Saturday, June 30, 2012

My First DNF!

It was a matter of time, I guess. I ran in the first ever Six Hours of Don Tyson Parkway, which had been postponed till about 11:15 this morning due to life obligations of the race director. I knew my goal of 15 laps, just over 20 miles, was very ambitious given the temperature and the utter lack of light-diffusing clouds in the sky, but I was going to try. I also wanted to try out my new Cool-Off Bandana (review to follow) which I got from along with some Elastikon tape and some tincture of benzoin ampules.

I had run ten laps of the Tyson a week or so ago but it was in the evening so the temperature got cooler as I ran. It felt great and I finished five laps before taking my first walk break. Today, starting with temps in the low 90s and knowing they would go up from there, I went ultra early and walked the top portion of the hill to Kent Dobbs starting on the first lap. Later I added the steepest section of the hill back up to Cambridge. That scheme worked well through at least seven laps.

About lap four, I made the mistake of bushwhacking down the east side of the railroad bridge to take a pee. I then spent five minutes at the aid station picking all the hitchhikers off of my shirt and clearing the spikey grass seeds from my shoes. I will need to find an alternate comfort wall, perhaps the port-a-potties I noticed in the Tyson World Headquarters parking lot where contractors are doing some roof work. No big deal.

My fingers felt puffy about three laps into it but I waited till early in the third hour to start taking Endurolytes. I'm trying train my body to use salt efficiently by only taking salt pills in response to a symptom rather than taking them on a schedule. It seems to be working.

I refilled my pack and re-soaked my bandana on lap five. By lap seven, I was getting quite hot. I didn't necessarily feel bad and I was able to run without overheating--I was just gaining a more clear awareness of the increasing temperature and what it was going to do to me if I stayed out in it too long. Sensing that my fifteen laps were not going to happen this day, I chucked the Cool-Off Bandana so that I could compare running with it to running without it. The verdict is still out. I was hot with it and hot without it. Look for more in my upcoming review.

I walked more on laps eight and nine. At the end of ten, I would decide whether to continue walking another hour to complete four hours and therefore earn my finisher's award, a pair of running socks that I already own. As it happened, Mrs. DMG called me just as I was coming up to the aid station on lap ten, wondering if I was about done so I could run to Mama Tang's to pick up some food for her. It was 1:30 and Mama Tang takes a little siesta from 2:00 to 4:30. I was so greatful for the call! I collected my water and my Walmart reuseable shopping bag full of supplies and headed for the house, happy with my run.

Partial laps are not counted under the rules of the event so my DNF occured at the end of lap nine. I ran 12.195 miles in 2:41:38. More importantly, though, I ran what I ran with style. My philosophy is that running should be fun and it should not result in injury. Several hours after the event, I definitely feel the effects of my time in the sun, but I am not sick or sunburned from it. I now have an honest baseline for how my body performs in the heat. Best of all, I still have several months of hot weather left to improve. By the end of the summer, I'm confident I will be able to run six straight hours in ninety- or hundred-degree heat.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Meet the Don Tyson!

There aren't many pictures to take of the Don Tyson Parkway from Johnson Road to Kent Dobbs Hyundai, but I got a few just so you can see what will be my running home for the next few months. I'm in the middle of a five-day vacation that has already included a 7-year birthday party for Donald at Chuck E. Cheese and a hot night of camping at Devil's Den. We have more fun planned for Monday and Tuesday so I didn't want to overdo it today, just a quick four-lapper in 97-degree heat. There wasn't a cloud in the sky which meant perfect lighting conditions to capture the essence of summertime running on the Don Tyson. There's nowhere to hide!

Looking east from the starting line at Johnson Road.

Coming up on the aid station at the west side of the railroad bridge. You can just see the top of the retaining wall hiding my water and supplies.

Looking back at the aid station. I had a 1.5 liter pack today so I didn't even need my gallon of water. I needed it on my ten-lapper the other day, though!

Looking east towards Kent Dobbs from the top of the railroad bridge where Cambridge dead-ends into Don Tyson. Don't let the wide zoom fool you; the whole out-and-back distance is very close to 1.355 miles, which is not very far.

The turnaround point at Kent Dobbs Hyundai

Looking west from Kent Dobbs back to Cambridge and the railroad bridge.

