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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Race Schedule for 2011

The Yuengling Shamrock Marathon                                       26.2 Miles
March 20th 2011
Virginia Beach, VA

ORRRC Marathon                                                                  26.2 Miles
April 3rd 2011
Xenia, OH

Tie-Dye 50K                                                                           50 Kilometers
April 23rd 2011
Yellow Springs, OH

Capon Valley 50K                                                                  50 Kilometers
May 7th 2011
Yellow Spring, WV

The Pittsburgh Marathon                                                        26.2 Miles
May 15th 2011
Pittsburgh, PA

The Memorial 100                                                                  100 Miles
May 27-28th 2011
Richmond, VA

The Laurel Ultra                                                                     77 Miles
June 11th 2011
Ohiopyle, PA

The Burning River 100                                                          100 Miles
July 30th 2011
Willoughby Hills, OH

Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic                                            50 Kilometers
September 17th 2011
Youngstown, OH

The Columbus Marathon                                                        26.2 Miles
October 16th 2011
Columbus, OH

The Marine Corps Marathon                                                  26.2 Miles
October 30th 2011
Arlington, VA

Mountain Masochist Trail Run   *                                          50 Miles
November 6th 2011
Lynchburg, VA

Big Foot 50K *                                                                      50 Kilometers
December 4th 2011
Lore City, OH

* Denotes that I have not registered for the race yet, most of which is due to registration not currently being open

Monday, December 6, 2010

Race Report: Bigfoot 50K

I have enjoyed writing this blog over the past year, and often have been pleasantly surprised at the relationships and encouragement it has brought me. Early on it was a huge catalyst in getting people involved with the Memorial 100 and gained me invaluable friendships with people that have since become a huge part of my life, like Heather Duncan, who randomly stumbled across this and has since become a great friend.

What I didn't expect was for people to continue to be interested in my running exploits that weren't as flashy as those of Memorial Day. However after I published my race report for the Columbus Marathon my blog hits increased exponentially and more and more people started approaching me about my running and also sharing their stories and goals in the sport. Debbie Talbott read that same blog after I posted it on the marathons Facebook page, and approached me about wanting to run her first ultramarathon. I love helping people get into running ultras... they are such a unique experience to be a part of that you almost can't help but to want other people to do them too.

I gave her as much advice as I could, in addition to a loose outline of how she should train, and promised I would help her reach her goal. I picked the Bigfoot 50K, even though I had never heard anything about it, because it was local and soon enough that we could both piggyback off of our recent training for other races.

I contemplated at first to let her run her own race and I run mine,  having my part be limited to the pre-race preparations, mostly because I had delusions of being able to secure a top 10 finish. I should have never even considered that approach though, for several reasons. One, finishing in the top 10 really was a delusion, at least this year anyways. Two, there is no way to prepare someone for the mental battle that takes place during a race of that length. Finally, if she would have failed, it would have been because I didn't see her through to the finish. The only reason I signed up for the race was her, so it was selfish to have had thoughts of letting her do it on her own.

After injuring my left ankle at the Masochist, my decision was made for me. There was no way I would be fast enough to compete without all the speed work I had to forfeit in the last 3 weeks because of my ankle. My goal now, as it should have been all along, was to do whatever it took to get Debbie her first 50K finish. Another surprise came when I found out that my friend, Tad Inboden, would be running the race too. I had spent a large portion of the Columbus Marathon with him, and this was to be his first ultra as well. He was coming off of an impressive first marathon finish of 3:28:49, which was a solid 12 minutes faster than me. I knew Debbie and I probably wouldn't be staying with Tad, but it was nice to know that another friend was going for their first. In addition to Tad and Debbie, my recent acquaintance and future training buddy Mike Keller, was going to attempt to get a 50K PR at the Bigfoot.

Leading into the race I knew my fitness level was down, but I didn't see it as any significant issue as I wasn't going full bore anyhow. I had finished the Masochist less than a month prior and even with my ankle, I had gotten 3 or 4 runs in between. This was not going to be like the Masochist, so I wasn't worried. However, just days prior to the race, illness had hit both Debbie and myself, depleting our rest and caloric base. Doing these things isn't always this suspenseful, but I assure you, there is always going to be something that doesn't go your way. It's just the nature of it.

I failed at my attempts at sleeping before the race, so I decided to spend the night at the coffee house until I had to start my 4am drive to Lore City. What was more unexpected was a 3am text message from Debbie, who was already at the Salt Fork Lodge, asking me to pick up some pepto bismal on my way out. The race hadn't begun, but the struggle was already in full swing.

Upon my arrival, the last minute checks began and the start was imminent. I met up with Debbie and her husband Naryan, as well as Tad, his wife and sister in law. I went over some tips, got Tad hooked up with a better hydration plan, and went outside in the windy, snowy, 27 degree weather to kick it all off.

No one could hear a word the race director was saying to us, so Tad and I spent the last 10 minutes making sarcastic comments and jokes. Our journey began with a very short parking lot run, before turning into the woods, where we would spend most of the day. As the crowd thinned out, the packs began to emerge. Debbie was having a difficult time finding her rhythm, so we were having a hell of a time staying with a pack to pace off of for the first part of the race. The course was surprisingly technical,  with a good variety of short climbs and descents, as well as long stretches of really runnable single track. There was a couple small creek crossings here and there, but overall an extremely quick course, that was fairly interesting. The first few miles contained the bulk of the ascents, but there were no ball breakers to be found, which I was thankful for. At the midway point of the first loop, Debbie was starting to have some stomach issues, that were still manageable at the time. We passed up the first aid station, that was supposedly right around the 5-mile mark but in reality was closer to 6 miles. That was kind of deceiving the first time around, because I started to become a bit concerned about our pace. There was probably a good mile long stretch of pavement in the middle of the loop, that I wasn't particularly fond of. I find asphalt in the middle of a trail run to be monotonous. The second "half" of the first loop back to the lodge I had to coax Debbie into more running than she wanted to do as her stomach issues continued to worsen. Knowing that Naryan was waiting with more pepto bismal and two cups of chicken broth was probably more motivating than my attempts, but she pushed hard through the much easier second half. We had one nearly cataclysmic set back when we reached a confusing jumble of ribbons that weren't exactly clear. There were runners coming and going in multiple directions, so we chose the path that looked like it made sense. We were wrong. Luckily someone saw our mistake and directed us back to the correct turn that would take us up to the lodge. Although they could have marked it a bit better, this was mostly my fault for not reviewing the course map. Instead of a true loop, it was a lollipop course, which I might have noticed at the start if it had been light outside the first time we came down into it. We probably ran 10 extra minutes with the mistake, but in the end it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.

We rolled into the first checkpoint at just over 2 hours, well on pace for a solid finish. I knew we would slow down, which was fine, as we had a 2-hour cushion. The break at the lodge was probably a bit longer than it should have been, but we ran into Mikayla, one of Debbie's friends who was running the race as well. All of us fueled up, took a little breather, and took comfort that the next aid station we would see was the half-way mark. Debbie was a bit emotional at this point, probably just beginning to question herself, but she was still in good shape. Mikayla decided to stick with us after the lodge, so we formed our own 3-person pack and took back off into the woods.

