Monday, November 23, 2009

Trail running versus Road Running

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who had just run the San Antonio marathon, and he kept referring to the scenery, which of course, he was talking about the city itself...the buildings, the landscape, etc...and I had just returned from running the Louisiana Trails 50k in Shreveport, Louisiana. My run was held strictly within a pristine Louisiana forest, which was reminiscent of the Piney Woods region of Texas.

I am always amazed at what people call "a good view." I can say the same thing about myself, as I have stood at the top of the Sears Tower building in Chicago, amazed at the view, and it was cool seeing Wrigley Field and other great sites. But I have always thought that "a good view" was one that contained mountains, trees, rivers, lakes, flowers, birds, and deer. Running around city streets, seeing buildings, cars, people, parking lots, with signs everywhere, smelling exhaust fumes always seemed so alien to me.

Running on roads at some large events around the country have their appeal, though. I love the energy that is represented at some of the larger marathons, such as Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and others. People are in a spirit unlike any other event, and moving together with thousands of other runners is a sociological phenomenon like no other!

However, trail runs are much more low key, with no starting pistols, no flyovers, no bands, and no crowds cheering you on toward the finish. And usually, by the time you finish one of those long 50k's or 50 mile races, most of the people are gone, and you are left to cross the finish line on your own with no fanfare. But the rewards are such that no one can explain except through experience. The forest is alive with energy, the trails are inviting, the leaves cover the forest floor, and during the fall season, the leaves are changing colors. Most trail runs are conducted in such environments, and its a no-no to leave trash on the road races, the roads are littered with paper cups, energy gel packets and empty water bottles. In a trail race, you can be disqualified for littering.

There are also hazards in a trail race you won't face on the roads. For example, the roots will reach out and grab you, especially as you tire after running 20 or more miles. Rocks will tear your feet to shreds. The downhills can be treacherous, and if you fall, you could break something, or twist an ankle fairly easily. On the other hand, in a road race, you still may have to contend with vehicles that don't want to wait for runners to cross a road. Exhaust fumes may overwhelm you. People that line up alongside the road to gawk at runners may say stupid things. During one road marathon in Houston, I passed by some people that were making fun of runners who were slower, and looked "funny" to them. I overheard one spectator say out loud, "they all look so bizzare!" She was looking at us as if we were odd spectacles from another planet.

I often wondered, too, if people really needed those crowds to cheer for them. Running is an individual sport, and running alone is sometimes a great time for introspection. Do people really need rock bands scattered every mile in order to be so distracted that they don't realize that running a marathon is difficult? On the other hand, I enjoyed hearing the many bands I have heard along the way.

Trail runners seem to be different sorts of animals, too. They are often older than the average road runners. They are kinder, it seems. More laid back. I watched two runners nearing the end of their 50k race (31.2 miles) turn around and run two miles backward to find aid for a fallen runner once. When runners fall, others stop what they are doing to check on you to see if you are ok.

Back to the "view," I still don't see city buildings as scenic, but I will admit that both types of races are still exciting, and I find interesting things about both, but trail running, without the accolades, big money, cheering crowds, and pristine forests is quite alluring. Everyone should try it...or not! Trail runs are starting to get crowded. For some of the largest races, it is almost impossible to get registered for a race. Waiting lists are common, now, and when registration opens, most interesting trail runs can close quickly.

I am happy to have discovered trail runs, and I long for the next one, although, by the time I have run 30 or so miles through those pristine forests, I am more than ready for a good "view" of a city, a steak, and a cold beer!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Louisiana Trails 50k

The Louisiana Trails 50k was located in Shreveport, Louisiana in Eddie Jones Park. It is listed as 98% single track trails that winds around a Chimpanzee Haven, a facility where Chimpanzees have been rescued, and are living out the remainder of their lives.

The event also hosted a full marathon and half marathon. The course was a loop of 13.1 miles, so the 50k'ers ran two loops and a special loop at the end to complete the 50k distance.

I attended the event with David McCaghren and Gary Garson. We stayed in Bossier City the night before, and ate in a great place called Notini's. If you are ever in that area, this is a restaurant that is highly recommended. I stuffed myself with Spaghetti and meat sauce...if I had it all to do over again, I would order the smaller plate, because the meal they brought out to me would have fed an entire African village.

The park was about 30 miles away from our hotel, so we left about six to get to the race. When we arrived, the energy was already in the air. We jogged around, got loose, received our instructions and I love the way the race started. There was no firing of a gun, just the race directer shouting out: Go! Off we went.

