10k, racing, running, Uncategorized

Trinity Levee 10k

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Always wear your White Rock Running Co-op shirt to races, and you will be surrounded by friends. Also, what is with those poses (me and Carlos, to left?! Hahahar)

Here’s what it looks like to be third overall female, missing second by literally one second! (Punches self in face).

I also came in first masters female, but they gave me the Third Overall plaque rather than the First Place Masters—no prize monies either way, so I’m totally fine with not being called out on my old age.

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A podium finish is cool. I am old, though, and only getting older, as are we all, if we are lucky …

Kudos to fellow White Rock Running Co-op member Brent Woodle who came first place overall.

Garmin stats: Ran a very even race. This is thanks to running with a heart rate monitor.

The Trinity Levee course was great. A few rough patches, and it starts out on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, but it turned out to be net downhill because the finish line was under the levee. (I wish I had known this when I started; I held back a bit, thinking I would face an uphill on the last mile).

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Here’s one of those rough patches. But how cool is this photo with the infographics (that was my slowest point of the race :()?

As it always is with races of two distances, the problems happen when 5k-ers merge with 10k-ers. As I turned the last corner, as I dropped my speed to a 6:15 pace, I found myself behind three side-by-side-by-side 5k runners with no way to pass.

I hollered as I approached their heels, “Please let me pass!” And I swear I said yelled “Please.” Not one of them heard or acknowledged me, I assume because they all were wearing headphones. So I wound up slowing down and eventually passing in the muddy area aside the trail.

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Gotta take the #badracephotos with the good, right? Here’s where the 5k and 10k merged. Yeah, I see the fanny pack too, but we’re not here to judge. At least she’s not blocking out the world with headphones.

Remember that ONE SECOND? Still, I have no one to blame but myself. I could and should have had more than that one second cushion. Hindsights: Maybe I should have started at the front. I lined up about 10-12 deep at the starting line, which also was a mistake that cost me seconds.

Dozens of slower runners toed the line right UP FRONT of this very crowded field. How people do not intuitively know that this is wrong, I will never figure out. At least no strollers or dogs were in my way.

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Awesome idea: Cypress at Trinity Groves partnered with race organizers to provide FREE race photos. Hopefully we will soon say goodbye to the racket that is the race photo business!

Now that I seem to be somewhat back in fighting shape, I plan to hone in on the 10k training. I’m doing speedwork about two times a week. I’ll start posting the training schedule here on the blog again. I don’t know if anyone reads it, but it helps me to have everything posted here anyway.

I hope to improve on this time at the upcoming Celebration White Rock 10k, March 24. (Full disclosure: I have a free entry via my magazine, East Dallas Advocate.)

My 10k PR is 40:43. My goal is to beat that. My pie in the sky is to break 40, but the cool weather is waning and so are my chances of doing that this season.

Hood to Coast, learning, racing, running

Hood to Coast, from the perspective of Runner 1

Despicable We, Van 1, ready to roll
Despicable We, Van 1, ready to roll

Note: As with my Boston Marathon write-up and most everything I write for this blog, it took me about a month to get this done. See, when I go out of town for something like a race, I return to a shit-ton of work and do not have time to write recreationally. Also, it is long. I want to not only document my experience for personal use, but also to provide useful information to readers anticipating this race in the future. Anyway, enough bla bla bla. Here’s the Hood to Coast report:

It’s mid-morning on a Friday in August. I am at the top of Mount Hood in Oregon, 6,000 feet above sea level. With me at the starting line are some 40 or so other runners. Our teams cheer us from the sidelines. My adrenaline is pumping. I have never been more ready to run. Minutes later I am flying down the mountain, running the fastest miles I’ve ever run past a million evergreen trees and rivers and waterfalls — yeah, friggin waterfalls.

It all started many months ago …
… when my running buddy Danny Hardeman asked me to be on his Hood To Coast relay team. Friends from our White Rock Running Co-op ran the 2013 HTC. They made it sound insanely fun, but not at all like something I wanted to do. Twelve-man teams, some 25 hours in a crowded van, scrupulous planning and related meetings, a litany of expenses … not exactly ideal for a frugal, disorganized loner who despises hassle and deeply values personal space, not to mention sleep.

But Danny was so excited. He thought my husband could drive one of the vans, he said. Yeah, like that would happen.

My husband, Josh, is not a runner and he thinks we are weird. If my husband wants to drive, I say, I’m in. I figured that would be the end of it.

But something happened that night — local radio personality Craig Miller, a competitive runner and triathlete whom Josh and I both love, came for dinner at Josh’s restaurant.

“Hood to Coast?” Craig apparently said, “You have to do it!” So Hubs called me and said he was in.

