Friday, September 19, 2014

The Good News

"Running tells us the good news about ourselves" - George Sheehan Heroes and Sparrows: A Celebration of Running
What's your good news? No matter how the run turns out, the good news is about the effort we put into it and what we got out of it.  There are days when I have abysmal runs and struggle to find the good news.  At the very core is the good news is that of being a runner and knowing that each day, I make the effort to do something that I don't have to but want to no matter the circumstances.  In each run, I can find the good news.  It might be something I learn about myself, something I learn about someone else, something that works or something that doesn't, see something that astonishes or see nothing at all, hear, smell and think.  I see a different world when running. I understand more and create better. I am a different person and do things in my mind that I know I am capable of doing.  I see it all so clearly, the good news of the day, the good news of me and the good news of others.  How do I translate all of this to the non-running world?  The Christian message of the good news is described in the 4 gospels.  While running tells us the good news about ourselves, the Gospels tell us the good news of our relationship with God through Jesus.  In this world of perpetual bad news, we must seek out the good news of the day.

Days 261-262: 10 miles, 2014: 1,258 miles

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Running Inclusively

I saw a disturbing post yesterday on the Marathon Maniacs page.  A race director posted that he was saddened by a post by some runner (not a maniac) on his race's web page that having a 9 hour cut-off for a marathon is "what is wrong with racing today, that anyone can walk a marathon in that time." The race director pointed out that there will be a 50K running simultaneously and if the 50K course is going to be open, why not keep it open for the marathoners.  Sound logic to me.  Even if there wasn't a 50K going on and the permits allow for a 9 hour cut-off, why not make your event inclusive of anyone walking or running (or wheeling) within that time limit?  Using this other runner's logic, why even keep the course open for 3 hours since all of the elite finishers will be done well before 2:30?  How would this person feel if (s)he (probably a he)was excluded because he ran 3:05 but the cut-off is 3 hours.  I don't get the elitist attitude especially when it is unlikely that this person is not even close to being elite. I am sure that truly elite runners are not saying to close down the finish line at 2:10 because they finished in 2:08.  Certainly in ultra marathons, many of the elite ultra runners stay around to cheer the rest of the runners to the finish.  The marathoners at the back of the pack are not getting in anyone's way, particularly not those at the front of the pack.  So, the front of the pack should just be bothered by their race and not anyone else's.  Running has changed people's lives, truly changed them physically and mentally.  We as a running community should embrace everyone who is out there giving it their all, no matter what distance, no matter what pace as long as they are exhibiting good running etiquette. If we were to take this elitist attitude, there would basically be about 10 exclusive marathons in the U.S. instead of hundreds and hundreds of inclusive marathons.  As I age and look at cut-offs a bit more critically, I don't want to be excluded from a sport that has contributed to my life.  There are practical cut-off times, many related to permits, use of volunteers, road closures, etc. but to determine a cut-off time to exclude participation is wrong.  Even Boston has a liberal cut-off time.  The last place runner at Boston came in at 8:58.  I suspect that this elitist runner would say Boston is "what is wrong with racing today"  allowing people to finish in such a dismal time.  What a farce of a person.  I have wondered when I might stop running marathons.  I figure that as long as I can meet the cut-off times, why would I stop? This person will be in the same situation some day looking at cut-off times or most likely they will give up the sport because their best days will be behind them.  I'm sad for them if this is the case.  So, let us in the running community run inclusively and embrace everyone out there who is giving it their best! 

Days 255-260: 30 miles, 2014: 1,248 miles

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Beauty and the Beast: Jackson Hole Marathon

