Monday, January 30, 2012

Inca Runners Camp

A while back on my Twitter account I alluded to the possibility of an epic opportunity falling into my lap. It now appears as though things have fallen into place enough that I can make an official announcement. I have been tapped to be the resident cook, or chef (if you will), for the inaugural Inca Runners Training Camp. My friend and running buddy, Hugo Mendez, is the man in charge of marketing and PR for Inca Runners. Out of the blue he inquired about my interest in creating meals for the runners, at the camp... in the Grand Tetons... and I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn't? For starters, Krissy Moehl and Luke Nelson will be in attendance. Krissy is a two time winner of the UTMB and the youngest female to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning which includes Western States 100, Leadville 100, Vermont 100 and the Wasatch 100. Luke is the reigning U.S. Ski Mountaineering Champion and placed 2nd at Wasatch 100 last year. This dynamic duo will acting as elite coaches at the camp. Not cool enough for you? How about UltrAspire President Bryce Thatcher as a keynote speaker? You know, the guy that founded Ultimate Direction and was the lead designer at Nathan. And he also holds a 25 year old record for the fastest ascent/descent of Grand Teton.

I must admit that I was more than a bit surprised when Hugo popped the question. I've never really thought of myself as a chef or even a kitchen wizard for that matter. I do, however, much like many runners, enjoy good food. Back when I was a kid I often hung out with my mom in the kitchen. Heck, I even recall watching Julia Childs and the Frugal Gourmet on PBS when those were the only cooking shows on TV. As much as I like food I am not fond of spending excessive amounts of time (or effort for that matter) preparing food. So I'm always keen on simple stuff that is fresh and tasty. I'm also a fan of healthy foods, especially following a minor medical scare of my own several years ago. After eating fast food crap for several months (this was during my last stint attempting to climb the corporate ladder) I packed on about 15 lbs, felt like crap and ended up with an ulcer and an inflamed liver. I vowed to never be that guy again. Since then I have made attempts to educate myself to be better at fueling not only myself but my family as well. In the process I am dabbled being vegetarian. While not 100% on that plan I seldom eat red meat and have eliminated most dairy from my diet. I do support buying local (love farmers markets) and supporting local growers. I sell free range, organic eggs fresh from our little farm. And I embrace eating whole foods as much as possible. Anyhow, from time to time I post on FB what I made for dinner and on occasion Hugo and have have discussed food while out on runs. Apparently he liked what he saw and heard. I'm flattered. When he did ask about the camp he also suggested that I post about stuff I make here on the Running Farmer blog. That's a good idea. Maybe once a week or so I will offer up something I created. Hopefully, most will be pretty good. I'm sure some will be not so good as I'm not afraid to try new things. Sometimes it works out and other times not so much. 

This one worked pretty damn good. One night last week the kids wanted pizza. Frozen pizzas are really crap for the most part and it's so easy to make at home I thought why not. The only problem was that it was getting late so there wasn't time to make dough from scratch. I checked the pantry and found some lavash bread. Lavash has it's roots in the Middle East and is made from just 3 ingredients: flour, water and salt. Think flat bread but very flexible, much like a tortilla. What I found in the pantry was a new bag of Joseph's brand lavash made with whole wheat flour, oat bran and flax seeds. Perfect for a thin crust pizza (my preference). A quick look in the fridge revealed a couple of marinara sauces to pick from, turkey pepperoni (the kids love it), some mushrooms, a green pepper, onion and plenty of cheese. For the kids I made a stuffed crust pizza by lining half of the lavash with pepper jack cheese before folding it over on itself. Then I added the turkey pepperoni and some shredded Italian cheese. For the adults, we got sliced veggies (pepper, onion, mushroom and garlic). Super easy to make and cooked up quick. Less than 30 minutes to prep, make and bake both pizzas. 

My plan for the camp is to keep things simple, fresh and as local as possible. I sound like Gordon Ramsey, right? So what do you think? Do you have any menu suggestions for the running camp? Let me know and make sure to check out the Inca Runners link for details on the camp. And as always you can follow me on Twitter @RedDirtRunner.

