Friday, April 21, 2017

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Don’t call it a comeback

I admit that this is long over due, but I finally have decided that I can no longer fight my health issues and continue to push my body beyond its limits with running.

I have been living with an incurable virus attacking my vocal cords for well over two years. I am the 1 in 100,000 people who have this rare condition. It is not going away with our current treatment and surgery routine. My doctors want to take an even more aggressive approach and I am ALL IN on the treatment. The side effects are a bit frightening, but should be manageable.

I would like to be able to have a normal life again. This means being able to talk, be in loud places and be heard, and not be afraid or self conscious to be in social environments. I can't keep having surgery every six weeks and losing my voice in between. My livelihood is dependent upon my ability to speak and I want that normalcy back again.

So it’s time to develop a new strategy, which includes many lifestyle changes and reduction of stressors on my body. I have fought as hard as I could and by no means am I giving up, I just realize that something has to change. As such, I am temporarily stepping away from competitive running. Running fast or far is just something that I do and while it has become a part of me, it is not who I am.

I don't like ever being selfish, but my health and my family need to come first right now and I need to focus 100% of my efforts on those things. My wife Rachel has been my strength when I was weak, and my voice when I couldn't speak. It is with her support that we tackle this next step in our lives together. She truly is an angel to me.

I don't know how long I will be away from competitive running, or if I will ever be able to to return. But rest assured that if I do, it will be the greatest comeback of all time.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Pictures

Let's get this out of the way right from the top.  2016 was not easy.  I continued to battle a rare virus that limits my ability to talk and required seven more surgeries this year at UAB Hospital.  As a result, my health continued to decline throughout the year and now we are seeking new and more aggressive treatment options.

But with the support of my wife Rachel, we continue to fight it and are hopeful for the future.

Running was my escape and despite of, or in spite of the hand I have been dealt, it was a pretty good year.

In December, I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the 7th consecutive time spanning 10 years, when I ran 3:11 at California International Marathon in Sacramento, California.

I earned my first state title in anything, ever, when I was the top male finisher at the RRCA 5km State Championships, held in Muscle Shoals, Alabama at the Swampers 5km race.

I earned 4 overall wins, including winning the Care Center 5km for the 6th consecutive year, bringing my career win total up to 82.

I earned 20 master's titles, including top men's master at Bridge Street Half Marathon in April.

I finished on the podium (top 3) 13 times, including a strong finish for 3rd overall at Xterra Monte Sano in January.

I became the first person to win the Huntsville Track Club Open Male Grand Prix by running only one race at age 39, and the remainder of the events at age 40.  It also marks the 2nd time I have won the title overall (2013) in addition to the five times I have been runner up (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015)

I was standing at the finish line when my wife Rachel finished in the top 10 at Mountain Mist.  Did I mention that unbeknownst to her, she had a blood clot in her lungs at the time?  That's tough.

I became the only person to have finished every single running of McKay Hollow Madness 25km, dating back to 2007 (with a washout year in 2011 that cancelled the event), and with a strong climb up death trail, finished 2nd overall.

I ran in 2,400 total miles, across 3 countries (USA, Canada and New Zealand) and 19 states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin.)

I went on a meaningful run with Strava.

Did I mention that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and that Rachel and I were fortunate enough to go to game 2 of the NLDS vs. the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, then return to Chicago for games 4 and 5 of the World Series?

Oh and we saw Guns 'n Roses in concert!

Photo Credits to We Run Huntsville, Suzanne Erickson and Keith Henry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The wise man seeking out knowledge

"A wise man flourishes because he continues to seek out knowledge, while a foolish man perishes because he believes that he already knows everything." - Eric Charette

I realized long ago that I knew nothing about the sport of running.  I knew that it could start simply by putting one foot in front of the other.  I also knew that I was not very good at it, but that in order to become great, I needed to understand it.  I had very little physical abilities, so the only way I was going to succeed was to train smart.  I needed to know why a tempo run was important, the value it added to my fitness and how and when it should be run.  I needed to know how to train, how to recover, how to fuel.  

