Sunday, January 11, 2015

Situational Awareness - What Charlie Hebdo Tells Us

It has become completely ridiculous how absorbed in technology we have become as a society.

Five years ago, people mocked the technologically-dependent youth of Japan and America as they stumbled through their day, distracted by their music players, phones, or tablets ito such an extent that the kids posed a significant danger to those around them.

Now, this is common across the world and across the generations. On the metro platforms this afternoon, I had to slalom past a dozen people that didn't even register my existence. It's everywhere. Yet, I live in Washington, DC. If there was to be a terrorist attack on the United States, the odds are better than even I would be at or near ground zero. And, the confined metro tunnels would be prime targets, as the 2005 bombings of the London Underground warn.

And still, we ignore our surroundings and remain oblivious to the possible dangers that exist right next to us. My fellow commuters couldn't tell a cop how many people were on the train much less what they looked like or who appeared suspicious.

This week's assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices is a sober reminder of the evils that exist in this world, doing little to calm the concerns of those of us that see more attacks as a function of 'when' and not 'if.' This is particularly disturbing when one considers the fact that Charlie Hebdo had already been attacked. In 2011, the office was fire-bombed and the website hacked. Concerns were raised high enough that the Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier, the editor of the magazine, hired personal security. One of the victims this week was Franck Brinsolaro, a 49-year old police officer assigned as his protective detail.

There had been previous attacks. There were new threats. A specilized security detail had been provided.

And, 12 people died.

The assailants escaped before a nation-wide manhunt brought them down. Even then, they took four more victims with them. Even a handful of miles away from the initial attacks, situational awareness was ignored.

These innocent people feared for their lives and recognized the risks they were taking. And, they died.

So, what of the innocent and completely unaware teacher so absorbed in her e-book that she misses her train stop? What of the college student texting in her car at the intersection? What of the tourists taking pictures in front of the Washington Monument?

We live in a world where terrorism has supplanted Total War as the tool of the aggressor. For no reason of your making, you can be targeted. The average citizen is more vulnerable to random violence than ever before, and we are so absorbed in our technology that we don't even know it.

Paris Rally Against Terrorism on January 11 (photo via Hollywood Reporter)

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Tin Man Release: Raffle for autographed copies and cool stuff!

As readers of my book, Number 181, know... I donated the proceeds from sales of that novel to charitable organizations supporting our returning servicemen and women, a group I have come to know a great deal about thanks to time spent with many Special Forces operators. Each and every one is an amazing individual, and they deserve our thanks for what they do on a daily basis.

In keeping with the tradition I started with my first book, I will be raffling off several items now that I've completed the sequel, Tin Man, and donating proceeds to Hope for the Warriors.

Starting on March 15th and continuing through April 15th [extended to April 30], I will be taking donations that will be directly handed - through a FirstGiving site or my paypal - to the group and matching all contributions up to a $500 total.

First prize includes:

- Personalized autograph copies of both Number 181 (paperback) and the newly-released sequel, Tin Man in hardcover (a first, and rare, printing)
- GORUCK Mars Patch
- GORUCK Luna Patch
- NASA Patch
- Space Shuttle Atlantis Limited Edition Coin
- Space Shuttle Medallion made from metal flown on the Space Shuttle

Second Prize includes

- Personalized autograph copies of both Number 181 (paperback) and the newly-released sequel, Tin Man in paperback (I know I’m biased, but this looks great)
- A patch from the Astronaut Training Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory
- Space Shuttle Medallion made from metal flown on the Space Shuttle
- NASA Pin
- NASA Sticker
- MetalWorks Space Shuttle Atlantis 3D laser cut desk model

You get one entry for simply 'liking' the Number 181/Tin Man Facebook page. In addition, you get one entry for EACH DOLLAR (I will match the donation) that you give to the Hope for the Warriors foundation either through PayPal to or to the FirstGiving page I've set up.

Hope for the Warriors is a non-profit begun to "enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families, and families of the fallen who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty." Hope For The Warriors is dedicated to "restoring a sense of self, restoring the family unit, and restoring hope for our service members and our military families." Clearly, a good cause. In addition, they have received the highest rating among similar charities for transparency and ensuring that the most of each dollar donated goes to the intended recipient. They are good people.

So, 'like' the page. Donate to the cause. And, enjoy the book and goodies! One request... you have to tell me what you think of the second book in the Shawn Kidd series!


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Saturday, March 2, 2013

93.6 miles in 14 days

I sign up for stupid shit.

There... I said it. I'm an impulse shopper when it comes to race registrations, and it often means that I dig myself into a hole I can't easily get out of. (Ooooo he ended a sentence with a preposition.) It is this type of behavior that has forced me to keep a detailed calendar as far out as 18 months and consider hiring an assistant. Unfortunately, I don't trust people, question most intelligences, and despise the thought of having to spend considerable amounts of time with any one individual.

October-ish: I enjoy the Rock-N-Roll race series and see that one is offered in St. Petersburg, Florida, on February 10th. Cheap hotels are available, and it can be a quick drive down for the night. Race #1.

November-ish: A co-worker mentions that the Gasparilla races in Tampa now offer an option to run the Ultra Challenge that involves a 15K and 5K on Saturday the 23rd followed by a half marathon and an 8K on Sunday the 24th. It's essentially back-to-back 15 mile days. A challenge, sure, but I can handle that. I even did that about a month earlier. Race 2, 3, 4, and 5.