Friday, January 27, 2012

No Wonder He Can't Run Straight

Big Bison Ale from Crown Valley Brewing
If you have read the profile bit about me you know that I am an admitted beer snob. This is a far cry from my high school days back in Lake Forest and my college years (first at Texas A&M and then the University of Arkansas). Back then it was most certainly a case of quantity over quality. Stroh's, Keystone, Coor's or Miller was the choice. Whichever was on special at the bar or the liquor store. It wasn't until my trip to the U.K. about 12 years ago that I realized I was missing out on a world of goodness. The great thing about the trip was finding a pub on nearly every corner. Sometimes two or three. Alcohol is viewed quite differently there. It is customary to meet at the local pub after work for a pint or two with your mates. Folks aren't looking to get plastered, just to have an enjoyable time relaxing and unwinding after a day at the job. I got to try so many different beers. Beers with actual flavor and character. And that was the beginning of me turning into a beer snob. I have not had a mass produced domestic beer since 2005. There are literally thousands of great brews out there waiting to be discovered. And I have found that I really enjoy uncovering some little known microbrew and trying out regional offerings. If I can keep it local, all the better. Not that the Ozarks is a bastion of brewing but there are some pretty good ales available that have a local connection. With that said, here are some beers that I have had recently and a quick thought on each. 

The Big Bison Ale (above) comes out of Crown Valley Brewery located in St. Genevieve, MO so it's pretty local. It's a Belgian Dubbel with a rich, ruby red color and as the name implies, is big on flavor. Malty caramel notes and bold this requires your big boy pants. Not for guzzling, just sit back, relax and enjoy. These guys offer an entire line of excellent brews and have a nice website. Check it out. 

Schlafly American IPA
Next up, out of St. Louis, MO, is this great little American IPA from Schlafly aka The St. Louis Brewery. I love IPAs, a lot of runners love IPAs. This one is no disappointment. Hoppy, slightly bitter and a touch of citrus. Hard to go wrong here. Perfect post run beer. 

Petrus Aged Ale

This one was unique. Aged Ale from Petrus out of Belgium. Great aroma and a complex taste. Think a little sour and tart like citrus, quite acidic. I kept thinking there were hints of a cider and/or champagne flavor going on with this. I wouldn't hesitate to have more of this. Like the Big Bison this one is for enjoying slowly. 

Avery India Pale Ale

Finally, a traditional IPA from Avery Brewing out of Denver. The story goes that back in the 1700s it was discovered that extra hops and a higher alcohol content helped to preserve the beer during long sea voyages to India. Thus, the name IPA. As such, this one is hoppy, citrusy and full of flavor. I have long been a fan of Avery and this is one reason why. Good stuff. 

I should also note that I never thought of beer being good immediately after a race. That is, until lately. Following my first DNF last November at Turkey n Taturs I had a cooler of beers to share with the group. I was bonked out but popped that top anyhow. It tasted great. Duh! But the funny thing was how quickly I felt better. Was it the beer or the two two hotdogs that did it? Then earlier this month following the brutal Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon I did it again. Guess what? It tasted good too. And I felt better than I should have after that insane course. So, beer will now be a staple post race. Seriously, it may be the high carb content that is being ingested immediately after crossing the finish line that does it. I'm sure the alcohol content doesn't hurt feeling good either. 

So how about you? What's your favorite brew and what are your thoughts on a celebratory/recovery beer?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon Race Report

"It's 3:00 AM, time to warm up the burritos and put your trail shoes on."

That's how my morning started last Saturday, January 7th. A crew of NWA GOATS were meeting at 0400 hours to make the trip down to the Ouachitas near Mena, AR. to take on the legendary yet little known ABF Trail Marathon. This race features a full pull marathon and the Blaylock Creek Fun Run clocking 17 miles. I had volunteered to make a pile of breakfast burritos and muffins to get us off to a good start. The rally point was, surprise, Rush Running in Bentonville. The best damn running store, period. If you are not familiar with the ABF do yourself a favor and hit the link above. Then click on the part that says "Click here if you have never run this run before!" Do it now, then come back and finish up here....

OK, so it is clear what is to be expected, right? More on that later. Back to the trip down. Our driver, Stephen O'Neal, was gracious enough to not only drive four of us down but also provided a viewing of Unbreakable for our pre race entertainment. What better way to get amped up for an epic trail run? I mean c'mon, breakfast burritos and that film. The movie did not disappoint, a great race amid spectacular trails. We arrived with plenty of time to change, register, stretch out and get ready. The weather was great, I would guess low 40s, a bit humid and no wind. Checking in was a very laid back process. Sign a waiver/registration sheet, pick up your number, make a donation to the Big Fork Community fund and chill out with some friendly trail nerds from across the region. I met folks from Texas, Louisiana and Kansas. After I race briefing we met out front for a group photo. Then we toed the line and were off.

