Saturday, June 18, 2011

How to Train Fleas!

When I was a young banker in Tennessee, I had the opportunity to hear a luncheon talk by the then head coach of the University of Tennessee football team, Bill Battle.  At that time, Coach Battle was the youngest head football coach in the nation and lead the Volunteers to a 59-22-2 record while the head coach.  Coach Battle was known as a really inspiring leader and field coach . . . but his recruiting skills were a little suspect.

Coach Battle started off telling everyone present he was going to teach us all something that probably no one in the room knew how to do but him.  He was going to teach everyone how to train fleas!

He ask for a show of hands for everyone that already had learned this skill and not a person raised their hand.  Coach Battle promised us this new skill would be a much more valuable skill then anyone would ever believe.  And he was right!

To start the flea training process is really quite simple and you really only need two things: 1) a glass jar with a lid (like a Mason jar or a clean, mayonnaise jar), and 2) a bunch of fleas.  New in East Tennessee we knew how to come up with an empty Mason jar but the coach never told us the best way to gather up a bunch of fleas.  Anyway . . .

Training begins when you put the fleas in the jar, put the top on the jar, shake the jar up  and the set it down on a table.

Believe me the fleas will be upset.  And they'll want to get out of that jar and go find some nearby dog to jump on!  These fleas will be jumping hard, trying to escape.  A flea can jump over 7 inches in vertical height and 13 inches in horizontal length!  These jars are only about 6 inches high.  So when the flea jumps to escape he (or she as the case may be!) will bang his head on the jar top!  I would imagine this would hurt!  And every time the flea jumps . . . BANG against the jar top . . . more pain!

But eventually each flea, for one reason or another, won't jump their full 7 inches one time.  They jump but just not as high and this time they don't hit the jar lid and thus no pain! 

Now fleas probably aren't all that smart!  But even a stupid flea can pretty quickly learn that if you jump as high as you can, it hurts.  But it you jump just a tad less high, there is no pain!  Simple!

So eventually, every flea is still inside the jar jumping hard, trying to escape . . . just not their full 7 inches!  At this point you can take the top off the jar and the fleas, while continuing to jump, won't jump out of the jar!

Vol la!  You have just trained the fleas!

Each flea is totally convinced he (or she!) is trying to escape just as hard as he can.  But he's wrong!  There WAS a barrier, but it's no longer there!

Obviously, Coach Battle was trying to tell us that the banking establishment would put barriers in front of each of us . . . maybe unintentional or maybe even intentional.  But either way, we needed to keep trying just as hard as we can all the time.

Coach Battle warned each of us young banker to not become trained fleas.  And I've tried to remember this lesson all my life.  But I can't tell you how many times I've found that I had been trained and didn't even realize it!!.  And I bet we all have.  And maybe we've even trained a few fleas of our own!

Last night I just realized that I have been taking the easy way out in my training.  Focusing on really long distances but avoiding the pain of interval and hill training.  And I haven't been progressing.  I've fallen into a complacency with my running and I have no one to blame but myself.  I need to do better.  Mediocre results are not a problem, but I should NOT be accepting my mediocre efforts.

But don't get me wrong.  There are parts of my running where I am definitely NOT a trained flea.  I have taken off the blinders about how far someone can run.  I don't just run races where I'm pretty sure I can finish and do well in.  I'm willing to try something that seems virtually impossible and where in all likelihood I will fail.  And I've failed plenty!  While a DNF is not a good thing, my friend Jim Plant tells me "any DNF is way better then a DNS."  And he is right!

But I'm not happy with the fact that I'm a trained flea.  And I'm going to work a little harder and be a little more varied in my running.

My challenge to each of you (and me too!) is to find out what areas in your life that you have become a trained flea.  And then do something about it! 

It's never too late for us to jump!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Boogie . . . Damn you Boogie!

Boogie beat me again . . . damn it!

My training was good.  The temperature forecasts were good.  I knew the course well.  And I was relaxed.  This was going to be my breakthrough year at Boogie.  I was ready!

Up to this year I had always done the Boogie Fun Run aka "the Baby Boogie" aka the "Boogie Marathon."  And every year Boogie handed me my hat and said "Better luck next time, Sucker!"  Nothing about Boogie fits with my running.  Maybe that's why I love this race so much.

Anyway, after one poor finish after another I had the brilliant idea that if I couldn't do well in the marathon maybe I should step up to the "Full Boogie."  Okay, I know it seems stupid to think if I can't do well running 26.2 miles maybe I'll do better running 50.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And I had a plan!  I was going to walk virtually all of the first lap!  In the past, one of the key reasons for my stumbles was the mid June temperatures and humidity combined with the Boogie hills.  And it was 94° that afternoon.  So with a 6 pm start there would be at least 2 hours of bad Boogie heat.  So my plan was to conserve my energy in the heat and then spend it when it's cooler.

So . . . the race started.