David and I stayed together for the first 13.1 mile loop. We were passing people along the route, and I was really enjoying the nice pace, and the rollercoaster hills. There were a lot of roots on this trail, especially since the recent rains washed away a lot of the topsoil, exposing even more roots than normal. At one point, while struggling with my water bottle, and trying to open a Hammer Gel pack, I hit a low lying tree branch, missed the beginning of a small downhill, and tumbled head over heels. I did a nice roll, though, and was back up on my feet quickly enough.

We aproached the end of the first loop in 2:30, and I was quite pleased with my effort at this point. I had to make a pitstop at a restroom before I started the second loop, while David continued on. As I began my second loop, I turned the wrong way and spent about 20 minutes trying to find my way...not to mention trying to negotiate a hill that was pretty steep while I was trying to figure out where I was supposed to go. That's when I met an ER doctor, who had turned the wrong way, as well. Three or four other runners came down the hill and we all were lost for awhile, until we retraced our steps and found the original trail again.

The second 13.1 mile loop was not as kind as the first, as I decided to run much more conservatively. The roots seemed to be more evident, and I tripped and fell at least three times, each time I hit the ground, my calves would cramp up a bit more than the time before. The doctor I was running with was ready to quit, but I talked him into staying with it. We began to walk the uphill sections and run the downhills and the more runnable areas. This was a pretty hilly course, with a lot of rollercoaster hills, and some sizeable ups and downs.

As I finished the second loop, I realized I was not going to break 7 hours because of the 20 minutes I lost while trying to find my way at the beginning of the second loop. But, I ate a bag of jellybeans, drank some more Cytomax and finished the last 5 miles pretty strong, despite running the last 11 miles with major cramps in my feet and calves. I finished in 7:18.

All in all, I loved this event. It was a hard course, but I love a good challenge, and I'm hoping it was a good workout for Bandera in January, as I am running the 50k there, next.

My friend Gary came in somewhere around 7:42, and David had a great run on that course, for a finishing time of 6:30, which was pretty good for such a tough course. I highly recommend this trail was well organized, and the money went to finance missions work in Central America. Good times!

Jerry Hollingsworth

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Knee Injury, Missing Races, and the Five Stages of Grief

Having a knee injury is one of the most disappointing injuries one can have. It's one of those injuries that could sideline you for a while, and well, if you have already fronted money out for registration fees and made hotel reservations, and made plans with friends to some races you were looking forward to, then life just seems to "suck."

I trained harder for El Scorcho 50k summer ultra run, than I did for the 50 miler at Sunmart, and was determined to run well in the heat. I had undergone extensive heat acclimation workouts, took long runs in the country, performed core training, mountain training, running at altitude, and a strength and weight training program, as well as two-a-day workouts,and was looking forward to the race with gusto!

Then, it happened...the knee injury. It happened on the very first day of my two-a-day workouts. I had run an easy 4 miler in the morning, and in the afternoon, I did a long tempo speed workout, and it felt great. Later, while walking through the grocery store, my knee froze up and I thought I was going to faint dead away. I struggled through a few more workouts before realizing it was not going to go away. All I could think about was not being able to run the Summer Solstice run at Redbud...and in my own perverted thinking, I figured I would be fine for El Scorcho, but it was not to be.

Finally, after I realized things were not going to heal in a few days, I started going through the five stages of grief: Denial was first, as I kept trying to work out on it...icing it down every two hours, massaging it, wearing protective braces, etc...but finally, I began to: Be angry! I was really mad that I was missing my races, and then, to make matters worse, I started feeling alienated, as I couldn't workout on Saturday mornings with my friends. Then along came Bargaining...making deals with God, promising to be a better person if only he would heal my injury, kept hurting.

Then depression set in...I refused to show up at the Summer solstice run because I was depressed, and I couldn't stand to watch all my friends run the race I wanted to run...and I knew I was not going to run El Scorcho. I was wallowing in my pity.

Then, after some time passed, I entered the acceptance phase. I finally realized my goals were cancelled for some time, and the only thing that was going to help me was time off. So, I started working on a recovery and rehab program, and I pulled out my schedule book.

I designed a workout program
I started swimming at the McMurry pool every day, and I was feeling much better about myself. Eventually, I began to workout on the Elliptical trainer. It was a great workout that simulated running without putting pressure on my knee. And strength training was available, so I began to lift weights every other day, and before I knew it, 6 weeks had gone by, and I was desperate to try the knee out. I knew that I would not be able to return to all out running, so it was almost like starting all over again. I began walking and then walk/running, and before I knew it, I was back into running two and three miles.

