Thursday, May 15, 2014

Babel Commence

"You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself."
-Walt Whitman "Song of Myself"

(College graduation with my late grandparents. May 7th, 2004)

Like the great tower of Babel, the languages of the world, what we hear and choose to hear, scatter with the sands. We ebb and flow, and those languages lost and retrieved. They are the languages of our dreams, our doubts, our courage and fears. Time is an ephemeral gift, but that which we all too condescendingly take for granted. It effervesces into the singularities of the cosmos, and yet we are the dot on the line in the cube. We fill our brave new worlds with makeshift goals and aspirations, and as the zealous years dwindle and race by we find ourselves walking across stages, stages of life and learning.

May 7th, 2014 marked the 10th anniversary of my college graduation, and I somehow can't always grasp that a decade has passed. Five years before that I graduated from high school, a period of time in its own right that encapsulated a full quandrant of my life. Each graduation was marked by its own pomp and circumstance, and purposefully seguewaying into another realm of adulthood. Adulthood, nor maturity, however, can be simply stamped onto a single sheet of celebratory paper that we call a diploma. No, the diploma is not an ending, but rather the symbolic ticket of the beginning of a paradigm shift into the world of self sufficiency and self reliance. Ironically, we move along from one system of institutionalization to another, all at the risk of losing grip of why we pursued higher education in the first place. Was it because it was what was naturally expected of us after high school? Was it to eventually land us the highest paying job, or perhaps it was to fulfill obtaining a job placed upon us by the most altruistic intentions. Above all these, did we really study countless hours to do what we wanted, to discover what really wanted, and just as importantly discover what we thought we wanted. My own contentions fall into the latter.

In truth, life after college is the real classroom, and all our scholarly endeavors are no more than a preamble to the lessons that lie ahead. But, sadly I feel education leaves its hosts desperately unprepared to tackle the onslaught of a world that does not care about what you've learned in a book. I will spare you the details about all the crazy odd jobs, all the places I've lived, all the people I've gained and lost, leaving home, and now calling home all the once foreign places and faces. And, I could pretentiously romanticize my post collegiate world glowing in the golden hues of 1980's Hallmark commercial, or pair it with the surrealistic oddity of a Salvador Dali self portrait. But, as there is a grace in the demure workings of ten years of living, growing, and aging, life's occurrances are only counted at face value.

So, where did I see myself five years after college? Well, I went to college and initially studied quantitative finance in order to become a stock analyst on Wall Street. Not because I thought I would enjoy it, I was sure I wouldn't, but because I was enamored with the idea of making a lot of money. My shameful naivety as a late teen and early twenty something at that point still associated wealth with success, but that would soon change. Then on the morning of September 11, 2001 the notion of being a stock analyst literally and metaphorically came crashing down with the World Trade Center. That was the fall semester of my junior year, and the end of my pursuit of a lucrative corporate life in quantitative finance. My studies shifted towards more humanitarian interests, and long story short I found myself with a degree in political science instead. Five years after shaking the Dean of my school's hand, I saw myself working as a political adviser in the Virginia capital, and then moving on to the federal government, and maybe even the White House.

Nope. The first gubernatorial candidate I had planned to work for missed delivering his campaign petitions by several hours, and was deemed ineligible to run for office. Well, great....So much for where I saw myself in five years, no less ten.

The moral of the story, not that there even is a moral, is that life is almost guaranteed to not go as planned. They never tell you in college how hard life can really be, but conversely they also don't tell you the great rewards that are birthed from great risk. The world does not revolve around our schedules, though the scale variance in our finite minds ignores this. There is no crystal ball, no warning, but simply life evolving at its constant rate of seasonal change with us at the mercy of the winds, winters, and springs. My life did not go as I had expected, and yet the surprise of the myriad of twists and turns has compiled itself into a wondrous book better than any I could have written. Along the classroom of life 101 I've learned to let go of that which we cannot control, which is the lion's share of life, and to know that these inspected elements are greater and finer than what we can truly see. That which we can control we should embrace with humility and generosity as it often finds itself growing as the seed of someone else's uncontrollable world. There we can find clarity and solace in the things that we perceive as not going as planned. Humans by very nature do not have the complete foresight to comprehend in all necessary fullness the truths that are self evident.