In no way would I call the Jackson Hole Marathon a beast.  It would seem to be a fast course in a beautiful setting.  However, it does have altitude running at about 6,400 feet and most of it from mile 10 is a slight uphill.  Maybe the winning time of 3:04 and the average finishing time of 4:45 also indicate some form of bestiality.  If it is a beast, it is well disguised because I have run much harder courses elsewhere, two earlier in the year at Bataan in NM and Umstead in NC.  I finished in 4:47, well off my last two marathon times of 4:12 and 4:14.  It was probably a combination of things for me.  First, we hiked 3 miles to Inspiration Point around Jenny Lake the day before.  It is not a daunting hike but enough to tire the legs.  When we go to destination marathons, these are the things we like to do, so no regrets there.  I suspect the altitude also had something to do with my time although I only felt it early in the race, but I suspect it took its toll.  The other challenge I had was related to my back muscles -very tight and achy on this day.  My core is probably not as strong as it should be and my posture is awful, mostly when sitting or standing.  Sitting in an office chair all day is probably the worst thing to do from a physical standpoint.  So, a combination of all of these things probably contributed to an abysmal marathon time.

Now for the beauty part.  The Tetons are probably one of the most beautiful mountain ranges I have ever seen.  They are jagged, powerful and rugged and they majestically stand above Jackson Hole, this flat, prairie land bisected by the Snake River.  When you take beautiful skies of blue, nimbus clouds, sunsets or sunrises, the mountains and the flats, you get the true essence of America the beautiful. 

Even our drive from the small Jackson Hole Airport was suspenseful.  There are two ways to get from JAC to Teton Village due to the Snake River having only two crossings.  One is through Jackson, which is longer, 22 miles.  The other is through Moose and down Teton-Moose Rd which has a section of unpaved, rough, pot-hole-ridden road but more wildlife.  Sure enough, just a few mile down the road we spotted a bear down in a marshy, forested area.

On Friday morning during our 6 AM sunrise float down the Snake River, we experienced first-hand, America the beautiful.  Although the Snake river parallels the Tetons, it's twists and turns give boaters ample views of the Teton range including the granddaddy of them all, the Grand Teton.  It was that kind of day; crisp, cool, blue sky, a few clouds to highlight the yellow rays of the sun, water as clear as glass, and the Tetons calling.  Our guide was knowledgeable about the area, having studied all aspects of the area not only the geology and history but also the politics.  After all, the 10 mile float trip was entirely in the Teton National Park.  After the float trip, finding our way back to Moose, we ate at Dorman's, a family owned conglomeration of services - lodging, gas, restaurant and store - the only thing in Moose except the Visitor Center.

Grand Teton rising above the Snake

Coyote on the banks

Sunrise getting closer

Teton Range

Two Bald Eagles

Sunrise upon us

Canada Geese

Bullwinkle standing along the Snake River
Dorman's for breakfast overlooking Grand Teton

After the sunrise float and breakfast, we headed to Jenny Lake, one of the most popular hiking spots around, just 8 miles north of Moose.  Get there early or parking will be an issue.  It is family oriented so be prepared for some crowds but the hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point is worth it.  We hiked around the Lake first to Hidden Falls and then to Inspiration Point.  If you find yourself in a crowd of hikers, especially those with kids, take a few side trails to enjoy the beauty and serenity.  It will separate you enough to continue in peace.  We took the boat ride across Jenny Lake after the hike to Inspiration Point which is a treat in itself although it is $9 per person.

The trail around Jenny Lake

Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls

Trail to Inspiration Point

Higher above Jenny Lake


The Teton Range

On the boat ride back looking at Inspiration Point

Packet Pickup was at the Jackson Chamber of commerce.  Jackson, a small quaint western town was the perfect host for the marathon, well almost perfect.  The packet pickup was easy, parking plentiful, and in a town boasting of restaurants, shops and attractions.  When registration opened, the first person to register from each state received a $20 discount.  I was first in NC.  Since I registered so early, my bib number was 3.  Usually, low bib numbers are reserved for elite runners so I will likely never see a bib number this low again. The shirts were long sleeve technical shirts and ran on the big side.  My extra-large swallowed me.  One never knows with technical shirts how the sizing works.  They did have some other shirts and hats for sale.  After pick-up we ate at the Town Tavern but there are a lot of choices in Jackson.