Saturday, I went out to Steamboat Mountain with friends, and was able to run the half marathon course out there. So, I'm back, now, and I even think the rest and break from running was a good thing. In fact, next summer, instead of running so many miles, I am planning to cut back, run shorter races, and conserve my strength for the next big push.

I think I learned the hard way about injuries, but it was a long hard pull to get back to full strength. I am running the Crossroads Half Marathon in October, and I can't wait.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bar-H Boondoggle 6-Hour Trail Race

This is a really laid back race, and one that reminds me of what the people say trail running "used" to be like. One aid station was stuck right in the middle of a figure eight loop, and you had to run by the campfire every time you finished one section of the figure 8 to check your name off. No chips, no spotters, and no fuss. It was a 6.4 mile complete loop.

The first half of the loop ran uphill for quite a ways to start off, and then the hills started! They were steep and technical, and the downhills were rocky and treacherous. The trails were single track almost the entire distance. The second half of the figure eight was flatter, and the trail at the beginning was hard to find, as grass was high along the rather narrow single track trail, but soon, the trail appeared to be no more than a ridge cut out of the sandy bottom grasslands we were running through. There was mud, mixed in with a lot of cow dung that you had to watch out for, but soon, we entered the wooded section of that loop, and it was the most gorgeous area to run through that I have seen in a while. It almost reminded me of portions of the Sunmart course at that point. Of course, the roots were prevalent there, and some of the downhills were difficult. Not as much climbing on this side, but soon, it was time to hit the next section, which was pretty much all hills.

It started getting dark in the middle of the hill section on my third loop, so I used my new PrinceTec headlamp, and it worked ok, but I never figured out how to make it tilt the right way to make use of the light on the trail, so I found myself running with my head down. The downhills in the dark were scary, and one slip could have been disastrous, so I slowed down at this point, and right as I was finishing up the hilly section, the Whipporwhils began calling in the distance. I don't think I have ever heard one, but they sound awesome, if not a little lonesome, and on that part of the trail, I was all alone, and the sounds of those birds was incredible.

I checked in at the aid station, took some salt tablets, a little gatorade, and when the lady at the desk told me I had slowed down quite a bit, I just smiled and said, "I know." The dark definitely changes how you run on trails that technical. One bad step and it would be all over. They might not find your body for awhile. Even if they did find you, I'm not sure how they would get you out of that countryside without a helicopter.

The back side of the trail, which had been markedly easier than the front side, became even more difficult after dark. It was hard to follow the narrow trails, and in places, the trail seemed to disappear. If not for the flour they poured along the way on parts of the trail, I might have gotten really's amazing how flourescent just ordinary flour can be. It helped me stay on track. All along the back side of the loop, I could hear Coyotes in the distance, howling and barking. I could smell random campfires of people camping all along the countryside, but for the most part, it was just me and the trail, all alone with my little headlamp. It was a little spooky at times to say the least, but good experience for running trails at night. At one point, I shined my headlight into the woods, and I saw eyeballs reflecting my light. Not sure what it was, and I really didn't want to know. It did make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. some of the people I met at the race, said that someone had stopped them on the trail and told them there was a mountain lion running around in the hilly section of the loop. That was never confirmed, but it put a chill down our spines.

I learned a lot on this trail, and I actually think I can now call myself a trail runner. I finally feel like I really learned how to run trails on this course.

When I got to the aid station after completing three complete loops, (approximately 19.4 miles, according to the official race documentation), I was prepared to tackle the front side of the figure eight one last time, and then I had planned to quit after that, which would have given me around 22 or 23 miles, I think, but when I got to the Aid station, my two friends were there, and they were ready to go home, and it didn't take much for me to agree with them. I packed it in, and felt good about what I had done.

All in all, it was a great run, and a great experience. I highly recommend this trail to anyone who really wants to learn to run technical trails. It was a fabulous place to get some good training in. For me, I was only trying to get a good workout in, and I did that.....!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Prickly Pear 50k Race report

I was very excited to run this race, as I had wanted to run it for awhile. The trail conditions there were dry, as there had been no rain in the area in some time. In fact, the weather was approaching the mid-eighties as race day approached, so I knew my time was going to be a little slower.

I had met a friend of mine from Idaho, and my wife and I had dinner at Olive Garden the night before with Jenny and one of her friends. It was a great dinner, with good conversation and good pasta. I was so ready to excitement was building. I could barely sleep that night as I thought about the race.

