Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Finishing 2017 by Looking at mid-2017

As every year comes to an end, it is customary to review the events of the year and wax nostalgic about all the wonderful experiences you had.  Yeah, I'm not gonna do that.  I'm supposed to be putting together a family calendar, but I decided to do this instead.  Don't tell Mali.

This past June I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand and Laos.  As many times as I've had the opportunity to travel to these amazing countries, each time I see something new and fun, and this trip was no exception.  Please enjoy this photo essay.


Loved the three stickers on the inside of the commuter van.  From left to right they read, "If you tell me too late, you'll walk a long way. If you tell me on time, you'll be spot on." "Welcome!" and "If you don't tell me, I won't pull over."  It's a lot funnier if you've ever been a passenger on one of these commuter vans. It's quite the experience, let me say that. 
Bike sharing has come to Bangkok!  I took this picture for my oldest daughter who has an unabashed love for puns.  To be fair, in Thai "pun-pun" (ปั่นๆ) means "to pedal."  Not quite as funny in Thai, now that I think about it...

McDonalds in Bangkok has a Signature Collection line of meal deals that include a black box for the french fries, a clear cup for the soda, and the meal served on a wooden breadboard.  In my defense, I had to try this because it was dubbed the "Nam Tok Burger"--it was basically a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, only instead of a beef patty it had a pork patty and had a sweet chili sauce instead of cheese.  You know, same-same but different.

This was staring me right in the face while I was enjoying my Nam Tok Burger at McDonalds.  I'm not sure they really understand the concept of pricing to clear a store that is closing down.  I mean, on a regular day I would expect to buy one and get one.  I suppose it could be worse; at least it didn't say, "Buy 2 Get 1."  Because that would not surprise me at all in Thailand.

The three languages at the bottom demonstrate the hierarchy of construction workers in Thailand.  From top to bottom: Thai, Khmer (Cambodian), and Burmese.  The only reason Lao isn't on there is because most of the Lao who are literate can read Thai.


This was my dinner at a restaurant in Chiang Mai's extensive outdoor night market.  I mean, I did share some of it with the coworker traveling with me, but not much.  It was delicious.

For those of you wondering where the Burger King's spouse is, the answer is "Chiang Mai, Thailand."  This is literally just around the corner and down the street a little from the Burger King in Chiang Mai, near the Night Market.

You've heard of "chicken of the sea," but apparently there is also a "pig of the sea" and it's for sale in a Chiang Mai street vendor's cart.


I got to my room in Vientiane and this was on the television when I walked in.  Slightly flattering, yes, but also maybe a little creepy.  I was actually pretty impressed they spelled my last name correctly.  Unfortunately, the TV was set into the wall and so the sound was muffled, so I wasn't able to enjoy my Thai soap operas quite as much as I would have liked...

I'm not sure exactly how a Lao magic carpet is different from a magic carpet as found in Arabian Nights. Probably a lot less sarcastic and more subservient.

If I die of food poisoning, it will be because I love eating street food like this.  The chicken was delicious and it was fully cooked.  I'm still alive, so it must have been okay.  Oh, and Schewepe's ma-nao (lime) soda is amazing.

My children rode this very same Ferris wheel back in 2010 when we went to Vientiane as a family for Lao New Year.  I couldn't believe I found it, especially since I wasn't even looking for it.  But I suppose stuff like that happens when you wander somewhat aimlessly through Vientiane.

What's so amazing about this idyllic, lush location?  It's located right smack in the middle of the city.  Yeah, I got a little lost following the directions on my phone trying to get to the Hard Rock Vientiane.  But it was really cool to see this in the middle of the city.

For those of my loyal readers who cannot read Lao, the name of this restaurant is Four Guys.  I've been meaning to take a picture of one of these restaurants or food carts for years.  They are all over Bangkok, but imagine my delight when I found this actual Four Guys restaurant on a corner in Vientiane!  For the record, I have not tried their noodles, but I'm confident I would not find whatever they serve as satisfying as my beloved Five Guys. 
Vientiane is progressing.  When I first visited Laos in 2006, there were no movie theaters in the country.  Now there are two theaters in Vientiane that show current movies.  And you might not be able to see it, but those movie posters are in Lao (and English, obviously).  I'm pretty sure the movies are either dubbed or captioned in Thai rather than Lao, but I was so stoked to see the posters in Lao.  If I had a little more time, I would have actually watched one of the movies, but I had other things to do.

