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Showing posts from 2013

Long run on a short day: the 2013 Seashore Nature Trail 50k

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Some eight hours or so after solstice--the sun's southern turnaround in its annual race--I joined about 300 other runners for the start of the 5th Annual Seashore Nature Trail 50K.  Imitating the celestial seesaw, we would be looping back to this spot twice more, ending where we began, in a parking lot in the southern end of First Landing State Park, a beautiful maritime forest on the headlands of Cape Henry.

By chance, this year's race fell squarely on the first official day of winter.  You wouldn't know it from the conditions though.  Another lesson in the folly of consulting extended weather forecasts before race day: what had been projected as a cold pelting rain 10 days out had by 5 days prior fizzled to a warmish drizzle, then, with a day to go, had morphed into a prediction of mostly clear skies and Florida-like warmth.

The sensation of having traveled south was enhanced by hanging Spanish moss, glimpses of open water, sand, and the odd subtropical plant.  By the t…

Running the inner Grand Canyon: John Annerino's quest

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John Annerino.   Running Wild, An Extraordinary Adventure of the Human Spirit.  New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1992, 1998.

Thirty years ago, John Annerino--avid climber, runner, and sometime instructor at a community college
in southern Arizona--ran the length of the Grand Canyon.   He did so three times during the early 1980s, each attempt following a path more remote and arduous than the previous.

Running away and running toward
Annerino's motivations for undertaking these unprecedented journeys on foot were at the outset unclear even to himself.   Never reticent about dramatizing the private, he recounts a colorfully failed engagement (probably for the best), a climbing injury that nearly kills him and then nearly takes his legs, and a vague disaffection with modern culture, including the "running boom," still in its early stages, being hyped in ever larger and more commercial venues.  

Ultrarunners often begin by running away from as much as running towards …

2013 Grindstone, Interrupted

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This is a race report about a race that wasn't.  Not for me.  As of this writing, it remains to be seen whether the 2013 Grindstone 100 will happen for anyone.

Last Tuesday, 2 days ago, we learned that the race was suspended.  Although the George Washington National Forest is open (a Forest is not a Park, you see), as a specially permitted event, the race needs to be supervised by USPS personnel--who, like most of the other 800,000 furloughed federal workers, are not allowed to so much as answer a work-related email while the government remains shuttered.

Getting off the grid 

What I will miss.

There is nothing in my experience like the moment just before the start of an ultra.  All the better if the huddled souls at the starting line are few, the location remote, the terrain rugged.  Better still if shadows are beginning to lengthen and the trail appears to disappear into the darkness of trees and mountainside.  A chill in the air doesn't hurt.  Best of all is when the journe…

101.85 miles (and 23000 feet) for The Soldiers Project

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This sinister-looking image is the elevation profile for the Grindstone 100 mile trail race, which takes place each year in early October in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.  The race twists through what is sometimes called the "Rollercoaster," a rugged, relentlessly up-and-down course with a cumulative altitude gain of over 23000 feet and a total mileage of 101.85 miles.  

A year older, but apparently no wiser, in a bit over a month, I'll be returning to Grindstone for the second time.  On Friday evening of October 4, I'll set off with slightly fewer than 200 runners for a full night of running.  We'll run all the next day.  For most of us, when the sun goes down a second time on October 5, we'll still be running.

The cause for which I am running

This year, I'm running on behalf of The Soldiers Project, an innovative and award-winning non-profit that provides free counseling and support to military service members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan…

The Lung-Gom-Pa Runners of Tibet

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Alexandra David-Neel, Magic and Mystery in Tibet.  New York: Dover, 1971.  (Translation of the 1929 publication, Mystiques et magiciens du Thebet.)