The next morning, Jenny, her friend, and I, all loaded up and headed for McCallister Park. It is an interesting place, as you don't expect to see such a large acreage of trails, trees, cliffs, and wild country sitting in the middle of San Antonio, Texas. We received our race briefing, along with the discussion about leaving the Rattlesnakes alone if we saw any...which I had planned on anyway....common sense, right? As they said, "go," we all took off and entered the first part of the trail, which was a single track through low hanging tree branches and a dried, hard-packed ground. The 50k was held in conjunction with a 10 mile event, which they would run one time, but we would run 3 10.3 mile loops.

as we proceeded to the top of a dam, the wind hit me full in the was so strong, I thought it was going to blow my bib right off my shirt. We headed into this 40 mph wind for about a mile before the trail went downhill into a nice Live Oak forest, where the wind was negligible. Soon after that, we found the hardest part of the trail...a cliff you could barely walk was very steep and was better "climbed" than ran. The rest of the trail consisted of single track trails through Live Oaks, and then meandered behind some houses, out past some soccer fields, and then back into the woods for the final three or four miles. The hills were manageable, but I walked a few of them nonetheless.

I ran the first loop in a little over 2 hours, and was doing fine. I came around for the second loop a little slower, but at the 22 mile mark, I started getting cramps in my left hamstring. It tightened up on me, forcing me to slow down and walk more than I would have liked that last 10 mile loop. The heat was unbearable in some spots, but there was a nice cloud cover that kept it from getting out of hand.

I finished in 7 hours, and was a little disappointed in my time, as I wanted to break 6 hours, but the temperatures ensured a PR was not going to happen. All in all, it was a great trail run. I struggled the last 8 miles, but it made the run all the more memorable. Great race, good friends, and I celebrated with a Sam Adams beer and a nice t-bone steak!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

El Scorcho Tres 50k

My next race is the El Scorcho 50k race at Trinity Park in Fort Worth. I have wanted to run this race for the past two years, but was in Africa during the last one, and in Peru the year before. This summer I am running it for the first time. It is truly a unique race.

Description of the Race: it is held at midnight during the hottest time of the year, July 20th. The temperatures will be high, and the race will consist of 10 3.1 mile loops around Trinity Park, which includes a mix of crushed limestone, asphalt, the occasional concrete sidewalk, a couple of foot-bridges, and a basketball court. About half the course is lit at night by streetlamps, but according to the race directors, they never seem to work, so it will be dark, and the entire race will require a flashlight or headlamp to find your way.

Training: I have been training hard for this race, including running in the heat of the day as much as possible to acclimate to running in a high temperature environment. I have also been running on a loop course to get used to the repetitiveness of the course. I have been running hill repeats once a week, and including some long runs on saturdays, as well. As the race gets closer, I will run back-to-back long runs to prepare for the distance involved. I will bump my long run up to about 26 miles, with a 13 mile run the day before so I can get used to running on tired legs. We will also be running a practice run in the Running club to simulate night running conditions.

I love races that are unique, and El Scorcho seems to offer that, and I can't wait for it to get here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

updated racing schedule

Well, the McNaughton 100 trail was was canceled and moved to Vermont, and I was going to move up my 100 mile race to February, but I think that is a bad move. I am going to stay with my plans to run the 50 mile race in February at Rocky Raccoon. I wanted to run all 50k's this year, and I think that is still a good plan. I want to improve my speed, my strength, and my endurance, as well as my hill running capabilities before taking on the 100 mile race.

So, in light of this fact, here is what I think will be the final schedule for me this year, finishing up with two races in 2010, the 60k as a warmup and training run at Bandera in January to get me ready for the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in February.

March: Prickly Pear 50k (completed)
July: El Scorcho 50k
August: Dark Side Series, 60k
November: Louisiana Trails 50k
January, 2010: Bandera 50k
February, 2010: Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race.

While the 100 mile race is a goal, I will try and run a couple of 50 milers first. So, 2010 will be a year to run nothing but 50 milers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Going for it!

Ok, this blog is about to change in scope and intensity. I have finally decided to attempt the 100 mile trail race. That is not the most unusual scenario for me, as I have had that as a goal since I started running ultras. But after my first failed attempt at 50 miles (missed cutoff time at 37.5 miles), I was worried that I might not be capable of completing a 50 mile race, nevertheless, a distance twice that far.