I dare not think I would have done all that I have done, if I had done all that I had sought to do. As a 21 year old holding a diploma, I would have never dreamed I would see the places I have seen, done the things I have done, nor do enough to even merit such pastimes as keeping up a blog like this to log some of my life's adventures big and small. I think as younger people we do a great disservice to ourselves by limiting our parameters and definitions of success and abundance. To understand that wealth is not money, and luxurious things are not luxury I think frees us to find more fulfilled countenance in vast other treasures of the world. Where did I see myself 10 years after college? Not where I am, or have been, and all the better for it.

Sometimes the life you didn't plan ends up being better than the one you did.

Monday, May 12, 2014

2014 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Predictions

(The coveted MMT100 Buckle. Photo courtesy of run100s)
*(5/20/14)Just added the prediction results to the bottom of the page so you can compare what I guessed to how it actually played out.

It's that time of year again! Time for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler. Arguably one of the toughest, gnarliest, and definitely rockiest races in the United States. I learned last year just how tough the course is first hand, and although it was my slowest race ever, I redeemed my 2009 dnf to join the club of MMT100 finishers. Unfortunately, due to scheduling with my new job, it is unlikely I will be able to participate in any capacity with MMT for a while, or at least until race weekend and my school's graduation weekend are on separate weeks.

Onto to the predictions. The forecast is calling for unseasonably cool weather, with high's near 70 and lows in the 40's. It does not look like rain is in the schedule and the course should be also be dry. In other words, the weather is going awesome, and I expect to see some super fast times and a lot of PR's.
*5/16/14 Weather update. The course will be wet from Thursday and Friday rain, but race day looks to be rain free. Temps still look ideal, if not a bit cool considering it will be in the 40's at night.

The Women's Race:

Eva Pastalkova- 2011 champ and course record holder. One of the strongest female mountain runners in the country. Predict another win in 22:15, but not a CR. She will likely win by a margin of over 2 hours.

Sheryl Wheeler- 2010 champ who also has two 2nd place finishes at MMT. Per her strength, I suspect she will hang back for the first 30-40 miles and gradually move up the field and overtake most of the women by Byrd Knob. I think this will play out a lot like 2011 and she will take 2nd. Predict 24:30.

Kathleen Cusick- She's trimmed down,toned up, and faster than ever. Ran a 50 mile PR of 7:21 at Tussey Mountainback last year and just won Bull Run Run on a hot day in 8 hours flat. Has more MMT finishes than any of the other women. However, any other year I'd choose her to win, but Eva is running. Predict 25:20. 3rd.

Amy Rusiecki- Probably the second fastest lady to Eva, and with considerable experience. But, like her husband Brian, she's never run on a course as rocky as Massannutten. Predict a top 4 in 25:40

Holly Bugin- One of the fastest females in the field, but with no 100 experience. Predict 27:45. Top 5.

Elizabeth Carrion- No doubt she will be in the hunt for a top 5, but probably not until after Camp Roosevelt. Predict 26:10.

Siobhan Leonardis- My sleeper pick for a top 7 finish. She has really improved her speed in the past year at all distances, and her spring season has been strong. Predict 28:30.

Kari Brown- I can't rule out the seasoned MMT veteran. Kari ran 27:38 at last year's MMT finishing as 5th female. It was also her best time on the course. She could definitely sneak into the top 5 or 6 again, Predict 28:30.


The Men's Race: (4 former champs running)

James Blandford- I'm calling for a rare repeat win. James won last year's event in a blistering 18:30. Only Karl Meltzer has runner faster, and by a few minutes, on the current course. Blandford has really dialed it in during the past three years. Predict 18:12, for a win and course record on current course.

Karl Meltzer- Speaking of Karl. Karl is known for being able to come off stretches of little running and still knock out 100 mile wins. Any other year and I'd give him the nod for the win, but for some reason, I think Karl's presence will only make Blandford run faster. Though I will never rule out the man with the most 100 mile wins in history, I predict a close second for Karl in 18:25.

