggled on this ascent. I ate a few pieces of watermelon, a PBJ, and drank some coke, and a small cup of beer, and felt properly fueled. But starting back down the hill I'd just climbed, it felt like I had a bowling ball in my belly. I just could not get into a rhythm running. On a hill I should have been able to BOMB, I slowly picked my way back down. Misty took off like a rocket, and I didn't catch her until about a mile from the end of the race.

After a while, I had passed all of the runners coming the other way on their "out", and stopped to water the dusty road. WHEW! I needed that. That made running easier, and I was able to relax and stretch my stride out and increase my foot turnover. On a pitch black moonless night, on a lonely dusty road, I ran seeing only an occasional reflection of a runner's headlamp. Copperhead snakes are a common sight on this course, and I am sure a few people saw them, but my snake tally was zero. I did see several small scorpions and a lot of spiders. 

I  began to catch a few runners. I'd pull up beside them, chat a bit, and then shuffle on. Once I reached the final aid station, which was a little over 4 miles out, it was downhill for almost all of the rest of the way. I kicked it up to about a 95% effort, and all plugs were firing well. I passed 20-25 more people from there to the finish line. I do kind get energy from passing folks near the end of a race. Some people might call this rude, but hey--it's a race. And airing it out is what I need from time to time in my training. The final hill near the end of the race is a deal breaker. It's just 70' in .3 of a mile, but it's a walker for most. If I  ran at least some of it, I could pass two more runners. Or walk it in and maybe I could be that jerk that edges by someone right by the finish mat. I sucked it up and passed them on the hill. Turing the corner and charging down a steep paved downhill to the line, I finished in 4:07. With a bit more focus, that could have been a sub 4:00--which is still a slow time. The winning 50Ker finished in 4:12.

Here's the elevation of the 25K. But do not be wowed--the 50K course is a beast. 

For me, it was another long run in the books. It had some intervals of climbing, running bits and pieces of hills, some fast downhill work, and some working through a couple of bad spots--all good things on a training run. This was a rare run in the woods where I had NO TICKS. I had no chafing, no blisters, and so nausea. I took electrolytes and sea salt every hour and drank enough that I needed to pee twice. I managed a negative split, which is quite doable in the 25K.

At the grave risk of sounding braggadocios, I finished in the top 100 of males 99 and under. Apparently there were two males over 100 and they both beat me. Oh well.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Port to Fort--the long event--the long report

First off--I LOVE this race. Some years it is fun. Some years it's just plain EVIL. This year was the latter--but it was still fun.
The long event consisted of a short swim, a 5-ish mile trail run, 14-15 miles on the bike, and then a 4-mile canoe or kayak segment. Our team of Mitch Drummond, Roman Broyles, and I had chosen to kayak instead of canoeing. Although we wanted to register as a team, we had to go as solo participants since apparently, kayaks can go faster than canoes. but we still decided to stay together as a team--mostly.

Now I have done this event every year since year one. I am not a swimmer. In fishing lingo--I'm not a bobber, I am a sinker. My legs are dense n I go right to the bottom and can barely get back to the surface. This race has always made a provision for non-swimmers to use a flotation device. This clearly gives me no advantage since I am almost always the last one out of the water. This year was no exception. We were late starting, and the landing area was basically deserted by the time I dragged myself ashore. I am thinking anyone who says flotation device should not be allowed would be ok with me drowning. But I did kind of enjoy the 100-yard trip this year.

Then it was time to get down to business.I thought we could possibly catch a person or two--but we did not. The next wave of runners (the short event which did not include the bike portion) kept breezing by us.

This event is not so much a race for us as it is an adventure. They DO call it an adventure race.

About a mile into the trail run, the adventure got interesting. We ran into mud. It had rained a couple of times during the week, and this trail has a lot of flat areas where water pools up. I'd say most of the time there are mud holes.

Roman initially tried to keep his feet dry but that idea was shelved in quick order. This was some nasty mud. We'd see more. Much more. Way too much more.

The ropes. After about 4 miles into the run, we have a steep ravine we have to climb out of. Sometimes there's a log-jam here, but for us, we just grabbed the ropes without delay and scooted right on up.

 I snapped pics of Mitch and Roman, then tossed my phone up so they could get a pic of me.

Once up, we ran about 100 yards and had to rappel back down. We did have to waits briefly here. My pictures didn't turn out all that great. Mainly the pictures just didn't look like it was that much of a descent when in fact it was about a 30-foot drop.

From here, we had to wade a lot in the side of the navigation channel. The shore was mid-shin-deep shoe-sucking mud. It wasn't much better in the water, but at least it seemed less likely to pull off a shoe. Mitch opted to swim part of this--if only I could swim....

ODOT had constructed a new bridge over the Neosho River, but thankfully they have decided to leave the old iron one-lane bridge for pedestrian purposes.

Old bridges like this should be kept and protected. It's a shame to see them torn down.

We hit the transition area, restocked our water bottles and hydration packs and took off on the bikes.

The trail early on was well maintained and was quite rideable. I have not been on my bike since---well---last years Port to Fort. My bad!! But my team-mates ad about the same amount of bike training as I had. (I was thinking--just don't do an end-over, and hoping my bicycle butt would not hurt so bad I couldn't finish the race.) Other than passing between two trees about 20 inches apart, a few hairpin turns, a few super steep ups and downs, and a couple of places where the trail was right on the edge of a drop-off into the river, I was able to ride. I seemed to gain my confidence as the day progressed. I even plowed right through the big mud holes that we were seeing more frequently. 