December-ish: I stupidly start looking around for an ultra race (those longer than marathon distance) and find one up where I grew up in Destin, Florida, in the panhandle. It's February 17th. I sign up. Race #6. Mistake #1.

For the sake of completeness, I'll say that I PR'd at the St Pete RnR race with a time of 1:53:37. It was nearly two full minutes faster than my previous best... and I had a ton left in the tank. I could have broken 1:50 if I had pushed it. Regardless, it was well organized and a good race.
Thanks to CSD MacDill

On the back end, I completed the Gasparilla Ultra Challenge. That's all I'll say. I PR'd in the 15K only because that was my first time running that distance. Also, it was the first of the four, and I felt relatively good for it. I was honored to join the Communications Support Detachment out of MacDill AFB for the 5K portion. Since I wasn't going for speed, I didn't mind the slow but deliberate pace they kept. Good group. The Sunday races were painful, and the required time hack to complete the half marathon in order to get to the start line for the 8K forced me to push it on hurt legs. But, I did it.
Gasparilla SWAG: Keep Running and they'll keep giving you stuff

But, back to the Big Daddy. The Destin 50 Miler is a relatively small affair as far as races go. I've learned this is true of most ultras simply because there aren't enough morons (like me) around to clog registration. The race had a 50M and 50K race. I opted for the 50M. I've already run 3 marathons... what's 5 more miles? I wanted to do 25 more miles... for some ungodly reason.

The race started at 0500, and the shuttles were not the fastest from the parking lot to the start. I walked up as the race started, and I still had to get myself organized (safety pins, camelbak, etc). I ended up getting out about 5 minutes late. But, what's 5 minutes in a 50 Mile race, amiright?

The first two miles was an out-and-back that traced the same section of beach that the elite ultra runners were using to break the 24HR sand race distance record. Joe Fejes ran an inhuman 134 miles over the course of 24 hours, and I have no idea how.

Following that loop, we ran west 15 miles... then east 24 more before turning around for the 9 back to the start. I had my music but didn't listen to it. I listened to the ocean. It is a loud, bitch of an ocean that wouldn't shut up.

Stupid ocean.

My concerns going into the race (other than running 50 freaking miles) were three-fold:

1)Running in sand
2)Water crossings
3)Running on a slope/camber

Having grown up there, I knew the running in sand concern was minimal. Anyone that spends time in a beach town knows that the tidal area is fairly compact. Stay off the dunes, and loose sand isn't a problem. Check.

Having run often with wet shoes/socks, I was concerned with water crossings. Were they 3 feet wide? Twenty? A foot deep? I didn't recall them growing up, but I never walked 20 straight miles down a beach before. As it turns out, these things changed over the course of the day thanks to tides, but they were considerable. One in particluar (crossed twice) was about 20 feet across and as much as a foot deep. It was a river. But, I mitigated the risk with toe socks. Problem solved. Feet dried fairly quickly and showed to be no worse for wear after the race. Check.

Apparently, previous racers were worried about the camber, as well, since the question was addressed in the FAQs. The race director said he'd never heard any complaints in previous years. Ok... guess we'll see....

Either he was lying, ignored previous comments, or this year was the worse ever. My ankles and right knee have never been through such an ordeal.

The first 27 miles of the race were pretty easy (did I really just type that?). I held a steady 11 min/mile pace and felt great. Aid stations, operated by restaurants along the beach, popped up every 7 or 8 miles, and they complemented the usual race fare (GU gels, sports drinks, water, trail mix) with their specialties. This resulted in me bargaining with at least two aid stations to find me more of the bacon that they offered. I demanded that they have their supply restocked once I hit the turnaround and came back by.

Is bacon good race food? Yes. Why? Because, it's bacon. That's why.

As I passed the 26.2 mile point and realized I had run a marathon and had absolutely nothing to show for it, I got sad.

As I crossed 30 miles and looked down to find that my fingers had ballooned to twice their normal size, I debated whether I had a salt-intake issue. Was I taking in too much? Too little? The answer didn't really matter, because I wasn't going to stop eating the bacon. I was just wondering.

Destin 50 Mile Medal
My knee was killing me from mile 30 on. My left and right ankle were killing me from mile 34 and 42, respectively, until the end. It was quite miserable. But, I was my usual ebullient self at aid stations. What can I say? I'm a delight to be around... especially when I start hallucinating and talking to imaginary animals in Spanish.

Another racer was 3 minutes into a conversation with me before he realized I was talking to an invisible rhino named Fernando.

Had I maintained the pace I was running for the first 30 miles, I would have crossed in 10 hours... well ahead of my goal. I'm not naive enough to assume I wouldn't have slowed, but I would have put good money on a sub-10:30 finish. Sadly, I was hobbling the last 15 miles in a way that made me feel worse and worse with each step. I crossed in a time of 12:30... well past my expected time but still... it's not a DNF. My worries at that point were being in a condition to run the Gasparilla races the following week. My knee was fine (without the sloped course in Tampa, I didn't even notice my knee), but my ankles and the tendons therein were still inflamed and sore. They hadn't fully healed and let me know it.

But, I survived. I would definitely consider a 50M again in the future, but it won't be that one.