So I read every book on running; well I've read a lot of books on running.  I sought out the best runners in the area and listened to them talk about running.  I found mentors who were willing to share their knowledge.  I realized that I needed to be a sponge to absorb everything I could about running, soaking in the wisdom like water, so that one day I could pass that knowledge on to other runners, completing the cycle.  In the last 12 years I have gone on to coach individual runners, groups of runners, written training plans for others and for myself.  

For a small town, awkward kid who never ran a step in his life, I was able to perfect my craft through knowledge and training.  My approach had worked time and time again, but as I approached the end of my current training cycle, I realized that the labor of my hard work was not producing results.  I knew that it was time to call in the best.  It was time to reach out to my friend Will Rodgers of Running Lane.

I first met Will when he was a collegiate runner at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  I believe it was back in 2008 when I was hosting a dinner at my house for the invited elite athletes running Cotton Row 10km on behalf of the Huntsville Track Club.  Long after most of the athletes had left and I was cleaning up, Will pulled into the driveway.  I don't remember why he was late, but he apologized and I invited him in.  Among a tremendously talented field, as a young 20 year old, Will was seeded 27th for the race with a qualifying time of 32:40 which was light years ahead of my 34:45.  Immediately I realized what a quality guy Will was, as we sat down for an hour and just talked about running like two old friends eating a spaghetti dinner.  He was humble, easy going and knowledgeable, unlike a lot of elite runners.

When I needed advice on goal planning for the marathon, I knew that Will was the one to call.  He and the team at Running Lane have built a great program of coaching to runners of all levels.  They believe that it is more important to train smart rather than to simply train hard.  Our beliefs are perfectly in line with each other; every detail of your training should have a purpose.

Will and I sat down for two hours and poured over every detail of my training.  As an engineer, I track details and statistics about every step I take, knowing that it is all relevant in order to analyze labor vs. results.   We drank coffee and poured over the data, talking like two old friends, just like we did 8 years prior before Cotton Row.  He was able to consult me on where I was and what I needed to do in the following weeks leading into the race.  Then we talked about racing strategy and came up with the perfect plan for success. 

One thing that I really liked was that Will was very honest with me.  He did not inflate my ego to think I could accomplish times beyond my fitness, while at the same time he gave me the confidence that I needed to stand on the starting line and execute to the best of my ability.  I am sitting in front of my laptop at a hotel in California, 24 hours before the marathon, in part because of Will Rodgers and Running Lane.  

This is not a paid endorsement.  This is me writing about my passion.  This is me paying forward the kindness of those who have been kind to me.  I believe in what Will and his fellow coaches are doing.  They are experienced and accomplished runners who have turned their passion into a career.  They are coaching runners of all abilities, helping them realize their potential.  

So if you are a new runner, one who simply wants to get better, or at the top of your sport, there is always room for improvement.  Maybe you have not heard about Running Lane, or maybe you have and just have not taken the next step to contact them.  Be the wise man and seek out help from  Don't assume you know everything about running.  Even this old veteran runner was able to learn new things from their guidance!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Here is why the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series in 2016.

I have been eating M&Ms since I was old enough to remember.  My Uncle Charlie lived a few blocks away and it seemed like he always had a bag for me.  When I wasn't eating M&Ms from him, I was chewing on the collar of his flannel shirt, but that is a story for my memoirs.

I have not just been eating M&Ms, but I have been eating them a certain way; that is by separating them apart of colors of the rainbow.  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Brown.  Of course there were the years when the color Tan made an appearance and Red dyes were harmful to your health and don't get me started on how to eat special edition bags with only two colors.

My methodology is that after separating them by color, I then eat one of each color until there are one of each color.  Here is where things get fun.  I then take the remaining six M&Ms and place them in the palm of my right hand and make a fist, leaving enough room for them to breathe.  I then go through an iterative process where I shake them M&Ms up, and blindly eat one at a time, reshaking them up in between.

When I down to the final M&M, I try to predict the color.  If I get it right, then that is my lucky color for the day.