Brave Roman rode across this bridge. I opted to walk my bike across. Roman was in good spirits at this point--maybe 1.5 miles into the race. Then the rain began.

It was still fairly cool, but very humid. The rain was refreshing at first but was the subject of much cussing in the coming miles.

The trailz kept getting worse. This portion of the race was an out and back, and the solo riders and teams had absolutely no joy on their faces. No "good job", no "looking good". Several of them warned us that it was just crazy ahead. Ridiculous. Worst mud they'd ever seen. One rider had just thrown his bike away and was gonna run it in. I soon realized that one could run this trail way faster than it could be ridden.

With about a mile to the turnaround, we hit a steep downhill which ended u in a ravine that had a trickle of water and knee deep mud. I tried to carry my bike across, but it felt like it weighed 100 pounds--maybe it did. With no tools other than my fingers, I dug thick clumps of sticky clay from between my fork and tire, from the rear fork, from the back gears and derailer, and near the pedals. It was futile though. Rolling the bike for 10 feet and it was clumped up again. AND--we had a 30' climb that was slick sticky mud in a slalom. Slick mud. Nasty mud. It had many colorful names. I used my bike as a crutch and jammed my heel into the mud trying to make a foothold. It took 10 minutes to go 20 yards with a 30-foot climb.

It was bad for most of the rest of the way. There was one stretch where we had a freshly mowed-down trail and that added grass clippings and straw to the wads of packed adobe clay locking up our bikes. We bottomed out in a creek crossing, and I dragged my bike upstream for 20 yards to a deep spot and gave my bike a bath. I was able to dislodge 80% of the mess, and could then carry my bike up the next muddy hill.

I mentioned to Mitch that I was 60/40 on staying the course and was considering taking the paved road back, but Mitch would have none of that. So my decision was to tough it out. When Roman heard the idea, he was leaning heavily to taking the pavement back. Then the trio of Vinita girls came in. Gina Day, Jodee Whitworth, and Candy Williams rolled into the turnaround. Two of the three had stashed their bikes back where the mud got bad, but Gina was riding hers. They were all smiles and seemed like they were having a blast. I asked if they were gonna take the road back and was met with a resounding NO. This swayed Roman into enduring another 7 miles of mud.

It was certainly not any better on the way back. The rain was past, but the sun was trying to peek out and it got warmer. The humidity was 100% I bet. Every 10 feet or so during a lot of the way, we'd have to stop and dig out mud so our wheels would roll. 

I started trying to ride a little more and found I could go about 50 feet between mud diggings and riding through the big mud puddles helped wash out a little of the thick clay. The mosquitos woke up after the rain stopped and were feeding on any skin that was not mud covered when we stopped to pick out mud. Since we had registered as solo runners, I assumed it was ok if we didn't stay together.

The Vinita girls outpaced us from the turnaround since they had stashed bikes, but I caught up with them at the mid-course aid station. Geeze--they were having fun! The aid station guy gave us the option of taking a good gravel road north to the pavement, since there had been multiple reports of the next gravel on the course was tearing up derailers. The girls welcomed the idea, and I wish I had taken that route as well. I wanted to stay on the official route though (stupid) and when I got to the one-mile dirt mud road, I discovered that they had sprinkled a little gravel on top of it. Think of it like sprinkles on a donut. The mus was relentless as ever, but now there were marble sized rocks mixed in and grinding into the chain and sprockets. I quickly found I could not ride on it, and could not even push my bike through it. To my left was a mowed hay field, and I made my way over to see if I could go that way. Riding picked up some nice straw that now mixed into the concrete mixture that was locking up my wheels, chain, and gears. Clean it out and clean it out again and again. Pushing the bike was slightly better than trying to ride. It seemed like five miles, but it was just one--and finally, I reached the paved road.

One more mud picking and now I could rice. I did my best to get all of the rocks out of the gears, but I left a lot. Riding on the road, I heard and felt many small rocks being pulverized. Hopefully, have not ruined my gears.

Mitch had his own Kayak, and we borrowed two kayaks from Kathy. One was a super long slender kayak, and I greedily took that one thinking it would be FAST. It was not. I found out later that this was a white water kayak, and has no rudder. Keeping it going straight in the water was nearly impossible. I'd get it going straight and after five alternating side to side strokes, the kayak would cut to the left like it had a mind of its own. No amount of paddling, back paddling, or using the oar as a rudder would straighten it out. I'd end u dead in the water, and start all over again. Finally, I figured out that if I took very light strokes, I could keep it on a line for about 20 strokes per side.

Once this bridge comes into sight, you think you are almost there. Wrong. You see this bridge from about two miles away, and it seems to be moving away as you paddle toward it with all your might. But finally, I reached the port and rowed my spear shaped ship to the shore. The girls had made good time on the bike and canoe and beat me there by an hour. They were the first place women's long course team.

Roman and Mitch came in shortly after, and we all felt whipped. I had tick bites, chigger bites, mosquito bites, and poison ivy. Us guys also took home a third place trophy for the men's long course team. The team that was second was a coed team, so we actually were second. And also last. It was a long day. I am certain that I will not do the bike next year if it's muddy. But for sure, I plan to never miss this race.