After we descended into the woods, made a creek crossing, and went through the turn we had preemptively made just 20 minutes before, Debbie began to deteriorate quickly. Her stomach was leading a coup d'├ętat against the rest of her body, and she began to really fight the battle I had anticipated she would see at some point during the 32 miles. I've fought the same fight before, and even lost it a couple times, so I knew we might be in big trouble. Ailments like this in a race usually come in hard and quick, but typically if you outlast them they will go away. This isn't always the case, but I feigned certainty in my reassurances to her so that she would keep going. One of the most important lessons of running ultras was taught on that second loop: forward progress, however slow it might be, is infinitely better than stopping to take a break. It sounds easy on paper, but when you are experiencing a whole new level of pain, it doesn't matter if you're in the middle of the woods, you just want to stop moving. It was a real struggle to keep her moving so that we could get to the aid station, she had determined it was a lack of food that was causing her issues, so that's what we were after. That's another lesson, when your  main goals look to be out of reach, set short ones that you can convince yourself of. Debbie was determined to get to the station, but the look on her face told me that she wasn't planning on going any further. I called her out on it, because if you deal with the dark thoughts by yourself, they'll win. When we finally made it, she was emotional again, and drew quite a bit of attention from the volunteers who, by the way, were great, as they always are during ultras. She got enough confidence at the aid station that we left without too much of a hold up. Mikayla looked like she was doing great, but I briefly had some dark thoughts of my own. I didn't share them at the time, because I knew they'd be like a cancer, but my ankle was beginning to hurt like hell and I was almost to the point of hoping I wouldn't be able to convince Debbie to go on past the second loop, because I wouldn't have minded dropping myself out with her. As we ran on the asphalt towards the re-entry to the trail, Debbie stopped briefly to convince us to go back to the aid station so she could drop. It didn't take much prodding to change her mind, as I used Naryan's location against her. I convinced her to get back to the lodge. I'm not sure what thoughts Mikayla was having, but she picked up her pace and vanished ahead of us into the woods. After a small climb at the trailhead Debbie surprised the hell out of me and started a solid running campaign of about 20 or 25 minutes. We started catching people, and for the first time without my lead, we were passing them. I love these points in the race. You just went through hell, came out on top, and now you're in the zone. We ran without talking, I chuckled to myself knowing that she broke through her wall, and I didn't dare interrupt it. We caught up to Mikayla and Debbie took lead over her and we began running as a pack again. The last half of that second loop was our fastest section of the race. I wasn't sure what Debbie would do once we reached the lodge, but I knew we were still in good shape for a finish. We reached the lodge around the 5 hour mark, leaving 3 hours to finish the final 10.4 mile loop. Debbie had enough fuel back in her tank for motivation that there wasn't even a fight to get her to go back out again. We again refueled and set out on the last loop.

Knowing you have 3-hours is a good thing to get you to venture on, but a bad thing to make you push. We could have conceivably walked the last loop, but I wasn't going to let it come to that. We let Debbie lead the rest of the way for two reasons, the first was that she seemed to make a stronger effort when she was out front, and secondly, we wanted her to be able to dictate the alternation between running and walking. The final lap was without incident, and my role as a motivational speaker was lessened. We walked as we pleased, and it took little effort to incite short sections of running. When we came to the aid station for the final time, we were all in good spirits and had an hour and a half to complete the section that we had most recently done in around 45 minutes. I began to push for a sub 7:30 finish against Debbie's will. We were at a point where we were certain of a finish, so it was a bit of a challenge to convince her to run, because in theory we probably didn't have to. As we saw the mess of ribbons that had delayed us hours before, we were in the homestretch. One last hurrah to the end. As we came to the top of the hill where the trail leads to the parking lot Mikayla picked up her pace for a running finish, I stayed back with Debbie until the final 30 yards and took off, and Debbie ran in for her first ultra finish.

It was cold, muddy, snowed almost the entire time, and sucked for a good portion of the day, but the results were amazing. Debbie and Mikayla both finished their first ultra in just over 7 hours and 30 minutes, and I finished my 4th ultra, and second 50K. It took me an hour more to find out that Tad had finished his first 50K at 6:17 and Mike Keller set a personal record of 5:59:08.

This was a great race on a decent course, and I think I might try my hand at it again next year. However, now that Tad and Debbie have skimmed the water, the goal I intend to impose on them is that fabled 50 Horton miles of Masochism in the mountains of Virginia. 

My next scheduled race is the Shamrock Marathon in March... but I have a funny feeling that you won't have to wait that long for another race report.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How I Have Been "Inspired Daily"

In 2009, a dream of mine from high school began to materialize into reality when I started competing in marathons and ultras. By the end of the year I was addicted and I knew I wasn't going to be a one and done kind of guy. I was looking to give my running legitimacy by getting involved in the promotion of the sport with others that share my passion for it. My goal for 2010 was to make a positive impact in my community with my so called "individual" sport.

Last December I turned to a Brooks, a brand that I have loved and used since I was a teenager, to see if they could help me. I discovered their "Inspire Daily" program, which is designed to assist it's members in the promotion of running, being physically active and the Brooks brand. I applied, thinking that my chances of actually running for Brooks was pretty slim. After all, I was green in the sport and didn't exactly have the gaudy statistics that some of my fellow runners did. I have never qualified for Boston, only finished a handful of races, and certainly haven't won any. Despite the application saying that qualified individuals are "winners in their own right", I was still surprised and ecstatic when they approved my involvement.

Several other companies approved entry level sponsorship requests from me, but none of which that I am more proud to be associated with than Brooks. Their level of commitment to me and my pursuits as a runner have been unmatched. Not only that, but the community I have been introduced to is nothing short of amazing. My fellow Brooks athletes raise the bar in terms of advocacy, not only for our sport, but hundreds of different philanthropic efforts within their communities.

My cohorts, donning their bright yellow singlets and nearly obscene running shorts, have become some of my best friends and most fervent supporters. Several of my races this year have been for the sake of raising awareness and donations for various charities, and I have relied on this circle of friends to help me become incredibly successful in reaching my goals. When I have made my goals public, my inbox has been flooded with encouragement, the word has been spread, and donations have been made on my behalf.

Every time I turn around I feel like I see another effort to use running to make a difference in peoples lives, and that has been inspiring to me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The In Between

With the Masochist behind me I have just one challenge left for 2010 before my mind shifts to new goals for the next year. Typically after a race I am pumped up and the week following I put in a decent amount of mileage, but since last Saturday I have laid dormant in light of injury concerns.

The 50 Horton Miles (longer than the standard mile) left me a little more beat up than last year when I jumped right back into running just four days later. My left ankle has been slightly swollen and very stiff for the last 6 days, so with my next race just weeks away I decided to give it a rest. My theory is that if I was able to run 50 miles, then 50 kilometers shouldn't require too much more training in the break between, so the rest time is more important.

I plan on testing my legs on a short run today and if it holds up I will be blasting miles away on the trails to get ready for my big finale at the Big Foot 50K on December 6th. The 50K wasn't part of my original schedule, but I decided after the Columbus Marathon to add it so I could help a recent acquaintance run her very first ultra. I haven't run a 50K since my very first race last February at Holiday Lake, so it should be interesting to see how I perform. 

This is the inaugural year for the Big Foot 50K, which is a 3-loop trail course near Lore City, OH. I'm not sure what to expect at this point, but my suspicion and hope is that the field will be tame. I base this one two factors... one is that because it's the first running, the faster blokes won't be coming out of the woodwork... two is because it's Ohio, who comes to Ohio to run ultramarathons???

My fantasy is that I have a shot at winning, or at least competing for top honors. If my new apprentice feels confident enough on her own, that's what I am shooting for. However, as my performance from last Saturday taught me, you always have to be prepared for things not going as well as you had planned. I don't know how hilly or technical the loop is going to be, but since we are in the Buckeye State, I am fairly certain it's not going to be anything near as difficult as the races I have done in Virginia or Pennsylvania. The 3-loop course and evenly proportioned aid stations are going to serve me well in judging distance, pacing, and refueling. If I can get some good training in during the next two weeks, there is no reason I shouldn't be able to run the entire time and be damned fast doing it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Race Report: MMTR 2010

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light? Neither have I, but I did run 50 miles this past weekend. Coming into the last Saturday of my relatively short running career, I had completed one 50K, three marathons, and one 50 miler. (I also have a failed attempt at a 77 miler, but lets not go there) Last year the Masochist was the big one, the one that I felt would make me 2legit2quit, the one I wasn't sure I could finish.

A year ago I was in a deep dark place in my life, which is usually reflected outwardly by a lack of running, heavy drinking, and a more than prominent use of tobacco products. I went to the Masochist without a crew, knowing I hadn't run further than 20 miles in several months, and being so nervous about my certain failure that I was finishing up a cigarette less than 5 minutes before the race started so that I could at least calm down.

In ultras, the length of the course and the number of participants allows the field to be spread out to the point where you might be alone for significant portions of time. Last year I didn't wear a watch, and I never pay attention to cut off times at the aid stations, lest they convince me to go slower or faster than I should be going. So I spent almost the entire 2009 race under the impression that I was barely in it and it was only a matter of time before they stopped me from continuing on. I had no idea how well I was doing until after The Loop, just before mile 40. I was keeping pace with two other runners and fearfully asked, "So, do you think we are going to finish this thing?" They both laughed, which I wasn't sure how to take at first, until the one runner answered, "Oh yeah, we are doing fine man, more than enough time to get to Montebello."

