This is much belated but back in February I finished the FebApple Frozen 50k in New Jersey. It proved to be a good early season training run. The trails were full of snow, ice and mud with light rain falling during a good portion of the race. The conditions slowed me down quite a bit, but were a good test in the art of slogging forward until you get to the finish line that I've become so good at. First ultra of 2013 is in the books...next up...The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler in Bear Mountain, NY!
I've been wanting to do this trip for a while - visit the hometown of my favorite writer, Jack Kerouac. Lowell, Massachusetts was the birthplace and childhood home of Kerouac and provided the setting for 5 of his novels: The Town and the City (1950), Maggie Cassidy (1959), Dr. Sax (1959), Visions of Gerard (1963) and The Vanity of Duluoz (1968). I took a day and explored by foot his old stomping grounds, chatting with locals and snapping pictures of various places of significance in Kerouac's life. Here are the highlights:
Born here on the second floor apartment -1922
Top of the Grotto which haunted him, featured in Dr. Sax
Home - top apartment
Home - where his father was sick
Home - 1927
Home - 1929
One of his most notable homes - where his brother Gerard died at age 9 when Jack was 4 - 1926
St. Louis School
Jack and his father spent a lot of time here
The Lowell Sun - Kerouac worked here as a sports reporter in 1942
His Alma Mater
Stained glass at the entrance of the library which he frequented
View from the old Moody Street Bridge featured in Dr. Sax
Another view from the old Moody Street Bridge, overlooking the Merrimack River
Old mills on the Merrimack
A collection of old possessions on display
His old Underwood on display
Formerly Nicky's Bar - a frequent haunt when he moved back to Lowell in the later part of his life
The Archambault Funeral Home - where his body was waked - 1969
I've never been fast. I usually just run at a comfortable pace. Most of my training is in the 8-10 minute/mile range. I never do speedwork and am fine with running long, slow mileage.
I work in the Garden Center at Crest Hardware & Urban Garden Center and they were nice enough to sponsor me to run the McCarren Park 5k this past weekend. The last time I ran an official 5k was in 2006 at the Toys For Tots Trot in Seattle where I finished in a sloth-like 27:46. I knew I'd be faster this weekend. I decked myself out in Crest gear and dashed around Brooklyn's McCarren Park, ending up running a 21:27, knocking over 6 minutes off my 2006 time. It left me wanting to run faster. It would be a good challenge to get that time down below 20 minutes, or 18 minutes. So I think I'll make a solid effort to add speedwork to my weekly mileage and register for another 5k in a month or two to see how things have progressed.
Might be a fun way to add some variety in between ultramarathons.
Hobbling around Brooklyn these past few days has been a rewarding feeling. Every now and then I’ll put just the right weight on one of my quads and instantly almost collapse to the ground, just like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, which is usually followed by strange looks from nearby witnesses, but I don’t seem to mind. It’s healthy to have a constant reminder of a good hard effort on a trail. A keepsake of a risk taken, a simple goal achieved: to move forward all day long and cross the finish line before a certain hour. Yesterday I opened a bag I should have opened a day sooner, full of wet running clothes smelling so pungent and vile I contemplated just throwing them away. After all, if something smells like that, will one cycle in the washing machine really rid them of their foulness? As it turns out, no, one cycle is indeed not enough. I’m taking bets on the second one.
Yes, 50 miles this past Saturday on technical terrain with a total elevation change of over 14,000 feet. To this date it is the toughest course I’ve ever run on and I have a new-found respect for the hills that lie an hour north of New York City.
The lowest point came early, between miles 5-10. While out of breath, stepping one foot in front of another up a steep incline of loose rock, I began to panic and say things to myself:
“Not even 1/5 done with this thing and I’m feeling destroyed. Imagine how I’ll feel when I’m 4/5 done.”
“How am I going to pull this off? I’m not sure I will this time.”
“I should have trained harder on the hills.”
“If I DNF is it okay?”
“Yes. It’s okay. I’ll think up a good excuse.”
“NO, DAMMIT! A DNF IS NOT OKAY UNLESS YOU ARE INJURED!”
“But maybe I can get injured. Soon. Maybe I can just step on this rock wrong and get injured and then I will have a good excuse to DNF.”
“WILL YOU QUIT SAYING DNF!!!”
“You’re right. Too much DNF talk. The acronym is burrowing itself into my brain like a bad song stuck in my head. I should say a different phrase. I like that song
. The lyrics to the first verse start with:
“YES I CAN!”
And shortly thereafter I was fine and moving along with rhythm and patience and acceptance.