Brian Rusiecki- One of the top runners in the country. He ran a ridiculous 14:54 to win Vermont in 2012, and he's been unbeatable at Bull Run. Rusiecki has also shown strength in the mountains by winning Cascade Crest. However, he doesn't have the experience on the technical courses like Blandford and Meltzer. Predict 3rd in 19:30.

Jason Lantz- Won the 2012 race in 19:33. He also had an impressive win at Vermont over guys like Ian Sharman, Nick Clark, Brian Rusiecki, and Chad Rickleffs. He will keep Blandford and Karl company for the first half, but they will pull away after Habron Gap. Predict 20:45. 4th.

David Frazier- 3rd overall in 2011 in 21:25. First person to break 5 hours on the rugged Elizabeth Furnace 50k course. Predict 20:45 and a top 5.

Jon Allen- One of the fastest guys in the field and good experience at 100 miles. He's run as fast as 15:16 at Umstead, and showed he can also throw down in the mountains with a 20:49 at the Bear 100 with 22,00 feet of climb. He's won a good number of ultras and finished near the top of most races. Predict a top 6 in 21:30.

Todd Walker- The 2008 champ is back after laying pretty low in the race scene the past couple years. It doesn't look like he has raced much, but his experience on the course may make up for lost speed. Has done well in all his previous MMT's, so I will say he runs near 22:15 and ends up somewhere in the top 6-7 in this deep field.

John Dennis- Just crushed the Umstead 100 in 13:47, but it's a non technical course. Has all the ability to go fast, but I think the rocks will slow him. Predict 22:15. Top 7.

Julian Vicente- 6th overall last year in 22:39, and 10th in 2012 in 23:17. I suspect he may PR again and get close to 22 hours. Predict top 8 in 22:25.

Adam Wilcox- (Withdrawn from race. Get better Adam!)lots of speed and has run 23:17 at MMT. Predict a new PR of 22:45 and a top 10.

Rande Brown- Rande has run under 24 hours the past two years, and has run as fast as 22:11. He's really proven to be a strong runner on Massanutten's course, and I think he will be near 23 hours again, and perhaps crack top 12.




Others to watch:

Justin Contois- Had solid runs at Bull Run(7:51) and Stone Mill(7:46). Also ran 19:29 at Vermont. Potentially a sub 24 hour guy.

Danny Mowers- Has had some good races recently. Would not be surprised if he dipped under 24 hours. Predict 25:20.

Matt Bugin- Has yet to finish a 100, but I think he is due. Predict 25:30, though he is capable of much faster. He may also be running the whole race with his wife. Top 15.

Ryan O'dell- Has run sub 17 hours for 100 miles. Predict 24:45.

David Peterman- Finishes near the front of most of his races, but has never run under 28 hours at MMT. Perhaps this will be a breakthrough year.

Dante Simone- Another guy who has run under 17 hours for 100, so you can't rule out a possible solid run. Predict 25:00.

Jim Harris- Nobody runs as steady as Jim, and I think he'll be going near 26 hours.

Keith Knipling- Anything from 23-26 hours seems reasonable for the veteran. Predict 23:45. Top 12.

Jack Kurisky- Has improved dramatically in the past couple years, and to think he was already very fast. Predict 23:30. Top 8.

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Results and prediction comparisons

Even a broken clock is correct twice a day, and sometimes a blind squirrel finds a nut . That being said, I didn't do too bad with this year's MMT100 predictions, considering I have not stayed up to date with the ultra scene lately. On good years, I have predicted within 5 minutes of several elite times and have come close to nailing the order of finish, but I didn't quite get there this year. Given all the variables in a 103.7 mile race, especially one as rugged as Massanutten, guessing within an hour of someone's finish time is a rare feat. Cool weather and low humidity also made for significantly faster times, and aside from wet feet from higher water crossings, conditions were prime for a lot of personal bests by several hours.