I crossed the finish line at 10:07:35, to my great surprise, as the 75th finisher. It made me wonder if I had some sort of superpower that enabled me to perform without training and in spite of body killing habits.

That was last year.

This time around the block I was to have a crew, and three other friends from Columbus in it with me. I expected my friends Betsy and David to be a non-factor in my race, their goal was only to finish together, and my plan was to be at least in the top 75. My worry was the third friend, Matty, who is by nature, a stronger runner than myself. Pride had been an issue since the day we both registered. All of my training was done nervously, wondering if he was training more, training harder, and if I had any chance of finishing faster. Just weeks before the race he told us that he would not be making the trip, and I, in all honesty was relieved. The pressure to perform was off. I did however train for the epic showdown, so I developed a new goal. I wanted to be in the top 25. I estimated from previous Masochist results that I would need to run the distance in a time of about 8:45, an hour and a half faster than last year.

My training was still suspect, but I did have several strong 25+ mile training runs under my belt, smoke free lungs, and a largely dormant drinking habit. I knew the places on the course last year that I had regretted not being more aggressive on, and figured if I could tweak my performance on a few sections, and generally be just a bit quicker, I would have no issues with improving upon 2009's race.

I left Columbus, my disturbingly flat place of residence, Friday morning after making some last minute purchases at FrontRunner. I arrived in Lynchburg just as the pre-race festivities began and met David, Betsy, and several of their family members in the lobby of the Kirkley Hotel. One day I will actually participate in all the extra stuff before and after races, but this time I just dropped in to pick up my race bag, before heading out to dinner with our crew.

The eve of the race was spent carb loading, getting muscles loose in the hot tub, and organizing my race bag and gear. I then did something completely unprecedented and slept. I am a chronic insomniac and routinely have trouble sleeping, particularly before races, so this was a pretty big deal and just added to my tally of advantages over last years preparations.

We woke up at 4:15 AM, and I had a ClifBar for breakfast and got dressed for the 30 degree weather we would have to start in. Following the buses to the start line I was calmer than I had anticipated being, but that queasy feeling that comes when you think about the fact that you are going to spend at least 8 hours of your day running was still present.

After checking in, taking some pictures, a few words and a prayer, the race began and we headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had tweaked my left quad playing soccer the week before, so my plan was to start out nice and slow until I was sure it wouldn't be a factor. The first 5 miles of the corse is all asphalt, after about a mile of taking it easy, I picked it up, knowing that once we got to some of the bigger climbs and more technical sections, I wouldn't have the option of going this fast. I cruised down to the first aid station in a respectable time, somewhere around an 8:30/mi pace before heading into the trail.

Heading into the trail, I hadn't walked any portion yet, and my goal was to avoid it for any significant lengths until Long Mountain, a couple miles before the half way mark. I love running trail, it's exciting and fun, and after running the first 5 miles on the road, it was like drug. I was tearing my way through it pretty well, and I realized that the mild irritation in my quad was completely gone, which was a great sign. The runners were bunched in small groups on the trail, so my method was to stay with whatever group I was with on the flats, try to keep up with them on the climbs. I found out at the Laurel Ultra, that I am a really strong downhill runner, and it serves me very well, so I used those opportunities to gain ground and catch the next group to pace off of. Coming into Aid Station #4, I was on the exact same pace as I was in the year prior. I really do mean exact... to the second. The crew was at that check point, but I still had plenty of water, plenty of everything else, and I was feeling great, so I ran through. I was just around 15 miles into this thing,  still under 11 minute miles, but knowing the difficult sections were yet to come.

Before you get the joy of knowing you are half way done, you have to climb Long Mountain. I don't know how long it actually is, but lets just say that the name is more than appropriate. It's not particularly steep, and it's not technical by any stretch of the imagination, but you better believe the damned thing is long. This is one of the sections I had hoped to improve on from last year, so I had it in my mind to be really conscious of how I was alternating running and walking. This is kind of difficult with other runners around you, because you don't want to walk simply because someone else is, but it's really tempting. I never catch people on climbs, but those were exactly my intentions on this one. Every time I saw the "top" of the mountain, it ended up being a turn instead, with another climb. When I finally did reach the actual end of it and saw I had a down hill, I wasn't nearly as motivated as on the previous sections. I kept saying to myself, "You have to run it if it's runnable. You have to run it if it's runnable" So I started running down the hill. I must have gone no more than a half mile when my quads began to cramp up. It was inevitable, it's happened in every single race I have been in, but I was hoping for it to hit me after the half.

The cramps were ridiculous for the last miles of the half, forcing me to walk sections to knew I would be gaining a lot of ground on had I been able to run them. The feeling this brings is terrible, when something goes wrong, and there isn't any good solution other than waiting for my Endurolyte pills to work their magic. Even though it was only about a marathon worth of running, when I came into the aid station, I was in bad shape mentally. I decided to finally make a pit stop, better to get my head back in the game now before Buck Mountain, than let my thoughts wander too far off on a hard climb. I changed socks, refilled my water, and ate some cookies. This was the second time I saw the crew (that now included Betsy who had to drop because of knee pain) and I found out David's plan was to try and catch up with me, but at this point I wasn't trying to make that easy for him. I had fallen off pace enough that my hope of a top 25 finish was a bit too ambitious, but I still had the potential to get a PR. Buck Mountain is the next big challenge after the half, and it was looming in front of me.

When I think back to Buck Mountain, I also think of another word that is strikingly similar to the name. It's not as long as Long Mountain, but it's steeper and your legs have already done quite a bit of work so it feels even worse than it actually is. As you climb you begin to hear the faint sound of music in the distance, growing louder with each painful step. You soon begin to realize you are listening to a constant loop of the Rocky theme song being blasted from the next check point at the top of the mountain.

Coming into the aid station I made an unwise decision to linger. I stayed there almost 10 minutes, eating snacks, and bullshitting (on a side note, that is apparently a real word) with a fellow Marine who was volunteering.  When I finally did start start back down the trail I looked at my watch... I was falling way behind, and a PR was looking less and less likely. Despite being a good ways into the race, I would say nothing is really certain until you finish The Loop, which was my next big challenge.

As I came to The Loop, I noticed the different set up from last year, which was certainly an improvement. Sometimes when you run for hours on end, your mind isn't as sharp and the simplest things will confuse you, so the new design was appreciated. I only briefly slowed to talk to the crew because I wasn't in need of anything at the time, but I did find out that David was about 30 minutes behind me.

The Loop is my least favorite section of the course... legs that just ran a 50K don't really enjoy being subjected to a technical trail. At this point running on packed sand, or soft dirt on a gentle downward slope is about the only kind of path I would be happy about running. Instead I got rocky, root filled, single-track, with nonsensical turns and short, annoying climbs. This is the kind of stuff I would normally enjoy running, but the intricacies of it only serve to force painful movements. I tripped and rolled my ankles more times than I can count in this 5 mile section, but thankfully didn't face plant or twist anything too bad. I kept leap frogging with several other runners through the section making some conversation along the way. I knew that when we came back out of the woods we would basically be in the home stretch, and that if I kept my time on this section under an hour and a half that I could conceivably walk the rest of the way to Montebello if it came down to it. My highlight of The Loop, and the source of one of my new favorite quotes came from a conversation I had with a first time Masochist runner. I was keeping pace with a cute blonde girl, who like me, was fairly new to ultras, and I struck up a conversation. I asked her how she felt and her reply was priceless, "This is definitely the hardest race I have run. I think I'm in more pain than child birth... I have twin girls." The next time a woman uses child birth against me, I will certainly use that one on them. 

When I finally came out of the woods, I was feeling pretty good, but needed a little refueling. I refilled my bottle, drank a couple cups of chicken noodle soup and found out that David was still just about 30 minutes behind me, and probably a couple of miles into The Loop. 

I started the home stretch with new motivation, running more than I had since the first half. My cramping issues were minimal, so my body must have balanced things out a bit. I had a strong showing until the Forest Valley aid station at mile 43, where exhaustion seemed to completely set in. I knew with complete certainty that I would finish and the only thing I wanted to happen by then was for the race to be finished. I decided that the last 7 miles I had left I would just keep moving forward in whatever way I felt like, even if it meant walking for the next couple of hours. From that point on, I was hoping David would catch me so that we could finish together. I had a tough race and I knew he did as well with losing his wife so early on the course and trying to gain back ground on me.