The best scenery of the run, looking south from the railroad bridge.

The light at Cambridge.

Looking back toward Johnson Road from the end of the bridge where the aid station is.

The finish line at Johnson road. For longer runs, there will be a short length of duct tape on the light panel and a sharpie for recording laps.

I'm all ready, now bring the heat!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Measuring the Don Tyson

Donald is only simulating here for the photo. I took the actual measurements with 60 psi in the tires and my fat butt on the seat.

My tape was long enough to measure a full two turns of the front tire which came to 146 inches, which astonished me considering that my bike has what are called 24-inch wheels. Turns out the wheels themselves are nowhere near 24 inches in diameter. Who knew!

This is my starting line for the next few months, the expansion joint closest to the traffic light pole at the southeast corner of Don Tyson and Johnson Road.

This is my turn-around line, immediately before the entrance to the used car lot for Kent Dobbs Hyundai.

To make the counting more manageable, I measured from the starting line to the crosswalk at Cambridge several times and then measured from the crosswalk to the turn-around line at Kent Dobbs. From the starting line to the crosswalk, my counts were 200, 201, 191, and 201.6. I disregarded the third result as a counting error and settled on 201. My counts were 387 and 388 from the crosswalk to Kent Dobbs so I settled on 387, not wanting to overestimate the distance.

Crunching it out, I decided to call the whole out-and-back as 1.355 miles. My math professor sister is no doubt cringing that I would be so confident of my measuring system as to express the distance with four-significant-digit precision, but I don't care. That's what I'm going with. Conveniently, I measured from the crosswalk down Cambridge to the bottom of the steps to my apartment and found it was within a few feet of 201 turns, meaning that bathroom breaks will not require any special calculation or recordkeeping. How handy!

Also handy is the distance itself. However accurate my measurements are, I'm confident that 10 laps is longer than a half marathon and 20 laps is longer than a marathon. I'm also confident that 11.5 laps is closer to 25km and 23 laps closer to 50km than trail races of those nominal distances typically are. The accuracy of my measurement is adequate for my training purposes.

Visual Training Log

Sunday, June 17th.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Six Hours of Don Tyson Parkway

Welcome all runners!

June 22nd, 2012, 8:00 AM start time. Come join me for a great day of heatstroke, mental anguish, and shin-pounding boredom on the hard concrete sidewalks of the Don Tyson. It will be fun!

Course details:

The race course will be the sidewalk on the south side of Don Tyson Parkway between the Johnson Road intersection and the first entrance to Kent Dobbs Hyundai. The starting line will be the expansion joint nearest the traffic light pole at Johnson Road. The turn-around point will be expansion joint preceding the crosshatched sidewalk section at the entrance to the Kent Dobbs used car lot.

Timing and Scoring:

The race will start at 8:00 AM and end at 2:00 PM. There will be a piece of paper taped to the traffic light electrical panel on which each runner will enter her name and keep a tally of completed laps. No credit will be given for partial laps at the end of the 6-hour race period. The number of laps each runner completes will be multiplied by 1.355 to determine his total mileage. Anyone who continues on the course for at least four hours will receive a token prize.

Aid Station:

There will be a stash of water, Gatorade, PB&J sandwiches, Clif bars, Hammer Gel, Endurolytes, sunscreen, and basic foot care supplies at the west side of the railroad bridge.


Sensible people who I know and trust may use the bathroom in my home. Wait for me by the crosswalk at Cambridge and I will escort you. The distance from the crosswalk to my home is the same as the distance from the starting line to the crosswalk. To keep an accurate lap count, you will run from the start line to Kent Dobbs, run back as far as the crosswalk, run back and forth to the potty, run back to Kent Dobbs, and then run back to the starting line where you will tally two laps. Freaks and weirdos are welcome to participate in the race but will not be allowed to use the bathroom in my home. They should bring groovers or make other arrangements. Leave no trace!


There is no entry fee and no need to register. Please do email me a few days ahead of time if you intend to run so I can cancel the whole thing if there is too much interest. I have no aspirations of ever putting on a legitimate running event. This is meant as a simple fun run for myself and maybe a few friends.

