Category Archives: Running & Cycling

Done Lots of Sweating – Time to Burn!

BEEN A LITTLE WARM THIS SUMMER, hasn’t it. But it hasn’t stopped me from training. Even the VM150, with its two days of 90+ degree heat and blazing sun, was useful to me.

What for? Well, in three weeks I head to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, for a small social gathering they call Burning Man.

Photo: Aaron Logan on Flickr, Creative Commons license.

The five-cent summary is that BM is a week-long event in the middle of the desert. A city is constructed on bare playa, 70,000 people move in, wear outlandish clothing, do outlandish stuff, burn this giant figure, and then they all go home. If you’d like to learn more (and I encourage you so to do), just Google “Burning Man” and you’ll get all the information and photos you can manage. You could start here, for example.

Photo: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr, Creative Commons license.

The following Q&A comes in part from those who already know, and in part from what I can hear in your heads as you are reading this.

Q. So, Jeff, ummm….. why?

Believe it or not, BM had never really been on my list of things to experience [1] until recently. But I’d been aware that they return the desert completely to its natural state afterward. They take Leave No Trace and zero waste principles VERY seriously. This I have to see.

Oh, and there’s a 50K there, too. Which is the main reason I’m going. [2]

Q. So, Jeff, how on earth does one prepare for a week-long stay in the middle of nowhere, be entirely self-sufficient, and stay cool, hydrated, and reasonably sane?

I’m still trying to figure that out. Fortunately, they provide a “Survival Guide” with all the essential information one needs. I’ll provide details as I finish up planning and stocking up, I promise.

Q. So, Jeff, let’s assume you really do intend to run 31 miles in the desert. How are you training for it?

Well, I’ve been running…

Cycling…

A little 70-mile jaunt up the Leelenau Trail to Suttons Bay last month.

And hitting it hard at Body Specs

It helped that I took my time recovering this year after my big race, instead of trying to rush back into full activity (like the previous two years). I’d credit greater maturity and wisdom, but really it was a sore knee that took several weeks to heal completely.

And although the heat’s been annoying, it’s helped me stay acclimated to what’s coming up. Nature has my permission to cool things off starting in September.

(To be continued – I’ll share as much as I can of my careful, meticulous planning and frantic, last-minute panicky decisions. I’ll let you guess what there will be more of.)

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[1] You’ll never catch me using the ghoulish phrase, “bucket list.” When I’m dead I won’t care what I did or didn’t see/do. I focus on experiencing life, not death. Plus I don’t like the imagery.

[2] That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Sorry, Getting Older Doesn’t Suck

Yesterday I was at the annual picnic for the tech company I work at, conversing with some folks around my age. I don’t remember what sparked it, but someone made a remark about how getting old sucks.

“I can’t think of a single good thing about getting older,” she said.

And everyone else agreed.

I said being over 50 allowed me to start my big race an hour earlier. People chuckled but no one built on that small offering, so I let the topic go. My co-workers are well aware that I do not lead the avvv-erage middle-age lifestyle, and I didn’t want it to turn into a “me vs. the rest of them” comparison. But I can’t agree with the attitude that getting older contains nothing to appreciate.

I won’t generalize here; I understand that everyone’s life experience is different, and factors like genetics, environment, and educational and work opportunities all play a role in how things turn out. So I’ll just cover a few things I personally appreciate about this point in my life (age 56) and what I can look forward to.

One is the very pleasant surprise of continued physical fitness. Since I started running races at age 47, my strength and stamina have only improved. This year I ran my longest race ever, and am on track for my most yearly miles run, too. Terrific trainers, a sensible diet, and appropriate rest have all contributed, but in the end it’s the desire to reach for new goals that keeps me out there. And that desire is as strong and motivating as ever.

Bike ride today to recover from yesterday’s long run? I’m in!

My outlook has changed, too. Little things bother me much less than they used to. Annoying people, bad drivers, certain football teams losing – I’ve learned how to let go and move on, at least most of the time. It’s really liberating.

I’ve also lived long enough to pick up on some longer cycles. Economic downturns? Social upheavals? Don’t like our current set of politicians? This, too, shall pass. (I’m not saying sit back and do nothing – absolutely be an activist for something you really believe in – but understand that time really does change everything.)

And I care a lot less about what other people think of me, or whatever crazy adventure I happen to pursue. Why? I learned that most people never thought about me much in the first place. But that’s not what’s in the mind of someone fresh out of college and looking for a job, or raising kids (oh, man, are parents sensitive or what?) or trying to get in with the latest “cool group.” (*) It takes life (i.e. time on Earth) to figure that out.

Even my wife was okay with WNBR. (But she knows what I look like naked.)

Case in point: I can go to a naked bike ride and not be the least self-conscious about it. People taking photos? So what? Good luck trying to humiliate or blackmail me. No worries about scandalizing my parents, since they’ve both passed. And my daughters? With my youngest approaching 30, it’s too late to corrupt them further. Deal with it, kiddos.

 

Now, obviously I can’t keep up my current activities forever. At some point, what I’m able to do, and what I want to do, will change. But that’s okay. As my Aikido instructors like to say, every end is also a beginning. What those beginnings will be, I have no idea.

But mystery is part of what makes life fascinating, isn’t it? And ongoing discovery and pursuit of new things is part of what makes it fulfilling. That’s what I believe makes the rest of my life worth living.

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(*) Note: groups that are actually cool – like runners – are happy to accept you as you are. At any age.

The Night of 10,000 Moons: WNBR Portland

NOTICE: This post includes photos that may be NSFW. But why would you be reading this at work? Shame on you! But be sure to read this the minute you get home.

I WUZ DARED.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Which is why I was at Cathedral Park at 9:00 p.m. last Saturday, geared up and appropriately dressed for WNBR Portland. Which stands for:

World Naked Bike Ride

Officially, the WNBR is a protest against excessive use of fossil fuels and the far too many car-bicycle accidents. Lately it’s added body positivity as a theme, and indeed I saw all ages and all body types there, naked and not ashamed.

While it contains the word, “Naked,” WNBR is actually a “Bare As You Dare” event. Riders ranged from fully clothed to underwear down to birthday suits. I saw colorful hats and costumes, and lots of decorative patterns and slogans in body paint applied by on-site volunteers.

(Click to see full gallery from KATU.)

So how bare did I dare? Well, let me put it this way. I didn’t fly all the way from Michigan to Oregon to ride in skivvies.

A quick recap of how I got here: back in 2014, I was heading to Portland to visit friends, and mentioned this to a co-worker who lives there. “Oh, are you going to do the naked bike ride?” he asked. The what? Had to go look that up!

The 2014 ride had already taken place, but I told him I was open to the idea. He seemed skeptical – a bit too much. So it was on. For the next three years I would have other commitments that weekend. But this year, all the stars lined up.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

So what was it like?

NOTICE #2: I did not take a lot of photos of the event. It took all my attention just to keep my bike on the road and stay in the experience. But there are plenty of event photos from this year and previous years on the Internet. So I’ve heard.

In sum, it blew my mind from start to finish. There is no way I can fully describe everything I saw and heard. So here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Walking past a bike shop near the park, its sign reading, “Open until 10:00 – Naked or Not” with several people inside already naked.
  • Feeling alone and awkward in a park full of 10,000 people. I was envious of everyone who’d come in a group. (I got over it when the ride started.)

Starting line. (And I’m up near the front.)

  • On the bike, surrounded by a visual riot of colors, motion, and bare flesh, which intensified as it got dark. Trying to take in everything around me but not focus too long on any one thing – or two 😉 – and dodging other riders doing the same.

  • Naked dancers on a bridge over the I-5 expressway, a long line of slow-moving cars passing beneath them. Both sexes participated, but frankly I think the men danced better. (One of those photo ops I wished I’d taken now.)
  • A bike towing speakers playing rock music with an odd twist. For example, a Bee Gees vocal track mixed onto AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
  • Finishing with no idea where we were. No one knew! Finally, someone handing out after-party flyers told me. She asked how I liked the ride, and I quipped it was, ‘good training for Burning Man.” And she’d been there! I was naked, chatting casually with an equally naked woman about another event dedicated to self-expression. Surreal!

And here are a few other questions people have asked me.

  • Weren’t you uncomfortable riding like that?

A: Not at all. If you sit properly then other bits don’t get in the way.

  • What was the route?

A: It changes every year, and they keep it a secret for obvious reasons (except to the police, of course). This year we went through North Portland, mostly through residential neighborhoods, with some bars or retail here and there. We ended up at Woodlawn Park, and from there people hung out (sorry) or dispersed to the after-parties.

Just some of the action at Woodlawn Park post-ride.

  • What about traffic? Were there a lot of cars?

A:  The police covered the route and directed traffic, so most of the time we had the roads to ourselves and right of way at intersections. A few cars did make it onto our route (probably leaving their neighborhoods) but we just went around them. I don’t think they particularly minded.

  • And spectators?

A:  Yep, people turned out for much of the way, but the riders far outnumbered the spectators. I felt completely safe and even a touch superior! I’m out riding in the buff and you’re cowering in clothes on the sidewalk. Most of them just watched, but some waved and cheered (and we waved and cheered back). A couple women even returned the favor by flashing us!

Curiously, I saw entire families at the sides of the road, including kids of all ages. I guess if you want to teach them body positivity, that’s one way. It was Portland, after all.

I’d like to sign off this post with a request to all my readers: When you’re driving, please, please, please, be alert for cyclists, and SLOW DOWN and give them space when passing. I’ve ridden naked just once, but I feel naked (as in vulnerable) any time I’m on a busy road.

So please – be awake, be alert, and be sober. Or these clothes stay off.

NOTICE #3: If you were expecting any “nothing to hide” photos of me, sorry. Not that I had any taken (or would post them if I had), but they’re not yet back from the studio. I understand they’re still repairing their cameras.

Veterans Memorial 150, Part 3: Bringing Home the Buckle

Concluding my Veterans Memorial 150 race recap: It’s early Sunday morning on the Pere Marquette Trail, finally cooler after a beastly hot Saturday. I’m running well, but another hot day – and trouble – lie ahead…

The Field Thins Out

I arrived at AS 8 (mile 80) around 1:00 a.m. and eased gratefully into a chair. Ruth was there, which meant she’d dropped. “I’m sorry to see you here,” I said. Awkward as that sounded, she understood, admitting to not feeling well from the start. So she’d switched to aid station volunteer.

Kurt arrived and asked how I was. Fine, I told him, how were the other runners doing? “Lots of them have dropped,” he said, which he’d expected. Dean, who I’d met at Baldwin, had been taken to the emergency room with heatstroke but had recovered.

Other runners taking a break. (From the race’s Facebook page.)

Kurt said my nearest competitor, Rebecca, was about 2-3 hours behind me – a bit too close for my comfort. Heading back out, I picked up my pace to take advantage of the cool night and hopefully extend my lead.

A Ghostly Picnic, the Non-Breakfast, and Running Scared

On to Farwell for a crew stop at their park pavilion – a 4 a.m. “picnic” in misty artificial light in a dark, empty town. It was a bit surreal, even spooky. I can only imagine what any passersby would have thought.

An hour later I arrived at the Moose Lodge (AS 10, mile 92) outside Clare. A pancake breakfast would begin at 7 a.m., but nobody showed up early just for me. (Well!). So my crew made me instant oatmeal. Isn’t it wonderful to have people who care?

We checked in with Kurt and heard some startling news. Out of 32 solo runners who started, only eight were still on track for the entire distance. And there’d been some wildlife excitement on the trail overnight! One runner had spotted a black bear and been literally “scared sh**less.” Another had been so spooked by howling coyotes she’d climbed a tree, where race staff found her and talked her down.

Not the same bear, but you get the idea. (Video from Roscommon Fire Department. Click to see video.)

I’d enjoyed an uneventful night, seeing only deer and being cheered on by a chorus of bullfrogs. Nature soon made up for that. As I ran through Clare, lightning lit up the predawn sky. Hard rain soon hit, and I ducked into the van. I tried to appreciate the extra rest, but wanted to get more miles in before it got hot. So I got back on the trail as soon as it let up a bit.

After an hour of intermittent rain, the clouds broke up and the sun was peeking out when I arrived at Loomis (AS 11, mile 102). My running coach Paul and his wife Colleen were there, ready to begin pacing me. And Charlie, my pal from Body Specs, had taken over crew duties from Joyce and Sue, who went to catch a few hours sleep.

Another long, hot day loomed ahead, but only fifty miles to go!

Paul and I hit the trail. Dave and the crew van in the background. Charlie is behind Paul.

Stage 3: Loomis to Bay City

Pacing, Passing, and Pseudo-Napping

“You’re an hour and a half ahead of my time last year,” Kurt told me at Loomis. “I needed two naps during my race. I recommend you take one.”

I thanked him but declined; I was wide awake and had good energy. And I wanted to keep a good lead over Rebecca, who had just left Clare. Paul and I agreed a nap could wait. But as we approached Coleman (AS 12) it was already hot and I noticed reality blurring briefly –instants of fading out and snapping back. I told Paul maybe it was time.

“Lie down and cover your eyes,” he said. “Part of sleep is shutting off the input we get from our eyes. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this will help.” So at Coleman I lay down in soft grass in the shade with a cold towel over my face. It felt glorious. I remained awake but was relaxed and comfortable. Fifteen minutes of that, plus another five minutes a bit further on, was all I needed for the rest of the race.

On this stretch we caught up to Dick West, who was attempting 100 miles and had started at the 50-mile mark. A longtime ultrarunner, Dick is still out there competing at age 76. We exchanged handshakes and encouragement. (I’ll spare you the suspense: he finished!)

I want to be this guy when I grow up.

Paul and Colleen tag-teamed me until Sanford (AS 14), keeping me at a safe pace and entertained with conversation. (What do runners talk about while running? You have one guess.) It was my first time being paced, and I quickly appreciated its value. The miles were hot and miserable, but company made them pass more easily.

How am I doing? I’m fresh as a daisy. Why do you ask?

On the trail with Colleen.

At Sanford we waved goodbye to Paul and Colleen (who’d brought me a milkshake – aren’t they great?), and Sue and Joyce rejoined us. I was surprised to find Charlie ready to pace. I hadn’t expected him to start until Midland (mile 127, ten miles ahead) and even then I was a bit worried, since he’d never raced more than a half marathon.

“Dude, it’s thirty-two miles to the finish,” I said.

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “Let’s go.”

Crisis Afoot

The miles to Midland were among the hardest I’ve ever done. It was mid-afternoon, the temperature well over 90, with fewer crew stops because they had trouble finding places to meet us. But more troubling were my burning feet. All the hours spent on hot blacktop were taking their toll. By the time we neared the end of the trail, every step was extremely painful.

Charlie’s presence was invaluable. He knew I was struggling, but remained easygoing and relaxed, keeping me moving forward without the need for direct encouragement. We swapped Aikido stories (he’d also trained under Kushida-sensei), pondered the weather, anything to take my mind off the long hot slog.

Finally we reached downtown Midland – and my crew couldn’t locate the aid station. I spotted a bench next to a pretty glockenspiel and collapsed onto it while we called Kurt. He said the station was being set up a mile farther down. Oh, God, another mile of agony, I thought. And how the hell was I going to do 23 more after that? For the first time in the race, I wasn’t sure I could continue.

“We need to do something right here, right now,” I said to my crew, rather plaintively. “I can’t finish the race with my feet feeling like this.”

They sprang into action. An icewater foot bath put out some of the fire. I took two Advil. Charlie checked the bottoms of my feet – nothing cracked or bleeding, just some swelling – and applied some moleskin. I slipped thin foam insoles into my shoes for extra cushioning. I found a large blister and treated it. Finally, a fresh pair of socks. All that done, I stood up and took a few steps.

My feet still hurt, but it was a manageable hurt. Charlie and I walked to the aid station while the crew cleaned up. By the time we got there and checked in, I was physically and emotionally back on track. “We’re gonna finish this puppy,” I said to Charlie. (I may have used a slightly stronger phrase.)

Motivation

From Midland the course wound through an industrial park, then onto Midland Road and due east to Bay City. This road was five lanes wide and busy with traffic, even on Sunday. Sometimes there were sidewalks, and sometimes we had to hug the shoulder. I was grateful again for Charlie being there. I’d expected to be exhausted at this point and running in the dark, but even awake with the sun still up I felt much safer with a pacer.

And as the evening slowly cooled, I was able to run again! We began with jogs of a hundred yards or so, and worked up to half miles. My legs felt surprisingly strong, and running was actually less painful than walking. Charlie even had to rein me in at one point. “No sprinting!” he called out as I pulled away at a blazing ten-minute mile pace.

At 8:00 p.m. we reached the Auburn aid station (mile 135) and I checked on runner status. A few had stopped at Loomis, earning a 100-mile belt buckle. Only four were still on track to run the full 150. “Is Rebecca one of them?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” was the reply. “We expect her to arrive around 9-9:30.”

I couldn’t believe it. My lead had shrunk to an hour, and 45 minutes of that was due to my early start. Charlie looked at me. “We’ve got to win this by at least an hour,” he said. “For moral justification, at least.”

Charlie and I on Midland Road, ready to rock to the finish.

We took off running, and kept up an aggressive pace into Bay City. (11-minute miles never felt so fast.) We reached the final aid station, the Cops and Doughnuts store in downtown Bay City, as darkness fell. In hindsight I should have asked about Rebecca, but I was so anxious to finish the race I didn’t even buy a cookie (or three) to carry me through the final six miles.

The last stretch on Henry Street / State Park Rd. also had heavy traffic. Charlie had on a full light vest, so we were very visible. Still I was grateful when the streams of headlights diminished as we approached the park. And although I was pretty sure Rebecca couldn’t catch us, I kept looking behind me, unable to shake the fear of seeing an approaching headlamp.

Kurt had checked regularly on our progress so he could be at the finish when we arrived. And at 11:20 p.m. Sunday night, the finish line was lit up and he and other staff were there to welcome us in. I jogged across the grass, up a sidewalk, and after 40 hours and six minutes, crossed the finish line. I’d led it (nearly) wire to wire – and won it.

Finish! Kurt hands me my 150-mile belt buckle.

Aftermath

Relief, Disbelief, and Unnecessary Grief

Kurt was amazed. Despite the oppressive conditions, I’d finished over two hours faster than his time last year, and five hours ahead of my original schedule. “How did you handle the heat so well?” he asked.

Past experience mainly, I told him. I’ve run enough hot ultras, and learned the hard way from them, to know what I need to stay cool and keep electrolytes in balance. And a terrific crew and pacers. No way I could have done it without them.

We hung around for an hour, and then got ready to head back to our campground in Empire. I asked Kurt when Rebecca was due to arrive, as I’d hoped to cheer her in. “Oh, we expect her around 3:30,” he said – three more hours away. WTF?

The Auburn aid station had either misunderstood or been misinformed. She hadn’t even left Midland until after 9 p.m. We could have walked it in! I was happy to have finished strong, but I could have been spared a lot of anxiety knowing the actual situation.

On the other hand, who was really to blame for that anxiety? Charlie said it best during our trek down Midland Road, when I’d pushed too hard and thought I’d hurt my knee. “You lost your focus,” he said after I’d stretched it out. “You were worried about Rebecca instead of running your best race.” Amen. Lesson learned.

I couldn’t sleep on the drive back because someone kept moving my legs and sticking needles into my feet. When we got back to camp I considered going into Empire for breakfast, but decided to attempt a nap in our camper. I was out instantly. Nearly 48 hours after I woke up Saturday morning, my race was over.