At an aid station around the halfway mark I ran into Cherie, who I casually know from the Burning Man 50k I’ve run the past two years. She wasn’t feeling well and the two of us started chatting. And chatted some more. And kept chatting. And basically chatted for the entire second half of the race all the way to the finish line. And the range of topics we covered over those rugged 25 miles went full spectrum, from wonderful moments of the past, to bad experiences, and everything in between. I’ve randomly met up with people mid race and finished it out with them before, but this is probably the most in depth get-to-know-you conversation I’ve ever had on the trails. There were moments when I wasn’t feeling very well but Cherie was fine so she would lead us on, and there were times when she wasn’t feeling good so I’d push the pace. That good ol’ spastic physical and mental Ultrarunning Roller Coaster and we were riding it together. When it was over 13 hours and 26 minutes after it started I was so very grateful for her company and it was a good reminder of how big an impact another person can have on an experience. The hours flew by and when all was said and done we had a lot of fun and am thankful that she pushed me when I needed to be pushed and was not grossed out when I'd take the bandana off my head to wring out the sweat.
And as of right now I have no other races scheduled. Infinite options loom in my mind and it feels good to let them all stew: Grindstone 100? A fast marathon? Auditioning? Writing a new play? Perhaps I will stay in this place for a while. Or maybe I’ll figure out where I want to focus my energy by the time I awaken in bed tomorrow. And I know that when I finally decide, I'm going to commit to it. Because I like to finish what I start. But whatever happens, whatever I choose, it feels good to have open possibilities ahead of me right now. It feels freeing. And I like that…for now.
Last week I took my first camping trip up to the Catskills, just 2.5 hours from New York City with friends Monte and Amy. I took advantage of exploring the trails around North-South Lake on the NE edge of the Catskill Range, where the legend of Rip Van Winkle took place. Because it's still early in the year, the campground at the base of the trail was closed for another week, so I had the trails to myself.
I've spent a lot of time this past year lamenting about how far away I live from the mountains and nature of the West. After last week, I now feel pretty certain that my desire to explore natural places can be pacified for the time being with what lies close by in the Catskills.
A picture of me and a pull quote from my Rocky Raccoon 100 race report made it to the pages of Ultrarunning Magazine this month. Monte took the picture (his name's in small print) of Ciara and me so it was nice to see my two crew members make the magazine as well. Here are the pages:
It was 5am, an hour before the start, as I was changing into my running gear at our campsite, when the heavens opened up and all hell broke loose. Seeking shelter in the car with Ciara and Monte, we witnessed one of the most massive and intense thunderstorms our eyes had ever seen. Thunder, sheets of lightning and driving rain coming down so hard, if you were out in it for five seconds it looked like you had jumped into Lake Raven. They dropped me off at the start line and I huddled under the big tent with all the other runners awaiting the gun to go off. Everyone chatted away as I kept to myself, riddled with nerves and nausea from the thought of what I was about to embark upon. 100 miles. Five 20 mile loops through Texas’ Huntsville State Park. Sounds epic enough. Add a thunderstorm to the mix and you’ve got Frodo heading into Mordor (or by the looks of it one of the bearded dwarfs).
Just before the start. Photo: Monte Jenkins
At 6am we were all off and running the first loop (miles 1-20) through the rainy and muddy trails in the dark. Soon enough the sun rose and you could see the forests which are much more what I’d expect to see in Louisiana or Florida than Texas. Swamp country. Gators exist here. An armadillo had startled me yesterday by my tent. I was out of my element and had no choice but to keep moving forward and focus on the present moment instead of the miles and mud ahead. It was such a joy to be out of New York City and get the opportunity to do some trail running. I briefly chatted with a few people as we wove our way through the trails and back to the end of the first loop.
Photo: Monte Jenkins
Photo: Monte Jenkins
Photo: Monte Jenkins
On the second loop (miles 20-40) the rain was letting off but it had done its damage to the trails. I was traipsing through muddy filthy gutter muck hog slop puddles with soaked feet and clothes. Overall I was in good spirits though. Ciara and Monte would meet me in aid stations to give me various supplies and moral support. They were an amazing crew and I respect them highly for all the oppressive smells from my clothing and shoes they were made to deal with. The other runners were great too and always saying positive remarks as they would pass by like “good job” or “looking strong.” The ultra community is full of such positivity, and you need all of it you can get because there are too many things that can happen over 100 miles to derail your race and cause a DNF (did not finish), especially with this weather.