Somewhere in the last 7 miles my big toe on my left foot began to hurt excruciatingly bad. I don't recall doing anything specific to it, but it hurt so bad towards the end that I was almost certain I had somehow broken it. It hurt to push off, and even though there were sections I would have liked to run, I opted out of most of them because of the pain. Coming into the last aid station with just 3 miles to go, I quickly chomped down some food, and started back out, keeping in mind that most of what I had left was downhill. Last year I flew from the last aid station like I was doing a normal 3-mile loop in Columbus, this year it was more like a slow saunter. I had plenty of time, and no worries. Every time I heard someone approaching from behind, I checked to see if it was David, if he was going to catch up to me, it would have to be now. I never saw David, but every runner that passed tried to encourage me to start running again, but other than short 100-yard stretches of jogging, I couldn't muster anything more than what I was doing. I did however see one familiar face in the last 3-miles, whom David and I paced off of almost the entire first half of Holiday Lake back in 2009.

Once I saw the saw the gate and the power lines overhead I knew I wasn't far from the fishery road that heads to finish line. I was in too much pain still to even run from that point, so I would wait till the last stretch when I could see the time clock. As people passed me (running on the road and driving past) they offered encouragement to run that I chose to ignore. Then came the glory stretch, and I began to painfully run with whatever gas I had left in the tank, as I approached I saw my brother's car. He and my younger brother spent the day trying to find the checkpoints before I got to them in a futile effort, they eventually gave up and just went to the finish line to wait 3-hours in the cold for me to finish. As I crossed the finish line in a humbling time of 11:34:25 I was greeted by Clark Zealand and David Horton with congratulations. In last years pictures of my finish, it looks like I'm ignoring Horton as I cross under the banner. Despite intentionally shaking both of their hands, there is yet another picture where it looks like I forgot to acknowledge them. 

After picking up my finishers t-shirt (which were a huge improvement upon last year's puke green colored shirts) I hung out with my crew, my brothers, and congratulated my fellow runners. I was hoping that David wasn't still 30 minutes behind me, because that would mean he wouldn't get an official finish, so I waited anxiously for him to appear on the road. I wasn't quite as anxious as Betsy, but certainly was hoping we would see him soon. Minutes dragged by until the clock was at 11:55:00... he was cutting this one way too close. As soon as started to form my "That's too bad buddy" speech, we saw him chugging along down the road. Betsy ran down to him and they finished together, though not quite the way they planned, holding hands as David crossed at 11:57:01, with only one official finisher to follow him.

I may not have been as fast this year as I had hoped, and there were a lot of circumstances that I wish could have been different, but this was a great race, and I was glad to be among the 215 that made it to Montebello. Despite in-race declarations of "I hate running", and "Why the hell do I do these?" I will almost assuredly be back next year with high hopes and lofty goals. It's an addiction that I am proud of, and I hope to be like Tom Green (the guy who finished after David) and be celebrating 25 finishes one day.

On a side note... anyone who can get the two pop culture references in the opening paragraph without using the internet gets a special prize from me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Race Report: Nationwide Better Health Marathon 2010

Oh how sweet is small success! Finally a race in 2010 that I am not utterly ashamed of, providing a nice boost of confidence going into the fast approaching Masochist. 

This was, to many people's surprise, my first attempt at the Columbus Marathon. I was supposed to run the half last year, but woke up that morning feeling like I had a stack of weights on my chest and face. My untimely illness provided the straw that broke the camels back, since there were lots of other reasons I didn't particularly want to run that day. With that no-show, I was going into this one with very little prior knowledge of the course, even though I have been a Columbus resident for nearly four years.

I never know what to expect of myself when it comes to racing... I seem to have a natural ability that defies proper training. Despite my surprising successes in running, I have been let down by overconfidence on multiple occasions this year. I had put in lots of low mileage runs over the past two months, getting as fast as I have ever been for distances under 10 miles, but I also forewent most of my scheduled long runs. The longest training run I went on was a disastrous 17-miler, where my stomach revolted against my efforts, producing a lackluster finishing time, but assuring me that my legs could pull off some miracles if I needed them to.

Lots of my friends and cohorts were set to participate in this race, so I had been back and forth between considering making it strictly a fun training run with a slower group of buddies and attempting a PR. My good friends Alex and Elise were in town for the event, and Elise was running this as her inaugural marathon. I did much of my last minute race preparations with her and Alex, which was a pleasant experience. We went on a nice 8:00/mi paced 3-miler the day before and I think it helped us both loosen up a bit for the big day ahead. I for once ate and hydrated properly in the days leading up to Sunday and even though I only got 5 hours of sleep on Saturday night, I don't remember ever feeling so rested before a race. Alex drove Elise and I to the start that was all too typical of a marathon starting line. Crowds of people, chilly air, and a slight feeling of nervousness coupled with euphoria.

When the gun start was signaled, Elise and I were near the 4:00 pace group, which would have been my target finish for the strictly training run mentality. When we started running, I felt loose and comfortable, so when Elise turned her iPod on I felt compelled to pick up my pace to find some conversation elsewhere. I didn't want to go out of the gate too fast to catch up to the faster pace groups, so I tried to hold onto the idea that if I just ran my own race I would eventually catch up to the 3:40 guys. After 5 miles I had reached them and kept stride for a mile or two till I got it in my head that this was my chance to run a really great marathon and I felt good enough to do it. Picking up the pace again, I decided to catch the 3:30 group. It took less than an hour, so at the 10 mile mark I was running on an 8:00/mi pace with the group projected to finish 12 minutes ahead of my previous PR. Shortly after I joined them, a recent acquaintance from over the Summer, Tad Inboden, came along side me. Tad was also running his first marathon. We were both in one of our good friend's weddings back in August and the man was simply hilarious and a great guy all around. The conversation and light heartedness of our marathon encounter made for a really great on-course experience. I think both of us resigned to the fact that we could help one another if we stayed together for at least a bit, so we made it a point to keep pace off of each other. I deck myself out for every race as if it were an ultra, so I had two bottles of water, a ton of gels, and a variety pack of magic pills (ibuprofen, endurolytes, antacids, etc.), which I was more than willing to share with Tad. The aid stations for marathons are  something I am not particularly fond of, they usually are limited to water and Gatorade, with one gel station somewhere about 3/4 through the course, and always cause a pace slowing traffic jam between people who don't want anything and those trying to make a mad dash for the paper cups that once used become a traction hazard. With two 20 oz. water bottles and all the other junk I had on me, Tad and I only used the stations to supplement our needs. After passing through Bexley and German Village, we began a began a nice jaunt up High St through downtown, the Short North, and into the Ohio State campus. I carried my phone on me during the race, mostly to make post race meet-ups more coordinated, but it proved useful in alerting my brother Tyler and my roommate Johnny that we would be passing by our apartments just a few miles after the halfway point. Johnny hooked me up with some electrolyte tablets that I was running low on, which was awesome. On campus, and really throughout the whole course I probably saw a dozen people I knew along the street, which was great... one of the many benefits of running a race where you live.

As Tad and I went through campus we started jetting ahead of the 3:30 pacers about 50 yards or so. The plan in my head was to stick close to them until about mile 20, and then if I felt good enough I would try to burn the last 10K. As we went by the Oval where they were setting up for the Barack Obama visit later in the day, I realized that mile 18 was fast approaching, where my personal "wall" usually awaits... alive and well in all of it's infamy. Approaching mile 18 I started to break down a bit, I knew it was my mental anticipation of mile 18, but I couldn't help it. Tad and I weren't saying much at this point, so I'm not sure what was going on his head. The only thing I told him out loud was, "My mind is in a dark and gloomy place right now man." As we passed mile 18, a port-a-john stop was to our right hand side, just before we got into the Upper Arlington portion of the course. I didn't need to stop, but I figured dropping some water weight and breaking my stride for 30-seconds might be a nice pick me up for the home stretch. I was wrong. I started back out, seeing the balloons with 3:30 written in black sharpie about 200 yd ahead of me, trying to pace myself to catch back up to Tad. I was gaining ground slowly as I rolled into Grandview where I saw Alex waiting for his wife to pass by. I gave him an on the go update on my struggle with mile 18, and kept going. Passing a checkpoint with a time clock, I saw that I was still on my way to a PR, with less than 50 min of running left if I could hold out. I couldn't. Not far from there, around mile 22, my left calf knotted up, bringing me to an awkward unnatural stride. Then came my left quad, then the right leg joined forces in the ultimate betrayal. In long distance races, it's all about forward progress. If you are having issues, stopping isn't likely to resolve anything, so you just need to maintain forward progress. Slowing down or even walking are much better ideas than stopping altogether. The remainder of Grandview I spent using the run/walk method, and popping any endurolytes I had left, trying to stretch as I went, hoping I would get loose enough to make a last full out effort. I was coming up Buttles Avenue alongside Goodale Park when I knew all I had left was a mile or so till the finish in the Arena District. As we turned onto Park Street, I resolved to run the last stretch despite cramping and pain. At this point my struggles had pushed me back behind the 3:40 group, with all the turns I wasn't sure where I was between the 3:40 and 3:50 groups, because I couldn't see either.

