Friday, June 29, 2012

Meaningful Running

Since my first ultra in 2004, I have completed 68 ultramarathon events, which is a lot for someone my age. Crazy as it sounds, I know of other runners who have completed hundreds of ultras, and even as many as 600+ like Rob Apple. Of these, quite a few are one hundred mile races, which I'm sure takes it's toll on the body. Like anything else, I believe the quantity of races can sometimes take away from the simplistic value of a single experience. In 2010 Monica Scholz ran 25 one hundred milers to set a new record, and this year the power duo of Liz Bauer and Scott Brockmeier are attempting to break that record with 30 one hundreds in a single year. While the reasoning behind this amount of running is for record breaking purposes, I wonder how much healthy enjoyment can really come from doing something of such magnitude? Clearly, running 30 one hundreds is not for me, nor 99.99% of ultrarunners, but for a rare few it may actually be fun/"fun".

While I have run many races, I look back and realize most of them were not to race, or set a particular personal best. In fact, most of the events I have run were simply excuses to run in the mountains with friends for 5-8 hours and then have a friendly beer at the end. However, peppered in amongst the fun runs were a myriad of lackluster races where my body simply wasn't fit and conditioned enough to keep at it week after week, and month after month. I learned wise lessons in over racing, especially in my 20's when I thought I was indestructable and could run an ultra, some casual and some fast, every week.

Nowadays, I think I'd rather run two, or three really meaningful races every year. This is a little different than the focus race mentality in that previously a focus race was more about a performance, than experience, and I allowed myself to get caught up in split times and finish times. It's not like the times were all that fast to begin with. Now it's all about the experience of the run. It's the mental and physical journey that transpires within. There's no doubt that the experience can be more enjoyable when you are fit and feeling fast, but it allows for the lows to seem a little brighter when a race isn't going as planned. Perhaps this is all just a part of my maturing process as a runner, and dare say young adult.

Next year I am hoping to get back out to the Graveyard 100, Western States 100, and Leadville 100. The latter are two experiences I could do over and over again, regardless of the fact they are seamingly so over hyped. Am I drunk on the publicity Kool Aid, or am I just really eager to see how well I can truly run on two incredibly beautiful courses rich in history? And as for the Graveyard 100? Well, I am a sucker for a little punishment, otherwise I wouldn't be an ultrarunner would I?

Beyond these races, I am hoping that running maintains itself as a gateway to see great places and meet fascinating new people. Like Dr. Seuss said "Oh, the places you'll go!"

Quality versus quantity.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Old Dominion 100. Magic in the Moonlight

(Fort Valley, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Bobby Gill)

There are two races that truly define the heritage of 100 mile ultramarathons in the United States. One is California's famed Western States 100, and the other is the Old Dominion 100. The latter is a diamond in the rough, and I've been blessed to experience both. Over the last 39 years Western States has evolved from one man's challenge to conquer a horse trail by foot into a high tech, sponsor decorated, epic production. In nearly the opposite sense, the Old Dominion 100 has clung tightly to the vintage format that makes you feel like you are still racing in the 1980's. Both races are unqiue and invaluable to ultrarunning, and to run them is to understand the history of the sport we cherish. Race founder Pat Botts, and directors Ray and Wynne Waldron bring you a classic race, but can you survive 100 miles like ultrarunning's legends from the 1970's and 80's? That is the very challenge that brought 56 runners to the small town of Woodstock Virginia on June 2 ,2012. Welcome to the 34th running of the Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country run.

My Old Dominion 100 race entry was not mailed in time. Epic fail. Two days before the race I called the race staff to confirm I was not running. Much to my surprise, they said I was on the list, and I was cleared to go. A spur the moment 100 miler? I hadn't run much since April, and now I had 48 hours to prep for 100 miles of running. Well, I didn't have any plans for the weekend and I love mountains and running. Sure, why not? I roll like that.

It's 4am on a cool, crisp June morning. You have 24 hours to run 100 miles. If you can do this, then you will receive a beautiful sterling silver buckle. It will be a well earned reminder of the relentless determination and iron will that got you to the finish. The night sky is bright, and the moon is nearly full. "Is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?". These were the words spoken by Moonlight Graham's character in Field of Dreams. For the 56 runners gathered at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, they sure hope there's enough magic for all on this day. We bow our heads and pray for safe journeys, and then the real test begins.