Given that I have a picture above that shows what looks like a jungle in the middle of the city, should anyone really be surprised that I found deer tracks in the cement on a sidewalk along one of the main thoroughfares in Vientiane?

This is a picture for my youngest daughter.  One of the things she loves to say in Lao is ມາເດີ້ ມາເດີ້ ມາກິນເຂົ້າເດີ້ ("Come, come, come on and eat!").  The name of this pho restaurant is ມາເດີ້--Come!  When I showed her the picture, she knew immediately what it said, even though she doesn't read a lick of Lao.

Every thing at this K-Mart is a blue light special.

Only in Laos would you find a rustic pavilion like this in front of a dilapidated, graffiti-covered abandoned building.  Curious that none of the graffiti is in Lao.

This Four Sisters is definitely not the same as the Four Sisters in Virginia.

This statue of Chao Fa Ngum, one of the greatest kings in Lao history, founder of the Kingdom of Lan Xang.  This statue was right across the street from the hotel I stayed in.  And the sky was just beautiful for this picture.


Somewhere between Laos and South Korea.  It was just so beautiful and peaceful, almost like you could lay down and fall asleep on those fluffy clouds.

Thank you, Burger King in Incheon Airport, for having the spicy Shrimp Whopper.  I saw it on the menu on my way out to the region, but I had already ordered and paid for my food, so I had to try it on my way home.  It was delicious.  Burger King here in the United States might want to give it a try.  Just a suggestion.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Dumb Things We Do With Our Friends

Don't you think sign like this really should show up 
well before Mile 12? It could prevent people from
doing something dumb, like running another 38
miles after you see a sign like this.
I honestly debated whether the title of this entry should be "The Dumb Things We Do Because of Our Friends," but after reading this you will hopefully agree with my decision to go with the title that I did.  And it should come as no surprise to anyone that this blog entry will deal with running.  You know, just like both of my posts from last year (see here and here).

It's not like any of us have never been in trouble or have done something stupid made some poor decisions because of our friends.  You know, like a 15-year old kid getting kicked out of Timpanogos Cave National Monument because of something dumb his friends did and his youth leaders decided he was guilty by association.  But I'm not talking about something hypothetical like that where you got in trouble or did something foolish because of your friends.  I'm talking about the things we do with our friends, knowing fully well ahead of time that it might be difficult, dirty, and perhaps even painful.  You know, like a Tough Mudder.  Or a 50-mile ultramarathon.

That's right, earlier this month, I attempted and completed my first 50-mile race, all because a friend suggested it.  By a lot of measures, 50 miles in one day is a pretty dumb thing to do.  Even after I swore off ultramarathons immediately after finishing a 50K trail race in April, I trained through the disgustingly hot summer months so that I could run the Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock Ultra in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina with my friend.  Yeah, some of my friends and family would say this was a pretty dumb thing to do.  They're entitle to their opinions, we can debate the merits of their arguments later. :-)

I thought a bit about this particular subject during my training runs--I've had some interesting thoughts while running before--and I realized that I started running races twenty-two years ago because of a friend.  Way back in 1995, I had a PE class at BYU that required I run a mile-and-a-half for my grade.  Throughout that semester, my roommate and longtime friend Rob and I ran together because I wanted to get an A and Rob was getting in shape for soccer tryouts.  Two weeks after the semester ended, Rob called me and asked if I wanted to run The Salt Lake Classic 10K.  I didn't even know how long a 10K was--Rob's answer when I asked was, "Uh, it's like five miles or something like that"--and I said, "Sure!" and I've been running races of varying distances ever since.  For the record, that first 10K still stands as my fastest time at that distance so far.  Probably always will be, but that's not the point.

Remember that 50K back in April that I mentioned earlier?  It was a miserable second half of the race for me, and immediately after I texted my friend Kenny and said there was no way I would even consider another ultra ever, let alone the PM2HR race in October.  I'm not totally sure, but it might have had something to do with puking on the school bus that was taking me back to my car.  That same night, after a delicious and necessary recovery meal at Five Guys (where else?) and a plethora of text messages back and forth, the last thing Kenny texted me before I went to bed was, "When you wake up tomorrow and come to your senses, go sign up for Pilot Mountain."  And because my dear Mali was in Utah for a wedding and wasn't there to talk me out of it, I signed up.