Using an unscientific estimate, I have probably eaten 2,000 single serving bags of M&Ms in my life.  If you add in the 1lb and 3lb bags which offer multiple opportunities to perform this ritual, I would guess that I have performed this ritual about 2,500 times in my lifetime.  Peanut, plain, peanut butter, almond, coffee nut; I do not discriminate.

To the best of my recollection, over 40 years of M&M consumption, I have never predicted the last M&M color correctly.  Statistically this seems impossible.  After all, each trial is independent of the other trials and the likelihood that you guess the correct color is 1 out of 6 or 16.67%.  But that is my story and I am sticking to it.

Rewind to Friday, October 7, 2016.  My wife Rachel and I were on our way to Chicago to sit in the bleachers at Wrigley Field for game 2 of the NLDS when the Cubs played the San Francisco Giants.  That day, I ate two bags of M&Ms; both of which were peanut butter.

On the first bag, I got down to the final M&M.  I told myself that if it were orange or brown (Giants colors), that the Cubs would fall victim to the curse and lose the series.  But if it came up blue or red (Cubs colors) that it was destiny and the Cubs would not only win the NLDS, but break the curse and go on to win the World Series.

The last M&M.  I guessed BLUE.  It came up BLUE.  And I was on a roll.

On the second bag a few hours later, the same consequences were on the table.  The fate of the Chicago Cubs did not rest on their ability to play the game, but on my ability to guess the last M&M color correctly.

The last M&M.  I guessed RED.  It came up RED.  And the rest is history.

So now on the verge of game 6 of the NLCS, where the anticipated National League Cy Young Award winning pitcher from the Cubs is opposing the best pitcher in the game for the Dodgers, I have not a care in the world because the outcome has already been determined.

By destiny.  By M&Ms.  That trumps any curse.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Giving up or digging in

At some point during every race, if you are pushing the envelope, things inevitably will start to suck.  Sometimes its because you've gone out too hard or maybe you have just outrun your fitness level.  Regardless of the reason, when this happens you are faced with two choices; you can either give up or you can dig in.

I will openly admit that I don't always dig in.  It can be very emotionally and physically draining to go to "the well" too often.  That doesn't mean that I don't always run hard, but when you run 30 or more races a year, taking it to that next level is reserved for just a few races.

At mile 12 of McKay Hollow Madness this year I was faced with this choice.  Do I give up, or do I dig in?

But first, let's rewind to the start of the race.

We rolled out a little fast in the first mile.  Wearing inov-8 x-talon 212's with their substantial lugs while running on pavement makes you feel a little like a pig on roller skates.  But my plan was to be "in position" by the time we hit the trail head.  "In position" meant leading the chase pack behind Josh Whitehead.  The race was for 2nd place and the competition was last years 3rd place finisher, Jon Krichev, who was also my family doctor.  Jon had been running great lately on the roads, having run a sub 5 minute mile earlier in the year.  Then there was Tim Pitt, who had been been logging a lot of miles and beat me at Mountain Mist in January.  I wanted to be leading the pack and setting the pace.  A pace that was aggressive and maybe a little too fast for what they wanted to run.

As we descended down Sinks and onto Logan Point, Jon and I had created some separation.  But when we started to climb Panther Knob, we could see that Tim and Martin Schneekloth were still running very close behind.  After that, it would be a long time before we would see anyone again.  Over the Knob, across Stone Cuts, down Sinks and climbing back up to Mountain Mist.  Jon and I stayed very close together, with me setting the pace.

The pace stayed fairly quick on Mountain Mist heading toward the first aid station and I was feeling good.  Maybe today was my day?  The longer I held the pace, the more confidence I gained.  Jon and I crested War Path together, running through the aid station in mile 5 at O'Shaugnessy Point.  Jon stopped for water, but I stayed on it, trying to flush the acid out of calves after the climb.

I took some quick energy to get me ready for the next section.  I fueled with the new Honey Stinger Organic Energy gel in mango orange flavor!

We dropped off the mountain at the split of the 25k and 12k courses.  Jon joked that if I slowed down that he would have an easier time keeping up.  Bombing down Rest Shelter takes a deranged mind, where you are willing to disregard your personal well being.  The footing is sketchy at best, mixing lose rock and a steep drop down into the hollow.