Lama Anagarika Govinda, Way of the White Clouds.  New York: Overlook Press, 2005.  
The first references in the West to the lung-gom-pa runners of Tibet are the eyewitness accounts of Alexandra David-Neel, published in 1929, and the spiritual autobiography of Lama Anagarika Govinda, recorded a decade or so later.  
Born in Germany in 1998 as Ernst Lothar Hoffman,  Lama Govinda describes in some detail the range of practices that are grouped under the umbrella of lung gom pa.  Multi-day cross-country "tramps," as David-Neel calls them, were just one manifestation.   The related practice of tumo, for example, involved the control of body temperature and the ability to produce internal heat, allowing the adept to walk about in the coldest weather with nothing but a light toga.  

Lung, says Lama Govinda, refers to air as well as vital en…

Heat on the Potomac & New Blood on the Trails: 2013 North Face Endurance Challenge, Washington, DC

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Fireflies at 5AM

I've seen some online kvetching about The North Face's decision to start the DC 50 miler just before dawn.  There are maybe 40 minutes of darkness before twilight, so why not just start at 6AM?  Adding to the annoyance of some, TNF race rules list as "mandatory" the possession of a flashlight or headlamp (although in three goes at the DC 50 miler, I've never seen anyone pulled out for not packing light).

Yet it makes for a magical first half hour.  You start out loping around a cool, dewy, grassy field.  There's a line of lights snaking ahead and behind, weaving and bobbing through the darkness.

Then on to the Potomac Heritage trail, plunging into the tunnel of trees, following the dangling glowsticks around the early twists and turns.   Out into the "lowlands" area, through long grass, marshy, nettly country.  The sun comes up by then, breaks brilliantly across the river to the east and south.

Frogs in a slow boil

The mid-Atlantic …

Ultramarathons on Mars

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Among the time-wasting diversions that parade daily through my virtual life are updates from a site called "Trail Porn."  TP serves up big glossy high-res images not of naked people doing naughty things on trails but of impossibly gorgeous locations around the world for running or hiking.  People, naked or otherwise, are beside the point.  Typically they are lost in the landscape like figures in Chinese paintings of terraced mountainsides.  Sometimes the landscapes are empty, human presence implied only by thin ribbons of single-track snaking into the wild.

Most TP images depict mountains or deserts.  Space, solitude, and a red ochre color palate are recurring themes. Western States figure prominently--dunes in Oregon, canyons in Arizona, mountains in Colorado.

Other locations are, for a North American viewer, more exotic.  A curving passage through the Razorback in the Australian Victorian Alps.  Or this photo of the Spanish La Palma, jutting into space like the prow of a …

The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei

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Straw Sandals

Among the many evocative black-and-white photographs that grace this wonderfully strange, if not entirely satisfying, book is the image of a row of straw sandals, hanging illuminated in the darkness.  They look unpromising as protection for the feet, less like shoes than elongated birds' nests held together by bits of string.  Yet these are the sandals worn by the gyoja, the so-called "marathon monks" of Japan, as they run the rocky and frequently rain-slicked paths on the five peaks that make up the mountain complex of Mt. Hiei.

One pair of sandals suffices, under ideal conditions, for perhaps a single day of running.  Conditions are frequently not ideal in this part of Japan.  And the gyoja will run far more than a single day at a stretch.

In heavy rain, the straw sandals disintegrate in a matter of hours.  So something seems seriously amiss with the figure of 80 pairs of sandals that Stevens tells us is allotted to each monk per 100-day "marathon&q…

Ribbon of Asphalt and Sand: 2013 Graveyard 100 Race Report

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"The sea was angry that day, my friend; like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli" -- George Costanza

Friday evening before race day, I pulled up to the pier house behind the Hilton in Kitty Hawk to turn over my drop bags and catch the mandatory prerace briefing.   The sky had been clear on the drive over and the weather forecast for the weekend looked promising.  So it was a bit of a shock to step out on to the beach into the full force of the wind.   A chaotic surf pounded away at the pier.  Whitecaps were visible miles from the shore.   Gathered with other runners inside the pier house, I could feel the wooden framework rocking and swaying underfoot like a tethered boat about to snap free.

Although the weather system behind all this activity had struck far to the north, its back-end produced coastal surges that flooded and reshaped roads along the 100-mile route.  Race Director Brandon Wilson informed us that there was about a 50/50 chance that instead of runni…