First things first, I should have never doubted Karl Meltzer's ability to run fast, and comfortably beat two other former champs in the process. Not that there was any question, but this is yet another reminder that even at age 46 Karl is still king of the mountains. My prediction of 18:25, however, was still fairly close, and only 15 minutes off his actual time of 18:40. On the women's side, I was way off in all my predicted times, and completely overlooked Angela Shartel who may have run one of the most impressive performances ever in a 100 miler. She beat one of the most dominant female ultrarunners in the country by two hours and knocked 37 minutes off a course record that was thought untouchable by anyone other than Eva Pastolkova herself. Boy was I wrong. Notable female drops included Elizabeth Carrion and Holly Bugin. Other surprises included 4th place Pierre Loic Deragne of France, who flew under my radar due to his foreign results, but alas I completely missed the fact he won the Zion 100, Ozark 100, and got 6th at Pinhoti. And then there was flat lander Gregory Brant from Virginia Beach who finished 8th and showed you don't need to live in the mountains to crush a mountain course. Todd Walker did not start.

My closest predictions:

Really, on second glance I didn't do too bad. Meltzer, Rusiecki, and Blandford were all in the top three as myself, and I'm sure many others, would have picked. Just not in the order I picked. I was 15 minutes off Meltzer's time and 24 minutes off Rusiecki's. I then predicted Jason Lantz in 4th in 20:45 and Jon Allen 6th in 21:30(which he was until David Frazier dropped). Lantz finished 5th with Allen in 21:00, so I was only off by 15 minutes and 30 minutes respectively, and the finish order still pretty accurate. I predicted a top 12 and sub 24 for Rande Brown, and he finished 13th in 23:42. Jack Kurisky was a tougher pick, because he's never run terribly fast at MMT, but he's run so strong lately, I figured he was due and predicted a 23:30. He finished in 23:54. For the women, I correctly predicted 3rd place for Kathleen Cusick, 4th for Amy Rusiecki, and a top 5 or 6 for Kari Brown (she was 5th). However, of the entire women's race, I am most pleasantly surprised that my sleeper pick for a top 7 for Siobahn Leonoardis came to fruition with her top 6. And since my predictions included Sheryl Wheeler who did not start, Leonardis actually finished exactly where I had thought.

Again, this is all for fun, and honestly the number of predictions I get super wrong will always outnumber the ones I come close with. Like I said, even a broken clock is correct twice a day.











Thursday, May 1, 2014

Minority Report and Ted Corbitt

(Ted Corbitt circa 1957)

If you were to ask relatively new ultrarunners who the pioneers of American ultrarunning are you might get some varied answers. While most younger people in the sport, perhaps my age and younger, would have a hard time naming anyone before Dean Karnazes' book came out in 2005, some might still be able to identify Scott Jurek, or David Horton. I, myself, must admit that I did not realize people were already accomplishing great things internationally in the world of ultras long before it became more mainstream in the US in the mid 2000's. If you were also to poll a large group of ultrarunners and ask if they knew who Ted Corbitt was, they likely wouldn't know, and would probably be even more surprised to find out that he was an African American.

Ted Corbitt is to American ultrarunning what Yiannis Kouros is to European ultrarunning, and yet so few people know this. Mr. Corbitt's accomplishments include competing on the US marathon team in the Helsinki Olympic games and having the athletic range to win road marathons and also hold national track records in almost every conceivable distance from 25 miles to 100. Corbitt was also notorious for his intense 30 mile training days, 200 mile training weeks, and sometimes running as much as 300 miles per week. But, unlike some runners who peak and fade within five to ten years, he remained competitive into his 50's and even completed 68 miles at a 24 hour event at age 84. So the big question is why, despite Corbitt dominating the long distance scene from the 1950's to 1970's, did American ultrarunning fizzle out? Was it because of the resurgence of the popularity of the road marathon in the 1980's, the rise of European ultrarunning on the shoulders of greats like Kouros, or simply the fact that Corbitt's feats slowly became forgotten in the dusty lore of ultrarunning cannon?

In case you were wondering, here are some of Ted Corbitt's personal bests: Marathon 2:26; 50 miles 5:35; 100 miles 13:33, 24 hours 134.7 miles(at age 54). It's amazing to think with all the faster times we are starting to see as runners are specializing in certain distances that Corbitt was able to run a 13:33 100 miler in 1969.....at age 50.