Photo: Monte Jenkins
Ciara with new supplies. Photo: Monte Jenkins
The sun went down just before I started the third loop (miles 40-60) and there I was, out on the trails in the middle of the forest with just me, my thoughts and the span of illumination that my headlamp produced to keep me company. Around the 45 mile mark, while on the most remote section of the course, my mind started getting the better of me and things turned dark. I suddenly got really sad, inexplicably so, and began to let the sadness of the world consume my thoughts. I would come across runners and get a glimpse of their strained faces saying positive words to me, and see how good their intentions all were, not only in this race but in life in general, and thought how such good people trying their best in life and helping others around them eventually have to die one day. I began crying thinking about it. Then thought of the people in my life that I care about that one day too will find death and I felt incredible sadness and loss thinking of it all. I dwelled on it for quite some time out there in the middle of nowhere before eventually the thoughts dissipated and I was moving along fine again and mentally feeling back to normal. In fact I got really happy and motivated and it was perhaps the best I felt all race. Then shortly after, at mile 55, I got irrationally annoyed at everything around me and began charging along at a pretty good pace toward the 60 mile mark. I ran pretty fast even though the effects of running the entire race with wet feet had taken its toll and by the time I finished the loop my feet were in really bad shape. Large blisters had developed on the balls of both feet. A couple of my toe nails felt as if they were dangling and about to fall off from stubbing my toes so much on the roots. By the end of this loop I had renamed the race ROCKY ROOTCOON.
The moment I started the 4th loop (miles 60-80) I found it hard to run again. My feet were shot and shortly after my quads followed. Thus began what turned out to be a 40 MILE DEATH MARCH. Monte met me at mile 63 to pace me and the two of us disappeared into the night. This turned out to be my toughest section of the race. Monte said, “you are doing this and it will be completed.” I wasn’t so sure. My stomach was upset and I found it hard to eat food without almost puking. At one point, while sitting on a log trying to change my socks I got an intense case of chills and started shivering, probably due to a lack of calories. Monte gave me the coat off his back and I quickly put my shoes on as I knew I needed to start moving again if I wanted to get warm. While we trudged on I started to think of how far I had yet to go - 30 plus miles still and began to panic wondering how I was going to go that far not being able to run at all and told Monte I was not doing well. We had some great conversation to get my mind off of the physical and mental suffering. He also read me some notes from a list of people that Ciara had contacted to write to me as a surprise during the run, which was wonderful. In hind sight, if Monte wouldn’t have been there to talk to, I have no idea where my mind would have gone during that section, considering where it had gone on the previous loop. Who knows, I could have easily rationalized a DNF. It seemed like an eternity, but finally we finished the 4th loop.
The Death March. Photo: Monte Jenkins
Ciara began pacing me for my 5th and last loop (miles 80-100). At an aid station I sat down and instantly got the chills again. I had been moving for over 20 hours now, sleep deprived and felt as if I could pass out at any moment. They put a blanket over me and gave me some coffee and cheese quesadillas. Ciara didn’t tell me at the time but let me know later that at that point she was really worried about me. My pupils were dilated and I wasn’t all there when people were talking to me. She forced me to keep moving. And we did. And it was the most painful 20 miles of my life. I was moving around 3 miles an hour, trying to be patient but failing and convincing myself that I never wanted to run again. I’ve never been so mentally and physically miserable for such a long time. A true suffer-fest. When I would stop to pee I'd look down at the ground and have intense visual hallucinations with the ground moving or transforming into different textures and knew that I couldn’t indulge in the visuals or else I would be passed out face first in the trail in no time. I kept moving, following Ciara, hardly talking and by mile 90 my walk had developed into a struggled limp.
More Death March. Photo: Monte Jenkins
I had to swing my arms to keep forward momentum. The sun came up as I saw my second sunrise of the race. Ciara read to me more notes that people had written for me and I was very appreciative of all the people who took the time to do that and for Ciara for organizing it all. After many miserable hours of mental and physical suffering we finally made it to mile 99.5 and mustered enough energy to run to the finish. We made it across with a time of 27 hours 34 minutes 54 seconds.
(Click here for complete results and stats)
It didn't sink in right away that I had just finished 100 miles, I was too tired to think about it and just glad to be done. I got my buckle from the race director and chatted for a minute. He put on a really great, well organized race.
Chatting at the finish. Photo: Monte Jenkins
Chatting at the finish. Photo: Monte Jenkins
I sat down in a chair under a tent which was the most pleasant sit I've ever taken. After five minutes I went to get up and couldn’t take a single step without falling over. My legs lasted as long as I made them and once they reached 100 miles they said “nope, no more.” Monte had to pull the car up and I braced my arm around his shoulders and hobbled my way to the car. I called my parents then took off my shoes and socks to assess the damage. Not pretty.
The next morning I awoke with an extreme sense of optimism. I felt so excited for the future, whatever it may hold. Both feet swelled up really badly but I was walking again on my own after a day or so. A big reason for originally wanting to run a 100 miler was to find out what it was like to put myself through the physical and mental wringer. Mission accomplished. Although a lot of the time it wasn't fun, there was a whole lot of life that happened out on those trails that I wouldn't have gotten to experience if I would have stayed at home. If anything, it makes me want to take more risks in life and invest myself fully in whatever I'm doing. I am so thankful for Ciara and Monte and am in awe of their generosity. Without them, I'm not sure what would have happened. To the next adventure!