One of us is Einstein

The famous Antler (Elk) Arch in Jackson

There are a variety of options for transportation related to the marathon.  Be sure to read the updates for the buses.  We stayed at Teton Village where buses took runners to the start.  We opted to drive to the start so Cindy could give me a send-off and then return to Teton Village for the finish.  This worked out well.  If you stay in Jackson, there will be buses at the finish to return to the start area.  Jackson offers more choices for more reasonably priced restaurants and arguably better food.  Teton Village is a nice mountain resort at the base of the mountain but a bit over-priced.  Upon arrival at the start, the visitor center was supposed to be open for real bathrooms.  It was not and we could only see a janitor arguing with runners that he could not open the center.   It wasn't the janitor's responsibility and I don't blame him.  But someone from Jackson or the race organization dropped the ball.

The Marathon

There were 168 runners in the marathon.  It started on one of the main streets in Jackson overlooking downtown and a small mountain ski resort.

Pictures from the Start

Beauty of a morning

Blowing Smoke and a bird out of my lungs!

In the pack

Notice the barefoot dude! Guess he forgot his shoes!
Off we go!

Cindy seeing the half-marathoners on the way back to Teton

After a short uphill, the course flattens and goes downhill for about 9-10 miles.  After a few miles on the streets of Jackson, we veered off onto a bike path that criss-crossed a rolling stream and went through a few tunnels.  I could feel the elevation in the early miles but quickly got my breathing under control.  I have only run 2 other marathons at elevation and nothing higher than Jackson Hole.  The bike path meandered out near a highway and followed it overlooking the valley with farms and mountain backdrops - the Teton range.  I had planned on running 9:30 pace which I was achieving, with some miles faster.  After 9-10 miles the course flattened out again (or so it seemed) and I reached the half at 2:05, right on pace for 4:10.  But, for some reason, i could feel the wheels coming off.  There is nothing worse in a marathon than the wheels coming off half way.  The weather was perfect.  Low humidity, cool and a bright blue sky.  What could possibly be wrong?  Was it the hike the day before?  Was it my back?  Was it the terrible runs I had in between Alaska and Jackson Hole in the awful NC humidity?  Was it because it was my 6th marathon of the year?  I don't know but it was what it was.  I kept trouncing along doing the best I could and slowing with each mile. The course was slightly uphill from mile 12 to the end.  It was deceiving because it felt flat.  We were either on a highway shoulder or a bike path, still with views of the Tetons.  The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (the finish), because of its 10,450 foot elevation can be seen for a long way.  It looked close yet seemed so far away.  Finally, the miles passed to the finish with Cindy waiting (for a long time) for me to get there.  The great thing about small marathons is that she is right there standing on the course at the finish.  I was so happy to be done.  I feel like I need a little revenge on the course because I should have run better.  I would love to get back out to that area again anyway, but Montana and Hawaii are calling.

Pictures from the course

Small park in Jackson

A couple of short tunnels

No, we are not running up the mountain

Thinking this is the same small stream as before

Still in Jackson

Now we are getting into some views

Loved these two planes sitting in the field with the fence


Now on the bike trail from Wilson to Teton Village - same guy in front of me at mile 23 as mile 3

Love these horses on the range with the mountain backdrop

Looks like I am enjoying this at mile 24 - I don't think so!
The Finish

My perfect crew chief Cynthia

Finish line right outside Mangy Moose

Looks like this guy ran as much as he is panting

Finally making my way to the finish - less than a mile

Picture says it all... any marathon finish is a good marathon finish!

Like Alaska, it is impossible to write about the whole trip but these are some highlights.  Despite the bestiality of my marathon adventure, the beauty is well worth a few hours of suffering, suffering in a good way of course!

After the marathon we took an Aerial Tram to Rendezvous Mountain, 10,450 feet to the top.  It was 46 degrees, 40 mph winds and a lightning storm set in.  They closed down the tram and we watched the storm blow through the top of the mountain for an hour and fifteen minutes.  We then did a ski-lift chair ride.  The following day, we ventured to Yellowstone to the Geyser basin and old Faithful.  Yes, we have pictures galore but I am pictured out on this post.  One point that I want to make about the Jackson Hole Marathon as a destination marathon.  Take a few days extra because you have two of the greatest National parks within driving distance - Teton and Yellowstone National Park.

Days 240-254: 66 miles: 2014: 1,218 miles