Either way, I won.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

An excerpt from the sequel to Number 181

The last bit of re-writes are nearly complete on the sequel to Number 181, and I expect that the end of February will see the release of my second book. Very excited.... I have the beginnings of a cover design already complete and expect to show it (with the sequel's title announcement) around the middle of the month.

So, with things seemingly right around the corner, I thought it would be worthwhile to send some more excerpts and info out in the netverse in the lead-up to said release. The brief excerpt below is part of a flashback from about halfway through the book. As always seems to happen, Kidd is beaten and tired. It begins to dawn on me that I treat my protagonist like complete crap.

Regardless, the only way to feel a sense of accomplishment is to finish something you aren't sure you should have started. If that doesn't describe Kidd, I don't know what does.


Tzimol, Mexico

Shawn awoke to nothing. No pain, no hunger, no exhaustion. He opened his eyes and felt empty. He wondered briefly if he were dead, if Sipho’s errant shot in the dusty shot had done enough damage to take him. He quickly discarded the notion. There wasn’t any way his afterlife would be so peaceful. He heard nothing and saw nearly the same.

Efforts to sit up were met with only frustration. He was immobile, whether by restraint or his own body’s inability to respond. Turning his head, he tried to take in the room and began to hear the sound of scratching in the distance. He was still in the church and laying on the crate table that dominated its front. He recalled the crate not being long enough for his six-foot frame, so he assumed his feet dangled off the end. He tried to lift them, but couldn’t tell if they moved or not. He sensed nothing

The source of the scratching manifested itself over his head in the shuffling form of the priest. Kidd’s mouth curled.

“Por favor, señor,” the priest said. “Do not struggle, yes? You must rest.”

“I can’t move.” Kidd cringed at his own voice, barely audible even in the quite that pervaded the room.

The older man nodded sagely. “Sí. You are tied.”

Kidd’s eyes asked the question his dry mouth could not.

The man nodded. “I am sorry. You did not move during the work, but you turn violently in your sleep. Troubling dreams. I could not risk you opening the wound.”

“My stomach?”

The priest ran his hand over Kidd’s head, concerned for the exertion his patient was showing. He judged a brief conversation wouldn’t kill the young man.

“I am Father Luis Aguirre. I am also Doctor Aguirre. Most of my time is spent treating broken bones and animal bites, but you are not my first bullet wound. Though, stomach wounds are particularly troublesome.”

“Will I live?” Kidd croaked.

“Difficult to say. But, you have already lived longer than I would have given you credit for. I was able to remove the bullet and stop the bleeding, but much damage has been done. I do not have the tools to do much more, I am afraid. The real question will be infection. I have no antibiotics. Time will tell.”

Kidd ran his tongue along his lips. They were dry and cracked, but no amount of licking helped. A bowl of water appeared in Father Aguirre’s hands. Kidd sipped hurriedly, but Aguirre pulled it away quickly.

“Drinking too much now would be bad,” he said. “Slow.”

“The woman,” Kidd started. “The girl.”

A curtain of sadness dropped down the man’s face. His eyes glistened, and he looked away. “She is gone.”

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Latin Music RockNRoll Half Marathon - Miami, Nov 18, 2012

I don't like Miami. I really never have, and the few times I've been there are spent anxious to leave. Admittedly, not much of that time is spent in South Beach, an area that I only really enjoyed during the trip for this race. But... still.

South Beach is beautiful. It's just too bad that it's surrounded by Miami.

I arrived for the race on Saturday and hurried to pick up my packet so that I could meet up with the GORUCK Ft Lauderdale class that would be finishing around 1300hrs. It meant a short stay in Miami Proper.... and I was good with that. The afternoon was spent in Lauderdale with good people, football, and drinks. Definitely a step up from Miami, but I had to get there eventually.

My hotel was downtown, and there is very little (ok... nothing) to do down there. I ate some pasta that wasn't very good but was very expensive, and then I retired to my room. The race was set for 630 AM, and parking in South Beach is a noteworthy nightmare. So, I was out by 0400 to find a spot. As it turned out, that was way too early. I ended up laying on a rock wall with a few dozen other early risers and waiting for something to happen. But, regardless, I was there and enjoying the rest.

I met a couple from Denver that had come down specifically for a bike race that day. It was moved up a week (probably to avoid the Rock N Roll race) and they decided to do the half instead. Good people. I'd run in to the husband a couple times on the course as we had similar paces.

One good aspect of an early arrival was being able to watch every one else show up. If you're looking for eye-candy, Miami races are your thing. I don't know the volumetric amount of silicone that crossed that finish line, but it was considerable. They may be plastic... but hot women is what I'm saying...

I was in the fourth corral (surprisingly given what I thought was a fast time I put down on the registration) and was off about 10 minutes after the elites. I was hesitant to go hard since it was my third half marathon in 14 days, but I felt great. Plus, I knew we were headed for a cloudless day and that it was going to warm up considerably. The bands were few and far between (something I notice regularly at these 'rock and roll' races.. it's a good thing I don't do them for the on-course bands), and as I crossed over the first causeway bridge around mile 6, I noticed that I felt great. My legs were solid and I was making good time. I decided to push it, dropping my pace by about 0:30/mile and pressed through the halfway point.

It was around this point that I ran past the exchange point for the relay. Seeing all these fresh runners standing and waiting on a baton annoyed me, because I was certain they'd be soon behind me on rested legs. The realization pushed me harder. I crossed back over the Maria Tuttle Causeway toward the beach and stared into the rising sun, bright and irritating. There isn't a lot of shade in the area, and each minute was warmer than the next. These factors as much as my fatigue and long miles in recent weeks made my energy flag.