But just before the start thunderstorms rolled in.  Clouds covered the sun, thunder rolled and the temperatures started to cool.  So cool compared to the afternoon heat I decided that I could go ahead and run lap 1.  So I did.  And soon we had some rain from the storm.  Not a lot . . . just enough to wet everything down.  And then the humidity went to 99.99%.  Nothing could evaporate in this humidity.  So every drop of water hung around.  And every drop of sweat did too!  Soon I felt like I was running in a hot shower.  But I kept on running.

From the top of Bethel Hill, the start where everyone parks!

The Boogie race course starts at
 the top of Bethel Hill and looks like a balloon on a string.  The start is where the string is tied to the balloon.  We run around the balloon (6 miles) then down the string (2 miles) and back up to the start/finish/main aid station for a 10 mile lap.  Everyone parks on the road so your car can serve as your gear drop station.  Awesome setup.

Looking down the other side towards the infamous Bethel Hill.

As we neared the main aid station at mile 6, I saw a bunch of kids with squirt guns soaking runners (as if they weren't already wet enough from their sweat!).  But I had heard the kids plan, so I developed a plan of my own.  At my car I had my own 'super-soaker' all loaded up and ready to go.  Hiding it behind my back, I walked up the last of the hill to the kids.  And then I sprang my surprise!  No way they expected to get soaked by a runner . . . especially an old runner!  Not sure who enjoyed this surprise the most, me or them!

But by the end of lap 1 was beginning to see the writing on the wall.  I was roasting in my own juices!  40 miles to go and I was already medium rare!  I knew I had to slow way down or I was going to be 'done' in 2 laps!  And I had forgotten to take my Cool-off bandanna with me the first lap.  So, with that now in place I completed lap 2 . . . slowing down some, but not near enough.  Plus, I told my friend, Charles West I was starting to feel a hot-spot developing on my left forefoot.  Walking up Bethel Hill I promised myself I would walk way more.  30 miles to go and I was medium-well already!  Oh crap!

Luckily I had a secret weapon . . . or rather 2 secret weapons!  Rick and Tammy Gray had promised to keep my company part of the way.  Tammy joined me first and right off her bad luck multiplied!  First I told her we would be mostly walking.  Then . . . it was almost like World War 3 started!  Thunder and lightning everywhere and the downpour came!  Honestly it was more then a little scary.  This sure didn't help the humidity any but I finally got my body temperature down to something comfortable.  But it was too late . . . the damage had been done.

But Boogie wasn't going to let me get off that easy!

I noticed that 'hot-spot' I had felt lap 1 had gone away!  And in it's place . . . thanks to all the rain, had now morphed into full-fledged blisters!  Nice one, Boogie!  Nice!

But there was one group of folks that was lovin' this weather . . . the frog population.  Never in my life have a heard a more strange assortment of frog calls.  It must have been a 'frog orgy' going on!  I swear there even frogs that sounded like goats!  At least these guys and gals were happy about things!

As Tammy and I passed the main aid station I considered changing shoes and socks . . . but since the weather was still threatening (though the rain had slowed) I opted to just keep going and wait to be sure the rain was over.

Next, Tammy handed me off to her husband Rick (who had been manning the main aid station all evening) for lap 4. 

Now I hate to brag, but in these morning hours I really gave Rick a lesson in the 'Lilley-style' of ultrarunning . . . er ultrawalking!  Rick runs 100 mile runs like they're nothing.  He has run 5ks in the 14 minute range, sub 30 10k and 2:30 marathons!  Imagine the fun he had on a slow walk with me in the rain!  But to give Rick credit, he adapted well!  Thanks Rick!  You and your wife kept me going.  I likely would have dropped without your support!

Before Rick and I started I had a rare treat!  I got to be there when my friend Laura MacLean finished her 50 . . . first place female!  I was so happy to get to be there and see her victory!  That made my night!

So with 30 miles completed and 20 to go, Rick and I headed out for another loop.  The blister pain was really pretty intense.  Several times I just sat down in the road to take off my shoe to try and re-adjust things to relieve the pain . . . but nothing worked.

Oh . . . and I had my first hallucination!  Rick and I both had our light off and then suddenly there were snakes crossing the road everywhere!  Maybe 50 of them!  I really couldn't tell what kind they were but they were everywhere!

As we got back to the main aid station and my car, I stopped to change shoes and socks . . . hoping that might help.  But as I went from my car to the aid station, it was hurting worse then ever.  And I told Rick I was quitting.  The pain was just too much.  Boogie had kicked my ass . . . again.  And this one was worse!  At least with my other Boogie races I had managed to finish.

Rick was supportive and told me that I knew best.  After a few minutes of standing around talking about it and being unsure about quitting, I decided I should just walk down Bethel Hill some while I was re-thinking my decision before I told the lap counters I was DNFing.  So we headed out down the hill.  In a few minutes I told Rick I was going to finish 40 miles before I called it quits.

Going down Bethel Hill it started to get a little lighter and soon we could recognize folks we passed.  And everyone was so encouraging . . . telling me 'great job' and 'awesome finish' super job . . . you did it!'  Somehow I found it really hard to tell them I was so slow I still had another lap to go and I wasn't going to do that last lap . . .