However, I have set up a series of races that I will be running to help train myself for the 100 miler. I am running a series of 50k races, and another 50 mile race with no cutoff times, and will be using those races as confidence builders to train for the 100. Here is the racing schedule I have chosen to set myself up for the 100 mile race:

Prickly Pear 50k (March 6, 2009): completed @7 hours in the heat.
El Scorcho 50k (July 20th): Midnight run in the heat
Traverse Trails; Capt. Karl's Dark Side Series 60k (all run in the dark)
Louisiana Trails 50k (Shreveport, Louisiana) November 14th
Bandera 50k race, January 9th
Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race, Hunstville, Texas, February 6, 2010.
McNaughton 100 mile race; Pekin, Illinois, April 9, 2010

McNaughton Park 150/100 mile race

The McNaughton Park Trail Runs are firmly established as a premier ultra event ... the 2008 run had in excess of 200 entries from all over the United States and Europe.

"Easier than Barkley.Cooler than Badwater.Lower altitude than Leadville.Warmer than Yukon Artic Ultras."

Here is the description of the course from the website: "How about the view? One of our 2005 participants described it this way: “It’s one of the most scenic courses I know: Mostly singletrack, forest with some meadows, hills with beautiful valleys in between. Lots of flowers and wildlife. At dawn, when I came to the 3rd creek crossing, thousands of birds were singing, frogs were ‘talking’ everywhere, wild geese above me were chatting, and several Whitetail Deer crossing the trail.”

However, here is another quote from the website: "Do you think Illinois is all flat cornfields? Wise ultra-runners will get some serious hill training in before coming to McNaughton Park! We don’t have mountains in Illinois ... just a few rolling hills with elevator shaft downhills guaranteed to warm your quads on a chilly April evening. Here’s how one satisfied customer described the terrain: ‘I now know why Illinois is so flat. They took all the hills that are supposed to be there and put them ALL into one spot in Pekin, IL ... and called it ‘McNaughton Park’.”

I am not fooling myself into thinking that this course will be an easy one, but it will be scenic and challenging. However, from what I can tell, it shouldn't be any more difficult than Bandera out in the Texas Hill Country, so I am training for that environment...the hills and the rocks of Bandera should be good training for McNaughton.

On this blog, I will be continuously updating my training on a week by week basis on the way toward the McNaughton 100. I will report on the races I have scheduled, and my crazy emotional feelings as I go through this endeavor. Incidentally, my wife has given me the green light and has decided to even accompany me on this trip. Pretty cool.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

All Ultras all the time...

This year, I am concentrating on running all ultras. I'm stepping up the intensity level of my running in general, with the idea of running a 100 mile race sometime early next year. I am gearing up to run a 100 mile race. I have already run the Prickly Pear 50k in March, but here's a list of the rest of the races I am going to complete this year:


El Scorcho 50k--Fort Worth, Texas (July 20th)
Capt. Karl's Dark side Series 60k--Inks Lake State Park, Texas (August 29th)
Louisiana Trails 50k--Shreveport, Louisiana (November 14th)
Bandera 50k--Bandera, Texas (January 9th)


Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race, Huntsville, Texas (Feb. 6th)
Grasslands 50 mile race, Decatur, Texas (March)
100 mile race (?)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back to Blogging

Well, it's been a while since I last wrote anything, and things have been going pretty well. My running is definitely such a big part of my life, now, with Ultra marathons becoming central to it all. Since my last blog, I attempted a 50 mile race, but missed the cutoff at 8:40 of running. I missed the cutoff by 10 lousy minutes. My feet were like hamburger, though, and since then, I have made some drastic improvements that I feel will help my long distance running. First, I finally got some trail shoes, along with some gaiters. At Sunmart, my feet were like hamburger, because of the dirt and the rocks that ended up in my shoes and even in my socks. I think that will help a great deal. I know the trail shoes have helped with my propensity to fall, as well, and that is a big deal.

Since my last posting, I have run several races for fun, like the San Angelo series trail run. But my favorite trail race has been the Prickly Pear 50k, which I ran in March. That was a blast, despite the heat and the humidity, and the dry conditions of the course, itself. I ran it in 7 hours, which is not that fast, but it was a great run and I enjoyed the company of others, the trails, and the weekend.

I am preparing now for El Scorcho 50k, which will be held in July 17th, at midnight. I am putting in some good hill training, tempo runs, and longer runs, which I am hoping will keep me at least competitive. Looking forward to that race, as well as others I have scheduled. So far, my schedule is as follows:

El Scorcho 50k in July
Louisiana Trails 50k in September
Rocky Racoon 50 mile race in February.

Looking foward to the training and the races!