Release from Liability which May or May Not Hold Up in Court:

Ultra running is an intrinsically dangerous activity. Health risks include dehydration, sunburn, heat injury, hyponatremia, renal failure, and total mental or physical exhaustion. Runners are responsible for monitoring their own physical condition. By signing your name to the paper taped to the traffic light control panel, you release Dave and Dave Mows Grass Sports Productions from all liability. Blah, blah,blah.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Check it out!

I somehow had not discovered until today. It's chock-full of news and information for trail runners in the Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico area. David Hanenburg did a nice write-up on the War Eagle race and even linked up to my humble trip report at the end. You can find it here. It's my new favorite site!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

My First Ultra!

Well, it's been a week and I still haven't had any genius inspiration for how to write up the incredible experience which was the 2012 War Eagle Trail Running Festival. I guess the sensible approach is to just go loop by loop, the same way I ran it, but not without an opening observation:

From the second I boarded the Rush Running cattle car to shuttle from the parking area at the War Eagle Mill to the starting line at the Hobbs State Park Visitor Center, I knew I was with my kind of people. I pointed out in my Hogeye write-up that I had never seen so many fit people jammed into such a small place. The combined energy of a thousand or so people all awaiting the start of a great challenge thrilled the air in a way I am hopeless to describe. It was electric! The energy at the start of the War Eagle race was similar, on a much smaller scale obviously, but there was a subtle difference which I fear I will be equally hopeless to describe. I will try.

At the risk of drifting into unfair generalities, people who run trails are different. Very slightly different. Certainly anyone I would be running with this day would be completely at home at a road marathon, indeed I had chatted with one of them, Edward from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, for several miles during the Hogeye race. But on whole, the people standing around me as Mike Rush explained the course during the pre-race meeting were a bit rougher around the edges than the "typical" road racer. Their garments were a little less pink and a little more functional, their faces a bit more chiseled. Their hair a bit more windblown. They were probably a bit older, on average. This is useless. Just know I felt very much at ease with these people. I liked every one of them instantly.

The first loop of the course was not a loop but a mile-and-a-half spur leading from the Visitor Center to the main trail, a spur with a very nasty hill. In what would prove to be the correct assessment of my running ability relative to that of my peers, I left the starting line near last, which put me in slow traffic for my first several descents. I couldn't bomb my way from crash tree to crash tree as I had had done in my training. No matter, though. The going was easy and I wasn't wasting energy too early.

The War Eagle Valley Loop is my favorite part of the whole trail system. It has several challenging hills and a half mile or so of creekside running which offers different vegitation and often a cool breeze. I settled in behind a line of five runners all following an older gentleman. I wondered if the other runners in the group stayed with the old man because they sensed, as I did, that he knew exactly how fast to run in the early hours of a long race. On the next big climb, though, I couldn't stand it any more. As they all bunched up on the hill, I gave a quick burst and passed the lot of them. He would pass me back at about mile 18 and go on to finish some 46 minutes ahead of me which makes me think he did know how fast to run in the beginning. I never got to properly meet him, but I learned from the results that he was Robert from Euless, Texas, and that he was 65 years old. I hope I look so good at that age!

From the War Eagle Loop we caught a short stretch of gravel road to the first Townsend Ridge aid station which I blew through and then jumped on the Little Clifty Creek Loop, the big loop, for several miles. The 25k runners continued on the Clifty Loop after the Piney Road aid station while we ran the bunny ears, the Bayshore Ridge Loop and the Dutton Hollow Loop which, together with the short spur leading to them total about seven miles. I could hear some runners ahead of me a few times, but I didn't see another soul save the volunteer at the intersection making sure everyone went the right direction. I recognised him from Hogeye where he was taking pictures and asked him if he ever got to run a race or if he just worked every one of them. He assured me that he did. He filmed me for a few seconds with his iPhone as I was on my way up from Dutton Hollow, very near the halfway point of the race.

After the bunny ears, I continued my first lap of the Little Clifty Loop for several more miles before finally being caught from behind by several runners as I dealt with a cramp on the loop's one big climb. There was an aid station where the trail crossed Townsend Ridge Road several miles north of the big aid station at the Townsend Ridge Trail Access which I had visited earlier. I grabbed half a banana and half a PBJ, a formula that worked very well for me the whole race. As I was filling my pack and yakking with the volunteers, a youthful but chronologically older lady with a lovely French accent ran up. Her name was Emm. We ran together after the aid station but I kept crowding to one side trying to wave her by. She insisted she liked my pace and that she was going to be doing lots of walking, but I still felt like I was in the way. She liked my pace for a few miles, I guess, but eventually slid by me and quietly pulled away. She disappeared into the woods just as I was rolling into the big Townsend Ridge Road aid station. I would not see her or any other runner until I reached the finish line.