That's me approaching the TATUR aid station on the out portion. Photo by TATUR.

The first few minutes are spent on asphalt getting to the gravel road that leads to the trail head. Altogether there is about 2.5 miles of easy running before hitting the trail. Just gentle rolling ups and downs. The single track leading to the first aid station about 4 miles in was very straight forward. Nothing too strenuous. The TATURs from Tulsa had the initial aid station going down. As always, TATUR does things right. Offering to refill bottles, plenty of good trail grub, music and words of encouragement. Leaving the AS it is a short distance before hitting the first steep climb (not too technical) before descending back down through some sketchy stuff. This section of the trail was pretty overgrown so bushwhacking was in order. As was giving some distance to the runner in front of you or paying the price with a branch swinging back and hitting you where it counts. After a water crossing it was another steep climb, this one a little higher before another wickedly steep downhill (also a little longer) and more water. And then, guess what, another peak to summit and descend and more water before aid station number two at 8.5 miles. This was the turnaround for the Fun Run. Along the way to this point there had been several downed trees across the trail. Most of them large enough to force a break in stride going downhill given the rocky trail. Leaving the AS there is more climb and then a nasty downhill and more water before the killer. At least for me it was. It was steep, it was rocky, it was wet and oh so long. By this point Tom "Slow" Lane and I had been playing leap frog. I would pass him going up (power hiking) and he would fly by me descending. For a guy his size he has some light feet, just danced down that stuff. I'm jealous. So we would check on each other while passing and more or less stayed together on the one section of flatter trail that goes along the creek bed. Before the race started we pretty much had the same time goal in mind so I thought it was a good thing for us to push and pull one another. Eventually we made it to the final peak before the turnaround. In an event with such a small starting group it was nice to have somebody to run with for a while. Especially a true GOAT like Tom.

Crossing the top was strange. The other side was draped in fog. It was like walking into a cloud. The final AS before the turn was manned by a group of runners from Texarkana. And they had chicken noodle soup. Very nice. Tom and I hung out for a few minutes enjoying the break before I got antsy and headed back. I figured he would catch me on the next descent. Unfortunately I never saw him again until after I finished. I passed a few runners on the next couple of climbs and hooked up with Todd from Louisiana. We paced each other for a few miles before getting off course and earning some free bonus distance. Maybe a mile, perhaps a bit more. We missed a hard left coming out of a creek crossing and continued on a rough road before realizing the mistake. All in all we maybe lost 20 minutes overall. On the way back to the trail we picked up two more runners before getting back on track. Todd and I continued together going up, down and getting wet before he pulled away on the descent before the next to last aid station at about 18 miles.

Soaking my feet for a moment coming back at TATUR station. Again, photo by TATUR.

I was trying my best to keep up with him but my quads were trashed. I simply couldn't go downhill with any speed at all. Not that I'm good at that to begin with but I was actually faster on flat stuff than downhill at this point. My hamstrings were also at the point of burning on the climbs and I'm sure I had slowed there too. That may have been part of the reason (trying to not lose Todd) that it happened. On one of those large downed trees across the trail I broke my rule of not stepping on top of an obstacle. I decided to jump on top and glide over so I didn't break my rhythm. My plant foot slid right off and I proceeded to have a spectacularly colossal yard sale. My hands took the brunt of the fall. Fortunately my handheld bottles provided some cushion. The landing was hard enough that the top of my left bottle was blown off and all the fluid was gone. The other one was OK but was also all but empty now. A physical inventory showed no real damage. A cut on my left ankle, bruise on left arm, dirt here and there but all the parts that were supposed to move still did. I retrieved my bottle top, worked it back on and continued the short distance to the aid station where I refilled, grabbed some grub (down to the pick over offerings) and motored onward.