I'm grateful that Mali went down with me; driving to North Carolina by myself would have been incredibly boring, and there was always the possibility that I wouldn't be able to drive myself back home the day after the race.  She got to hang out in Winston-Salem while we were running, but I think it's still an open question as to which one of us had more fun that Saturday.  I'll say it was probably me, but I think Mali might say that she had more fun.  She might be right, but I got a hoodie for the race, so in my opinion I came out ahead on that argument.

Kenny motoring up the steps up to the peak of
Pilot Mountain.  It felt like one of those Escher
prints with the neverending stairs.  And I kept
waiting for an army of Uruk-hai to come charging
up thehill from the cover of the fog.
The story of the race was the same story of so many ultras.  There was some weather to deal with: we started in the dark, ran through the fog at the top of Pilot Mountain, had some long stretches of sunshine with little shade and finished in the dark (at least there wasn't rain, snow, and sleet like I had at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K last year).  There was physical adversity: Kenny got stung on the leg by a yellow jacket before we hit the first aid station and that caused a bit of discomfort.  Add to that, Kenny wasn't able to train as much as he would like because life got in the way and he also ended up with hyponatremia--ask me about that one, I know far too well how that thing works--meant he had to drop out after 50K.  This race had two serious climbs that reached upwards of 2,400 feet.  Each.  The total elevation gain for this course was officially over 5,200 feet, but we think it was closer to 6,000 when you factor in all the smaller ups and downs.  And you had to come down from those heights, too, which can be just as taxing on your quads as the climbs and are undoubtedly harder on the knees.

And before anyone, especially Kenny himself, thinks anything less of Kenny for dropping out at 50K, I want them to think about it: he had only run twice in the month preceding the race because of family and work obligations, but he still completed 50 kilometers.  That's THIRTY ONE MILES.  Seriously undertrained and Kenny still finished thirty one miles.  Kenny is a beast.  This is the same guy who finished a 50K with me back in 2014 while suffering the effects of Lyme disease (he didn't know he had it).  I would have tapped out at 10, maybe 12 miles.  He also deserves kudos for recognizing that pushing any further would have caused him injury.  I sincerely appreciate his encouragement for me and insistence that I push forward and finish the 50 miler without him.  I've been where he was, and it's not easy, especially when you have the fire in your belly to finish the race.  There is no shame in a DNF* for an ultramarathon.  Anyone who says otherwise is a fool.

I told you I finished in the dark.  And I have a hoodie just
like Kenny's.  Pretty stinkin' awesome, and because I've
worn it pretty much every day since the race, it's now just
pretty stinkin'.  And that's awesome.
So I finished the race, and I had told my wife and my friends and my coworkers that this would be my last ultramarathon.  Yeah, I know, I've said that before, but this time I really meant it.  I really meant it right up until Sunday morning when Kenny and I were doing our usual post-race postmortem and talking about what we would do differently next time.  Kenny told his wife that he wants another crack at the race because he wants redemption.  I told Mali and I want another crack at the course because I want to finish the race before the battery on my Suunto Ambit dies (I have never been fast, but I think I could shave a couple of hours off this race).  But I also recognize that I have some other pretty serious obligations coming up, so I got Mali's permission to try PM2HR again in 2019.  That gives me two years.

Bring it on.

*DNF = Did Not Finish.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What I Did This Summer

I know that someone out there is thinking, "Really?  It's the second week of October and you're just writing about your summer now?"  My response to that is, "Yeah, I am."  For starters, we just got back from a quick family trip down to the lake, and even though it's early October, it was in the 80s and felt like early September.  And second, look over to the right and notice when the last time I actually posted to my blog; it's been more than TWO YEARS.  It's practically a Halloween miracle that I'm writing at all, so thank the Great Pumpkin and let's move on.

 May: I went to the Outer Banks with some good friends to celebrate one of those friend's birthday with some fishing in the ocean.  I only got marginally seasick, but I didn't puke.  For the record, I caught a 40 pound amberjack.  It was delicious.
Yeah, I caught that.  It was exhausting.