The final, small bridge near the Coast Guard Station was merely a blip on the course map but really drained me. As we turned onto the barrier island, I was pushing with everything I had for the last mile. Thankfully, we were back among the spectators, and their energy gave me what little fuel I used to spring forward. I had hoped to get in under 1:54, but I cruised in at 1:54:06, a new PR for the half.

The post-race party was relaxing - drinks and all the food freebies on the beach - and I was content to sit and watch the runners funnel through. (Again... people-watching is a must at this event.) With my parents in town in Orlando, though, I eventually made my way back to the hotel and a shower before jumping on the road.

The race was well-organized (as opposed to the thin band support on the course, the ease with which it is run is why I enjoy the RnR races) and a nice atmosphere. Sadly, I still hate Miami and doubt I'll be returning anytime soon. But, there are a couple Rock n Roll races in 2013 that I am looking at running.

Just not down there. Cuz Miami sucks

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Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon - Nov 10, 2012

I am not a big fan of Disney. I have nothing against the place, but it's crowded, loud, and full of tourists. I rarely make my way to that side of town because it's a) too far and b) full of tourists. I know they bring money into the community.... but jebus.

Anyway, so I made my way to packet pickup (which was surprisingly disorganized) and back that night for the race. Starting at 10PM, the race ended at Epcot, and runners were allowed to enjoy the Food and Wine Festival touting treats from around the world. I had heard good things about this event but never been. Yes, like I said, I avoid Disney like the plague. Because of the tourists, you see...

We parked at the finish line and Disney bussed us back to the start at the Wild World of Sports Complex. This was very well-organized... even with the hundreds of buses needed (there were 12,000 runners, but I could have sworn there were 12 million). The starting line festival was great and the crowd lounged around the grass awaiting the late-night start. We were split into corrals, and I found myself in the first one. I could only assume that was because Disney races are great for the less-serious runners, so they showed up in force. My expected finish time put me closer to the front. So, I entered my corral and patiently waited for the gun.

People who know me are aware that I'm not a particularly friendly guy. I'm funny and personable, yes... but I don't talk to people. If I end up in a conversation with someone, it's because they talk to me. Well... when a cute little runner from San Diego chats me up at the start line, who am I to argue? It's just too bad Kelly was flying back across the country at 8 AM the next morning. But... I suppose that's reason for me to find a destination race to run with her.

Anywho, I digress. The cannon/gun/bottle rocket fuse was lit (by some cartoon character, I'm sure), and we were off. An interesting thing about Disney races is how phenomenally boring they are for vast stretches before overloading you with brightly-lit goodness. We ran down dark side streets before turning into Animal Kingdom (sadly, a park I've never actually been in. You know.. cuz I hate tourists) and running around the park. Playing the guessing game of 'is that animal or racer feces that I smell' is a good time. It was a nice mile or so in the park, and it's here that Disney shines. You see what makes it a special place, and they even run you through some of the back lots to make you feel special.

Then, it's back onto a dimly lit road... usually the same one (as was in this case) that you ran down to get to the park. We turned into MGM Hollywood Studios next, and this is really where Disney kicked ass. The lights on the main streets were illuminated and were fantastic. I actually gasped as I came around one corner. It was really impressive. Well done, Mouse. That mile went by far too fast.

And, again back into the dark woods. Here, I started to run low thanks to an upset stomach. Thankfully, those 'newbie' runners that I mentioned before bring a lot of course support for them. So, we were still a significant distance from the finish line when herds of people appeared lining the course. Friends and family cheered, and I assumed it was for me as I always did. Only once have I actually had someone waiting for me at a finish line, and her encouragement was more along the lines of 'hurry up, bum' than 'you can do it!'

I wasn't at the optimal point in my training, so I chose not to push too hard. Still, I came around the corner to the fog and laser light to cross the line in 1:58:06, a respectable time and one of my top 5s.

Though I had planned to head straight home (it's midnight, by the way), I ventured into the park and partook of some good eats. I couldn't meet up with any of the three people I knew to be wandering the park, and I didn't stay long. Still, it was nearly 330 AM when I eventually reached home, tired and disgusting. Thankfully, I had taken an extra shirt and my TAC pants with me (love those things... so useful).

A great race with good scenery and organization. Given how much I ended up enjoying the Food and Wine Festival afterward, I can say that I will likely run it next year if my schedule permits. I admit this because - after a race - almost all of us are tourists.

I still have every intention of avoiding the area during normal business hours.

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Xterra Wildhorse Trail Half Marathon - Tampa, Nov 4, 2012

This was less a race and more an experience.

Let me start at the beginning. I am a runner. It's taken me a while to admit that, mostly because it makes me sound more bad-ass than I am. Let me be clear. I am in no way bad-ass.

But, I have come to the realization that I am a runner. I sign up for races at the drop of a hat and only do laundry because I'm out of workout gear. Oh, yea, I guess I might as well throw those few work clothes in at the same time.

So, when some of my GORUCK buddies threw out the Xterra Wildhorse Trail Half Marathon to me, I couldn't rightly refuse. It was over in Tampa and not far from friends. I signed up, and we ended up with five of us poor souls ready to head out and conquer the woods.

Little did I realize it was going to take so long that I should have had my mail forwarded.