Slush mile was not that slushy and Arrowhead was less than eventful.  Running hard.  Keeping an eye where I could on Jon.  Wondering where Tim and Martin were.

I did not climb Natural Well very well.  Pun intended.  It was a slow grind to the Well itself, starting to feel the heat of the day bearing down on my shoulders.  Holding back a little on the climb helped to recover quickly after cresting.  The pace dropped back into the 7's heading south on Natural Well.  Jon had closed the gap again and as we approached the intersection with Arrowhead he was in my footsteps.

Here is where things got interesting.  I made the hard right turn onto the new Arrowhead section toward Trough Springs.  Jon followed.  I had looked at the course map in advance and it confirmed that the course was the same as in the last few years.  Arrowhead to Trough, back on Natural Well crossing the ditch.  So we ran on Arrowhead, following the flags that were on the right.  About half way to Trough, flags switched to the left side of the trail and there was orange tape blocking the trail.  It lead us back down toward the ditch.  Jon and I knew that this was not right... it was taking us to the ditch when we knew that we needed to route through Trough for the aid station.  So we stopped and tried to figure out what to do.  Quickly I started bushwhacking up through the briers to find the trail again.  When Jon and I got there, we moved the flags and pulled the tape.  If someone messed with the course, we didn't want everyone else to get confused by their evil!    We ran on to Trough Springs, popping out and confusing the aid station workers.  They said that Josh had come through from the opposite direction.  I grabbed a sip of water from Rachel and we ran on, heading down to Natural Well trail.  Within minutes we saw Tim, Martin and others running toward us.  In dealing with the mismarking, we had lost critical time and the pack had caught up to us.  After crossing the ditch, we ran back up to the intersection of Arrowhead and Natural Well to see that someone had corrected the markings, blocking off the newer Arrowhead trail.  The tape was so low that there was no way that both Jon and I could have run under it.  We would have torn it down taking that path.  We were both confused, but we couldn't let it bother us.  But it was eating away at me.

We tan down Arrowhead and through the Cistern.  We dropped off Big Cat.  Then out of no where, Jon said, "we have company."  I had somehow forgotten the lost time we gave up on the bushwhacking.  Climbing back up to Arrowhead, still running 2nd, but with 3rd, 4th & 5th all in my shadow, I considered giving up.  I had worked so hard to be in this position.  I could just step aside and let the guys pass me up.  I could ease off the pace and finish comfortably.  No one would question a 5th place finish.  After all, I would still be top master's finisher.

I could either give up, or I could dig in.

I chose to dig in.

In the mile and half segment back to the lower intersection (of Natural Well and Arrowhead) I dug in and ran harder in this section than I ever had before.  Despite the never ending mud and slop, I kept pushing the pace, not willing to give up.  I did hear some shouting behind us, which turned out to be whoever was running with Tim had fallen.  Tim would say later that he had fallen too.  I pushed on, not taking my foot off the gas.  I ran down deep into the hollow at an uncomfortable pace.  We crossed the creek, climbed up, crossed the creek, then climbed back up Cry Baby hill.  Gregg Gelmis was there to capture us the moment that we were power hiking the top section.  We joked a little, but pushed on.  I needed to recover quickly, then get ready for the final climb.

Death Trail.

I knew that I needed to have a very good climb to hold off Jon and Tim.  I needed to dig deep.  I had long since committed.  I had already gone to the well.  Now I needed to take it to the next level if I wanted to hold on.

I powered up the climb, never looking back.

With just a few hundred meters to go, I could see the top of the waterfall.  The finish line.  I saw friend Keith Henry taking video.  I could hear the cheering crowd.  I summited the climb, crossed the stream and onto the finish.    I had opted to dig in, and not give up.  I had held off a massive charge from the chase pack. I had finished 2nd overall.

With this finish, I became the only person to have run in all 9 (official) runnings of this race.