Typical hot, sweaty American in Bangkok.
June: As much as I hate to, I had to go to Thailand and Laos for work.  Should I have put something in there to indicate that the previous sentence was supposed to be sarcastic?  Because I actually love going to Southeast Asia.  Anyway,  I have a separate post to write about that adventure because it's Thailand and Laos.

July: We spent some time at a friend's place up in the hills of West Virginia. True to West Virginia traditions, we shot stuff.  It was pretty awesome.
It's important for your ear pro to match your outfit.

That's my girl!

Katniss Everdeen, eat your heart out!

Trophy shot.

August: My daughters dyed my hair at girls camp, because blondes are supposed to have more fun, and because I made a deal with them.  We also hung out with our awesome friends and had an awesome time because our friends are awesome.
See, I'm literally having more fun, you can see it on my face.

This is a seriously shady lot.  Trust me.

September: I took Anne back to BYU-Idaho for her junior year of college.  When did I get old enough to have a junior in college?  While I was back in Utah, I went golfing with my dad and brother.  Just as important, I got to spend some time in my beloved Utah mountains.

Bell Canyon waterfall and some dork from Virginia.
Beautiful mountain lake--how did I not know about this place when I was growing up in Utah?

Last, but certainly not least, we got a dog.
Well, hello there!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sharing the Sidewalk With Tuba Guy

While I was running this lovely autumn evening, a remarkable thing happened.  Today was not one of those days where I felt fast.  Today was one of those days where I felt a little beat up and slow, so I was slogging my way up one of the longer hills on my route, when up in the distance I saw Tuba Guy.  Tuba Guy was on my same sidewalk.

Residents of Fairfax know who Tuba Guy is.  He's this guy who walks around town playing his tuba--okay, technically it's a sousaphone.  Everyone who's been around Fairfax for a couple of years knows who Tuba Guy is, they've seen him on his almost-daily excursions.  He's been in the Fairfax City Independence Day parade the last few years, and the only people who get louder cheers than Tuba Guy are the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Given that we've lived here for a decade, and given how much I run along the roads that are part of Tuba Guy's regular route, it's reasonable to think that I would have shared the sidewalk with him on several occasions.  The truth is, tonight was only the second time in ten years that I have been on the same sidewalk with Tuba Guy.

But that's not the remarkable part.  At this point I should probably say that I do not wear headphones or listen to music when I run.  I have nothing against people who do, but as I have noted previously in this blog, I choose to use my running time to think big thoughts and ponder the complexities of life and the universe.  Or something like that.

The remarkable part was that when I was still about 150 meters or so away from Tuba Guy, he turned around and he started to play.  Tuba Guy was playing for me.  And I started to get a little pep in my step.  I started to move a little bit quicker.  And for the next two or three minutes, I had Tuba Guy playing a soundtrack for my run.  And it was AWESOME.

Now I seriously doubt that Tuba Guy was actually playing for me.  He was just doing what he does--he walks along and he plays his sousaphone.  And he probably has no idea that the fact that he turned around and started playing when he did was a huge boost for me.  So for Tuba Guy it was probably just another beautiful autumn evening in Virginia, but for me it was exactly what I needed at that point of my run.

As I get older and reflect on the little things in life, this was another one of those experiences that reminds me that those little random acts that might not seem like a big deal to us as we do them can have a big impact on other people.  We might never know it, but that doesn't make those little random acts any less important to the people that it affects.  I wasn't in a bad place today while I was out running--I was maybe lagging a little bit, but I wasn't in distress or about to pass out or anything.  But the feeling that Tuba Guy was providing a soundtrack just for me as I ran up that hill, that made me feel pretty good.

So smile at people when you pass them on the street, in the store, in the hallway at work or school or wherever.  You never know when that simple little random act can have a huge positive effect on someone else.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Of a Resolution (Finally) Kept and Lessons Learned

For the last three years I have had made one New Year's resolution, one goal.  Same goal each of those three years.  Run 1,000 miles during the calendar year.

I have never been one to make too many New Year's resolutions.  I am a firm believer in making goals and working to achieve them, but I'm not the type that at the start of each new year makes a list of things I will and won't do.  This was something that I really wanted to do, though.

In 2014 I finally accomplished this goal.  For me, it's a HUGE milestone.  I like to run; both of my blog readers can tell you that.  I am not a fast runner, I am competitive only with myself.  I have actually won my age group in two races.  Both time, I was the only one in my age group.  So it's not like I'm some amazing running guru.