The drive to the location was pleasant if frightening as we wondered if the desolate surroundings were the site of some sort of backwoods shenanigans. Ever seen that movie The Lottery where the small town selects a townsperson to sacrifice to the Gods to stay prosperous? What about Children of the Corn? Take your pick... these fields were spooooooky at 6 AM.

But, we found the other racers and took our places in line to start. We were quite the group, looking out of place to say the least. It was myself, a tiny hot-chick, a yeti-looking Sasquatch, what appeared to be a homeless man, and a stout version of a short Mr. Clean. To further separate us from the 'normals,' we agreed to do 25 push-ups at each mile point. It would make for 325 total. I was being mocked because - though I was the strongest runner of the group - I wasn't the clear push-up champion. Yea... whatever.

We ran a mile and did 25 pushups. At mile 2, we were falling behind most of the field of 330 runners, but we did another 25. By mile three, two of our group were huffing and puffing like chain smokers, and all but three of the five had completely given up on the full '25 pushups per mile' plan.

We had fallen behind most of the field and began a steady routine of rests at the mile points, a few minutes of jogging, and walking to the next mile point. It made for a long day, and fewer and fewer pushups were done at each stop.

Other than by me. Who am I? I'm the 325-count push-up champion, that's who! I was actually well-rested even at the race's finish line, and I felt bad watching my teammates struggle across. We finished in a rather-unimpressive 3 hours and 30 minutes, but we weren't last. Looking back, it was a good experience if not a race.

It was a nice race, I suppose, but a bit hot (when you're on the course 2 hours longer than you're used to, that happens). But, I really enjoyed spending time with my GORUCK buddies and relaxing for the race and weekend. It was nice to take it easy and enjoy the trail, and anytime we get together... entertainment follows.

The best thing I can say is that I ran into someone wearing a shirt for the Canadian Death Race. What is this extreme event, you ask? Well, so did I. SO, I looked it up, and as soon as registration opens for the 2013 race in Grande Cache, Alberta, I'm in.

But, it's also nice to say that I kicked their asses at the push-ups.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Marine Corps Half Marathon - Jacksonville, Oct 6, 2012

My fall plans made for an example in excess. I filled my weekends with races and football games to the point that I had none free. I hadn't factored in the cost to my sleep, though.

The week prior to the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, I had spent my time wandering the small towns of central Pennsylvania and running a trail marathon in Lock Haven. I was wrecked from giardia and burned by the 6,000 feet of elevation gain. My body was barely ready to get back to training in a week much less commit to a race. Yet, I was already registered for the race in Jacksonville and heard good things about the environment surrounding the race and course itself.

I convinced myself to drive up the morning the race and shoot back down I-95 afterward. Then, a pretty girl asked me if I wanted to make a weekend of it and throw in the Bears-Jaguars game on Sunday. Well, momma didn't raise no idiot (all previous actions I have been accused of notwithstanding).

So, I made the drive up Friday night and made it to the race start early the next morning. The crowd was thinner than I expected for a half marathon with such high-profile, military support. As a military nut, the fact that the opening gun was a howitzer was enough alone to warrant my participation. There are few difficult courses in Florida, and any you find that way are mainly due to overpasses or bridges. Jacksonville's race started with an out-and-back across the Main Street and Acosta Bridges, and it hit people hard.

Following that, though, was a race along the water that was quite peaceful. The law enforcement folks were polite and it was a quiet run. My sore legs from the previous week hit me hard at mile 11 as we climbed the ramp to descend back toward the starting line, and it slowed me considerably. Still, my goal at this point was to finish strong (and get back to the girl... what? Priorities...). I came back within view of Everbank Field (home of the hapless Jaguars) and turned toward the finish, a high archway formed by the guns of two howitzers. Marines lined the finishing chute and one handed me my medal as I crossed in 2:13:24, a somewhat depressing time and actually my slowest half marathon. Given my health and recent racing, though, I was happy. Having finished in a time 20 minutes slower than my PR, it meant that I wasn't even tired.

The Jacksonville Marine Corps Half is a well-organized race and has much the same fanfare as the MCM in Washington, DC, albeit to a smaller extent. So, I was surprised to see such a small field running it. Still, it was a nice race, and I'd certainly return if my schedule allowed it.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Race Planning for 2012/13

Much like my brief and ill-advised foray into
home-waterboarding, this is all behind me.
Well, anyone that talks to me on a semi-regular basis knows that my fall weekends have entailed little more than football games and races since August. I haven't slept in my own bed on a Saturday night since the NFL preseason started, quite the accomplishment and one that doesn't show signs of changing in the near future. I freely admit this is my own fault and recognized it as such in the early summer when I was forced to layout a calendar with my events coded in to prevent me
from signing up for multiple events on one weekend. This, unfortunately, led to me missing out on other races when friends invited me to them later in the year.

It's okay. They suck anyway. My friends, not the events. I would imagine the events were hella-fun.

Well, I hit the ground running in September with a mountain climbing trip in Colorado followed by a long weekend in New York City for a GORUCK Challenge and ensuing shenanigans. It was at this point that I wondered if I had made a serious mistake. But, a (relative) calm followed in which I spent weekends in Tallahassee for football games (interspersed with a trail marathon - the Megatransect - in Pennsylvania) to recharge.

Note: I can't believe I just included the Mega in a comment about "relative calm." It wasn't. At all.