Every marathon I have run so far has ended in what is on it's way to becoming a tradition... shirtless and in a dead sprint. I took my bright yellow Brooks singlet off and ran Park Street in a pretty good amount of pain until I saw the 26 mile marker, anything I had left in my legs at this point was going to my hard finish. I picked up my pace to one as fast as any I could conjure up, and blazed a trail past about 20 runners to a solid finish. When I looked at the clock and saw 3:43:08 I was disappointed and upset. During the race I had gotten it into my head that I would PR, and up until mile 22 I was confident that I wouldn't just get a PR, but that I would also run my first sub-3:30 marathon. It didn't occur to me until after the race, that the time I saw was the gun start time, and that I hadn't crossed the start line until 2 minutes after the gun. So my official time was actually 3:40:58, good for a PR but not as dramatic of an improvement as I was on pace for. 

After I crossed the finish line, I went through the standard routine of getting bagels, water, and chicken broth from the volunteers. Then of course I received the standard marathon bling and had my picture taken that they will try to sell me for some absurdly high price in a few weeks. The finish line was crowded and crazy with spectators and runners, and I knew a lot of my friends were still on the course, so I went to the Susan G. Komen tent instead of trying to find anyone just yet. I had some light conversation with some of the people there, inquired about how some of my teammates had done, and picked up my goody bag until Alex tracked me down. Elise wasn't as far behind me as I expected, running a really strong sub-4 hour marathon, just minutes from Boston Qualifying. After she finished, we met up with my brother again, ran into a few friends... including Tad who had finished with a jealousy inspiring time of 3:28:49.

By in large this was my favorite marathon of my still young running career, the course was beautifully laid out and familiar, there was no significant stretch that didn't have hundreds of people cheering all of us on, and running with a friend without sacrificing any part of my performance was a really awesome experience. I raised around $500 for breast cancer research in my effort, set a new PR, and gave myself a much needed surge of mettle heading into my next ultra marathon, which is now just weeks away. 

I love running and I'm proud to be a resident of this city that has so many great friends. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coming to a Close

My year of poor yet meaningful running is coming to a close, and I would love to leave on a high note. I vowed at the start of 2010 that I would make my running all about others instead of myself, making my sport, that is largely about the individual, into something about community.

I feel like I partially achieved my goal, particularly with the incredibly successful fundraising effort that was The Memorial 100. Raising over $10K for the Wounded Warrior Project back in May was by far the highlight of my running career for countless reasons. It was therapeutic, meaningful, and incredibly rewarding. My other two races, the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Laurel Ultra, didn't achieve much more than my personal frustration, but were by in large learning experiences. In my race report for the Laurel Ultra, I revealed my embarrassing practices of over-confidence and mediocre training. The last months of Summer didn't produce anything contrary to that, but the month of September began to show promise as I set a new tone for how I approach racing. The Columbus Marathon will be the first race that I will be coming into with borderline adequate training, and I am really excited to see what I can do as a result. Honestly I don't know if it will pay off... you never can tell. Every race is different, and there is no way to predict what will happen when you're in the moment of truth. Poor conditions, injury, illness, who knows what can happen? I do know that I have a damn good chance of running a personal best marathon time, but I'm not concerned really, and for a good reason.

When I went to the kick-off party for the Columbus Marathon a few months ago, I made a decision to run it for the Susan G. Komen team, in honor of my Mother, trading my fluorescent yellow Brooks singlet for a hot pink one. Fundraising has been a frustrating venture (as it always seems to be, no matter what the cause) but I've raised a couple hundred bucks in the fight against breast cancer, and I'm pretty stoked to show outward support for my Mom, who is suffering from Stage 4 cancer. If I crawl across the finish line with a 5-hour finish, I know that my Mom's going to be proud of me, and a tattooed dude wearing a pink singlet is going to know that he made someone aware of a great cause. That will make whatever happens on October 17th worth it.

Less than a month after Columbus, I will be heading back to Virginia to dance with the Masochist again. I spread myself thin with promoting great causes this year, so I honestly didn't have it in me to try and do double duty to raise money for anything. I instead will be running it on a personal level, being thankful for being able to do something I love, at the cost and support of many people. From my parents that adopted me and raised me as their own son, to the Marines that I served with, to the friends and co-workers that have been there for me, I will be running it in personal gratitude to everyone who has made me who I am.

This has been an interesting year in my life. So many things have happened that I never expected, and I have had the honor to be a part of many wonderful things, so here's to ending the year (at least the running part) with good form and a strong finish.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Review of Mens Brooks Equilibrium CoRe Fitted Shorts

Originally submitted at Road Runner Sports

Men's Brooks® Equilibrium CoRe Short :: Supportive moisture-transfer compression short with soft waistband provides core stability, fights chafing, and fends off fatigue. This web exclusive item ships separately via Standard Ground Shipping to physical street addresses within the contine...

Great Product

By Joseph Shearer from Columbus, OH on 9/5/2010


5out of 5

Fit: Feels true to size

Pros: Dries Quickly, Breathable, Lightweight, Comfortable, Allows Free Movement

Best Uses: Running, Warm Weather, Competition

Describe Yourself: Competitive Athlete

Was this a gift?: No

Great product that I use all the time in not only training but racing as well. The fabric dries quickly and wicks sweat away fast. The reason I purchased this product is how effectively it reduces problems with chaffing. I would recommend them to anyone in need of a good and high performing base layer.

Using the product at the Laurel Ultra 2010


Tags: Using Product


Friday, July 2, 2010

Race Report: Laurel Highlands Ultra 2010

Oh, the deep wound that reopens with each failure. Is 2010 cursed? Should I cancel my remaining races for the year in anticipation that I will not perform to my own personal standards?

The Laurel Ultra is the race that kindled my desire to run ultras, to be able to run a distance in a single day that most people would consider an intense multi-day backpacking trip.

It all began Easter weekend of 2004, when I was a senior in high school. I loved hiking, camping, and all things outdoors, just as many of my close friends did. My friend Alec Rice and I decided to bring our high school days to an end with a grand adventure. We knew of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, because it was a local destination and though we had no personal experience with it, knew many people who did. A 70.5 mile route from Ohiopyle to Seward, that promised beautiful scenery, grand vistas, and more... all accessed by a challenging single-track course.

Both of us were able bodied athletes. We played soccer all through our school years, were in the beginning of our final track and field season, and had even gone on multi-day hikes together in the past. We only had three days to do the distance, so we planned an aggressive schedule, putting most of our mileage up front when we were fresh and then doing two shorter days to bring us to the end. I called a month in advance to let the park service know which shelters we would be staying in for the two nights we would be sleeping on the trail.

When I explained our agenda to the man I was speaking with he chuckled and said, "Have you ever hiked this trail before?" I told him we hadn't and then through an offensive amount of laughter he suggested that we take at least four days. I got cocky and assured him that he was underestimating our ability.

When Alec's mom dropped us off in Ohiopyle, the weather was uncharacteristically perfect for that time of April, 65 degrees, sunny, and a slight breeze. Great conditions for our first day.

We had read the trail guide and seen the elevation profile beforehand and knew we would be gaining most of our elevation in the first ten miles. We would soon find out that things sometimes look better on paper than they do in reality. This climb was borderline obscene. Where the hell were we? Was this actually Pennsylvania or did Alec's mom accidentally drop us off in the Northern Cascades? The first 10 miles dominated us and took nearly twice as long as we had projected. After debating between one another we decided the next shelter we came across would be the ending point of our first day. We could split what we fell short of in the next two.

After setting up camp and getting something to eat, we went to bed early, hoping to start day two just after the sun broke the horizon.