My Race History

2007 - 7th (Geno Phillips)
2008 - 4th overall (Rob Youngren)
2009 - 2nd overall (David Riddle)
2010 - 3rd overall (David O'Keefe)
2011 - Rain out
2012 - 2nd overall (Brandon Mader)
2013 - 1st overall
2014 - 1st overall
2015 - 2nd overall (Josh Whitehead)
2016 - 2nd overall (Josh Whitehead)

I was supported today, as I am in all of my other big races; by my lovely wife Rachel.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Year in Review

There is no easy way to dance around it.  2015 was the most difficult I have known in all of my 40 years.  Diagnosed early in the year with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP), my vocal cords have been under constant attack from this virus.  Treatment consists of direct micro laryngoscopies with surgical removal using a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser. Because the virus lives in the normal appearing tissue surrounding the papilloma, recurrence is likely, and repeated endoscopic removal is required every six weeks.  Translated this means that I have had eight surgeries this year so that I can have some assemblance of a normal life with being able to talk at more than a whisper.  The virus is extremely rare in adults, impacting less than 1 person of every 200,000 Americans.  There is no cure.

Running has helped to maintain my sanity amidst these health issues.  There isn't as much witty banter on the run as there once was, but my legs can still turn over at a decent pace.  The virus makes it difficult to breathe at times but I refuse to let it beat me.  With the Grace of God, we pray that the virus will eventually go into remission.  Until then we fight the good fight.

Above all else, the love and support from Rachel has made everything possible.  She is my voice when I can not speak.  She is my strength when I am weak.  In September we said our vows at the majestic Snoqualmie Falls in North Bend, Washington.  That truly was the highlight of my year.

Here was the story of my year afoot!
  • 3,105 miles running (34,022 career)
  • 5 wins (78 career)
  • 4 masters wins since turning 40 in November
  • 14 top 3 finishes (176 career)
  • 29 total races (368 career)
  • HTC Open Male Gran Prix Series runner up for the 5th time (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, winner 2013)
  • Two-time overall winner Southern Tennessee Half Marathon
  • Raced New York City Marathon in November, competing all three U.S. Marathon majors (Boston, Chicago, New York) for the second time
  • Overall winner of Care Center 5k for the 5th consecutive year
  • Three time winner of Krispy Kreme Challenge (4th time overall) with second best time on record 29:25 (28:53 course record)
  • Paced 3:25 at Rocket City Marathon and 1:30 at Scottsboro Half Marathon
  • 1,575 miles cycling

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Timex ONE GPS+ Review

Date: Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gear Review: Timex ONE GPS+ by Eric Charette

Background Information: I have been running for 11 years and have logged over 34,000 miles and competed in over 360 races of every distance from the mile to 50 miles. I have run in nearly every state, been to all four corners of the country, to the highest and lowest points in the lower 48. Beyond running, I am an Electrical Engineer with my P.E. license working in the power utility industry. Every mile I have run has been chronicled in a detailed log and most of the miles have been tracked on GPS devices. In the early days it was the Garmin 105, then onto the five consecutive Garmin 205’s. More recently I have been wearing the Garmin 910XT for running and cycling. On occasion I will carry my iPhone 5s and use various tracking apps including Strava and MapMyRun. I am also the director of team operations for Fleet Feet Racing Huntsville. Part of my duties include managing partners and sponsors, often with product testing and gear reviews. So when Andrew asked me if I wanted to test out the new TIMEX ONE GPS+ I was all in. Running plus technology plus writing equals my sweet spot!


First and foremost I want to thank TIMEX and Andrew Hodges for the opportunity to product test the new ONE GPS+.

I have been looking at GPS watches for running that can not only track every mile on foot and the bike, but one that can sync workouts immediately upon completion. The method of bringing the GPS back home to sync with a computer via USB stick is very antiquated, only to see that everyone else I ran with has already uploaded their run via various smart GPS watches. Reading that the ONE GPS+ features a data plan to automatically sync workouts without requiring a smart phone was an immediate benefit. The upload process is very easy, with just a single button to send the data to Garmin Connect, which I have linked to Strava.