But, as I progressed through the fall, I started looking toward the spring. It's racing season after all. Temperatures in Central Florida have cooled to the point that runs outside are pleasant with the sun still up. This joyous occurrence means that I can train longer and run further. Perhaps... a spring marathon?

I began looking at chances to run in the spring, and there are a lot. Most cities treat the spring as prime running season, and there are no shortages of opportunities. Sadly, I have little to no willpower.

I want to do them all.

My schedule now has some races for which I have already registered (the Gasparilla Michelob Challenge, for instance) next to others that fit my schedule but haven't convinced me to pull the trigger. Sadly, this 'Spring' planning has stretched into next fall. I'm already signed up for one race in September 2013 and would be registered for another that month if the site was accepting them (damn you, Mega).

Some highlights of my 2013 planning?

Pennsylvania Megatransect - September (What? I had to include it!)
*Team Death Race - September (This one may actually kill me. Fingers crossed!)
Canadian Death Race - August (It's like America's, only longer due to the exchange rate.)
Oslo Rock N Roll Half Marathon - June (Minus? Not a full. Plus? Hot Scandinavian chicks!)
Marine Corps Marathon - October (Wanted to do it for a couple years. Can't wait.)
*Michelob Ultra Challenge - Feb (Four races - A half marathon, 15K, 8K, and 5K - in 30 hours.)
The American River 50 Miler - April (Oh, why the $&#* not!)
* - Already registered

It's like looking into a blistered utopian
future full of Gu blocks and nipple vaseline
I admit that it's unlikely I will get to all of the seven 'highlight' events (this doesn't even touch on all the local races that I'm thinking of doing), but I expect to run 5 or 6. If any of my readers are up for one, drop me a line. Masochism is always more fun with friends...

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Megatransect Race - A trail marathon with several twists

Sometime late last year, I came across the website for the Megatransect Race in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. I don't recall the circumstances that surrounded my stumbling across it. It may have been a fellow runner's suggestion or a googling of the phrase 'batshit crazy running ideas,' but I discovered this race that took place in the mountains of central Pennsylvania a short drive from my childhood home in Carlisle. It was of a slightly undetermined length (the website gives the rather vague description of a 25+ mile race), largely due to the fact that it can't be compared to any other race out there, marathon or otherwise. The route changes year-to-year, though several highlights are included in each running, so even comparing it to previous Megas is not an apples-to-apples type thing.

It may be marathon length, but calling the Mega a trail marathon is to completely ignore what makes the Mega... the Mega.

I tried to sign up last year. The race was in September. It was July. I was about 7 months too late. See, registration opens for the Mega on Jan 1st at noon... and is full by 1:30. The field is extremely limited thanks to the trail restrictions, and it's an extremely popular race. So, I set my phone to remind me on New Year's eve to not get so wasted that I couldn't fill out a race form at noon the next day.

The 2012 race filled up in 30 minutes, but I was in. Some friends weren't so lucky. So, as the 2012 calendar slowly clicked toward September, I alone waited for the trip to Pennsylvania.

I flew up on Thursday, choosing to stay the night in my old hometown and cruise past the few places I could remember from my youth. The house I grew up in looked exactly the same. The streets were familiar... but so much smaller. The early fall weather was amazing as I walked down High Street past Dickinson College and an intersection that makes an appearance in my book coughGetitHerecough. My elementary school looked completely different. The hamburger that I had for dinner (and the one for lunch the next day) at Scalles was blessedly the same. It reminded me of what fall seasons were supposed to be like and gave me hope that the weather would be ideal for the race that Saturday.

I spent Friday night in State College, a respectably-sized town about 30 mins south of Lock Haven that is known for being the home of Penn State more than anything else. I had an early morning, so I didn't get to experience the thrills of PSU partying. But, I found myself wondering what brings out-of-staters to the college. It's a nice place... but it's in the middle of nowhere.

The Mountain was angry that day, my friend
The next morning, I was on the road early and arrived at the Castanea Picnic Grounds to find a growing mob of camelbak-wearing hikers and runners. The Mega is an odd race in that a wide spectrum of competitors crawls out of that early morning fog. You'll see your singlet-wearing road runners lined up next to full-spandex suited trail runners. Mountain climbers trot out from the starting line as the distance runners pull away. Each competitor had their strong and weak points, and it made for an interesting day.

The first three miles were on a gently sloping road. Here, the lithe distance runners pulled away. I kept a steady pace thanks to concerns over whether or not I'd even be able to finish. Two weeks earlier, I had been diagnosed with giardia (mountain water stomach fungus, for you laypeople), and the pain and discomfort I felt was only amplified by the antibiotic regimen I had to endure. Suffice it to say, I did not train in the final two weeks and my body was so racked with trying to heal itself that keeping my legs in running shape was not high on its priority list.

I wasn't sure I could climb a ladder much less a mountain. Still, I stepped off and finished the opening road section at about a 9 min/mile pace. Not my fastest, but I wasn't sprinting. I was simply dreading what the rest of the day had in store. As a show of camaraderie with my growing GORUCK family, I wore a GRC shirt and my GR1 ruck with some snacks and a water bladder. I can say with all honesty that it was nice to hear periodic comments about GORUCK and people running next to me asking about my challenges.

We GRTs are everywhere. After 3 miles, I turned with the pack of runners into the trees... and stopped.

