Saturday, February 23, 2013

So I ran a 25k in the cold, cold mud.

OK, here's the headline: "Trail Racers Straight-Up Stupid Friendly" oh "And Their Races Are Straight-Up Stupid Fun!" and that pretty much describes the 2013 Hagg Lake Mud Run 25k experience for me.

Look, I'm a friendly guy. In fact, on a friendliness scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Santa Claus and 1 being Leona Helmsley, I would say I rate about an 8-ish to 8.5-ish. You know, in the Micheal J. Fox to Ronny Howard area, so I must say that I felt really whelmed bordering on overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people at this event - both the organizers and the racers. Nice, nice and friggin' nice combined with helpful, helpful and friggin' helpful. Ya just couldn't ask for a better bunch. The racing part however was tough; really tough...and slippery. Yep, tough and slippery would be how I would describe this race. Oh and this, I had been told, was a "dry year." Hmph. OK, now for the race report because you must all understand just how hard I ran and how much I suffered:(spoiler alert! It was a lot.)

The Hagg Lake Mud Run 25k start was in a parking lot with a large shelter which was also the finish area and as usual I got there a bit late and so, as they were giving last-minute instructions, I was pinning my race number on in that panicky way that late people do everything. Once that was accomplished I wriggled my way into the middle of the group which is about where I figured I would place and got ready (go!) the race started as I was finishing that thought and we were off and running.....up a a turnaround before running back down the hill...and into the parking lot again, where the real trail started.
Now I ain't sayin' that everyone went out too fast but I think a large percentage may have misjudged pace here a bit and, yes, I do include myself in that group but to be fair I was already running late and was in that adrenaline fueled, frantic, hurry-up mode so I had an excuse where as the rest of the field...not so much. (Yes, I am justifying my behavior and if someone out there doesn't like it well, they can start their own blog and take exception all they want.) So, I'm tellin' ya, by the four-mile mark I was sure I had blown it and was thinking of slowing the pace substantially (adopting a run/walk strategy) when I began talking to a guy (OK, he did the talking while I panted affirmatives), that had been pacing a few of us for a couple of miles. He was 64 and retired Navy, lean and fast and chatty, so we began to talk a bit about the race and pacing and other stuff and as the last mile to the first aid station flew by I realized that I perhaps had more in the tank than previously thought and so kept that pace and eventually increased it a bit to match another runner who passed us by at a slightly faster pace. So then, of course, follows the part where the faster pace starts to take its toll and it's here in the race that I seriously began to wish it was over. You know the place where fantasies of trail injury start to sound less of a bad thing and more heroic and even downright appealing.
And it's here in this narrative that we're going to take a little break from the race whilst I ponder on this blog and the weirdness of how much I like this running thing now, especially considering that until just few short years ago I looked at all you runners just like most of your nonrunning friends look at you today. You know what I'm talking about: they give you that, "You've got to be fucking kidding me - 15 one day!?! Get a freakin' life!" I could not fathom the how or the why. Seriously, why would anyone want to do something like that? I now know the answer mean it's so's because it makes me feel like um.........................sorry, I got nothin' but it must be something good or I/we wouldn't do it; right?

I ran my weekly long run yesterday and had a plan to do 17 miles with 8 miles at marathon race pace. During my first 5 1/2 miles at race pace, whilst feeling the discomfort I was wondering real hard about, you know, why I love this running thing but then I noticed just up ahead a barefoot runner on the rough and shitty asphalt of the Springwater Trail and, for the love of God and all that is holy, he was going slower than I was. This was like a gift from the universe and I slowed right down to commune with my fellow barefooter and I will tell you now that we geeked out, majorly: About our barefootedness and how we never run into anyone running barefoot and the places we run that are great barefoot and the places we run that suck barefoot and all things barefoot and totally geek.

So after the mile or so break in pace and great geeky conversation I felt the love of running return and as we parted ways, reluctantly I was able to continue the last couple miles back at marathon pace, which was hardly enough time to hate running again, and now you know one of the possible reasons why I love running. (Excuses to slow down.) 
OK, back to the race: The field of runners were mostly a diverse group of people with a slightly Oregon Country Fair-ish type of vibe minus the weed and drum circles. They were very friendly and approachable and smiling and fun and while racing they seemed to retain this camaraderie and attitude that was really refreshing.

As I came out of the trees to the last aid station I remember thinking how the trail had not been that slippery and so, of course, that's exactly when the trail turned into the mud trail from hell, and no one was going down without a splash. It was wacky and I'll bet a video of this section would go viral on YouTube with a little Yakety Sax as background music. This pretty much lasted all the way until we came back out onto the road again but just for a brief bridge crossing and then back onto the trail for the last 1.5 miles and the finish. I had nothing left in the tank by the last 1/4 mile section and so didn't make a showy sprint in but felt as if I had. They handed me the medal and directed me to the waiting finish area which was far and away the best I've ever had the pleasure to recoup in. Covered, food, space heaters, friendly people to talk to, food, space heaters, even instant results via large TV monitors. I got 111th place and 8th in my age group. That's right, I'm mid-packer all the way. 