Today is all about embracing the experience of the run. No goals. Just be in the moment and enjoy it. It's better than sitting in my office with eyes glazed over by the glare of computer monitors and fluorescent lights. This is what it is to live a life less ordinary. The early miles of the race contain the usual friendly banter when everyone's hopes and aspirations for the day are still alive and well. The fast guys dart off into the darkness, falling further into the distance, with their position only being given away by the dimming flicker of the police escort vehicle lights.

I run up Woodstock mountain with West Virginia speedster Paul Davis, running his first 100, and we have a great time chatting to the top of the first climb of the day. The new day reveals itself as the sun transforms the navy blue sky into a blush horizon. The roads are fast, and the weather is about as you as you could ask for. Though I run about the same in hot weather as I do cool weather, the mild temps were indeed welcome. I enjoyed the rolling roads and took note of the verdant surrounding landscapes of Fort Valley. I was mostly alone daydreaming, but was joined around mile 23ish by Matt Broaddus and Paul Jacobs, two fast guys from DC also running their first 100. Soon enough the guys were out of sight, and I mosied my way to Four Corners. 32.5 miles done, and a good bit slower than the last time I ran Old Dominion, despite the nice weather. No worries. I am having fun.

Goodbye roads, hello trails. The technical 15.2 mile stretch through Duncan Hollow, Peach Orchard, and back down Crisman Hollow Road went by like a blur. A couple hours after I left Four Points, I was back. Carter Wiecking heads up a top notch aid station, and if I'm going to see any aid station twice, it might as well be hers. One special beverage later I am off and running again. 50 miles done. Steep ATV trail, check. Puddly Peter's Mill trail, check. Now time to visit some old friends at Little Fort. Over 64 miles completed. Aid station captains Lee and Deb Pugh give me a warm reception, and I am just as happy to return the favor. I don't stay long, but Little Fort always feels like a mini homecoming for me. I am having fun.

93 miles go left and 65 miles go right. Right it is. More roads, a mudhole, and then a furnace. My safety runner isn't there, and I'm a little bummed for him. I don't need a safety runner, but it would have been nice to share the experience with a friend. Oops. But, alas a girl named Jaimie Foley makes the kind gesture to run with me. Game on! The climb up Sherman Gap was slow, but to be expected with over 75 miles now on the legs. Climbing Veach Gap is another tough grunt, but the views of moon rising over the valley were incredible. Descending into Veach west I rolled my ankle twice and walked the remainder of the trail into the aid station. The ankle roll was the only actual pain I had all day, and it was gone within minutes. Spirits still high. I thanked Jaimie for helping pace and not only was she awesome company, but she and her family have an incredibly rich relationship with the Old Dominion 100. Her father is none other than the legendary Ed Foley. Ed is a 15 time Old Dominion buckler and former champion. Basically, he is to Old Dominion what Tim Twietmeyer is to Western States. Good stuff my friends, good stuff.

The remainder of the run was cool, calm, and serene. Back up Woodstock mountain. 93 miles go left, 65 miles go right. Left it is. The stillness of the valley night and the golden lights of the town below serve as open arms for the prodigal sons and daughters returning from their weary ventures. We retrace the footsteps of the day before, almost as if to rewind back to a place of rest and recovery. Then, just like it started, the race is over. I can honestly say, though tired at times, I enjoyed every moment of this race.

Thank you to all the amazing volunteers and their tireless efforts. Volunteering isn't just a race day job, it's also the months before and after that they bust their butts so you can finish. Thanks to Matt Broaddus for the company and comradery. Thanks to the Broaddus/Jacobs crew for adopting me as a runner, and being cheerful faces for me and others at all the crew stops. Thanks to Ray, Wynne, and Pat. Congrats to all the runners whether you DNF'ed, finished in 29 hours, or 17. Congrats to my friend Olivier Leblond for winning his first 100 miler (take note his name is Olivier, not Oliver. He's French, and a totally great guy). Last, but not least. Runners, it's up to us to get this race back on the map and allow it to have the recognition it deserves.

In regards to my feelings for the Old Dominion 100 and the great outdoors, I'll finish with another Moonlight Graham quote.

"This is my most special place in all the world. Once a place touches you like that, the wind never blows so cold again."

Run like you stole something (metaphorically),

Mike Bailey