Here are two short videos Michael took at the start of the Palo Duro Trail Run 2012. The first is of the 50 kilometer and 50 mile race start, the second of the 20 kilometer start. It takes a minute or so for the runners to make it over to the cameras.
For anyone who ran the race last weekend, or is interested in seeing what it was like, here is the link to all the photos Michael took. He has photos of the 20K, 50K, and 50M runners on various places on the course.
This post has been published in the March/April 2014 issue of the running magazine Marathon and Beyond. If you haven’t subscribed already, you’re missing out!
My hands shook as I stared at the “confirm” button on the computer. Was I really doing this? Was I crazy? I hesitated, then clicked the button.
I had just signed up for my first ultra. It was also my first trail race.
A double whammy of scariness.
Somehow I had managed to corral two of my closest running friends, Heather and Hari, into running it with me. Heather only wanted to run the 20K but I talked her into the 50K.
It’s only five miles longer than a marathon . . .
I haven’t run a marathon in over a year. I’ve hardly run on any trails.
My first trail run was down Sepulcher Mountain in Yellowstone at the end of a twelve mile hike. It was impromptu, and we ran because we were cold. It felt like flying.
My next trail run was in the Tetons with my daughter. Leaping over the rocks was like running an obstacle course. I told her, You could break some bones if you fell on these rocks. Tourists gaped at us as we ran past. I felt invincible.
I fell half a mile from the car. It happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to break my fall. I cracked three ribs.
My only other trail run was in Norbuck Park, part of the lake where I run. It has a killer hill where runners like to train. I had just run my last marathon, in Death Valley, and I felt strong and ready to try something new.
After that, I wasn’t willing to drive so far outside the city to run on trails. I told myself I would run trails when I moved to Oregon, or Wyoming, or Montana.
I was kidding myself. That day might never come. All I have is today.
People have told me for years that I would love trail running, that they’re more fun that marathons, more laid back. I know they’re right. My favorite places on earth are outdoors, in nature–forests, mountains, and deserts. Of course I would want to run there.
But I have to admit, running a 50K scares me.
It’s something I’ve never done before. Did I feel this way before I ran my first marathon?
It sounds hard. 31 miles.
Last night I dreamed of running in Palo Duro Canyon. It was beautiful, and the sky mirrored the rocks. I ran on a trail.
Gasp. I’m running an ultra.
It sounded like a good idea back in November.
With the adrenaline still on overdrive from the Tulsa Marathon, and a $30 Groupon to the inaugural Patriot Half Marathon on Memorial Day in a nearby suburb, several of us were talked into signing up.
Somehow we forgot that it’s almost always hot on Memorial Day.
It was warm, but not as bad as it could have been. With a starting temp of 74 degrees and humidity hovering around 90%, and a finishing temp of 82,we got lucky. Clouds rolled in at the start and a cool breeze kept us company for most of the race. There was sun–a lot of it–and humidity, but it could have been a lot worse.
I ran with my friend, Heather, who has been injured for the past several months, and another friend, Stacy, who just started training for her first Ironman. This was the longest distance Heather had run in five months, and our only objective was to finish. We took a lot of walk breaks on the hills and stopped often for water and wet hand towels.
The race was small and it was a nice change to run in the countryside. I’m nowhere near the front of the pack when I usually race, but I have to admit it was a lot of fun being more towards the back. People talk more and look out for each other. The volunteers seem to be even more encouraging.
And in the end, everyone gets the same medal.
The course was fairly hilly, especially the second half, which seemed to be mostly uphill. The hills were long and gradual. Hari said it was worse than Tulsa, which is the hilliest course I’ve seen.
If I had been gunning for a PR, I can imagine the hills would have made me pretty grumpy.
Despite the heat and the hills, I had a blast running with Heather and Stacy. It was nice to run a race more like a long run, with the only expectation being to finish. Heather and Stacy both did a great job. I’m so lucky to have such great friends to run with.
Here are some random photos Michael took during the race. The complete collection can be found here.
Most of us who run, bike, swim, or engage in other sports probably don’t consider our chosen activity to be an obsession. Those on the outside, however, may think differently about how we choose to spend our free time.
I run. My friends and I mostly run either before or after the sun comes up or goes down. We run in all kinds of weather and temperatures. Sometimes we run when we shouldn’t, namely when we’re sick or injured, and our days are pretty much built around our training schedules. We read books and magazines about running, write running blogs, talk, text, and keep up with Facebook pages about running, and some of us spend more money on running clothes and accessories than on anything else.
And we run half marathons, marathons, and ultra marathons. For fun.
You decide if it’s an obsession or not. Whatever you decide won’t change a thing for most, if any, of us. We love running, and it makes our lives better.
But how does it affect our loved ones and our non-running lives?
A few weekends ago Michael and I went to our friends’ house to watch a documentary called Ride the Divide. The documentary is about a 2745 mile long endurance bike race along the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico and captures the difficulty, hardship, and loneliness of a race that takes six to ten weeks to complete.
At one point, Matthew, the leader of the race, questions what he is doing (he’s already won the race the previous four years), especially in light of the fact that his wife is having a baby in the next three weeks.
