Sunday, May 24, 2015

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

By:  Frank Evans

It didn’t start out to be such a big thing, and it certainly didn’t start out as five ultramarathons in fifty days. It began as something that sounded just as crazy at the time, but simple - my first 50 mile race. It sounded crazy for several reasons... I had not done a full marathon since 2006. I had not done anything longer than that since a 50k in 1999.  And more importantly, I was coming off back surgery and was working my way up to runs of eight miles or so. But, to paraphrase our running idol, Forrest Gump… “Crazy is as crazy does.”

That 50-miler was the Prairie Spirit race in Ottawa, Kansas. I was staring at a coupon from the race director, and I could get a decent discount if I signed up in the next 30 hours. It was late November, and the race wasn’t until the end of March. Four months. Four months to go from stringing together a lot of one and two mile runs on the treadmill at SNAP Fitness to running much farther than I have ever run before. I thought there was a chance I could do it, but I needed a second opinion.  I e-mailed Meghan, and is her custom, she gave me intelligent advice - don’t sign up yet.  Forget about the coupon, and see how you feel in March. That was the smart way to go. I don’t remember how many hours I waited until I signed up. One? Maybe two? And I don’t know how many hours it took for Meghan to go to the Prairie Spirit website and scan the list of entrants for my name. Probably not many. Meghan didn’t say anything to me about it. She didn’t have to… I knew she knew. We’re good that way.

Ultras are different than other races in a lot of ways. If you ever get a chance to run, volunteer, or just watch one, I highly recommend it. It’s just unlike any race you’ve seen before.  But in another way, ultras are like every other distance - once you accept that you are an ultra runner, you just start signing up. It’s just like when you first go from a 5k to a 10k. You start looking for the next 10k you can schedule. Then half-marathons… full marathons… And then ultras. Crazy is as crazy does.

I already felt confident I’d be able to run Prairie Spirit when the registration period opened for the Double Chubb 50k. I’d have several weeks between them, and there wasn’t a great chance I’d get into Double Chubb anyway. The race is very popular, and there are a limited number of entries. But now my mind was already accepting the idea of running multiple ultras, close together. The Skunk Run popped up. Held in southern Missouri on rugged trails, it was an 8-hour timed run. I’d have two weeks between that and Prairie Spirit, and realistically, a run that long should be on my schedule before 50-miler anyway. (See how rationalization works?)

I was running 5-6 hours on my long runs each weekend when I decided to join Mackenzie, Andrea and Casey at a six-hour timed race in Cuba. They would run as a relay. I would run solo. I would have run about that far anyway, I rationalized. It was a week before the Skunk Run… which was two weeks before Prairie Spirit. Then I got a surprise from the Double Chubb folks. Everyone who entered the lottery was in. Yikes. I was now set for 4 ultras in 44 days. 

Had I known about the Frisco event, I might not have signed up for Prairie Spirit.  Another “rail-to-trail” run (think KATY Trail), the Frisco was in Willard, MO, just outside of Springfield. It would have satisfied my yearning to run a 50-miler, with less travel and expense. I started talking to Mackenzie about Frisco. It offered shorter distances also, including a 50k. This would be a very good way for her to get her first ultra. I started thinking about it myself. It would be a week after Double Chubb. Maybe I could do a 50k a week after Double Chubb. Maybe I could sign up for the 50k, and if I couldn’t do that I could always drop to one of the shorter distances and just be there to help Mackenzie.  Just a few hours after finishing Prairie Spirit, riding in the back seat of Meghan’s Volvo while she and John talked about John’s upcoming World 24-Hour Championships, I misused my phone and signed up for the 50k at Frisco. It was now Five in Fifty… five ultramarathons in fifty days.

Of course I knew a lot of people were worried about me. From my mother to my DRC friends, many people had concerns - and they were valid.  This was not the smartest thing I’d ever done - especially given the lack of recovery time I was giving my body. But I knew people who had done as much, or more. We run with people all the time who can run an ultra every weekend, and they run them fast. I do not. Even locally - John can, Meghan can, and so could others. The bottom line was this - the back surgery made me even more aware of how short our window of opportunity can be. And I was going to shove as much as I could through that window before it closed.

Now, while you like to know people are concerned about you, you also find ways to avoid hearing about it. That’s probably why I didn’t tell anyone when I decided two days before Frisco to message the race director and change my entry from 50k to 50 miles. It had been 3 days since Double Chubb, and I was walking without much of a limp. My mind saw that as a sign. Rationalizing again. Mackenzie busted me when she went to pick up my race packet and they didn’t have one for me in the 50k group. Note to self: Always tell someone you’ve switched distances if you want them to pick up your packet.

You’re reading this, so you know Frisco didn’t kill me. Mackenzie got her first ultra and looked great. Meghan crushed the women’s field to finish first. And after all those ultras, I actually ran it 19 minutes faster than I ran Prairie Spirit and won my age group… all while stopping along the route to take selfies and post them to Facebook. 
Coming up? Well, there’s the DRC Dirty 30 in June. There’s a St. Louis Ultrarunners Group (SLUG) six-hour run in July. And sometimes I would swear I can hear the Hennepin 100 whispering my name.

Crazy is as crazy does.