I liked the feel of the watch on my skinny wrists. It fit very snug and the low profile of the device was slightly smaller than my Garmin 910XT. It still is a little large to be worn as an everyday watch but the size of these devices are trending in the right direction. The band hinges are fixed, meaning that the watch will not lay flat. The only time this causes any issues is when charging and wanting the watch to lay flat to see the percentage charge that I am used to seeing.

Having run with the watch all over the country, I have been in places were normal cell phone coverage is nonexistent. Still the watch worked great! I attempted to upload the data from the run which appeared to succeed but with no coverage it was just kept on the device. I was able to upload the data when I had signal overage again.

The touch screen has taken some getting used to. I do prefer side buttons, especially when running with sweaty fingers when I can’t quite figure out how much pressure to apply to the screen. Being able to configure the data on screens is plus. I was able to swipe through the screens to see different data during the run. After the run, I was able to look back at historical runs very simply.

Out of the box I did play with the emailing feature but have to note that it is quite arduous to compose the messages. I sent a few messages and can see that this might be a good emergency feature. But the built in emergency features to send a signal to an “angel” takes the place of emailing. Before fully understanding how to use the feature, the watch was sending my wife emails about my location then updates along my running route. This could be a very nice option for when running alone or while on travel with giving your loved ones an idea that I am safe.

The accuracy seems to be very good. I have worn it several times on one arm while wearing my Garmin 910XT on the other arm. Over the course of 10+ mile runs, both devices ended up being within a couple hundredths of each other.

The battery life is substantial when it is in watch mode. Despite dozens of runs, I have yet to master the power situation. With some more practice and attention I should be able to master when to put the watch in standby mode vs. leaving it powered on and ready to run which seems to take a toll on the battery after days. The charger plug has a USB option which provides versatility with charging the device.

I was excited about the idea of adding music to the watch. The process was pretty easy with a simple drag and drop from either Windows Explorer or Mac Finder. Where I was let down a little was I assume that the watch would have a small speaker to play the music; that would have been amazing! But the option to listen to the music is via Bluetooth (headphones).  I got the powerbeats2 wireless headphones for Christmas and these worked like a charm!  Great to listen to music from your wrist and not to have to carry a phone.

The smart phone app that goes with the watch is pretty helpful to do some basic configuration of watch. I was able to edit my profile, locate the device (similar to a find my phone feature), manage my contacts, review messages that were sent/received and manage the angel locator settings. Pretty much everything that I wanted to do within the app was there. The running events are not logged within the app as those are kept in the Garmin Connect app. I can understand the separation as this allows for all logged events from any GPS device to be kept whereas the ONE GPS+ app is just for this device. Simple enough.

The autopause feature could use some improvements. For city running with lots of stop lights, the watch would pause just as expected. But when starting to run again, the watch would take a significant amount of time and distance to start up again. Then once the device started tracking again, it took a while for the pace to be regulated. For example I would be running seven minute pace when the device started tracking, but the watch would be measuring barely over a walking pace. This really was frustrating as it played havoc on my overall average pace. The worst part was that it was impossible to disable the autopause during the workout without a reset and starting over. Options such as autolap and autopause should be accessible from standard settings and locked in for the run.

I was a little disappointed that there was not an option to log miles on the bike. I suspect that this will be a future feature which would truly make the TIMEX a multisport watch.

I want to continue testing the watch before I have enough confidence to use it during a race. I am sure that it will perform fine, but pace, time and distance are very important to know during a race.

Overall I am pretty happy with the watch. I think with a few software and hardware tweaks, the next evolution will be right in step with the other GPS watch leaders.

Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 McKay Hollow Madness

I wish that every race report could be an epic tale of overcoming adversity, defeating evil or defying the odds.  That makes it easy to spin a tale that people want to read.  It is with great dismay that I record my thoughts on my favorite race with a ho-hum attitude but sometimes the build up and hype outshine the actual event.

Each spring for the last nine years has culminated for me with McKay Hollow Madness.  In the early years it was a trail half marathon, then later changed to a 25km and even that has had several minor course variations.  The course really only has two climbs (Natural Well and Death Trail), but Panther Knob, Sinks, War Path Ridge and Cry Baby Hill are nothing to shake a stick at.  Picture 100' of climbing per kilometer, shoe-sucking mud, hills that extract your will to live and rocks that have claimed many ankles and there you have the Madness.