Carol, one of our hosts for the evening, made the comment that she thought that was “so selfish” of him to be spending so much time away on a race when his wife was about to have a baby. Another friend, Darrell, agreed. I stayed quiet.
I wasn’t quiet because I disagreed with her. I remained silent because I had said the same thing several years ago about someone else.
One of the best books I’ve ever read is Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. The title pretty much says it all. For me the most gut wrenching part of the book is when one of the stranded climbers is able to talk to his pregnant wife via satellite phone. It’s the last conversation they will ever have, and they both know it. Through my tears I thought to myself, “What a selfish thing for him to do, climb Mt Everest when his wife is going to have a baby.”
Years later I read that his wife was also a climber, and they had previously climbed Everest together. She knew full well the risks involved in marrying a climber and I doubt that she saw his climbing as “selfish.” The wife of another climber who died that day said, “I would feel cheated if Scott had been killed in a car crash. He deserved to die on Mount Everest.” (full article here)
I suspect it is the same for the wife of Matthew, five time winner of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race, and most other wives–and husbands–of athletes who have a passion/obsession for what they do.
But what about the rest of us? Most of us aren’t spending weeks away from our families doing what we love, but the hours we spend putting in the training miles, along with the occasional weekend destination races, do take their toll. My friend Liz, mother of two teenagers, once made the comment during one of our Saturday morning long runs that she felt selfish for running so much because it took time away from her children and husband.
I was surprised by her saying that, especially since her husband is also a runner. My own two children were already in college when I took up running, so it was never something I had to grapple with. I wondered if I would have felt that same way if they were still home.
Is it really fair to call something selfish if you love it so much, and see the value it brings to your life? Would our marriages and family lives really be better if we didn’t do something we loved, if we gave them all our time and didn’t keep some of it for ourselves? How much is too much? Do the rules change when we have children?
When does it go from doing something that makes you happy to doing something that makes you selfish?
Personally, I think it’s something that has to be discussed and decided upon between each person involved. Asking someone to give up something they love doing because it may be dangerous, or takes too much time away from the family, may be asking too much. Like most things in a relationship, each person has to be true to themselves, and some negotiation and compromise has to take place.
Joseph Campbell said, follow your bliss. But if one person’s bliss is another person’s agony, and our endeavors are seen as selfish and obsessive by the ones we love, it could be a high price to pay for happiness.
Here is the footage of the elite runners we took from the Olympic Marathon Trials last weekend in Houston.
If I mentioned the names Ryan, Kara, Meb, Shalane, Dathan, Desiree, or Deena to any of my nonrunning friends, I would get a blank stare. To those who run, they’re like the names of family. Everyone knows who they are. This past weekend I got to see them all race for a chance to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic marathon team at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. It was a weekend that didn’t disappoint.
I had been looking forward to the Olympic Marathon Trials ever since it was announced that both the men and women’s events would be held in Houston. I knew I would find a way to get there, even though I wasn’t interested in running the marathon the next day. Houston is synonymous with humidity in my mind, and heat and humidity are my running enemies. Even in January, I know how Texas weather can be.
I had this idea that the Olympic Trials were going to be a really big thing in the city of Houston, because for me they were. I had visions of millions of people, all vying for a chance to see the most talented runners our country has to offer the world of the Olympics. With that in mind, I went to bed at 7pm on Friday night with the intention of leaving Dallas at midnight. Michael caught a few hours on the couch beforehand. I didn’t really sleep much, but I rested, and we loaded up the car with video and camera equipment and hit the dark freeway south.
Driving when you should be sleeping is tough. Michael drove first, then I took over for the second half. We arrived in Houston around 4:30 and went straight to the area where the Trials would be held to scope out parking and a good spot to set up the video camera. The course was unique in that it started in the heart of downtown on a two mile loop, then continued on an eight mile loop along Allen Parkway, which would be run three times and finish back at the start. This meant we would be able to see the runners three times: at just past miles 8, 16, and 24.
Since the races started at 8am, with the men leading, and it was only 4:30am, we had plenty of time. The race organizers were just starting to block off roads. We jumped back on the freeway and took the first exit to a really bad part of town. The MacDonalds had three police cars and a tow truck, so we went across the street to Whataburger and ate in the parking lot. We watched someone drive up in a BMW to the Bail Bonds place across the street, open the building’s door, and drop off what looked like groceries.
See what you miss by sleeping in?
We drove back to the race location we had previously decided on and saw a man putting up $10 event parking signs at the Historical Society right across the street from where we wanted to stand. He was a very methodical man who wasn’t ready for someone so early. He directed us to pull up to the curb and wait ten minutes until the “gate” opened. We enjoyed watching him walk back and forth, setting up his cones, flags, money pouch, and plastic chair, each time checking to make sure everything was just perfect. A security guard came and asked us what we were doing, didn’t seem to know that the parking lot was being offered up for event parking, and set off to speak to Methodical Man. Eventually, after 20 minutes or so, someone pulled up and unlocked the gate, we paid our ten spot, and parked.