With my new buckle! Photo: Monte Jenkins
I wake this morning in a dark room with a slight groggy feeling of dread, knowing well what must be done. As I shower, I turn the knob as hot as it will go, trying to get my core temp as high as possible, all the while knowing it won’t last. A half hour later I’m fully dressed with a hydration pack on my back standing on tired legs from last week’s back-to-back 20 milers. And then I’m off, running down the rural Idaho dirt road, with a faint light appearing from the ridge line to the east. 50 miles lay before me. Four 12.5 mile out-and-backs from the house down the Middle Fork Road and into the Boise National Forest along the half frozen Payette River. My first shot at a distance which over time my mind has begun to comprehend.
Soon the condensation of my breath gathers on my beard and quickly crystallizes from the sub-freezing temperatures, transforming the dark brown hairs into stiff white icicles. Two miles down the road, with Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Wooden Ships” in my ears, I glance to the left and see 30 elk occupying a pasture under the dim light. They begin to retreat at the sound of my footsteps, then stop, as they watch my slow running movement for a brief time before heading back into the timber. My mind is at peace. I’m ready for the miles ahead.
The first out-and-back goes smoothly, except I discover that the final 2.5 miles of my route are all to be run both ways on sheets of ice and gritty ruts which hurt the feet as well as slow down their cadence. Back at the house I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich my dad makes me. He was an excellent crew. I change my hat and jacket to lighter ones thinking it is much warmer by now. A half mile down the road I realize I was wrong, and find myself irrationally cursing the cold as well as all the cars now zooming by me. “How could there be this many cars in such a rural place? Can’t they just leave me alone? Unbelievable!” Despite my grumpiness, I get the 2nd out-and-back done, reaching the half way mark.
In the middle of the 3rd, as I pee on the ground, I get minor hallucinations while staring into the snow surrounding my feet. I shake it off and keep moving as my leg muscles now are showing signs of true fatigue, causing me to briefly focus on how many miles I have left, which sends me into mini panics of impatience. My dad meets me halfway down the steep hill which leads to the house and walks back with me, getting a read on how I’m doing. He gives me another peanut butter and jelly sandwich before sending me on my way.
The final out-and-back has my legs writhing in pain. I trudge on knowing that I will finish what I started. Out of nowhere I have a thought which bolts my eyes out wide and stops me from running in a genuine, full-fledged, oh-shit moment. Realizing how shot my legs feel at the 45 mile mark, I know that this is just a training run, and in a month I’ll be running the Rocky Raccoon 100. "How in the world am I going to get through THAT!?!" I tell myself I’ll figure it out later and for now, don’t think and just keep moving. And so I do, under a wonderful sunset making the ridge line look like it exploded in flame.
I return to the house at dusk, finished, having run from sun up to sun down, without a bit of emotion in me, strangely stoic and feeling like the 10 hours and 23 minutes behind me were just a strange dream, a passing hallucination in the white snow. I hobble around the house and devour a homemade pizza from my dad’s hands, before retiring to bed early.
I ran my first 50 miler today surrounded by the pine forests and mountain homes of Idaho. One month from now, I’ll wake up staring at the ceiling of a tent in a Texas State Park, somehow ready to do this all again…times two.
Hurricane Irene hit New York City on Sunday, August 28 causing my flight to Burning Man to be delayed by a couple of days till Tuesday, resulting in me missing the first part of the festival.
I survived the tempest and after a sleepless night on Tuesday I left the house at 2:45am - 2 trains, 1 bus, 3 planes and a car ride later I arrived through the gates of Burning Man. There was a big round of hellos to good friends then I went to the car to get all my belongings and my act together because for God’s sake I was running the Black Rock City 50k Ultramarathon in the morning! Was in my sleeping bag close to 11:30pm and the distant sounds of techno music put me fast asleep. In my dreams I could hear the steady bass beat of the music - oonst, oonst, oonst - then awoke to realize it wasn't the techno music but my alarm beeping at me - beep, beep, beep, beep, oonst, oonst, beep, beep - it was 3:30am and with a whole four hours of sleep after a tired day of travel it was time to get up and get on with it. This is what Burning Man should be. Take all the comforts and everything you think you know and flip it upside down and try to scramble to survive and somehow make sense of it all. Or not. Maybe it's best to just ride out the wave.
I opened the trunk of the car and disrobed then put on my running costume. My wife Ciara was at a family wedding and couldn’t make it to the festival this year, but she had given me a stack of envelopes that I was supposed to open each day so she could, in a way, be with me for the week. For this particular morning she wrote me a wonderfully inspiring note for the run on a card that almost brought me to tears. I folded it and put it in my hydration pack in case I needed to take it out and read it during the run for motivation.