Trail run my backside.

The trails comprising the Mega route are thick, steep, and rocky. About 50% of the trail is actually 'runnable,' and only half of that is safely runnable. You're taking your life (and your knees and ankles) into your own hands if you run many of the sections. That's not to say we walked... we climbed. Fast.

The first trail section was difficult in that the 700 or so runners were still largely bunched up. With different skill sets, some people hiked up the hills faster while others excelled on the road work. This meant many people had to fight past the slower climbers for miles 4-6. It was painstakingly slow, more so than any race start I can recall. Most runners know what I mean when I say that the first mile of any major race is a stutter step/slalom exercise as you dive around other runners. This was ten times worse than that.

It was at around Mile 5 that I came upon what I'll call the Mega Mantra. Other racers understand that some people (largely rookies) start out the Mega fast and hit a wall thanks to the rigorous course. Or, they assume these people that sprinted by them on the road will get caught on the hills. Or, the hill-climbing speed demons will be caught and passed once the pack emerges from the trees. So, the mantra I heard every time I passed someone...

"Heh... we'll catch him on the flat sections."

About halfway up the boulders. Great view. Awful trail.
With the questions surrounding my stomach and overall body weakness coupled with my lack of knowledge about the Mega, I feared they were right. What did I know about what I was getting into? As it turns out, they were wrong and likely just projecting. But, more on that later.

Because, at Mile 6, we hit the boulder field. This is the epitome of the Mega. If you've seen any albums of Mega pictures, 3/4 of it is this. It's beautiful, and from the top you can see out over Lock Haven and much of the river valley below. But, it's about 2/3 of a mile straight up and over boulders. It taxes the calves and quadriceps as well as whatever mental preparation you were able to bring. Still, taking a break every few hundred feet to turn around and take in the view is a great way to recharge the batteries. Fortunately, I had scaled similar boulder fields in Colorado only weeks earlier. I pushed through...

Yea.. this is a 'trail' race
Across the boulder field, I met more GRTs and we tackled Rattlesnake Ridge. A couple miles further, we reached the Mile 10 (and, eventually what would be the Mile 17) aid station. Peanut butter sandwiches. Gatorade. Chocolate. Peanuts. It was heaven.

And, as I refueled, the leader came into the aid station. Only, he was at Mile 17.

Damn it.

I plunged back into the woods, alone and determined to run the section I could... even the rocky sections that had me bounding down the trail more than running. It was parkour in Pennsylvania, wooded with a roof of reds, yellows, and greens. Leaves fell around me as I ran, skipped, and bounced through the trees.

It was pretty damn cool.

I reached a small creek. It was about 1030 in the morning, but the trees kept the sun at bay. Only a cool, muggy breeze sneaked past the denuded trees. I crossed the slippery rocks and found the section of the race evilly referred to as K2 in reference to the soul-sucking mountain on the border between China and Pakistan that is the Earth's second tallest.

They use this picture in ads to imply you
can actually run a good portion of this race
This section of the race included rope work to keep you from killing yourself. Using the thick blue line, I pulled myself up the 30 feet to the ridge and tip-toed along it. With some places only 8 inches wide, the trail had a steep dropoff to the floor 50 feet below. It was technical and tough. I hated this part and found it the most difficult of the entire route. It seemed unending.

But, end it did. The trail opened a bit and I ran. Miles 12-14 disappeared beneath my feet. The field of runners was so disperse now that I could go 5-10 minutes without seeing another competitor. Breaking into the open at 14.5 miles, I found the 'midpoint' aid station. I call it that because it was actually more than halfway, but the mountain only allowed for aid sections to be placed at certain spots. I took a break here for several minutes, even 'ruck flopping' on to the ground to relax. Much peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were enjoyed. There was much rejoicing. Racers drifted in and rested.

I heard horror stories. The race organizers had placed ATVs at sections along the route and all were equipped with radios. Other racers had overheard the support crews talking.

One woman had cracked her skull open and had to be carried out. Another had dislocated her wrist. Yet another had a broken ankle.

As my GORUCK family would say... this race wasn't nothin'.

As I watched people drift in, drained and dehydrated, I realized that I was gaining nothing by sitting. I stood up and started walking to the trail. I started jogging. I started running. Another mile down the trail, we once again cut into the trees. Up and up and up... I came across a guy that recognized my GORUCK shirt, though he hadn't done one. Brad said his brother-in-law had. We passed the next several miles talking about why we wanted to do something so stupid. Together, we made it to the Mile 17 aid station.

We were back at the top of the mountain. It had to be downhill from here, right? I was so excited to reach the aid station - knowing I had a chance to tend to a growing blister on my right foot had driven me for the last few miles - but I stayed there mere minutes. I apparently reboot quickly... I was once more in the trees, this time with my eyes set on the Mile 22 aid station. Maps were hanging at the stops, and I thought it was fairly level through to 22.

The Rote Overlook: A race highlight
My legs were burning by this point, so I took the opportunity to break into a trot and stretch them out. I passed handfuls of people stretching out sore muscles in the thick underbrush. They appeared thankful to have a wide enough trail to pull off to the side. We dipped slightly and then rose once more, reaching the Rote Overlook. I stopped here for the view of the valley. Most impressive and beautiful in the early afternoon sun. Sadly, I couldn't stay long as a group of racers were coming behind me, and I feared being stuck behind them should the trail narrow. I ducked into the trees and left the clearing behind. And, we descended.