In both 2012 and 2013 I came woefully short of my goal.  Like a couple hundred miles short.  I can make excuses for why it didn't happen.  I had injuries that took me out for weeks at a time in each of those years.  I had a challenging work schedule.  I was traveling, blah-blah-blah.

But this past year, I did it.  One thousand miles.  Aside from the obvious physical benefits of running, I think the spiritual lessons I learned are of greater worth to me.  It took over 170 hours of running over the year, and I had a lot of time to think about a lot of things.  My family, my seminary class, my job, the world in general, my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  Sure, I thought about running, too, but often my internal musings inclined towards the application of what I was doing to life in general, such as:
  • The journey of a thousand miles does not happen in a single day.  It requires persistence and dedicated effort spread out over a long time.  A few miles every day adds up over time, and you cannot forget that even those quick, little efforts are part of the long-term cumulative goal.
  • When the big tests in life come, you can see the strength that comes from consistent, daily efforts to strengthen yourself.  You cannot decide that you will run a marathon a couple of days or even a couple of weeks before and expect to do well.  You need to get those daily, short training runs in, with the occasional long runs.  Likewise, when those trials in life come--and they will inevitably come--we will be better prepared to deal with them with our Father's help when we have made consistent, daily efforts to include Him in our lives through regular prayer and scripture study.
  • Despite our best intentions and constant efforts, we will still have bad days.  It doesn't mean that we are bad or that we are failing or that Heavenly Father has abandoned us.  It just means that some days are better than others.  We don't define ourselves by those bad days.  We learn from them and move on with the hope that tomorrow will be better.
  • Progress requires dedicated, concentrated efforts, and sometimes those efforts can seem boring, repetitious, or even a little lame.  If you want to run faster, you have to dedicate parts of your training to actually run faster.  Hoping or wishing that you will is not sufficient.  Case in point: I really do not enjoy speed workouts, but I cannot deny that my overall pace has improved because of them, hence I continue to incorporate track and hill workouts into my training regimen.  If you want to have a greater understanding of God's word, you have to be willing to immerse yourself in the scriptures and study the teachings of His prophets, even when it seems like you've already done that a million times.
  • Building on all the points above, variety can be a good thing.  Sure, I could have run the same route every day and eventually I would have reached my goal.  But some days I knew I wouldn't be able to run more than a few miles.  Other days I felt like I could take on the world and I ran much, much further.  Some days I want to dig into the scriptures and spend lots of time finding all the passages that relate to a given topic and cross referencing them between the Book of Mormon and the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants.  Other times I want to read a talk from a recent General Conference and take that quick thought with me for the day.  Either one of these is better than doing nothing.
  • Family and friends are invaluable.  No, they can't run for you, you have to do that yourself.  No, they can't read your scriptures for you, you have to do that yourself.  But they can support you, they can offer you words of encouragement, they can be there right beside you.  I would not have made it to 1,000 miles without the help of my friend Kenny.  The hours of training together are one thing, but without him, I literally would not have completed my first ultramarathon.  Likewise, without my amazing, sweet, incomparable wife Mali, I would not be half the man I am today.  She makes me want to be a better husband, father, and man.

There are other lessons--I've been toying with the idea of writing an allegory of the runner for use in my seminary class--but I'll save those for later.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go run.  I think today is a speed day.  Another thousand miles doesn't just happen on its own.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Punctuation Matters: a Cautionary Tale

No-shave November.  Seems pretty simple, right?  Unless you mistake a simple hypen for an em dash.

  • No-shave November = no shaving during the month of November.
  • No—shave November = please, go ahead and shave during the month of November.  No, really, we mean it.
Let's be honest, who hasn't made this mistake?

Punctuation really does matter, people.

Don't let this happen to you.  Pay attention to punctuation!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Autumn Jaunt in the Mountains

Wildflowers in October

This past Columbus Day I thought that we should head out to the Blue Ridge Mountains and see the changing leaves while they were still on the trees.  In all the years we've lived in Virginia, every year we've heard that we simply have to go to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park while the leaves are i all their fall splendor.  We tried to go out and see the fall foliage last year, but we waited until the first week of November, and by the time we got there, most of the leaves had already fallen.  I wanted to avoid that this year, so we took advantage of the holiday to head a little to our west and see what there was to see.