With clothes on my body, three bananas in my belly, band-aids on the nipples, a handkerchief on my head and vaseline lining my crotch I was walking by myself in the dark to make it to the start line by 4:45am. What the hell was I doing? Where was I? An ominous flaming octopus on wheels blasting music and filled with furry people yelling inaudible randoms passed by me as I wondered how my life had taken me here, to this place. What the hell was I doing? I was about to run 31 miles through all of this. Don’t make sense of it. Don’t try to be grounded. Best to float in space for the next several hours and hope that when I do land it is feet first.
I ran the Black Rock City 50k last year, when it was an inaugural event. This summer, the humidity of the northeast had really gotten to me and I hadn't had the best season of running. Physically I was under-trained for the 50k distance but missing out on it wasn’t an option - I like the sound of finishing 2 out of 2 too much. It was surprisingly warm for this time in the morning in the high desert at around 3,800 feet elevation. Last year I was shivering under a coat and hat. This year I was without shirt sleeves. Hopefully it didn’t mean it would get hotter than last year. I think it did.
The crowd was gathering and a group of about 60 of us were fastening our race bibs to our clothes and getting ready to go.
A little after 5am we were off. The course was four loops around the Esplanade and deep playa then a final out-and-back that went along the Esplanade to 2:00 and C then back to the finish line.
I tucked myself in with a group of runners and as we made our way to the deep playa the sun was beginning to rise.
We all completed our first loop and with a stop to the aid station the group mostly split up and as I kept running I locked on in a smaller group of around 5 or so. Three of the runners were from my fellow Brooklyn and part of the running group North Brooklyn Runners which I have been meaning to run with for the past year now and haven’t. In this group was Cherie Yanek who had the drive to create this 50k last year and has been the race director of it for two years now. Toward the middle of the race she would developed a big bad blister on the top of one of her toes which caused a lot of pain. So what did she do? Took of her shoes and ran the rest of the race in her socks! And finished the race long before I did. And just a week and a half later she was scheduled to toe the line for a 100 miler. Amazing!
The second loop was interesting because there was daylight now and as you ran you would pass by all sorts of Burners who were heading home after a full night of partying out on the playa. If Burning Man is the place where all the freaks go, we were running by the most hardcore that exist in the freak kingdom - and they were all staring at us like we were the weirdest people they had ever seen. We were the freaks to the freaks. And we kept running. You had acid heads with beers in their system chasing after us trying to run alongside until their energies gave way. A woman in only her underwear was shuffling along with her legs locked together towards the port-o-potties. As we came up behind her I realized why she was shuffling - she had shat herself. Yes, this clearly was the hour when the animals were still wandering free out of their cages. The junkies were scouring the land. The werewolves were looming about. A lost soul came up on us, suspiciously asking if we were undercover cops. We assured him that we were. People stopped what they were doing to check us out. There was a chorus of comments:
“You guys are crazy!”
“What are you running from?”
“Dig the mustache!”
“What the hell are you doing!”
“Are you serious!?!”
“This is awesome!”
“Am I hallucinating?”
“Aren’t you afraid you’re gonna die?”
“Stop here for a beer!”
“Take a swig of this tequila!”
“You guys are idiots!”
“You guys are hardcore!”
“You guys are at the wrong festival!”
“How far are you running?”
“Is this the Marathon?” to which we replied, “No, it’s the Ultramarathon.”
By the third lap as we crossed the Esplanade and made our way to deep playa the group really split up and for a while I found myself running alone. A man in a suit jumped out of a giant beetle on wheels and started sprinting laps around me then got back on the beetle and took off. The sun was steadily rising as well as the temperature. Soon most of the people that had been out partying had gone to bed and the early risers hadn’t risen yet. Things got pretty quiet. It is here when you really feel like you are isolated in the desert.
Photo from last year's race. I'm on the left. Imagine me without the other 3 bodies.
Up to this point I had been doing a good job of taking a GU every half an hour and been taking regular sips of water from my hydration pack as well as drinking the orange Gatorade from the aid stations. Maybe too good of a job. The liquids were sloshing around in my stomach, making me nauseous and sick to my stomach. I really wanted to puke it all out and clear it away from my stomach but I was afraid of doing so because it was starting to get really hot (heading toward the 90’s) and I feared dehydration. As I was in the middle of nowhere running along the border fence I couldn’t take it anymore. A woman and a man passed by me on bikes and told me I was looking great and to keep it up. A few seconds after they rode by I was hunched over the trash fence violently hurling orange foamy liquid into the desert dust. My abs clutched so tight I thought that I had strained them and a new fear set in, not of dehydration but of pulling a stomach muscle. Thankfully the pain was temporary and a good four heaves or so later and I was feeling better but I knew there was more. I forced myself to keep moving to avoid a second round that would put me into the depths of dehydration but about ten minutes later I found myself hunched over the fence again retching out more orange. It was at the end of this round that I felt I cleared what was bothering me out of my stomach and was able to keep moving again, slowly. Although I felt better, my stomach was still feeling rough and I wasn’t sure what would happen when I would begin to drink water again.