Some have said that it is the toughest trail race, mile for mile, that they have come across.  Some have broken bones, walked away bloody or even finished crying.  This year was the trifecta as all three of those things happened in the span of a three and a half minutes.

This race matches my strengths perfectly; climbing, technical trail running, ability to gracefully float downhill on rocky terrain and in a sub ultra distance.  Historically I have fared very well at the Madness, finishing in the top 3 seven times, runner up twice and was the current two-time defending champion.  When it comes to the Madness, I've gone to toe to toe with some of the best trail runners around and given them all a run for their money.

Leading into this year, I was a little nervous about how my surgically knee would react.  I had been training exclusively on roads all spring to avoid aggravating it further after the lengthy recovery I needed after Mountain Mist.  My climbing had progressed nicely as I had been crushing some hill workouts lately.  My endurance was suspect but I didn't think that it would hinder my performance.

There really is no good way to say this and I am not trying to insult anyone; it is a fact that the competition this year was not as deep as it was in years past.  This year looked to be a one-man race as Josh Whitehead was signed up as he continued to tickle his trail running fancy.  Then there was me, and then it didn't go much further.  The good doctor Krichev is a solid athlete but self admitted to not having run over 15 miles in the last decade and was not as talented on trails as he is on the bike. So as part of my race plan, I had to figure out how to deal with the fact that I would most likely be running alone for two hours.

The weather was perfect; cold temperatures and not much rain meant that the trails were mostly dry and fast.  I would later recant that these were the best conditions I have ever seen.  New race director Cary Long gave us some inspiring words about his bodily functions and we were off.

Starting Line
Josh and Brandon Mader (running the newly formed 12km, or as he called it "the kids race") were out quick as was Nathan Hall.  The first mile is on the road so running at a low six pace, even in inov-8 x-talon 212's was not taxing at all.  By the time we turned on the cabin road I had moved into second place and would stay there for the rest of the race.  I did have an epic fall just before the climb to Panther Knob as some nobs had piled sticks and branches across the trail in a muddy spot so their mountain bike tires wouldn't get stuck.  I did a superman forward, but managed to brace my fall with my water bottle so I was just left with two scraped up and bloody knees.  The climb up to the knob was uneventful, as was most of my day.  After a small climb back up on Sinks to Mountain Mist, I was able to run out to O'Shaugnessy Point in the mid 7's.  I was right on track through the first third of the race.  I was fueling with Honey Stinger Acai and Pomegrante Organic Energy Gel which was perfect to top of my energy stores after 45 minutes of running.

Early road miles
The middle third started with a climb up War Path with a steady effort.  I wanted to have an even distribution of energy all day so I opted against blowing out this early climb.  After the crest and through the aid station, I confirmed with Beth Barry that Mader had, in fact, gone onto the 12km finish (confirmed) then I began the descent of Rest Shelter.  I usually am in a position where i have to take a lot of chances on the rocky downslope, either trying to run away from people to to catch people.  On this day I just needed to stay in control and not take any early risks.  Slush mile wasn't that slushy at all.  A few blow downs for obstacles but otherwise more running in the 8's onto the halfway point.  I have always said that this race really doesn't start until the climb up Natural Well.   On occasion I would glance back just to make sure that I wasn't getting rolled up by the doctor but I ventured to guess that I had at least a 2 to 3 minute lead at the base of the climb and that would extend on the climb.  I ran every step of Natural Well, up past the well and onto the flat top section heading west.  I have always been able to tell what kind of shape that I am in by how quickly I can recover.  My pace on Natural Well and Arrowhead extension were in the low 8's which meant that my conditioning were good.  I had been targeting a split of 1:22 through 10 miles just before the Trough Spring aid station and I hit it right on time.  I got to see the lovely Rachel at the aid station who was waiting for me with a new bottle but on this cold day I would not need it.