When we woke up the next morning we were greeted with a completely unanticipated, and certainly unwanted landscape. While we were bunkered down in our sleeping bags, mother nature decided to give us the middle finger. A far cry from the day before, it was now 30 degrees, with 4 inches (and counting) of snow on the ground. Karma is a bitch, because I was eating my arrogance in regards to the difficulty of this hike. Still slower than planned, we went on a do or die death march of 28 miles, hiking well into the night before finally putting us within striking distance of the end. We were still over 20 miles away from my car, but we were going to get this thing done in three days... come hell, high water, snow, or some biblical scale mountain climb. How could we abandon our goal now?

Day three was overcast, with sporadic rain showers, and a just cold enough to be miserable temperature somewhere around 50. We were moving as fast as we could, completely miserable, and operating within bodies that were crying for us to stop. Both of us were in such a foul mood that we barely spoke, we just kept moving, forsaking our surroundings for the view of the rocky trail in front of us. My knees were swollen and every muscle in my leg felt like it was on fire, not to mention the pack that seemed like a 1,000 lbs on my shoulders.

Our determination had brought us success, but with a price, as both of us would be sitting out of track practice for a week. We had made it to my car with just an hour of light to spare on the third day, which was Easter Sunday. Too late for most home cooked meals, but at this point, left overs would be just fine.

Not long after our epic journey, I began to think back on it with pride, the park service guy may have known what he was talking about, but we still did it. I started to wonder then if there was a record of someone doing it faster. Of course I then Googled it, after all, how else does one acquire knowledge?

What I quickly found, had me wide-eyed and speechless. This had to be a different trail, with a similar name, or something like that. I was reading about something that was humanly impossible. Was this even a real website?

Some jerk supposedly RAN this thing that took us three days to hike... not only ran it, but did the whole thing in less than 11 hours. It wasn't just some random nut either, because there was dozens of other people listed who did it too, all under 24 hours. Who the hell would even consider trying that? I didn't know it was even possible to run that far, let alone that there would be organized events and races for such a distance. Weren't marathons the longest races around? What the hell was an ultra? Was this an isolated instance of insanity or did other people do this crap too?

I became obsessed, and found out that there were events all across the country, some longer than this one, on apparently even tougher trails. I learned about people setting speed records for the grail trails, about the Grand Slam, and the supposed toughest foot race in the world... The Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 miles road race from Death Valley to the base of Mt. Whitney.

I ran "distance" for my track team, and thought that the 3200 was supposed to considered long distance, and I couldn't have been more wrong.

I was never particularly fast on the track. I was good for my team, but couldn't compete past county meets... but I knew I had drive, and I loved the idea of pushing my limits. I knew I would run an ultra someday, because I couldn't know about such a thing and not attempt it.

The fire had been lit, but wouldn't engulf anything until 2009 when I ran Holiday Lake, my first race outside of high school, a trail 50K that I would follow up with the Masochist 50 Miler later that year. The Laurel Ultra has been on my mind for the last 7 years, and I have seen it as my personal right of passage into ultra running.

It wasn't until this year that I was able to attempt my goal, but in all honesty last year made me a bit too cocky.

I can run, that's for sure, but I think because of my better than they should have been performances of last year, I have gravely overestimated how easily I can race.

I undertrained for Holiday Lake, then I straight up didn't train for either the Pittsburgh Marathon or the Masochist and put up solid newbie times for all three. This year that false confidence is costing me. Pittsburgh I struggled, the format change for Memorial Day saved my ass, and then the ultimate wake up call happened when I dropped out of the Laurel Ultra on Saturday.

I haven't had a 50-mile training week since January, in fact, I haven't had one over 30 miles. Did I really drive the whole way to Pennsylvania to run 77 miles (the course was altered and 7 miles added for a bridge outage) expecting to perform well? Did I really expect to even finish?

I told my brother beforehand that I was worried, but then he reminded me that I didn't run for the entire month leading up to the Masochist last fall, and that I was even smoking during that time, and I still finished in a respectable time.

Well my self proclaimed right of passage isn't anything like the Masochist, it's a ball buster of epic proportions compared to the Masochist.

I followed my routine of opting for poor and short sleep, going to bed at 12:30 AM in the back of Ned's SUV at the start line for a 5:30 race... next to active railroad tracks. It was better than the sleep I got before the Masochist, but certainly not ideal. I was surprisingly awake and motivated at the start line, talking with some fellow Brooks athletes and faces I recognized from previous races. I had every intention of finishing this thing, and believed I could even do it 6 hours under the time limit of 24 hours.

Damn that first 10 miles. This time there was really no excuse, I hadn't simply looked at maps, I knew it from experience and STILL underestimated it's ability to break me off. I was extremely aggressive to start out, with only a handful of solo runners ahead of me. The only people legitimately faster were relay guys who weren't going to be running the entire day. My downhill prowess was legit, but the climbs were killing me. Unfortunately, gaining 1400 ft of elevation in a 3 mile climb negated my success on the downhills. Right before the first aid station at mile 11, I started to get sharp stomach pains. I knew I might have to drop rounds down range during the race, but I had hoped it would be later, no such luck. I was still in good standing at the first station despite the pit stop, but my stomach was still acting up. I had increasing nausea, and even the thought of gel disgusted me. The second section was cake compared to the first as far as elevation gains and losses, but I found myself walking portions that I should definitely have been running. The stomach pains got worse each time I planted my foot. At mile 15, I was forced to make a second pit stop... way to early for this crap to be happening, quite literally. That didn't offer much relief either. A sip of NUUN then resulted in uncontrollable vomiting. I literally had no water or food in my stomach what so ever. This was bad, really bad. I knew if this kept up, dehydration was certain, and there was no way I could keep going. My mind began to doubt. In an ultra, it's rarely your body failing you that makes you quit, it's the battle in your head. I was in trouble and I knew it. Either way, I had to get to the next aid station.

As runners caught up to me and passed, I was reintroduced to the wonderful camaraderie that exists between ultra runners... something you won't necessarily find in shorter races. An older gentleman stopped and walked with me, asked if I needed some antacid tablets, which I graciously accepted. He stayed with me as long as he felt he could and then encouraged me, "It's still early, you have the whole day to catch up. You just make it to that next stop, and when you do find the prettiest girl that's there... that's my daughter. She has more antacid tablets, and I'm going to tell her to look for you when you come in, have a good race, hopefully I'll see you again." After he left, I waited for a few minutes and tried to drink again because I noticed the salt was starting to dry on my face and I wasn't sweating as much anymore... a sure sign of dehydration. Instantaneous vomiting. Damn it. More generous runners offered a thousand different magic pills as they passed and noticed that I was struggling, but I declined, at that point knowing my race was all but over until I could keep some water down.

The last climb up to the second aid station was the hardest part of the second leg, a confidence breaking incline. I was literally grabbing trees to pull myself up to each rocky platform. When I reached the top, I stumbled into the nearest place to sit down as Ned came to my side to get me refills and a situation report. I was well ahead of the cutoff time, despite completing the section at a laughably slow pace. I had time to decide. When I was finally able to drink water, it rolled around unnaturally in my stomach, as it was the only thing occupying my midsection. Every time I looked at the table of food, I felt queasy and unsettled. After about 45 minutes, I knew I had to make a choice. I was already in poor condition, and knew that even though the hardest climbs were behind me, the ones ahead were nothing to scoff at either. It was 9:30 in the morning, and I had at the very least, 15 more hours of running ahead of me... and that was if I caught up and held my ground.

I had already given up mentally once. I then made the unthinkable choice of disqualifying myself. Could I have made it? Who knows? I physically wasn't as prepared as I should have been, but that's not what did me in. My mindset was completely off, and this wasn't going to be the day I drank from my personal grail.

I am a competitor, and I largely regret my decision to quit. However that same regret is exactly what I am going to use going forward. No more slacking off and putting it up to chance and natural ability. I have nothing until the fall... all summer to train, to build my endurance and speed. Anything from this point, through 2011, will be an improvement or I will consider it a failure. I have at least two races left for the year, the Columbus Marathon and the MMTR... if I don't PR at both, then I need to find a passion I am going to take more seriously.

As far as the Laurel Ultra is concerned, I am promising something lofty... I will win it before the decade is out. I hate waiting, so I guess that means I have 11 months until its do or die time.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Indefinitely Indebted

Literally hundreds of people need to be thanked for this past Memorial Day weekend, so many people worked so hard to put the Memorial 100 together that I simply can't name them all... but here is what I hope is a solid attempt.