The Townsend Ridge aid station marked the inflection point where I was certain that, as long as I could walk, I would be able to finish the race before the eight-hour cutoff. I had three hours to run the last nine miles. There's not much to say about the second lap of the Little Clifty Loop. It's mostly easy trail and only drops down to creek level twice. I was shocked to still be able run nearly all of it, if at a ponderously slow pace. Anything can happen, though, and at mile 28, with my legs already shredded by a long descent, I came into a nice clearing where a two-foot coopperhead was sunning herself on a patch of hot clay. It took me one step to see which way she was facing and then I reflexively made a very awkward leap the other direction. When I did, my right calf instantly cramped into a ball and I just shouted. It hurt so bad! Fortunately, my fanged friend slithered slowly away the other direction and left me to stand there in agony. Eventually I was able to begin hobbling forward as the trail wandered alongside Little Clifty Creek. I was back to a fast walk when I reached the climb out but the calf never fully recovered.

Continuing with what had been working well, I grabbed half a banana and half a PBJ at the small Townsend Ridge aid station, thanked everyone again, and embarked towards the short spur back to the Visitor Center. I had one hour to run a mile and a half or just a bit more. After the one nasty descent and climb, I experimented with running on a cramped calf. This would be a good skill to have in longer races, right? I finally settled into this sidewise shuffle which didn't require me to bend my right leg at all. I felt like I could do it forever! Fortunately, though, the cramp eased and I was able to run across the finish line in a more dignified posture.

The first person to greet me at the finsh line was Nicholas Norfolk, the volunteer who had been directing traffic at the bunny ears. He clipped the timing chip off my shoe and gave me my finisher's award, a very cool handmade clay carving of a running Indian. Emm was also bouncing towards me from a canopy where she had been resting in a chair. I reached to shake her hand but she threw a big hug on me instead. It's a French thing, I guess. She had finished about 18 minutes ahead of me and I would wait about that long for the next finisher to arrive.

There were actually four more runners left on the trail and I waited around to cheer all of them home. After that, I helped break down tents and empty all the trash and recycling bins. It seemed the least I could do after seeing how many volunteers worked the entire beautiful spring day just so we could go out and play. I thanked Race Director Jeff Genova for putting on such an awesome event and learned that he had to work at 5:30 that night, which blows my mind. Nicholas, who had driven up from Little Rock just to volunteer, got my email from me so he could send the video he shot. He also mentioned me in his this great article for Arkansas Outside. Some people are just awesome!

If you want to experience running fifty kilometers at Hobbs, just watch this short video two thousand times. Thanks for the footy, Nicholas!

Here I am just coming off the War Eagle Valley Loop. It was a cool morning and I hadn't even broken a sweat yet!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

September 2011 vs. June 2012

There are several ways not to walk in the prairie,

and one of them is with your eye on a far goal, because you then begin to believe you're not closing the distance any more than you would with a mirage. My woodland sense of scale and time didn't fit this country, and I started wondering whether I could reach the summit before dark. On the prairie, distance and the miles of air turn movement into stasis and openness to a wall, a thing as difficult to penetrate as dense forest. I was hiking in a chamber of absences where the near was the same as the far, and it seemed every time I raised a step the earth rotated under me so that my foot fell just where I had lifted it from. Limits and markers make travel possible for people: circumscribe our lines of sight and we can really get somewhere. Before me lay the Kansas of popular conception from Coronado on--that place you have to get through, that purgatory of mileage.

Hiking in the woods allows a traveller to imagine comforting enclosures, one leading to the next, and the walker can possess those little encompassed spaces, but the prairie and plains permit no such possession. Whatever else prairie is--grass, sky, wind--it is most of all a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness; there is no such thing as a small prairie any more than there is a little ocean, and the consequence of both is this challenge: try to take yourself seriously out here, you bipedal plodder, you complacent cartoon.

--William Least Heat-Moon, from his book Prairy Erth.

Saturday, June 02, 2012