Danny put together a team of 12 solid runners. Most were people I know and a few were people I did not know well yet. At our first meeting, we argued over team names. Suggestions that required the least bit of mental calisthenics were met with blank stares; most enthusiastically praised were suggestions alluding to sex, gross bodily functions or food (I later would learn that these things drive most HTC team names). Eventually every name proposed at said meeting was rejected and somehow we became Despicable We. It turned out to be a beloved team name and theme — later, throughout the event, we would hear, “It’s the minions!” “I love your shirts!” “Love your van!” Not to overstate it, but we were kind-a famous.

The unveiling of the Despicable We campaign, featuring Susan, Gigi and Jenny: Photo (and poster) by Paris Sunio
The unveiling of the Despicable We campaign, featuring Susan, Gigi and Jenny: Photo (and poster) by Paris Sunio

The other WRRC team is called Cereal Killers. I wrote all about them here last year.

I did not really know before I partook in Hood to Coast, but I know now: name and theme — this also involves T-shirts and van decorations — is a big deal. A seriously big deal.

As race weekend neared I realized the complex planning and expenses that go into HTC — registration, travel, two vans with (preferably) two drivers each, starting-line accommodations, finish-line lodging, getting to and fro the airport, and so on. Fortunately a few of my teammates were real leaders when it came to planning and I did not need to do much other than pay my way and do my best to follow instructions.

Then there is the training — how does one train to race three times in less than 24 hours?

I pretty much just followed my training schedule for my upcoming November half marathon. Through the early summer months I maintained a base by running about 40-50 miles a week; in May I began adding speed work twice a week. I’d run, for example, 12 times 200 meters or 400 meters on Tuesday and six mile-repeats on Thursdays and a long run on Saturday and Sunday (usually 10-15 on Saturday and 10 on Sundays). In July I ramped up the mileage to about 70 miles per week, adding a second run about three days a week. I sought out hills and used the downhill treadmill at the gym for several runs. Normally I would schedule a 5k or 10k race this time of year; instead, HTC would be my end of summer fitness test.

But there is nothing to prepare one who resides in Dallas for the infamous Leg 1 of Hood to Coast. It is six miles of extreme downhill running. Overall, it is one of the shortest and easiest legs of the race, but the mountain makes for some really intense racing. I decided that no matter how fast or controlled I ran, I would hurt afterward. I knew from research and personal experience that the worst muscle soreness would set in about 48 hours after a given run, so I would be able to finish all three of my legs before the really intense pain set in (which it did; in the days following the race I could barely walk). So I chose to let the momentum and adrenaline carry me through my downhill leg — no holding back.

me at start
I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I’m. So. Scared. Photo by Brent Woodle

Book 1

I believe the faster teams usually start later, but somehow Danny had negotiated us a 9:45 start time. Teams start in waves — about 30-40 every 15 minutes all day Friday.

So I started with other Leg 1-ers who were planning to race a bit slower than we were. Therefore, from the starting horn to the end of my almost-six miles I was out front and all alone. The few times I looked back, I saw not a soul. About a mile in, my van passed me en route to the first exchange and they yelled that I was running on the wrong side of the road. I was kind of scared to cross the street but then another van pulled over; the driver said we’d be disqualified if I didn’t cross and she watched traffic so I could cross. Thanks, friend.

I clocked a 5:36 first mile. My second mile was closer to 5:40, and I maintained a sub six-minute mile right up until the final quarter mile (where things flattened out). To give you an idea of the speed-assistance this mountain offered: my fastest-ever 5k prior to this was run at a 6:12 per-mile pace.

My buddy Matt was waiting to take the relay wristband. The van and the rest of the team parked across the street and was cheering us on. Teammate and friend Susan was waiting for me at the exchange, too, thank goodness, because when I came to a halt, my rubbery legs gave out and she caught me.

Me and Susan: Photo by Brent Woodle
Me and Susan: Photo by Brent Woodle

No time to waste — getting the van from one exchange to the other in a timely manner is part of the competition. We hopped in and drove down a scenic thoroughfare thickly lined with fir trees. At 10:30, the air was crisp but the sun was emerging and it was warming up. As we waited for Matt, I walked around and rolled my hamstrings and calves with The Stick. I drank a bottle of Gatorade and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

By the time Matt finished and Jenny started, it was nearing 70 degrees. Susan was dreading Leg 4, a sunny 7-mile race, but she wound up being right on pace. Brent, our fastest, had the toughest overall assignment, but his first leg, though hot, was handily slaughtered. By the time Danny finished Leg 6, and we went to rest a few hours while members of the second team van did their thing, it was blazing hot. The sun was shining full force as Van 2 minion Julie embarked on Leg 7. This relay and van exchange took place at a high school. The parking lot was an ideal place to check out the competition and all the creative team themes, costumes and decorations.