The reason we ran, the reason we have freedom...

We can never repay the thousands of servicemen and women who have given their lives for the sake of freedom. We ran in memory of 48 Marines and Corpsman, who gave up their lives in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq in 2005:

SSgt Joseph Goodrich, one of the greatest men and Marines that I've ever met. I will never forget the day he lost his life, when just an hour before he went on patrol he was encouraging me to remember why we we do what we do as Marines, at a time when I was losing sight of it.

LCpl Ryan Kovacicek, who could always bring my thoughts back to Indiana when I needed someone who knew the same places I did, to help me not forget where I was from.

Cpl Joseph Tremblay, who volunteered so that he could fight alongside his brothers, knowing that it might cost him his life, but being selfless enough to run the risk. He had higher ideals than his own well being, and is an inspiration to the rest of us to live it out.

Cpl Bryan Richardson, always willing to help out wherever and whenever he was needed, even if it meant showing a boot PFC how to operate a field radio 8,000 times before he got the hang of it. The definition of patience, cool and collected no matter what.

We lost men who we considered our brothers out of mutual experience, to some it was a much deeper loss.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Amy Goodrich-Torbert! I don't know how you do it. Even before we deployed, you were the ultimate sister to all of us, and you have never abandoned that role. I can't imagine what losing Joe was like for you, but I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he would be proud of the woman you continue to be. The Memorial 100 wouldn't have been possible without you. The time, the money, and the effort you put in are unmatched. I sincerely hope that it brought you comfort to know how much he meant to us, and that not only he was honored, but you as well.

Larry Tremblay, when I met you the night before the run, it gave me all the motivation I needed.  My parents lost two sons, so I have a glimpse of the pain that I know you are all too familiar with. To be as strong as you are to stand with us in continuing to honor your son's memory is no small task, and it meant the world for you to be there with us. Rest assured that we will never forget your son.

Ariel Hochman, I have never met you, and I might not get to. When I received your email, and knew that you were behind us for this thing, it was invaluable. You're family to all of us, so don't forget that we mourn Ryan with you.

For my brother who thought this crazy idea up...

Nathan Huffman, this all started because of your idea, and then you proceeded to pull it off despite a thousand obstacles in the way. I'm proud to have served with you, and to have run this thing along side you. I don't think anyone felt as much pressure as you to make this thing a success, and it truly was. Personally, this whole thing from beginning to end, has helped me deal with all the issues I have battled since Iraq, and I am grateful to you for motivating me to do it. Some people think the whole "brother" thing in the military is bullshit, but I can't think of any other word I would use for you.

For the guys that I trusted with my life in Iraq, and then for this run...

Doc Sukitch and Doc Iem, I don't give a damn if either of you are an MD, if I ever get shot or blown up, I'm calling you guys before I go to the hospital. In my book, Corpsman are Marines that just have shittier M16's and more crap to carry. I wouldn't have wanted anyone else (outside of maybe Doc Moe and the rest of the gang) driving behind us. Brothers indeed.

To the only Marine I'm okay with being a better runner than me...

Ferkett, you long legged bastard, you have always been there for me when I needed you, even when I was way off my rocker when we got home. It was no surprise that you were on board from the start, and no matter how long I go without seeing you, my respect for you will always be intact. You're one of the best Marines I know, and I'll always be up for running along side you, just so long as I don't slow you down.

To the best support crew we could have asked for...

James Huffman, your support of your son and of our effort in this event, being there every step of the way was fantastic.

Ron McFarland, having you let us use your ridiculously nice RV, being awake for a ridiculous amount of time, and driving the slowest 100 miles of your life made the whole thing a lot less painless than it could have been otherwise.

Sarai Hasegawa, for being supportive of me through the planning and preparation and then despite the certainty of awkwardness accompanied me on the journey. We won't ever forget the event, but having your photo record of the whole thing will certainly help.

Eileen Sukitch, riding shotgun for 24 hours and making sure your husband didn't fall asleep or have a flashback and think he was driving a humvee in Iraq was probably more valuable than we are aware of.

Ileana Adams, who drove all over the Virginia countryside with your kids in support of your husband and us, all the while accruing bizarre gifts for your daughter from Marines hitting up the yard sales along Rt 1.

Christy Huffman, your husband said that during labor you told him he had to run this thing, that's bad ass.

To our adopted family of runners, who ran with us and supported us the whole way...

Jeremy Soles, you're a freaking beast, a brother by your birth on Parris Island, and motivating as hell... who the hell else would use the S&M man cadences for the last 3 miles of a 100 mile relay, right after running with a gas mask on?

Brittany Davis, single handedly doubling interest from street side spectators, and matching your man in bad assness by throwing up so you could run more legs of the relay.

Courtney Ryan, for picking the hottest time of the day to run, after popping out a baby only months before. You beasted those climbs, forgive me for thinking you might fall out.

Teagan Ryan, our youngest participant, who will look at pictures later and tell people that she ran her first ultramarathon as an infant. Pretty sure she's also the cutest baby I have ever seen (no offense Huff).

Caroline Allen, who could have probably ran her sections faster than everyone except Ferkett, and put up with 5 miles alongside Chongo.

Sarah Matthew, busting your man's balls as if you were one of us and running like a champ.

Anthony and Heather Crokus, our most random acquaintance in the group... finding my blog through a post I put on the Pittsburgh Marathon page, and being so interested in what we were doing that they drove through the night to meet us and then ran despite a lack of sleep and the presence of injury, making sure we had at least 3 branches of service represented. Who says you can't make great friends on the internet?

Jimmy Torbert, the man with big shoes to fill... I don't think anyone could have picked a better guy to be with Amy. A non-runner, running out of love for his wife and in honor of her late husband. Selfless, completely selfless. Nothing short of amazing, you're a great guy.

Mike Kiniry, serving double duty in running and helping out with the police escort, I don't think anyone got as little sleep as you.

To the some the best damn Marines in the USMC who fought with me in Iraq and ran with me during the Memorial 100...

Segrist, my sawgunner, an enabler, a Michael Jackson enthusiast, and sometimes a really big asshole. I'd want no other Marine in a firefight over you, and to have you be a part of this was awesome.

Ryan, running while pushing a baby and being pregnant is no small feat, and you nailed it.

Thomas, when I was running high school track they had a motto that the gayer they were the faster they would run... clearly that wasn't accurate, or else you would have been pulling 6 minute miles.

Chongo, who would have ever thought you would be running behind a police cruiser instead of in front of it? The border must be pretty hilly, because you clearly had prior experience.

Adams, I don't remember you ever being able to run a PFT in under an hour, let alone 5 miles, well done sir.

Boyko, with all that down time in Al-Asad, I expected a little faster effort from you, you fundraising Nazi.

Beck, I can't think of anything to bust your balls about. I don't know how that's even possible, must have been all that practice from 10 years of staying under the radar as a LCpl. So I guess, good job?

Oguss, every time I closed my eyes when I was near you I thought I was standing next to Paris Hilton with a retarded Jersey accent. That run was pretty hot huh?

Finnerty, my knee brace is missing a rubber tube from inside, I know it looks like a sex toy, but seriously?

Darling, I could make a weight joke... but that would be way to easy and besides, I highly suspect you of being the one who whose swamp ass made the RV feel like we were trapped inside a septic tank.

To our amazing safety crew and escort, we wouldn't have been able to do anything without your participation. I don't know how many Police Departments and EMS Squads were involved or how many  individuals gave up their off days, just to help us out.

Captain Kiniry and the Richmond Police Department, you had everything to do with us establish a solid route, getting all the jurisdictions on board, and keeping us safe for the duration of the event. Your sacrificial participation had everything to do with us pulling it all off, and your presence and passion for what we were doing was motivating.

To the wonderful, generous people that helped us nearly double our fundraising goal. It was $5,000 and we made it to $9,521. I don't know all of you, and some I can't see because you donated on behalf of others, but you all came together to make a huge difference.

Roger Bock, your giving breathed new life into this thing and made us believe we could raise the money when you secured are largest single donation ($1,000) from the Marine Corps Family Support Community, and then gave $100 of your own money in support of us.

Sandy Kimmel, always there for me since I was 15 years old, and blowing my mind with your generosity once again with your donation of $500.

Imbrogno, for helping out with a generous donation in getting our operational expenses taken care of.

To our pre-run hosts...