Onto the trail
Onto the final third of this race which starts with 4 really easy miles.  The ditch wasn't bad at all given a clear line across and then the short climb up the gravel road to the top of Arrowhead was just as the other miles; steady and even.  I grabbed another Honey Stinger for the drop and sipped on it for a bit.  I let loose a little on the fast downhill to the cistern, only slowing once when I had to whisper to a runner that he had taken a wrong turn above.  Big Cat was like little kitty on this day as I was able to run the whole thing.  Don't take that as boasting or bragging that I was able run the entire thing; it just wasn't that taxing on this day.  Back toward the 4-way intersection was muddier than slush mile but nothing compared to a few weeks ago when it was ankle deep in freezing water.  I dropped down deep into the hollow and crossed the creek, looking forward to the final series of climbs.  I knew that Josh was at an unreachable distance ahead and my lead on 3rd was probably the same but I continued to run hard.  Death Trail seemed slow as I walked a few steps on the lower section below fat man pass, but ran most of the top.  The waterfall was a nice sight with a few people cheering as I made the summit and to the line in 2nd place overall.

Atop the falls
So once again a bridesmaid to much better runners (Riddle in 2009, Mader in 2012.)  The course seemed to be a touch long this year with the modified starting line as in previous years I had measured 14.8 or 14.9 but this year I was closer to 15.4 miles.  My time was 2:13:46 or spot on from last year.  Rachel was there at the finish for a post race hug, a piece of cookie cake and then that was that.

My hot date for the finish line
Top 3
Old school finisher board
Like I said, it wasn't a harrowing effort by any means.  I trained hard, had a solid race plan then executed it perfectly.  There were no surprises, no deviation from what I needed to do.  I tried to smile as much as I could and enjoy the experience.  I had a great distribution of energy all day.

I am proud to be the only person to have started and finished all 8 "official" runnings of McKay Hollow Madness.  (*Note that 2011 was a washout year so even though this was the 9th running, and I did the unofficial race that day in a monsoon, 2015 was just the 8th event.)

Now 48 hours after the race I am in a minor world of hurt.  Not having run many trails recently and having the knee issues which was all multiplied by the tumble, I do feel like I was run over by a Mack Truck.  I am sure it is just the normal bumps and bruises that are amplified by age but I hope that the soreness and stiffness subsides soon since I have two more goals yet this spring.

All photos courtesy of Gregg Gelmis, We Run Huntsville, Cary Long and James E. Hurley.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thank you Mr. Carpenter

As I previously have written on my blog, my struggles with speaking continue amidst fighting recurring vocal cord papilloma and multiple surgeries.  Recently we have had the good fortune of working with a specialist at UAB who has a great strategy for moving forward and we are very excited about the possibilities of treatment.

At work I have been using a cheaply made microphone and speaker to amplify my voice, but now that I may have this low volume condition for a few more months, I decided to look for a more professional model.

On Wednesday, I placed an online order from a medical supply store for a Chattervox.  It was supposed to be delivered to my home on Friday.

On Thursday, it arrived at my office.

I thought that maybe since I was emailing back and forth with the online medical supplier, that they had my work address from my email signature and they just shipped it to work instead of my home.

Today I got an email from a sales account manager at work asking me 'if the package from Mark Carpenter had arrived'. Mark is the Senior Vice President of Oncor Electric, the power company in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that supplies power to 7 million people. They are the largest utility customer for Intergraph. Over the last few years I have consulted with Mark and his team on numerous occasions.  Mark also has trouble with his voice and uses a voice amplification system. Recently I had asked Mark for a suggestion on a better model for voice amplifier, including which one he uses personally.

At first I was very confused on the email from our account manager.  What package?

Then I realized what had happened.

Mark actually had ordered the voice amplification system for me and had it shipped to my office. What? Seriously? That's several hundred dollars of equipment, out of his own pocket. I am literally and figuratively speechless.

The kindness that I have been shown throughout my surgeries and voice troubles have been tremendous, but this utterly blew me away. There are some truly genuine people in this world and my friend and colleague Mark Carpenter is one of them.

Acts of kindness like this are those that inspire me to want to be a better person.  They make me want to pass this kindness forward my other personal relationships.

Thank you Mark.  Your gesture made me smile and tear up a little.