I ran in my Soft Star Dash Trails and must say that they will 100% keep your feet comfortable and dry in nasty slimy mud. I stepped into mud up past my ankles a few times and always came out with dry feet. The tread on them is a 5mm Vibram trail sole which has worked great on lightly muddy and dry trails but on this kind of mud they felt slippery however my feet felt great afterwards and I still have all of my toenails. BTW they shine right back up afterward with very little effort and I do wear them out into the world because I'm high stylin', ya'll.

What I learned at Hagg Lake:
a) running two measly training runs on trails in the midst of a bunch of road running does not make you a trail racer; or at least it doesn't make me one.

b) running in shiny pewter shoes does make you more bad-ass as well as taking at least 12 minutes off your total time. (Scientific fact that I can probably prove sometime, when I have a spare moment and the motivation and whatnot.)

c) trail racers seem to smile a lot, especially when they pass you by and for some reason they all have to tell you that you're "looking good!" as they zoom off into the distance. I think they liked my shoes and I kept looking for my opportunity to say the same but these people would not whoa it down.

d) post-race area is stocked with the best post-race stuff, including grilled cheese sandwiches, soups, hotdogs with kraut and brownies, as well as muscle milk and all the usuals, plus plenty of space heaters to go around, and the last thing I expected was two big screens with live race results. (One complaint was that there was no "special" brownie option; however this is not Holland or Washington State, I get that now.)

I would highly recommend this race for anyone who likes a trail race and mud and stupid-friendly-ass people and also a great finish area supplied with food but no pot brownies. One note: I had some difficulty registering for this race online but when I asked for help on the website it was the race organizer, Todd Janssen, who helped me get squared away. It was like I was the President or something and Todd couldn't have been more helpful or kind. He even remembered me by name when I showed up to pick up my packet. It's like they were happy to have me there. I like that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ran in the Moc 3's in the cold. Verdict.......

Got my bright red, size 12 (you know what they say) Soft Star Moc 3's. In the mail and started immediatelyusing them on my early (5:30 am) morning runs before work for the last couple of weeks and the verdict is "love them!" Full disclosure: I am currently representing Soft Star at some upcoming fitness expos. That being said, I contacted Soft Star about representing them because I loved their Dash shoes and their company philosophy. I used the Dashes for trail running and thought they were the best shoe I'd run with when wearing shoes was needed. I have yet to run in the Dash road version but at this point I am loving the Moc 3's too much to worry about it.
These shoes were designed by Mike Friton - who currently teaches shoe design at the Portland Art Institute in the heart of the running shoe capitol of the world - and they are truly minimal. Some features are the perforated leather uppers which are sewn over a layer of Breathe-O-Prene®. This stuff is kind of like very breathable wet suit material and so far has kept my feet nice and warm without socks. The soles come from Vibram and are extremely thin at 2mm. You will feel the ground! They are made with domestic leather and dyed with food-grade dyes so they're safe to eat if you ever get really lost and are especially desperate but want to avoid eating your companions. (Wow, these guy have thought of everything) Other features that I find really important:
  1. Very compactable - this comes in handy when you want to carry your shoes instead of wearing them. I do this a lot. Barefoot hardcores will tell you not to do this because it's a crutch. Screw them!
  2. Very light at 5 oz. - This goes along with feature 1 for me as well as just making you faster. I don't know about you but foot-specific weight loss is really a difficult target area for me so any weight savings there is a big plus.
  3. They are slip-ons - Wow, for a lazy, impatient runner like me this is huge! 3.5. They are slip-offs - Yeah, just when you thought, "What else could these shoes feature, well, here you go!
  4. They work for people with toes not shaped like a Vibram Five Finger shoe - I have a borderline "Morton's Toe" more on my left foot than my right and I resent that it is a named condition like it's a malady that someone should feel sorry for me about. Soft Star doesn't discriminate against people with longer toes or shorter toes or webbed toes or extra toes or even no toes and for that I applaud them!
  5. Awesome color selection - What if you're running for say....The Dutch in some local event and you want to represent? Black just ain't gonna cut it! No, you need obnoxious orange shoes to show your pride at being a cheese-eating, chocolate-loving, wind-mill-turning, leaky-dike-plugging Dutchman or Dutchwoman and Soft Star says, "Wij zijn het eens!" English translation, "Damn straight!" they have a large selection of colors to choose from and since the shoes are handmade to order in America by Americans you will get an orange pair of shoes to represent in style; American style!
My running of late has been in the early, cold mornings. Now it's not cold here by anywhere else but Southern State standards and in fact - though Portland is located above 45 degrees latitude our weather is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean and so we are typically above freezing all but a few days a year - but Holy crap does it rain. I can say with a smile that I don't feel any discomfort wet or dry and I like that. OK, I have to come clean here as well; as a barefoot runner I can take a lot of crappy conditions as far as my feet are concerned so sometimes I have to, "put myself in another's shoes" as it were, and with that in mind I say they are comfortable, damn it - comfortable! At this point you may be saying to yourself, "wow this guy uses a lot of exclamation points." That is true and a good observation; congratulations!
I have not run high miles on my Moc 3's as of yet but in the months to come I will, and you can count on me to report on them with honesty and lots of exclamation points! Have a good run,