Yea . . . maybe Boogie did kick my ass . . . but I decided to kick back!  Okay . .  it wasn't much of a kick!  But I decided to finish this . . .

Luckily, our race director, Doug Dawkins, told me he would let me finish despite the fact that I was way over the cut-off.  Thanks Doug!

So I got my hat and headed down the hill for lap 5.

But within a mile my macho decision to finish seemed pretty stupid.  Quite frankly I seriously started thinking about turning around and heading back.  Then, I heard a car approaching.

It was Amy Schimmel and Lauren Wilkins coming by to check on me before they headed back to Raleigh.  Amy had every possible thing an ultra runner could need with her!  Her SUV looked like the Clampett's truck headed to California!  They knew I was having blister issues and asked if there was anything they could do!  So they stopped in the road and opened their mobile hospital!

Here is what they looked like Monday PM.
Amy got a folding chair, Lauren got Ibuprofin and the medical kit as I took off my shoes and socks (by this time I had blisters on both feet).  About this time, Jim Plant drove up and and the three of them looked things over and decided the best course of action.  Drain the blister and then use some of Amy's special 'blister tape' to tape over the problem areas.  These three were my saviors.  I would have quit without their help.

So on I went.  And things started feeling much, much better for awhile.  I was back running!  Hell yea!  Passed the aid station and hardly slowed down!  Ran about half way down Bethel Hill when the blister pain returned.  So I just walked.  Only one other person was out there, Paul Heckert and I passed Paul headed up the hill as I was about about half way down!  Yea . . . I was DFL . . . again!

Frank Sherrill was actually sitting in the middle of the road ON the turnaround point!  And he and I walked a way together until Tom Herbst came by and gave Frank a RIDE back to his truck!

Bethel Hill one last time . . . and I was was done!  Paul stayed to see me finish as did Doug Dawkins.  And Amy Surette and her kids were there too!!  ) Amy had finished her first 50 earlier in the morning and just hung out until the bitter end!  A very special thank you to all these folks.

So I did finish.  Based on my performance, I didn't deserve to be an official finisher. Quite honestly this was much more of a walk then a run.  But it was all I could do.  And I'm proud I finished.  Yea . . . Boogie kicked my ass again . . . but I did go down fighting!
Thanks for taking this Amy!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Boogie Prediction

Okay . . . it is REALLY bad luck to predict a future race outcome.

I mean, really . . . 50 miles in the summer.  Who can say what will happen?  Certainly not me!  At least for sure!

But still . . . I'm willing to go out on a limb and predict I WILL finish the 2011 Boogie 50-miler.  Now, realistically I may not be an 'official' finisher.  I'm mean I may possible (ok . . . very likely!) miss the 'official' race cutoff.  And I sure don't blame the race for having one!  But I predict I WILL finish . . . eventually!

There you go!  Nothing like 'staking yourself out' on a race . . . even one as hard as Boogie!  I mean, Boogie has the big three:
1) hills (okay, not mountains, but still hills!),
2) heat (looking like this year's temperatures may not be all that bad . . . only low 90°s, and
3) humidity . . . not as bad as FL in the summer . . . but close!)

I'll do this!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Boogie . . . Next Saturday!

Next Saturday is THE day!  Time to Boogie!

Each year I look forward to the Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie races.  I really don't know why.

For the last three years I've 'run' the 'Baby Boogie' and for three years the race has totally kicked my butt.  I suffer and slog my way through the 26.2 miles and finish with an embarrassingly slow time.  Totally shot.  I really don't understand why I came back after my first year.

Hot as hell at the start (6 pm) . . . high 90s.  Then thunderstorms rolled in just after dark.  Got so foggy you couldn't see!  And got TOTALLY soaked.  Then, blisters developed.  Tired, beaten and hurting, I limped to the finish in torrential rains.  The finish line crew was sitting in a car there.  They cracked the window and yelled at me to pick up a mug for my finishers award.

And that year was probably my most enjoyable Boogie!

So . . . . after being beaten down and humbled for three straight years.  Did I sign up for Boogie again this year?  Well . . . sort of.  I did sign up.  But since the marathon has my number and kills me each year I decided to change races and enter the 50 miler.

Okay . . . I admit . . . this decision was made in nice, cool weather and alcohol influenced.  Definitely not thinking clearly when I sent in my entry.  What on earth was I thinking? 

"Okay, I better go ahead and send in my Boogie entry or it will sell out.  The last three years the marathon has totally, 100% kicked my butt.  Do I really want to suffer through another 26.2 Boogie miles.  Hell no!  Soooo . . . maybe I should enter the 50.  How much harder can it be?  Yea . . . that's a good idea.  Enter the 50.  I'll just pace myself and cruise through it.  Yea . . . should be easy!  Yea . . . that's what I'll do!  Enter the 50!  Cool!"

So, next Saturday afternoon, here we go!  It will take a frickin' miracle for me to finish this within the cutoff.  But just maybe a miracle is in the wings!  Extended weather forecast says only high 80s at the start.

Yea . . . this should be easy!

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Littleton, North Carolina
World's Slowest Runner . . . well, at least in contention for the honor. Just your average "below average" runner.