Tom "Slow" Lane (white shirt/red hat) and Stephen O'Neal (blue shirt) 

It was then I realized that my legs no longer felt sore. They had moved on to numb. Which in a way was good. My mind didn't have to fight that demon of pain any longer. Now I simply had to focus on pace and actually moving my legs. It was as if I had lost an ever so slight amount of motor control. I stuck with the game plan of power hiking the climbs and doing my best going down. Before the next AS I caught up with Todd and another runner (one that got lost with us earlier) also fell in with us. We slogged over the last couple of peaks but I nearly lost visual of them on the final descent. At the final AS run by TATUR I quickly filled my bottles, grabbed some Pringles and a couple of Fig Newtons and headed out. I was determined to not lose these two guys. For one reason I thought it would help me keep pace and another was to hopefully not get off course again. Safety in numbers I guess. At least I wouldn't be lost alone. I managed to keep them in sight and coming out of the trees and back onto the gravel road they had a quarter mile of more on me. I knew at this point that not only would I finish but I would come in under my expected time. I also knew that I could push it and hurt for the next 2.5 miles back to the finish. And I knew there was cold beer there. I stopped to empty my bottles (less weight) and put my head down. I ran about an 8:30 min/mile pace on those roads passing them and reaching the end in 6h38m. At the finish was a group of runners, most of whom I did not know, to cheer me home. After a quick sit down break and a change of clothes, I grabbed my beer and joined them to cheer in more finishers. Pay it forward.

NWA GOATS (L to R) Me, Shannon McFarland, Jody Lingbeck, Ryan  "Gandolf" Holler, Tom "Slow" Lane and our driver, Stephen O'Neal (4th place overall) pose post race in front of the Big Fork Community Center.

The details: I wore my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes and felt they performed quite well. Balaga trail socks did OK. No blisters but they retained water from the creek crossings more than I would have liked. I went through 7 Gu gels, 6 S! Caps, various trail grub (ate a every aid station, the chicken noodle soup really hit the spot) and plenty of fluids. I carried one bottle of water and the other electrolyte drink (Gatorade or Heed). I had a slightly sour stomach from the start that lasted about an hour and then settled down. It stayed away until the last gel (Gu Jet Blackberry) with about 45 minutes left. My post race snack was a banana chia seed muffin and a cold Mustang Winter Ale. I logged 27.27 miles according on my Garmin 305 with 4,262 ft of ascent and 4,881 ft of descent. Not sure how that worked out but that's what it shows. My feet hurt, quads trashed, hamstrings fatigued, back hurt but I did good. At no point did the thought of dropping cross my mind. For that matter neither did the thought of stopping for more than a few minutes at aid stations. The longest being the soup stop. I simply kept moving. Jogging when I was able and walking where the course demanded. The conventional wisdom is to double your best marathon time. I beat that by about 1 hour. The website claims 7.1 miles of climbing with an average grade of 12%. The disclaimer is no joke. This is the hardest course I have run. Period. After the first peak it is an exercise of repetition. Up, down, water, repeat 7 more times. As soon as my legs really began burning from a climb it was time for a downhill. By the time they were ready to surrender from that it was back up again. I stopped briefly a couple of times in the creek to allow the cold water to run over my shoes. That felt good. I asked a few of the veteran trail runners if they had been on a tougher course. Each one answered no. This is the real deal. It may "only be 26.2 miles" but it is a full on kick in the nuts. If you want to test your mettle and see where you stand, come down to Big Fork next year and find out. This was, hands down, the most epic run I have had yet. 

The elevation chart from my Garmin for a portion of the course.

Ryan "Gandolf" Holler, always light and smooth.

The aftermath: Two days removed from ABF my body is doing OK. My left leg (with the torn meniscus) is actually pretty good. My right leg is still sore, especially my calf, makes me walk funny. I haven't run since Saturday but I have tried to move around, albeit slowly, as much as possible. I haven't had to go down stairs backwards yet and I haven't found myself stuck on the toilet. Back to training for Rocky Raccoon tomorrow with a nice and easy recovery run.

Aaron "Bulldog" Denson looking strong.

01/10/2012: I just tried a test jog at the house this morning. No dice. My right leg (quad/calf) nearly buckled. So I will scrap the plans for a run and opt instead for a hike around the art trail out at Crystal Bridges Museum.

Shannon McFarland having fun.

01/20/2012: The week following ABF I somehow managed about 35 miles. But it was ugly. Legs were dead, no pop at all even on short runs. I threw down 18 miles of hardtop yesterday and 10 miles of trail today and finally feel my legs are back. Just in time for the RR50 taper.

Jody "Mama GOAT" Lingbeck, always smiling. 