While Van 2 minions ran legs 7-12, us Van 1-ers went to a pizza place. Pizza was delicious. As I tore into my second slice, I asked Brent — who had created a spreadsheet to estimate our start and finish times based on each team member’s predicted pace (and as we went along, actual pace) — how much time I had until my next run.

Four hours? I guessed. “No,” he says. “Two.” I returned that second slice to its plate and said, “Crap.”

Pizza before racing on a hot afternoon: not the best idea.

Ready for round two: Photo by Paris Sunio
Ready for round two: Photo by Paris Sunio

Book 2
My second run, a.k.a. Leg 13 was just over four miles, but it was through the middle of Portland at 5:30 p.m. The sun was still baring-down and it was about 85 degrees.

In Portland, a half HTC relay race called Portland to Coast begins, so it is crowded. As I waited for Leg 12-er, Kevin, to hand off to me, the race officials started announcing that if we were not going to be finished with our leg by 6 p.m., we needed to be wearing our reflective vests. I asked some of my team members to get me the vest, but the van was too far; there was no time. When Kevin arrived, glistening with sweat and smiling broadly, the linesman said to me, “Where’s your vest?” And I confidently proclaimed, “I’ll be done before 6.”

Of course there was no way I was doing 4.5 miles in fewer than 30 minutes, but they let me go. In fact, I ran these miles at a little over 7 minutes each. I had hoped to keep my miles all under 7, but I was beginning to understand that running 13 or 14 miles in HTC was very different than running, say, a straight half-marathon. By the second round of running you are sore from your first race, cramped-up from being in a van all day, and there’s a good chance that your lunch has not fully digested.

I grew very nervous during this leg that I was on the wrong track. The course runs through a Portland park, where vagabond loafers smoking pot stare at you. You can’t really blame them for being baffled — while they are just blazing,  this pink-faced, heaving chick is blazing through their park. WTF? But finally I saw two HTC fans sitting in lawn chairs — they cheered me as I approached, told me I looked hot (and I think they meant the sweat soaking my body and my fire-engine-red face, as opposed to the complimentary sort of hot) and they verified that I was heading the right way.

On the other side of the park is this industrial area that smells of burning rubber. It is hot and miserable and the few other Hood to Coast-ers I saw were walking. I miraculously managed to hand off to Matt without regurgitating the pizza, which was my constant unwelcome companion through the aforementioned miles.

I am so grateful to be done with that leg! Here on the edge of Portland we also encountered the Cereal Killer team. We were neck-in-neck with them and competing in a friendly way. Meredith, a CK member, wound up carrying a second reflective vest because she had heard I did not have mine. She was trying to get one to me. When I heard that, it warmed my heart. It was one of many sweet fuzzy feelings to come as the night wore on.

After my second race, I stretched, drank a protein shake, continued to hydrate, popped an allergy pill and some aspirin and attempted to relax as my husband and his co-pilot, Paris, navigated the runner exchanges.

As it grew darker, we ran farther, through scenic, wooded, mountainous Oregon — through towns called Scappoose and Mist and Jewel — toward the finish line at Seaside.

With the night came cooler temps. Once Danny finished Leg 17, we pulled into the campgrounds at the start of my final leg and attempted to get some shuteye. This was practically pointless. Several of us stretched out on the seats of the van while a couple tried the tents provided by Dick’s Sporting Goods. For about an hour I was able to relax myself into a near-meditative state, but never slept. Then I had to pee. As I walked from the van through the dark to the potties, I realized my legs were toast. I mean, they felt like someone had beaten them, and ruthlessly, with a baseball bat.

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In the middle of the night — Brent, Jenny, Susan, Me, Danny, Matt: Photo by Paris Sunio

Book 3
For about 45 minutes I walked around the campgrounds trying to loosen up. Just a little over 4 miles left, I told myself, but I knew I had to move fast to keep our team on pace. We wanted to break 24 hours. It now was super-chilly. I grabbed some coffee from a vendor. Van 2 arrived at the exchange to pick up their last runner of part 2, Kevin, and members of Van 1 began to emerge from that pseudo-sleep and gather to cheer Kevin in and me out.

Despite my soreness, I was much more excited about this leg than I had been about the last. It was cool. It was dark. The stars were abundant. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, and I was totally pumped.

Again, Kevin arrived with a smile and I screamed his name. “Keeeevvvviiiinnnn! Come on, buddy! Yes! Alllrriiigght! Wooo hooo!” And then I was off.