Some friends decided to join us on our adventure, so I looked through the 50 Hikes in Northern Virginia book that we somehow acquired—seriously, I have no idea where we got the book, and we’ve had it since before we went to Thailand—to find a hike that was short enough for the little kids, but would let us see something awesome.  I found the perfect spot in the Woodstock Observation Tower, just outside the town of Woodstock (shocking!) on the western side of the national park, but not actually inside the park itself.  For the tightwad in me, that means I didn't have to pay twenty bucks for the privilege of seeing autumn leaves.

The tower itself, according to the US Forest Service, was built in 1935 by the Civil Conservation Corps.  It’s less than a quarter-mile walk up the trail from the parking area to the tower itself, so our little kids had no problem.  From the top of the tower, looking to the east, you get an awesome view of a sparsely populated valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains behind, and while we were on the tower, there were clouds moving through the valley creating a simply gorgeous picture, especially with the leaves starting to change on the mountains.  To our west, at least when we first got on the tower, you couldn’t see anything but clouds—the kids thought that was really cool (so did I, but it seems like much more fun if you say that the kids thought it was cool...).

Looking east.
We had lunch on the tower, and eventually the clouds to the west parted long enough for us to see the incredible view, which includes the Seven Bends in the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  While we were up there, another set of clouds blew through, including one that actually enveloped the tower, which we all agreed was pretty ridiculously awesome.

Oh, and we had a valuable lesson with the kids about not reading graffiti out loud.  Important stuff for life, really.

Imagine these two in 60 years...
On the way home, we stopped in the town of Woodstock and enjoyed a little of the small-town America feel of the place.  Anne was glad that she skipped a friend’s birthday party to come along, and even Ben finally admitted it was pretty cool.  Maggie spent the day with her friends, but when she saw our pictures, she said she kind of wished that she’d gone with us instead.  I like to think that these are the kinds of experiences we have with our children that, when they are older and living away from home, they will remember with fondness and think, “You know, we did some cool stuff as a family when I was a kid.” 

How you lichen this weather? :-)

Friday, July 4, 2014

If You Give a Brent a Blog*

If you give a Brent a blog, he'll want to write about lots of things that you might find boring. Like running. Especially running. But on occasion he will blog about other things. Like food.

Mentioning food will make Brent think about the pizza they had at work the day before Independence Day to celebrate America's birthday.

And if you give a Brent too much pizza at work, the chances are he will come home feeling sluggish.  When he gets home, the Brent will probably be torn between giving in to his feelings of sluggishness and wanting to go for a run because it has finally stopped raining. And because most of the Brent's blog posts deal with running in some form or another.

The pause in the rain will remind the Brent of the powerful storm that he witnessed from the top floor of the building in which he works. That storm brought amazing amounts of rain, accompanied by wicked crazy wind that broke tree limbs, all while his coworker was out getting pizza (that man is a true American hero, by the way).

The Brent will decide that going for a run is in fact a good idea, because it will make him feel better mentally as well as physically. Even the resumption of rain won't keep the Brent from going out for a run, because he knows that summer rain actually feels quite nice.

The pizza that he ate will probably make the Brent feel bloated and sluggish as he starts running. Maybe he shouldn't call it "running" at that point, because he's not likely to be moving very fast. It will take a little while for him to loosen up and actually feel good enough to really call what he's doing "running."

While he's running, the Brent will have lots of interesting mental conversations with himself that would make people question his sanity. That's why he will keep them to himself, unless he decides to blog about them. Really scary stuff.

Speaking of scary, because he left for his run after 7:30 at night, it will start to get dark before the Brent gets home.

Because of the rain and because it's summertime in Virginia, however, it will also be nice and humid.

The warm humidity will bring out fireflies. Seeing the fireflies will get that song by Owl City stuck in the Brent's head for the last mile-and-a-half of his run.

And that will make him smile. Might even make the Brent giggle a little bit. When he gets home, he might even call his children to come out and enjoy the light show put on by the fireflies. And there will probably be more smile, more laughter, and happy hearts.

All that running and smiling and giggling and happiness will probably make the Brent want to blog about it.