This was the low point - alone on the boarders of Burning Man, having just vomited all the contents out of my stomach, with the temperatures of the dry heat slowly causing my body to bake and knowing that there was much more left to run. This is the point where things can start to turn. This is when everything can go from manageable to dire. It’s times like these that you step back and look at what lies in front of you and you make the decision to stop or continue on. For me, even though things had almost gotten to the point of dire, I never once considered quitting. What I did wonder was with my stomach feeling the way it was, how was I going to get through the rest of this race? How was this going to happen? How were the cards going to be played out? I pulled out the card from Ciara and re-read it.
The last part of the note.
And so I kept moving.
It was shortly after this that Peter, one of the runners from Brooklyn came up behind me and we got to chatting. He was having difficulties with cramping and I told him about my stomach troubles. We moved along together for a short time before he was ready to pick up the pace. I wasn’t, so he said that I would probably see him at the aid station up ahead. I wasn’t so sure the way I was feeling. About a half hour later it turned out he was right. I got to the aid station, refilled my hydration pack, tried to eat a few pretzels and take a few sips of that orange Gatorade I had gotten to know so well and the two of us were off together with one loop left to go plus the out and back along the Esplanade.
Peter and I more or less decided we were in it together for the remainder of the race as we passed by the familiar theme camps, by some of the same people that had been watching us each loop and by some people that were seeing us for the first time. More comments. More conversation. More people on acid with beers in their system. More continuing on. The last camp you see on 2:00 before reaching the deep playa fence is a camp that I like to call Camp Heckle. They were there last year at the same place, on the outskirts of town, probably put there because of the wealth of complaints they get from year to year. Loud dubstep techno blasts from their speakers and a jerk on the microphone hollers out as many insults as he can think of towards whoever passes by. And being the freak runners that we were, we may as well have been running with a target attached to our clothes instead of a race number. In truth they weren’t as bad as last year. A year earlier in the exact same spot, the last words my friend Tyler and I remember hearing them say to us while making our way to the outer fence, echoing from the loud speaker throughout the desert was, “FUCK YOU, RETARD!” How do you respond to that? What do you do? Say something back to them? Or maybe sneak into their camp at night and puncture holes into all their water jugs? Naw. This is Burning Man. The world has been flipped upside down. You just smile, shake your head, and move on.
We finished the fourth loop and resupplied at the aid station. Keeping out of the sun behind a large art piece, a woman who had just finished the race was taking off her shoes and hobbling along. I asked her how she was doing and she said she was fine although her feet were really hurting. Having turned into an ultrarunning nerd the past year, I was pretty sure that I knew who she was but I wanted to ask what her name was just to make sure. “Kathy D’Onofrio” she said and I had been right. I asked her, “You won Western States twice, didn’t you?” For those readers who don’t know, The Western States 100 is the very first 100 mile foot race in the world and is known as the Super Bowl of American 100 milers which attracts the most elite distance runners not only from the US, but around the world. She had won the woman’s field in 1986 and 1988. Kathy humbly said, “Yes I did win Western States, but that was a very long time ago.” I told her I thought that was totally awesome and she thanked me and said, “But let me tell you something,” and she pointed her finger right at me and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You could win it too!” Time froze for a moment as I was taken aback by this, never haven really considered the notion. Before I could say anything she asked if I was finished with the race and I told her I had the out-and-back left to do. Her mouth dropped open and she gave me a funny look and yelled, “then what are you waiting for, GO GET EM!” And she started jumping up and down on her tired feet yelling over and over again, “GO GET EM, GO GET EM!” And with that Peter and I were off for the home stretch.
The physical pain was intense for us both. We’d run until it was too much for one of us and then we’d have to walk for a while. We reached the turn around point and gave the Esplanade one last hurrah. My stomach was really upset and I felt sick. The heat was oppressive. If I ran for more then a few minutes I would come close to puking. The wind kicked up and before we knew it we were in the middle of a thick dust storm. We put the bandanas that had been tied around our necks over our mouths to filter out the dust. I took a few breaths through it and immediately took it off as I realized it had been around my sweaty neck for the past six hours and smelt so bad I preferred to breath in the dust. I struggled with a few bouts of coughing. And then after all the way we had gone and how little we had left to go, Burning Man decided to throw one last obstacle in for us to navigate through. Blocking our path was a steady stream of several hundred fully naked men riding on bikes. There was so many of them it was hard to cross through to the other side. We had no other option but to carefully make our way across, fording the river of naked bicycle men, feeling like we were in the Atari game Frogger. After much concentration, we safely made it through, managing to avoid being hit by a bike or a loose body part and we kept moving. We trudged on together. It is unbelievable how great company is for an event like this, especially when you are suffering. Good conversation will take potentially hellacious miles and turn them into pleasant moments. I was very grateful for Peter's company and hopefully I’ll make it out to some of these North Brooklyn Runner events in the future. Finally we made it to the finish with a time of 6 hours, 27 minutes and 4 seconds and received a nice big finisher’s medal around our necks and a t-shirt to take home.