*Follow me on Twitter @RedDirtRunner*

All race photos on this post are courtesy of TATUR Russell Bennett.
Brandon BG Gardner (L) and Mike Rush (R) in the white singlets

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Wrap Up & Gear Review

I trust that everyone had a great holiday season. I say "holiday" because that includes Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years. Were you able to keep up with your running the last couple of months? I sure did as I logged a bunch of miles to close out 2011. November tallied almost 200 miles and I crushed December, just shy of 250 miles. Included in that is a New Years Eve training run of 50k at Hobbs State Park. How ridiculous is that? 31 miles for a training run? Sweet. The total mileage for the final week was 65. Bam! Better yet, the now 43 year old body is holding up pretty good too. Likely a result of averaging two off days per week and incorporating some core work. Of course all of that running is in preparation for the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler next month. 

I have some new gear I wanted to throw out initial opinions on for you. I was stoked to have a chance to pick up a brand new Salomon XA10+3 hydration pack for cheap. Like under $40 cheap. Somebody call the police because that is a steal on a bag that retails for about $90. I have used it a couple of times and it is infinitely better than my Camelbak Lobo. A smart design that feels secure and offers plenty of room for a long unsupported run. It features a 70 oz roll top bladder with neoprene sleeve on the exposed drinking tube. The neoprene sleeve keeps fluids cold in the summer and prevents freezing in the cold. The bite valve is unique, not quite as easy to use as the Camelbak but works just fine. There are a few different open external pockets for storage if needed and plenty of room in an internal compartment that easily expands if desired. One downside is a lack of storage on the front, just the straps up here. The other will likely just take some practice to get used to and that is refilling the bladder. Sliding the clip off the top of the bladder takes a bit more time than the screw top Camelbak. I'm sure with a few more tries it will become second nature. 

And to gear up for colder winter weather that (knock on wood) hasn't really hit yet, I picked up a pair of Salomon Exo XR Tights from the iRunFar store as an birthday present to myself. Bryon Powell ran an irresistible Cyber Monday sale so I was able to pick these up at about 40% off regular retail. Designed as a base layer I use them as a stand alone outer layer and they are quite nice. Very comfortable fit wise and good down into the 20 degree range so far. As a bonus these feature the Exo technology weave to provide a decent amount of compression. Now don't mistake these for compression gear. In my humble opinion they are not but there is some there. The cool thing about the compression is that it doesn't feel like compression but I can see it and I know it is there. And if you like you can get these in bright yellow. I dare you. 

And I also got my hands on a new jacket from Brooks, the Nightlife Jacket II in vibrant green. Love this jacket. High visibility (day or night), fitted sizing, breathable and lightweight. I have worn this almost exclusively for weeks now and love it for anything below 32 degrees. Wind and water resistant too. And the best part? Thanks to a running buddy that is a member of the Brooks ID Team I also scored this at 40% off retail. It pays to know people sometimes. 

And finally I have a pair of Ultra Lite liner gloves from Pearl Izumi at Rush Running. I hate cold hands but don't care for bulky gloves at all. These seemed like a good option for all but the coldest weather around here. Quite thin but block the breeze pretty good, don't hold moisture and have performed well for just about anything over 20 degrees. And cheap too, under $15, so if I lose one it's no big deal. I take these with me whenever I leave the house for a run in cool weather. If I need to remove them they easily fit into a pocket. My two other must haves for this weather are a good hat and arm sleeves. I got a pair in the swag bag at TCM Marathon. Never used any before. Think leg warmers for your arms. These are incredible. They allow me to run sans jacket down to 32 degrees. Just pull the sleeves up. And after the temps start to rise I can simply pull them down halfway or all the way to my wrists to cool down. And they make great booger wipers too if you're not a fan of the snot rocket technique. 

In closing, I thought I would post my tentative 2012 race schedule. I put it down in writing last night and this is what it looks like. That's nearly 325 miles of racing distance. Booyah!
Jan 7th Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon (Bring your big boy panties)
Mar 31st Bentonville Running Festival Half Marathon (Hometown run Rush style)
Apr 21st Ouachita Trail 50 (Why not, killer medal)
May 19th Joplin Memorial Half Marathon (Love for the 417)
June 2nd Hobbs War Eagle Tail Twister 50k (Redemption)
Aug War Eagle Heritage 5k (Sub 21 minute?)
Sep Run For a Child 10k (Another age group medal?)
Sep Winslow Half Marathon (Red dirt road running)
Oct Chili Pepper XC 10k (The baddest 10k XC race in the nation)
Oct Bass Pro Dogwood Canyon 50k (Great event, tough course)
Nov Turkey & Taturs 50k (To finish what I started)