       Frank Evans can be found running in and around Lake Sherwood, as well as other areas, with no outstanding warrants on file.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Connemarathon: Running in Ireland

by Josh Albrecht

It only took me one day after my first marathon to sign up for the Connemarathon, but the trip to Ireland was not really a decision as much as an inevitability. To best understand, we need to go back in time about 34 years in the old DeLorean (made in Ireland),  to Saint Pat's Day 1981. As fate would have it, that was the day that I entered this world and every birthday celebration after that would be full of leprechauns, corned beef, cabbage, green beer, Flogging Molly and four leaf clover tattoos.  Since the destination was already chosen for me, all I had to do was find the right race. Upon searching marathons in Ireland, I came across the Connemarathon, a race that boasted having more sheep than crowds of cheering fans and an amazing view of the Twelve Bens. It was love at first sight and I knew this was the race I would run on the Emerald Isle.

Six months after signing up, I made the journey to Ireland. I had read that when running a marathon overseas, you need to arrive there an extra day early for every time zone crossed. I showed up a mere two days before the race (not enough time for my body to adjust—oops!). The days leading up to the marathon, I learned how to drive on left side of the road, had very little sleep, and did not eat enough (a recipe for a magical race). The real icing on the cake was side swiping a parking sign on my drive to Connemara.

When I arrived in Connemara, I got my first glimpse of the Twelve Bens. I was in complete awe of the mountains and I was beyond excited knowing that I would be running 26.2 miles with a most amazing backdrop. I stayed the next two nights at the Peacockes Hotel, which was very convenient since the finish line was right outside and there were buses that went to the marathon start. The staff was extremely friendly, as it seems all Irish people are (I didn't meet any mean or rude Irish).

I didn't sleep well the night before the race, but I was able to keep my mind occupied by reading updates on fellow DRC member, John Cash, as he ran for Team USA in Italy. When race morning came, I got all my gear ready, including my trusty Bubba Gump Shrimp hat has still not been washed (I don't know how I got it through customs). Although the temps were in the low 40s, I decided to go sleeveless to show off my four leaf clover tattoos. I went to the lobby and got some breakfast, but still had 3.5 hours before the marathon start. Time slowly passed by as I watched and waited for the start of the ultra marathon portion of the race.   When I got on the bus that would take me to the marathon start, I could see that it had snowed on the mountains that morning.

At the starting line, I only saw one other person starting the race without sleeves; it was cold and obscenely windy. All of those long training runs in sub-freezing temps made me more than ready for a little cold, so I made a point not to shiver or look like I was even slightly cold. This would be the only time of the race where I got a chance to look like a hard-ass. After jogging a few laps, I lined up with the 3:30 pacers. Going on almost no sleep and not eating right, I knew that pace would be suicide, but that was the pace I trained for. 

At the start of the race, my legs felt great and my body showed no signs of impending doom. I was easily running between a 7:30 - 8:00 minute pace, but I knew it would not last. I was knocking back GU and Endurolytes right on cue, just like those long training runs. It was somewhere around mile 9 when my left calf cramped up and I had to slow my pace. The cramp went away pretty fast, but by mile 11 I could feel that my stomach would soon explode. I made it safely to the ONE port-a-loo at mile 12, but when I sat upon its throne nothing came out. I could hear other runners waiting to use the loo so I decided to leave and start running again. After only a few strides, I thought about running back to the port-a-loo cause it felt like I was going to fertilize my compression shorts, but somehow I continued going forward. As I closed in on the half, I saw what appeared to be an oasis.  It was a whole row of port-a-loos. I hopped in the first open loo and pushed so hard I gave myself a hemorrhoid and made sure my pipes were empty. A good 10 to 15 minutes passed before I left the Oasis of Loos and I would never be the same again.

I ended up walking a lot of the second half because every time I ran I felt pain in my stomach. Though my body was in shambles, there was a silver lining. The first half, I was unable to really take in my surroundings; when I slowed down, I saw every sheep, horse, stone wall and mountain (though I didn't really have to slow down to see the mountains). After all, I was running in Ireland! The miles seemed to last an eternity, but that did not wipe the smile from my face as I was in awe of the Emerald Isle. As I approached mile 22, I could see the 2 mile hill infamously known as the Hell of the West. Though I had not run much in a while, I made sure to run on the hill as much as my stomach would allow. I could only run for extremely short bursts by that point. I thought for sure I was going to have a finishing time above 6 hours, but when I started running to the finish line I saw that I was just over 5 hours. Had I been able to run another full mile at the end, I would have beat my first marathon time. 


I had a delicious steak sandwich with chips (fries) at the food truck set up outside the finish line, but skipped out on the after-party because of my stomach. Instead, I went back to my room and passed out. I spent two more full days in Ireland before leaving and made sure to explore a lot (the Cliffs of Moher are a must-see!), so I never really got depressed over having a poor race. Though I had a lot problems during the run, given the opportunity again,  I would do it in a heartbeat. If I run the Connemarathon again, I will have take some other DRC members with me and maybe I should think about entering the country at least several days before the run.

Want to get to know Josh better? Check out his Runfie Questions!

What is your favorite running quote? "That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going. " Forrest Gump

What is your favorite piece of running advice? When I told my non-running friends that I would be running a marathon I was advised, "Don't get blown up."

What's the strangest thing you've seen while running? While running on the WashMO River Front Trail I saw a guy walking on the trail with a crossbow. Now, I figured he was probably going to shoot some fish in the river or he was afraid of zombies, but I couldn't help but think that I might be the one getting shot. I'm pretty sure I can't outrun an arrow, but I went ahead and sped up and kept looking back. Somehow I made it safely back to my car.