Peter at the finish.
I can’t say enough good things about Cherie for organizing this crazy event and for the volunteers at the aid station sitting through the heat of the day to make sure the runners were properly taken care of and accounted for.
Although I had a lot of physical stomach problems over the course of these 31 miles, besides that one quick moment in the deep playa, I stayed pretty strong mentally. I knew the whole time that somehow I was going to finish this race. And I did. Mission accomplished - now bring on the rest of the week!
I was surprised at how fast my body ended up recovering from the race and two days later I found myself running again, this time a half marathon around the perimeter fence of Burning Man with two stellar people, Andy and Sage from the Yummy RUMInations camp.
It’s amazing how quickly the feelings of suffering fade from one’s mind and you are left with nothing but good memories of elation towards an experience. As soon as they fade comes into your mind the next big question:
I just finished the 2011 SunTrust National Marathon in Washington DC on Saturday, March 26. Here's how it went:
I woke up at 4:45AM, took a shower, had a breakfast of oatmeal, banana and coffee, got all my things together and headed out the door. I was staying with my VERY generous friends in Falls Church, Virginia. The Metro Rail started running at 6:00AM, just one hour before the start of the race at 7:00AM. Because my friends' apartment was a good distance away from RFK Stadium, I didn't want to risk missing the start of the marathon so I opted to take a cab. Turns out I should have saved $40 and taken the Metro anyway as the starting gun was a bit tardy to go off and it took over 20 minutes for me to cross the start line from when the race began. There were some 17,000 runners in the three events of the day (Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay) and I was placed in the very last starting corral. Anyway, it was better to be safe than sorry and I had plenty of time to wait in the long lines to pee and soak in the pre-race atmosphere.
The weather was pretty chilly in the morning - probably in the low to mid 30's. I brought an extra hooded sweatshirt that I wore until my corral started to move then I threw it off to the side of the road to be donated. The best decision I made all day was about a minute before I was to cross the starting line I jumped a fence and hit the port-o-potty one last time. Because the race had started, there were no lines and I finished my business and jumped back over the fence in no time to start the race. By doing this I saved myself a few unpleasant miles and waiting in a long toilet line at the first aid station.
The first half hour or so was spent threading my way through the thick crowd, passing runners. In that half hour I warmed up and shed my hat and gloves and tied a bandanna around my head. A little later I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist. What had been a cold morning turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. It remained fairly crowded until the half marathon mark when the other two events finished, leaving only the marathoners for the last half of the course. It was really refreshing to get the extra running room and for a boost of inspiration, at about mile 14 I passed by a single leg amputee runner who was trucking along with a prosthetic leg.
The course offered some great views of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument amoung other DC landmarks and had us running through several neighborhoods as well as past Nationals Park. Hopefully one day I'll return here to watch a baseball game and cross another stadium off my bucket list.
The course was mostly flat although there was a few little hills mixed in, but nothing major. The cherry trees and magnolias were in bloom and at several times during the race I would zone out and just look at them in contemplation and appreciation. At every aid station I would get two cups of Powerade and then a cup of water and probably ate 5 gels over the course of the day. I felt pretty strong the whole race, even though by the end my legs were tired. I kept my mind off them by looking at all the trees in bloom and chatting with some fellow runners. It is always fun and special to quickly get to know someone during a race.
The race ended where it started at RFK Stadium and I crossed the finish line in 4:17:18 (9:49 pace), a new PR for me having shaved off over an hour on my previous best and much faster than my initial goal. I got my medal, had my picture taken, drank some water and called Ciara and my parents before heading to the Metro stop to ride back to Virginia.
There are two philosophies for what to do the day after you run a marathon. The first one is to rest. The second one is called active recovery which means that even if you are hobbling, get out and run a couple of miles to loosen things up. I chose a happy medium as I ended up walking probably at least 10 miles all over DC including visiting the American History Museum, Natural History Museum, Holocaust Museum, Ford's Theatre and the Jefferson Memorial. What a great way to keep things loose and now three days after the marathon I've run twice and feel well on my way to recovery.
I had a great time at the marathon and it was wonderful to train for something all winter long and get to celebrate the hard work by running through one of America's greatest cities. Now it's onward to new goals and adventures. What's next!?!