For some reason ultrarunning continues to associate the Western States 100 as the birth of North American extreme distance events, but it's far from the truth. The first years of Western States running events were held on an 89 mile course, and did not become an official 100 mile event until 1985. Thus, the Old Dominion 100 in Virginia is technically the oldest true 100 mile course, given that it's measured distance of 100 miles came six years before Western States . But, again people like Corbitt had already been running fast 100 mile events several decades earlier without the pomp and circumstance of some more current athletes who would have you thinking nobody has ever done the distances they have.

This brings me to my second thought.

Where are the minorities in our sport? Is it on par with the ethnic breakdown of Americans as a general population, or is it less? Road running, while dominated by mostly African Americans, attracts a fairly yuppy demographic. Even more specifically with ultras I see more of the same kinds of people. Most are college educated, have better than average incomes, and are also most likely to be upper middle class Caucasians between the ages of 35 and 60. While I agree the personality types and sociopolitical beliefs of ultrarunners is quite diverse, the trend is that regardless if they are bearded long haired, craft beer drinking hipsters in Boulder, or suit toting lawyers in DC, they will probably be white. And in terms of growing up in an urban environment and possibly living in a lower income area, I don't see that as a barrier to running ultras, which from experience tend to be one of the least expensive sports to have as a hobby. Another unique aspect of ultras is the plethora of "fat ass" events and bare bones events that cost anywhere from under $50 to completely free. If you can afford shoes, you can participate, and due to the growing popularity of barefoot running, you may not need shoes either. Ultras are also growing in number and are more accessible than ever to people from various localities.

But, alas in my ten years running I rarely encounter more than a handful of minorities at ultras. There might be a couple Asians, a couple black people, maybe a Latino, or Indian, but in a race of 300+ runners, I would be shocked to see more than 10-15 minorities combined. Per 2010 census data, 72.4% of the US was classified as white, which means if a 300 person race held the same percentages there should be roughly 82 non white runners. I'm sure I could write extensively on the cultural attraction, or non attraction to the sport, but it seems like minority participation has grown in almost every major American sport, except running/ultrarunning. Football and basketball are inversely majority African American now, baseball has attracted more Asians and Latinos, soccer globally attracts all ethnic groups, and even golf is more diverse now than it was before Tiger Woods. So if breakthrough minority athletes like Tiger Woods, boxer Joe Louis, Yao Ming, Jeremy Lin, Hideo Nomo, the NBA's Earl Loyd, Jackie Robinson, Fernando Valenzuela, and many others have opened the gateway to other minorities entering their respective sports, why didn't it happen with Ted Corbitt? It's most likely that as gifted and respected as he was, the sport simply did not have the mainstream limelight to make any resounding noise between cultural barriers.

I certainly hope we can see minority participation increase, or at least see some elite minorities enter the fold. Unless they travel from other countries, it seems the US doesn't really have any elite minority participants aside from maybe Joseph Gray, Yassine Diboun, Jorge Pacheco,David Goggins, Oswaldo Lopez, Jorge Maravilla, and maybe Sage Canaday who is half Asian. If we look to elite female minorities the numbers are basically non existent.

Speaking of elite female ultrarunners, I have witnessed a dramatic decrease in the number in the mid Atlantic. Not to take anything away from the women that are winning local ultras, or ultras in Virginia, but the talent pool has shrunk dramatically in the past 7-8 years. Some of this is due to the top runners leaving for the West coast like Amy Sproston and Jenn Shelton, but others seem to have fallen off the grid entirely. In the mid 2000's the mid Atlantic had both Amy and Jenn, Justine Morrison, Annette Bednosky, Anne Lundblad, Michele Harmon, Regan Petrie, Bethany Patterson, Sarah "Space Cadet" Johnston, and a slew of other fast ladies. A lot of these women were competitive on a national level and could show up to any given race in the country and win. While some of the women still make appearances at races, and still do very well, the overall depth of women's competitive fields has decreased. For every new fast female like an Eva Pastalkova, Holly Bugin, or Martha Nelson, it seems we've lost several others. While the decrease in top female runners is not in the same category as the low number of ethnic minorities, it does make you wonder why the mid West and West coast own most of the female ultrarunning talent in the country.