As the noisy, crowded exchange area faded into the background, I breathed in and concentrated deeply on the moment. Even with my flashlight, visibility was low. All I could see was the gravel-y road at my feet. The fog made even the few runners I passed invisible until I was just steps behind them. I turned off my light for a moment and looked up. The stars were thick and endless. The night was sparkling.

My legs refused to match my overall enthusiasm and didn’t move much faster than about 7:15 per mile. I worked as hard as I could, tried to mentally photograph that sky, and when I handed the relay bracelet to Matt for the last time, I felt a pang of sadness. My run was over.

When I reached the van, I offered my one bit of advice to my teammates: “Be sure, at least once, to turn off your light and look at the stars,” I said. “They are amazeballs.” (So shoot me — I get sentimental when I am sleepy.)

The night flew by. We grew more excited as morning approached. Brent tackled the toughest leg of HTC — 3.5 miles of  extreme elevation followed by 2.5 miles of treacherous downhill running. By the time he reached the exchange, traffic was bad. We were fortunate enough to avoid any delays due to the backup at the exchanges, but Brent did have to walk an extra mile after his run to reach the only spot we were able to park the van. Luckily we also were able to drop Danny off at his proper starting point, and Susan got out with him and helped Brent find us. More evidence that this race is in large part about navigation, logistics and luck.

Danny embraced the final leg of Van 1, flying downhill at breakneck speed. He hopped into the ride and we all took a moment to be proud of this little team he had put together. We were done, and every member of Van 1 performed brilliantly in his/her first Hood to Coast experience.

Turns out, though I did not get to observe it so closely, our Van 2 members did the same.

Finished!: Photo by Paris Sunio
Finished!: Photo by Paris Sunio

A memorable finish 

We drove to another Oregon high school that was welcoming Hood to Coast runners (for a small donation) to use its showers. At that point, I think we would have paid anything. (Um, thanks, Brent, for paying for both me and my cash-broke husband.)

After old-school group showers, we headed toward Seaside — famous for providing a backdrop to the classic “Goonies” movie and — more importantly if only on this day — the Hood To Coast finish line.

First we made a couple of pit stops for well-earned potables of an alcoholic variety. Now, I no longer drink alcohol, but I sure do love watching others get plowed. And mixing alcohol with exhaustion is always funny and unpredictable. So as to not incriminate myself or any of my teammates, I will not go into any more detail there. I will just say, when you are a runner, there ARE actually times when it is acceptable to purchase Crown Royal at 7 a.m., though it is not easy to find someone selling it.

Josh, me and Matt, done.: Photo by Paris Sunio
Josh, me and Matt, done.: Photo by Paris Sunio

After a couple of hours we know we need to get to the finish line. We estimated that Kevin would be finishing just about 9:45. (As it turned out, our finish time was 24:08:00 which placed us 8th in the open division — about a 7:12 overall pace for almost 200 miles. Not bad.)

The way the finish works: as the anchor runner rounds the last corner, about 400 meters from the finish, race organizers announce the team number, then the team gathers in a corral and joins its runner as he passes, so that your whole team finishes together.

Problem: Van 2 got caught-up in traffic. As Kevin embarked on his last mile, they were just finding a parking space. A good eight blocks from the finish. The members of Van 1, already gathered at the finish, were beginning to worry that the second half of our team would miss the big finish. Biting my nails, I watched the road for signs of Andre, Julie, Kelly, Ryan, Gigi and their drivers Tamra (Kevin’s wife) and Sohale.

Then, we heard it — the announcer called out “Here comes team 825. Despicable We!” Just as we filed into the corral, I spotted Andre. I started screaming at them, “He’s here! Kevin is here! Huuurrryyy!” This effort would mean the last of my voice, which was hoarse for the next two weeks. Andre and the gang surveyed the fence between them and us, and they assessed that there was no way over; they would need to go around — a bit of a hike. At that point, Kevin, who was hauling, came into sight.

Not to Kevin, but to his teammates we screamed, “RUUUUUN!”

They had no choice but to revive their dead legs and start running toward us. Just as Kevin came down the final stretch, the members of Van 2 stumbled through the corral. All together, we ran to the finishing chute — under the banner, some of the guys lifted Kevin to their shoulders. I felt a little catch in my throat, and it wasn’t from my pained vocal chords. It was emotion.

I hugged my good sport of a husband and the rest of my teammates. A lady handed me an armful of medals and I put them, one by one, around the necks of my relay brothers and sisters. Danny. Kevin. Matt. Susan. Jenny. Gigi. Kelly. Ryan. Julie. Andre. Brent. