Monday, January 26, 2009

We got a new toy last week.


Mostly purchased to take videos of Ezra, this tiny camera shoots in HD, weighs 3 ounces, and pretty much kicks ass.

I took it on a run with Jballs yesterday. Very cool. After I got back to the house, I plugged The Flip into the computer and used its exceedingly simple, built-in editing software to put together a 2-minute highlight reel of our jog. Finishing the short movie took less than 10 minutes.

I see a lot of potential for capturing the highs and lows of Rocky Raccoon in a couple of weeks.

p.s. El Scorcho registration opens in one week.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'm a week and a half removed from Bandera, and, in addition to the incredible experience of running up and down the rocky, cacti-littered hills of the State Nature Area, the thing that I keep coming back to is how I felt after the run.

100 km is a long way, especially over such difficult terrain. In 2008, I was hobbling around for a couple of weeks after covering 50 km in the Hill Country. This year, I was mildly sore the morning after the run (or, I suppose, the morning of the run, since I finished at 12:47 a.m.), but nothing compared to the aches and pains I'd felt the prior year. And I had covered twice the distance.

So what has changed?

Well, other than the obvious ultrarunning experience I've gained over the past year, the single biggest change is the addition of working out with a personal trainer.

For nearly two and a half months leading up to Bandera, I have spent three days a week with Dave at The Body Firm, as he put me through grueling, high-intensity workouts designed to increase my functional strength (i.e., the stuff I would need to perform at my best). 90 minutes a week with Dave dropped useless body fat, firmed my core, and built up my legs. And, if Bandera is any indication, it worked. The constant ascents and descents of Ice Cream Hill, Lucky's Peak, and Three Sisters (to name a few of Bandera's challenges) were tough, but I powered up the hills feeling strong and much more confident that I ever expected to be.

So again, amigos, I leave you with this advice. If you don't have a good* personal trainer, get one. Simply put, it works.

* Quick footnote -- there are a lot of personal trainers out there and not all of them are what they ought to be. If you've ever spent time in a gym--especially what I will call a fru-fru gym--you know what I'm talking about. These are the trainers who spend more time chatting with their clients than pushing the intensity. (Not that there is not a time to chat, but training, in my opinion, should be about training, not about what was on TV last night.) A workout should be just that--a workout. I do not believe in the "no pain, no gain" philosophy--that's stupid--but I do believe that you should feel your workout when you are finished. You should know that you pushed your body of its comfort zone, and you should always, ALWAYS insist on quantifiable results from your trainer. If you're not getting that, then you're just not getting it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009 Bandera 100 km race report
Arriving in Bandera, Texas on a warm, Friday afternoon, Nell, Jballs, and I checked into our B&Bs and made our way out to the Hill Country State Nature Area, 5369.8 undeveloped and secluded acres of steep, rocky hills littered with cacti and Texas sotol plants. A donation from the Merrick Bar-O-Ranch, the SNA was provided for public use with the stipulation that it "be kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose." For some crazy reason, Joe Prusaitis decided it would make a good spot for a 100 km ultramarathon. And in a state of self-delusion, I deceded to try to run it.

After a couple years of ultrarunning, pre-race briefings have turned into mini-reunions where I reacquaint myself with friends from prior long distance endeavors. As we walked up to The Lodge (Bandera's race HQ), I caught up with Miles and Bill (who I ran a good chunk of Sunmart with), Brice (another Sunmart runner), Mark (a fellow Texas Trilogy contestant), and a few other folks from other races. I picked up my race number, chip, and sweatshirt, and stopped by to thank Joe, who had been kind of enough to toss some El Scorcho fliers in the race packet.

A few minutes later, Joe and his cohorts told us a little about the course. Apparently, a horse had tripped and had to be put down while traversing the very same trails we would be running. Consequently, the route had been slightly varied to avoid its decaying carcass. Nice omen.

After the briefing, dinner arrived under the big tent courtesy of a local cafe. Miles' pacer had contracted viral pneumonia, so he had a couple extra dinner tickets, and Nell and I chowed down on some pasta, salad, bread sticks, and dessert. Full and happy, we threw my drop bags on the trailer and headed back to the hotel for some shut eye before the big event.

Check out my drop bag. That's how you know I'm a real ultrarunner....
Saturday morning came early (I never really sleep that well before an ultrarun--I usually wake up once in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep). Before I knew it we were back at The Lodge checking in and getting ready to run. The race started at 7:30 a.m. to coincide with sunrise. It was chilly and windy as we huddled under the main tent waiting for instructions to line up.

Bandera actually consists of three races--25 km, 50 km, and 100 km--all taking place on the trails at the same time, but with each run starting off in a different direction. This year, most folks were running the 25 km (more than 240!), but a respectable bunch of crazies had signed up for the 50 km (126 runners), and more than expected had decided to gruel it out over 100 km (135 runners).

At about 7:25 a.m., I had to use the restroom and, not suprisingly, several other runners had the same urge. I stood watching longingly as the 100 km runners took off without me, still in line as the race began. I finally trekked out alone about 3-5 minutes after the official start. Alas.

If you look carefully, you can see my blue coat as I finally take my turn in the restroom. Way to plan ahead, dude. And there go all the 100 km runners without me....

Finally heading out... alone... to run 100 km... on a very challenging course... great idea, Valdez.
The first half mile or so of the 100 km is a deceivingly flat, relaxing cruise on a jeep road. Ah, so nice and lovely. And then everything goes straight to hell as we climb up Sky Island then directly down Sky Island the up Ice Cream Hill then directly down Ice Cream (Joe apparently believes switchbacks are overrated).

To truly appreciate the magnificience that is the Bandera 100 km, please take a moment to peruse the course profile:
After 5.6 miles, I reached the Nachos aid station, where I snagged a quick bite to eat and some Gatorade before hitting the trail again.


I noticed that the top of my right foot was a little gimpy. I had actually had it X-rayed a couple weeks before the run to make sure I didn't have a stress fracture. (I didn't.) So while I would've usually attacked the downhill portions of the course, hopping from rock to rock, the slight pain in foot had caused me to tip toe like a wuss. Such is life. I motored on, hoping that the pain was in only my head.


Just after leaving the aid station, my right toe--the same one that rebelled at Sunmart--started to give me trouble. Damn. Right foot and right toe. 5.44 miles to Chapas, where I could do some foot maintenance. But first I had to contend with the ups and downs of #8 Trail. Yee ha!


At this point, I was still running by myself most of the way and had yet to hook up with Miles or Bill. The previous evening, we had discussed running together, but my tardiness affected our early companionship. Would we ever meet up? (Cue foreshadowing musical interlude....)

At Chapas, I came across Brice, who had somehow twisted an ankle and was forced to drop early. That always sucks.

I also caught up to Fred, who I met at the 2007 Ultracentric. Since then, Fred and I have run together at various parts of last year's Bandera 50km and last year's Rocky Raccoon 50 mile. Fred is also a veteran of El Scorcho.

After putting a blister pad on the toe, I dutifully trudged out to run what had previously been my least favorite part of the course--the 5.85 mile stretch from Chapas to Crossroads. Although it is the flatest part of the course, it is also the longest and the most exposed (although pretty much all of the course is exposed).

Last year, the temperature had soared, and this stretch had me hot and bothered (and not in the good way).

This year, it was cool, and I felt great.

So great, in fact, that I almost flew right past Bill without realizing it. Coming down a slight hill, I saw his lanky frame lumbering along very slowly. Not good, I thought. As I approached, Bill told me he had taken a spill and jarred his knee pretty badly. Game over. Bummer, amigo. (No worries, though, as Bill later told me he intends to be back next year to conquer the beast).

At the Crossroads aid station, I did some foot maintenance, chatted a bit with Fred, and took off again, up the climb over Three Sisters, a trio of nasty hills in rapid succession.

Back at Crossroads, I felt pretty good. I ran most of the next 4.96 miles to the Last Chance Aid Station, where I snagged a Rice Krispie treat and hooked up with Trey, a buddy of Fred's. We chatted over the next 4.25 miles as we hiked two more good climbs (Cairn's Climb and Boyle's Bump) before arriving back at The Lodge to check-in before starting round two.

Finishing the first 50 km feeling strong and ready for more (yeah, right)
I snacked on a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and chatted a bit with Jballs as we planned the next 50 km. Jballs had graciously agreed to "pace" me for the second loop. In other words, he was going to run at my haggard pace and make sure I didn't fall off a cliff in a state of exercise-enduced intoxication. (That's a clinical term, friends.)
We said goodbye to our wives and with a barbaric yawp, we were off again for another 9 hours or so of physical punishment.

Yes, folks, I do this for FUN.
Let's not mince words. The first 11 miles of the second loop SUCKED. You got that, amigos? They SUCKED.


Upon leaving The Lodge, the enormity of running another 31 miles of such ass-pounding terrain began to overwhelm me. We trudged along, but I had definitely hit the first low point of the run. Jballs tried to keep the mood light, and every now then we came atop a hill and took in the beauty of the surrounding. But, again, for the most part--it SUCKED.

Thankfully, we arrived at Chapas just before the sun went down. Fred lent me a pair of gloves (I'll return them at Rocky Racoon, buddy). I grabbed my flashlight, and then suddenly, inexplicably, I felt really, really GOOD.

Okay, maybe not so inexplicably. Maybe it had something to do with the serious spa treatement I gave both my feet before heading out. The good stuff, compadres. We're talking a full-on baby wipe bath, fresh blister pads, and some new Body Glide to reduce friction. Oh, yes, it was grand.

Oh, and lest I forget the pharmacy of pills I popped before leaving the aid station. Mmmmm... pills.... yummy SportLegs, Succeed Caps, Tylenol, and--the clincher--Jet Alert.

Surrounded by darkness and jacked up on caffeine and pain killers, we cruised through the next 5.85 miles like new men. Brave new men. In a brave new world.

Before I knew it, we were running up to Crossroads, where our lovely wives met us with steaming hot Sonic hamburgers. What a perfect, blissful meal.

The climb over Three Sisters didn't seem nearly as steep in the darkness. We followed the trail of glow sticks up and down the course, pausing every so often to turn off our flashlights, breathe deeply, and enjoy the full moon and the quiet solitude. At some moments, it was absolutely perfect.

Back at Crossroads, I still felt good. Jballs looked like he was out for a relaxing, evening stroll. Of course, I called him a pansy multiple times and reminded him that he was 31 miles behind me and that I looked ten times better than he did on my first loop. Yeah, we've got that kind of friendship.

Before leaving Crossroads, we came across Miles for the first time in the race.

"Let's do this, amigo," I told him.

"And no wimping out like Sunmart," I encouraged him, referring to last month's run where I finished about 30 minutes ahead of Miles. "You and I are finishing this one together."

We alternatively ran/walked #6 Trail and Lucky's Peak, slowly losing steam until we staggered in the Last Chance Aid Station looking like, as Jballs put it, we had been "mugged and beaten."

For the first time ever on a long run, my stomach started acting up on me. It simply did not want any more food. But with 4.25 miles to go, and at the snail's pace we were moving, I needed calories.

"No problem," the amazingly-chipper aid station captain (whose name I should know but have inexcusably forgotten). "I got just the thing."

He proceeded to whip me up a couple of pancakes, which he folded in half with a couple pats of butter (the real stuff--no messing around at this point in the run) and some maple syrup. It was still hard to make myself eat, but it went down smoothly enough to get me out the door and on my way to the finish.

4.25 miles away. That's all. 4.25 miles and we're finished. Let me tell you, that was a DAMN HARD 4.25 miles

4.25 miles should not take an hour and a half. It shouldn't take an hour. Even over some tough climbs, we should've finished in 55 minutes or so. Hell, I can easily jog 4.25 miles in 33 minutes or less. But that was then, and this was now, and after 15+ hours on my feet, I was spent.

And so we walked. And walked. And walked. When will this thing be over? Why haven't we started the descent? We do we just keep climbing?

Ugh.
UGH.
UGH!


Or, as another runner best put it, "F'ing grilled cheese!!!!!"

After awhile, Jballs grew wary of our constant bitching, and he motored to the finish, obstensibly so he could take some video of Miles and me crossing the finish line. Whatever. Traitor.

And then, very soon after Jballs abandoned us to our fate, we were sliding downhill and then onto the jeep road that would take us to The Lodge and--most importantly--the finish.

Don't Miles and Ilook happy?
Enjoying some tasty post-race soup in what appears to be a M.A.S.H. unit.
16 hours, 47 minutes, 50 seconds. That's a long time to do anything. Hell, I don't think I've even slept that long before. But now I can say I've run it. And if that ain't something, well... well... well let's be honest, it really ain't much. It just felt really good to be done.


At the end of the day, I finished in 89th place (1 spot better than Miles even though we had the same finish time!) out of 135 runners who started the race. 21 runners DNF'd. I was thankful things never got so bad that dropping crossed my mind. I got my first ultrarunning belt buckle and have finished 3 of the 4 races in The Quad (and 2 of the 3 in the Texas Trilogy).


Next month, 100 miles or bust.

Vaya con Dios, amigos.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2009 Bandera 100 km Endurance Trail Run: Video Highlights

Work decided to jump up and bite me this week, so I've been a bit preoccupied and haven't given my full (or even partial) attention to writing a Bandera report (no excuses, but, well, that's my excuse). Hopefully, I can hole myself away for a few minutes this weekend to hammer out some witty banter about trekking up and down the hills of Bandera for 16 hours, 47 minutes, and 50 seconds. In the meantime, here's a 6 minute video Jballs took of the experience. Enjoy.


2009 Bandera 100 km Endurance Trail Run from Ryan Valdez on Vimeo.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bandera: 100 km/62 miles on the hilliest, rockiest, roughest terrain in Texas with 20 mph gusts and 30 degree temps from 7:30 a.m. Saturday until 12:17 a.m. Sunday. It took me somewhere around 16 hours and 48 minutes and burned approximately 13,000 calories. I'm back at work now, so a detailed report will be forthcoming. In the meantime, here's what Jballs had to say about the course:

I never thought I would finish up a 50k in the dark, in cold weather, with insane wind, with rocks sliding out from under my feet, on steep inclines and declines and yet still feel like a pansy because I was finishing with all of the 100k runners who looked like they had been mugged and beaten after having done the whole damn thing twice.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

“Start lines lead to finish lines, lead back to start lines.” – Bad Buddha

While this sentiment is undoubtedly true, there is something nonetheless refreshing about a new year. January 1st may be just another day in a series of days that turn into weeks, months, years, and decades, and the distinction between December 31st and January 1st may only be a manmade distinction. Nonetheless, it feels distinct. One door closes, another one opens. The mistakes of the past year are erased, and we are given another opportunity to live up to our full potential.

Will we realize it?

Or will 365 days whirl by in the blink of an eye with all the same misgivings and nostalgia?

As I glance forward to the next 52 weeks, I find myself looking back at the thoughts I had at the end of 2007. And now, more than a year later, they still resonate today.

So here are my 2009 aspirations, recycled from 2008:

Empathize more, criticize less.
Train smarter, not harder.
Drink less, eat healthier.
Express more gratitude, less entitlement.
Exercise more humility, less arrogance.
Be quicker to forgive, slower to blame.
Practice efficiency.
Give more compliments.
Be thankful.
Offer to help.
Be more appreciative.

Oh, and I’d like to complete the Bandera 100 km this weekend and the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile next month to finish out the Texas Trilogy and The Quad.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Resolution No. 1: Eat more fruit.
The Dilemma: Five a day is tough, and I often get busy and forget when I am at work.
The Solution: Do it all at once.
Before: 1 banana, 1 apple, some pineapple chunks, 2 clementines, and a handful of berries

After: 1 BIG fruit smoothie

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year, amigos!

Reflections, resolutions, and realizations coming soon.

In the meantime, consider this.

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