Grandpa Eddies Alabama Ribs and Barbeque, your food was amazing, even if there was nothing that had any carbs. Letting us take over your restaurant was a ballsy move, but it helped us raise even more support and awareness for what we were doing. Fan-freaking-tastic.

For our many sponsors and workers who helped out with providing gear and food, at a discounted cost or sometimes completely free...

Steve DeKoker from the Brooks ID Program, you made me proud to be a part of the Brooks family, and I was blown away that you were so quick to help out by providing 30 tech shirts for the run. Everyone loved them, and we are greatly appreciative of your willingness to help out. Not only that, but to spotlight me on the Brooks webpage and draw interest from the ID running community was amazing and certainly contributed to our success.

NUUN, for giving us discounted electrolyte tablets that certainly helped keep us hydrated and cramp free.

Fleet Feet Pittsburgh, for your extremely generous contribution in providing shoes, gear, and an assortment of performance foods at no charge.

Sign-a-Rama, for providing magnetic Wounded Warrior Project decals for all the support vehicles at no charge.

Sgt. Grit, for providing the US and Marine Corps flags that we carried from Richmond to DC.

Lindsay Kronmiller, for designing the wonderful shirts and getting them all printed in time for the run. You made us look legit, instead of a bunch of morons running down the street.

YWCA Columbus, never have I worked at a place that was so supportive of me in pursuits outside of work, getting all of our wonderful staff behind me, gathering donations, letting me post fliers, enabling me to have the time off to run, and then feature our efforts in a spotlight section of the company newsletter. Add this to the list of reasons why I love my job.

For the only politician who showed any real interest in what were doing...

Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), your willingness to meet with Huffman, advocate for us among your peers, and getting the ball rolling with our park permits made a huge difference and prevented this whole thing from being derailed.

To the only reporter willing to run our story (that I am aware of) before the event...

Gina Cavallaro of the Marine Corps Times, you have a passion akin to ours through your experiences as an embedded reporter, and that passion certainly showed in the wonderful article you wrote on us.

Thanks also goes to LtCol Chris Douglas for setting us up with Gina, and providing encouragement whenever we needed it.

To all of my wonderful friends and supporters who helped in a thousand different ways...

Dr. Scott Gosselin, who fixed my back last year to keep me running, and then offered his services free of charge as his contribution to this run, so that my back wouldn't prevent me from running. On top of that, he has become a good friend and avid supporter of my running endeavors.

Tori Kise, who sent out countless donation letters, helped me edit my fliers, and was supportive from the very beginning.

Matt Kirkendall, who spread the word, offered to help in a thousand different ways (even if I didn't utilize all of it) and was there from the start.

Brian Visnosky, for letting me bounce ideas off of you and giving me ones I would have never thought up on my own.

And to the rest...

The over 500 members of our Facebook group, my entire family that has been behind me the whole way, everyone that helped out even for the smallest detail, all the Marines of 3/25, my friends, our donors, and hundreds of other people that helped make this what it was... a HUGE success!

Thank You!!!

Semper Fi,

Joe Shearer

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Memorial 100

Seven months of planning, training, and stress... all completely and undeniably worth it.

As many of you who read this know, back in November Nathan Huffman came to me with an idea to honor the 48 Marines and Navy Corpsman that we lost during our 2005 deployment to the Al-Anbar Province of Iraq. The idea was to run from the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond to the Marine Corps Memorial in Washington DC.

I knew the distance of just over 100 miles was possible, I had met many people who had done the distance... but it still seemed like a pretty huge task for two amateur runners to take on. We thankfully drew the immediate interest of Kyle Ferkett, another Marine that served with us and then Amy Goodrich-Torbert, the wife of SSgt Goodrich, whom we lost in Iraq.

Even though it was great to have them on board, I knew if we didn't have more people backing us up and couldn't find a banner to run under, to give us legitimacy, that we would never get this thing off the ground. Many of our Marines who had been injured in Iraq, had been helped out by the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that I had only heard positive reports about. When we established contact with them, we had ourselves the banner, so next was the bodies. Thank God for the social networking revolution, because Facebook then became one our biggest allies.

We grew by the surprisingly tedious work of sending out emails, making phone calls, posting flyers, and writing blog posts. Slowly but surely we recruited dozens, then hundreds of people, all willing to provide support in various degrees. Not too long into our adventure we realized we had quite a few people that wanted to be in the thick of it, and help us get to DC by more than just monetary donation.

When it got to the point where we knew we had to go forward with it, no matter what, and we decided to include a relay to give other Marines and supporters a chance to participate in the event itself. In true Marine fashion, our brothers didn't leave the task to take on by ourselves.

The last months of winter, we trained our asses off, and I personally put up my largest mileage ever in training. All was well, except that our donations were trickling in at a depressingly slow rate. Months rolled out quickly and we began to meet challenges and tough questions. We weren't getting any press outlets on board, we realized we needed permits, we needed police involvement, legal advice, etc. All the while, each of us came into personal issues... Huffman's wife was due the same weekend we were supposed to run this thing, my PTSD issues were spinning me out of control and off the training trail, and it looked like we might not be able to pull it all off.

My turning point to hope, was around April 20th, when I received a text message from my friend Tori saying, "Holy cow! Someone just gave you $1000!" This was at a point when we hadn't even raised that much as entire team. Roger Bock and the Marine Corps Family Support Community here in Ohio, sparked me back into believing that we could actually make a difference with this event. Leave it to an old Jarhead to send some rounds down range.

Things looked up, but we still seemed as if we were on shaky ground. The first weekend of May I pulled my groin in Pittsburgh, running my worst marathon ever, making my involvement uncertain. Then Huffman had concerns about his unborn baby, we hadn't heard much from Pittsburgh Marines, and the park service was pissing around with our permit for Iwo Jima. We had so many things falling into place, but huge obstacles following them up like clock work.

Mid-may... only a few weeks from rolling out of Richmond, we weren't sure what was in store...

We were still painfully short of our $5000 fundraising goal, only one newspaper (The Marine Corps Times, thanks to LtCol Douglas and Gina Cavalaro) had picked us up, only one politician (VA Congressman Eric Cantor) had shown any definitive interest, and the park service was STILL giving Huffman the run around. We had the route, the runners, and the support crew in place... but we uncertain if we would have the cash, the attention, and the permission to go forward as planned.

Everyone involved at this point, was committed to seeing it through, hell or high water... and we came to the conclusion that no matter what happened, this was more about honoring the Marines and Corpsman we lost... and nothing could stop that, even if everything else went down in flames.

Once we came to that epiphany, a weight came off of our backs, and then something sort of miraculous happened.

Donations started POURING in... we hit our goal, and then the pace quickened even more, with money coming in almost everyday, and sometimes it seemed as if it was every hour. Our Facebook group exploded with new life. With pressure from Eric Cantor's office, that pesky park service lady caved in and gave us the needed permission for landing. Runners reaffirmed their commitment to doing this thing with us, and every nagging detail seemed to vanish into an annoying memory.

Days before the run, we changed format, this was about making a successful event to honor our brothers, so we didn't leave it on our shoulders to run the full 100... we would instead run a strict relay, preventing any chance of falling short of DC.

The night before the run for our kickoff party, we knew we had already succeeded in what we had set out to do. It was like a family reunion, the best memorial service you have ever attended, and just straight fun all rolled into one. I, at times, couldn't help but smile thinking this was exactly how God intended it to turn out.

The run itself was amazing. Smoother than we could have ever counted on, everyone had done their part and more. People I had never met, became a part of something I will never forget. New and old mixed together for one of the greatest things I have ever been a part of.

We always had at least two people running, holding the American and Marine Corps flags high in the air, over 20 people all relying on each other for the same purpose in honoring 48 of my brothers who laid down their lives for all of us.

When we rolled into Iwo Jima, all together, running in formation, calling cadence, I didn't think that I could be any more proud of the people I was with... until about 15 minutes later.

We presented the flags we had carried the entire 106 miles to Amy and Larry... knowing that this was more special to them than it ever could be to the rest of us. A wife and a father, without the two men they loved, backing us up from the very beginning and right up to the end, tears in their eyes, accepting all that we could give them, the banners that represent everything that their loved ones were willing to give up their lives for.

No Marine has ever died in vain, no matter what war or how unpopular it was. They died for us, and I could never see it so clearly as I did at 5:30 AM on the eve of Memorial Day in Washington DC.