Down to Mile 22's station. "Only four more miles," I heard. One up, three down. "Yeah," another worker said, "He says that, but I'm not sure it's true."

Well, the initial run to the mountain was 3 miles of open road. I can't be that far from breaking out of the woods, right?

To you, mountain,
I wave two middle fingers
Oh, yes. Yes I can. Cuz Mile 23 was straight MFing UP. The 'K2' section was technically difficult... this part just sucked. It was demoralizing to have just run down the mountain for two miles only to have to go back up. The trail narrowed to shoulder width, and passing anyone was out of the question. Unfortunately, though we started this section spread out, it was inevitable that people would get eaten for lunch here. All it took was one person to start bonking, and we piled into each other like a folding accordion, forced to slow to our leader's pace.

No one complained.

I had reached Mile 22 at 2PM and been on the course for seven hours. Given my health leading up to the race, I was just hoping to get in under 10 hours. I had nothing to compare the race to other than some GRTs' times from the previous year. I figured I could beat them. My stomach left that question up in the air. But, with 4 miles to go, I was 7 hours in. Hell, I thought, I can do this in under 8 hours!

Hell no, I couldn't. Cuz Mile 23 sucked a big ole bag of excrement.

Though it wasn't raining as it had been in 2011 (I heard horror stories of that race the entire day), the trees kept the moisture on the trails. Dirt quickly turned to mud and people slid all over the mountain. We crept towards the top of the hill only to come face to face.... with more gawdam boulders.

A boulder field, evilly reminiscent of Mile 6, stretched out before us. It was here that people's souls died. I actually saw it happen. The color drained from people's faces, and I saw some of them get that look in their eyes like Bill Paxton's character in Aliens.

Game over, man.... GAME OVER!

If I still had any hope for an 8 hour finish after the climb up, those boulders ground it into dust and spit all over it. Thirty frustrating minutes later, I crested the top of the field. It wasn't nearly as high or long as the first boulder section, but it was so demoralizing after believing yourself to be on the home stretch. Plus, my legs were jello. I compensated by placing my foot on the next boulder and pushing on my knee, upward on my hands. It gave my upper legs some rest, but it was exhausting.

Cresting this section, we smelled the open air. We found an open section of actual, vehicle-capable trail and begin running. I passed exhausted hikers ("Bah! He'll wear out... we'll pass him once we get out of the trees!") and was passed by a blur as a runner, barely in control, sped down the trail. I darted past the spot where the Mile 3 water stop had been hours earlier and broke into downtown Castanea (Note: I use the term 'downtown' extremely loosely here). Blessed downhill sections spread out before me and I ran a solid, steady pace for a mile and half.

Then, I came to the infamous green mile. This final section before the turn back to the start/finish runs parallel to the elevated roadway and between it and a sprawling field of corn. It's essentially a grass-covered path along the spillway, and it's beauty was offset by the fact that you could see the end of it... and it appeared to be 8 miles away. By this point, racers are spread out every few hundred feet, and passing is rare. Most at this point are concerned less with their time than they are with ensuring their place in the finishing chute. People glance over shoulders regularly to see if they are being chased. If you look and the person behind you is running... you start running. It was comical in its own, sadistic way.

The road cut back under an overpass and passed some old houses... and more corn. Up one more low hill, and the finish line appeared in the distance. I picked up my speed around the parking lots and lined myself up for the sprint to the finish... The smell of pizza and signs for beer gave me strength I didn't know I had, and I dashed through the archway. 8:21. Eight hours and twenty one minutes. Ho-Lee-Crap.

They had BBQ for us, but I went straight to the pizza and smoothie. That banana smoothie (and the two that followed it) were pure heaven. I admired my Mega X medal (it was the tenth anniversary of
It's like a pot of liquid gold at the end
of a rainbow of tortuous water-boarding
the race) and marveled at the people around me. It was quite the gathering of old and young, men and women. The Lock Haven University running teams helped along the course - high off in the mountains - and they drifted in to grateful applause and thank-yous. I caught up with Brad, who finished about 20 minutes behind me with his brothers-in-law. I found several GRTs and traded stories and came across other people that recognized my shirt and asked me about the Challenge.

I was nauseous and weak. Exhausted and exhilarated. I recovered quickly - quicker than I expected - and completed a half marathon the next weekend. I can now honestly say that I have completed a trail marathon (the final race distance was 26.7 miles according to several GPS devices), but the Mega is anything but. It can only be compared to itself, and only then with a grain of salt. It poured down rain in 2011. The route was a mile and half longer in 2012. Aspects from year to year are the same, but it's always a new path.

Always a new path.

Any competitor - GRT, runner, swimmer, or similar - is always looking for a new path. Whether its a muddy trench carved by those that are ahead of you... right around the corner.. or a leaf-covered path that seems to have been undisturbed for eons, we are always looking for new paths.

People ask me why I do this crazy stuff (often with a rucksack full of bricks, though I smartly opted out of that for the Mega), and I am pleased to know that I've found others that share my own personal brand of competitive psychosis - not with each other necessarily, but with ourselves. People ask why I do it, and all I can think to say is that I am always looking for a new path.

Old paths are boring and commonplace. I've been down those. What's over there... what's on top of K2 or Mount Yale, or across the finish line at the Vermont Death Race? Those are the paths I want to see...

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