I went to the finish line of the 2011 NYC Half Marathon a little early and got a sweet view from the Tribeca Bridge. Here are some pictures I took:
1st place - Mo Farah
Mo Farah and Gebre Gebremariam
Meb Keflezighi finishing
Mo Farah and Gebre Gebremariam
Top 3 men - Mo Farah, Gebre Gebremariam and Galen Rupp
1st place women - Caroline Rotich
Mo Farah, Kara Goucher and Galen Rupp
Top 3 women - Caroline Rotich, Edna Kiplagat and Kara Goucher
This past January, The Decemberists released their new album The King is Dead which has a song on it titled "Rox in the Box" that is set in the Granite Mountain Mine in Butte, Montana. Awesome song that makes me miss Butte.
I spent this past summer in Virginia City, Montana performing for the Virginia City Players and our first show, "Fire From Within" was about the Granite Mountain Mine disaster of 1917. From the time I first visited Butte in the winter of 2002, I knew this was without a doubt one of the most interesting towns I'd ever been to and that intrigue led to me living there for the summers of 2005 and 2006 to help run the Buttenik Ensemble in the Covellite Theatre.
The Covellite Theatre, December 2007.
Although it's not always been an easy place for me to live, there's a very large redeeming quality about Butte that's made me love it unconditionally and has drawn me back to it time and time again and I'll have the memories and the friendships I've made there for the rest of my life. I even proposed to Ciara on top of the M.
My interest expanded last year when I completed my new full length play, "Squalor" about a homeless couple living in the rugged alley behind the Party Palace bar on the corner of Park & Main in Butte. The play has yet to be produced and it is my hope that it finds a home very soon.
The alley where "Squalor" is set.
But I'm not the only one to have been inspired to write about Butte, many others have as well from the recent Decemberists album to movies, books, plays, paintings, poetry and this article by my personal favorite, Jack Kerouac, published in the March 1970 issue of Esquire Magazine titled "The Great Western Bus Ride" which includes his experience at the M&M:
"I slept en route to great Butte...over the Divide, near Anaconda and Pipestone Pass...Butte of the rough geographies. Arriving, I stored my bag in a locker while some young Indian cat asked me to go drinking with him; he looked too crazy. I walked the sloping streets in super below-zero weather with my handkerchief tied tight around my leather collar and saw that everybody in Butte was drunk. It was Sunday night, I had hoped the saloons would stay open long enough for me to see them. They never even closed. In a great old-time saloon I had a giant beer. On the wall was a big electric signboard flashing gambling numbers. The bartender gave me the honor of selecting a number for him on the chance of beginner's luck. No soap. "Arrived here twenty-two years ago and stayed. Montanans drink to much, fight to much, love too much." What characters in there: old prospectors, gamblers, whores, miners, Indians, cowboys, tobacco-chewing businessmen! Groups of sullen Indians drank red rotgut in the john. Hundreds of men played cards in an atmosphere of smoke and spittoons. It was the end of my quest for an ideal bar. An old Blackjack dealer tore my heart out, he reminded me so much of W.C. Fields and my father, fat, with a bulbous nose, great rugged pockmarked angelic face, wiping himself with a black-pocket handkerchief, green eyeshade, wheezing with big asthmatic laborious sadness in the Butte winter night games till he finally packed off for home and a snort to sleep another day. I also saw a ninety-year-old man called Old John who coolly played cards till dawn with slitted eyes, and had been doing so since 1880 in Montana...since the days of the winter cattle drive to Texas, and the days of Sitting Bull. There was another old man with an aged, loving, shaggy sheepdog who ankled off in the cold mountain night after satisfying his soul at cards. There were Greeks and Chinamen. The bus didn't leave Butte till dawn. I promised myself I'd come back. The bus roared down the slope and looking back I saw Butte on her fabled Gold Hill still lit like jewelry and sparkling on the mountainside in the blue northern dawn."
With Springtime right around the corner, if that excerpt doesn't spark your wanderlust, I don't know what will. Here's a copy of the article:
It's always great to see Butte pop up in these songs and stories and such, and I hope that artists continue to use it as the backdrop for their work. I know I have a few more that are on my list to write.
For the second straight day we woke up to find it snowing outside our window. Here's the view from our apartment this morning:
That's the back of the historic Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church on the right. It was built in 1857 and used to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is still a functioning church and there is a large annex in the back which houses the Irondale Ensemble Project, an Off-Broadway Theatre Company.
It seems like it's already snowed quite a bit more in New York City than it did last year. Here are some pictures Ciara and I took the morning after the big storm we got that came just after this past Christmas, 2010:
Ciara in contemplation as deep as the snow. Good thing we don't have a car!
People sledding in Fort Greene Park, a block away from our apartment.
When we heard New York City was going to get a "blizzard" we rolled our eyes a bit as the media seems to have a way of making a little snow turn into a treacherous storm. But the hype was right on this time - there was actually a lot of snow and it took several days to get the city to function back to normal again.