It was 6:30am.
We found a great corner to film and take photos, and set up all the equipment. It was freezing cold, even with down jackets, gloves, and various cold weather accoutrements. Police cars drove past continually, and we wondered why it was necessary to drive full throttle. It was probably like teachers running down the halls of school when the students aren’t there, or cussing in the teacher’s lounge on break. It was still dark, and we saw one huddled up person asleep in the middle of the park. As the sun came up, homeless people appeared from the shadows, one by one, with all their baggage, and moved on. We were never sure if the police made them leave, or if this was their daily routine.
We saw many people running past us in the dark to warm up, and many of them were buff and toned with zero body fat, but I wasn’t sure if any of them were running in the Olympic Marathon Trials or the marathon the next day. We had a lot of time to get to know the volunteer security men around us, who mentioned the Occupy Houston people had threatened to disrupt the Trials. Everyone associated with the races was extremely friendly, and most were runners themselves. I wanted to come back to Houston and run with these people.
Someone walked past and asked if we knew where the water stop was, and we discovered it was about a quarter mile from our location. I walked down and took a look and it was the longest water stop I had ever seen, one long row of numbered tables, and I realized each athlete had their own personal water stop. Each water bottle was decorated and labeled, and the bottles were all different sizes and shapes. A lot of the bottles were tossed at our feet as the runners ran past us in the race, and I helped one of the volunteers, Keelan, pick some of them up. One caught my eye because it was bigger than the others and had a low number, 5, on the label, so I knew it was one of the elite women (since they had just run past). I considered taking it, thought that might be kind of goofy and gross, and left it. After the race I noticed it was gone from the pile. Later that night, looking at the photos, I discovered it was Kara Goucher’s, and wanted to kick myself for not keeping it.
At 7:30 there were still relatively few people on the course. More people did show up later, but it was nothing like I expected. Just before 8:00, helicopters appeared downtown and we knew the race was about to begin. We could always tell where the runners were on the course because of the location of the helicopters above us. By this time I was frozen, and started jumping up and down to both stay warm and because I was so excited to see the runners. Finally, around 8:40, the lead cars appeared and the men could be seen coming around the corner.
I’ve never seen any of the men racing in person, but I’ve seen many of them on TV. I knew Ryan Hall had a very distinctive running gait, but to see him fly by in person was exhilarating and awe inspiring. Seeing Meb Keflizighi run past, winner of the New York City marathon two years ago, was amazing. They make it look so easy. Meb especially always looked like he was having fun, even on the last loop, less than two miles from the finish. Even more inspiring was to see the other runners following the elites, many of them people who hold down regular jobs and lives, but who ran marathons fast enough to qualify for a chance to go to the Olympics.
About fifteen minutes or so after the men, the women rounded the corner behind the lead cars. Again, it was all I could do to stop jumping up and down from excitement and take photos. I recognized Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher from the pages of Runner’s World magazine, and Deena Kastor from past televised races. Just as I had been with the men, I was amazed at their bodies. Zero fat, every muscle and tendon visible, and extremely toned arms. More than anything, I was amazed at their focus and level of concentration.
As the rest of the female runners ran past, I was amazed at how young most of them were. Some looked like they were still teenagers, and I realized I knew very little about them and how they got there. Michael and I had earlier wondered if Dallas’s own Melisa Christian was running in the Olymipic Marathon Trials again this year, as she had done four years ago, and we were both happy to see her as she ran past on her first loop. She had kinesio tape on her back and I wondered if she was injured.
We got to see the runners two more times on their second and third loops, just past miles 16 and 24, and their high level of focus and concentration never wavered. For some reason, Abdi Abdirahman looked right over in my direction when I took photos, and I wondered what had caught his attention. I always find it interesting when the elites mention how the spectators help them during the races, and I believe them, but their focus at the Trials was always so intense they seemed oblivious to anything around them.
On the men’s last loop, the crowd went crazy when Meb came around the corner in first place. He looked like he was having the time of his life, even though it would turn out to be a personal best for him. Ryan Hall was not far behind, and had a slight nosebleed. Abdi was next, and the crowd went crazy again to see Dathan Ritzenhein, America’s highest ranking American in the last Olympics, in 4th place. I would have liked to have seen how he came within 8 seconds of catching up to Abdi.
On the women’s last loop, it was Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Davila in the lead, both still looking strong, with Kara Goucher just behind, secure in her 3rd place finish and looking like she was ready to be done with the race. I was sad to see Deena Kastor too far behind to catch up, but she smiled when I yelled out, “Deena, you’re my hero!” and I caught that smile on camera. That was pretty special, knowing she had heard me and acknowledged the compliment with a smile!
Going to the Olympic Marathon Trials was truly a dream come true. I’ve loved the Olympics since I was a little kid, and I remember watching an Olympic marathon (there was only a men’s event, no women’s back in those days) when I was very small, and being mesmerized by the runners and how anyone could run that far without stopping. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see an Olympic marathon in person in my life, but this was pretty close. It’s a memory I’ll always treasure.
USA Track & Field – for more info about the race