*My utmost and sincerest apologies to Laura Numeroff.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

That one time I decided to do something totally crazy, like run 50 kilometers

The first weekend in June marked my third time participating in the The North Face Endurance Challenge trail race.  This is the event where, two years ago, I completed my first marathon.  It’s also the event last year in which I failed to complete my first attempted ultramarathon, dropping out at Mile 26 of a 50K race.  I was determined to finish the race this time, and after failing to train properly for the Rock n’ Roll Marathon a couple of months ago, I tried to make sure I was getting the proper mix of long and short runs in training so that I would be able to finish.

My buddy Kenny came down from Connecticut—he had signed up for the race before he and Melanie moved up there in early March—and we drove up to Algonkian Regional Park bright and early for the race.  Kenny’s strategy for the race was to keep his heart rate in his optimal fat-burning zone, which in his experience is a pace that he feels he can run at for hours and hours.  What that meant was that we had to walk up and down the big hills—last year we were a little too aggressive on some of the steeper downhills, and that can be more taxing on your legs than perhaps you might think.

So that’s what we did, and it worked really well.  The temperature and humidity were manageable, especially compared with how hot it got last year.  The trails were a little sketchy in a few spots because it did rain overnight, but it was nowhere near as muddy and slippery it was two years ago.  We were making good time and feeling really good as we got into the Great Falls aid station, just under the halfway point.  About two miles before we got to that aid station the race leaders passed us going back the other way—the two guys in the lead looked phenomenal, and we figured they were going to finish the race in about four hours (official time for the 50K winner was actually 3:58—that’s just awesome).  At this point we were on pace to finish in about seven hours, which would have been a great time for us.

The section right above Great Falls was, for me, the most difficult part of this course.  It is all up and down, and some of the footing is very tricky, so this is a section that can really mess with your mind.  Up until this part, I was feeling pretty good, but it took a lot out of me getting through that section, and I was starting to struggle a little bit.  Kenny stuck in there with me, and his encouragement was greatly appreciated, especially since I really struggled between Great Falls and the Carwood aid station.

This would be a good time to mention that the Carwood aid station was new this year—in previous years, there weren’t any aid stations between Great Falls and Fraser, a distance of about six miles, and that was very difficult for a lot of runners, including me.  The addition of that stop was crucial for me, and I’m sure for many others, in being able to finish this year.  Like I said, I was struggling and staring to have doubts that I would even finish the race, again.

That's TWO thumbs up, just for finishing.
All that said, I have to confess that I walked the entire distance between Carwood and Fraser.  At the start of that section I was feeling so worn out and depleted, I was thinking that I would be able to finish the race, but only by walking.  I told Kenny that I’m just not built for ultramarathons, that he should just go ahead and run ahead without me, and that I’d see him at the finish line.  To Kenny’s credit as a friend, he stayed with me.  His legs felt fine, but he was having some pain in his lower back, so every so often we would stop so Kenny could stretch out his back.  We walked pretty fast, it wasn’t like last year where I was barely conscious of where I was, but for almost three miles we just didn’t run at all.  Fraser was where I dropped out last year, so just getting to that point was an accomplishment for me, but it wasn’t enough to just get there, I wanted to get past it.

By the time we got to the Fraser aid station and got some food in us, I felt like I was ready to run again, so we did.  Not only did we start running, but we ran for the majority of the last five miles.  And not only did we run for most of those last five miles, but according to Kenny’s Suunto GPS watch, we kept a pace that was our fastest of the entire race—looks like we did something right by walking those three miles!

All smiles once it was all done.
In the end, we finished the race in 7:56, just under eight hours and four hours after the winners crossed the finish line.  Not exactly a world-beating time, but I finished, and for me that was huge.  I cried at the end of the race, with Mali and the kids around me and offering their congratulations, I literally sat down and started to cry.  It was just such a relief to finally finish this distance, no matter how slow and painful it might have been.

Just like last year, after the race I said that I’m done with ultramarathons.  And, just like last year, within a day of saying that, I was already thinking about what I could do differently to be stronger, to finish faster, and to have a more enjoyable experience.  I have other running goals that I am going to turn my attention to—sub-20 minute 5K, sub-40 minute 10K, sub-1.5 hour half marathon—but I won’t rule out more attempts at marathons or ultras.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am done. I really mean it. For now.
 And, of course, we went to Five Guys afterwards to celebrate.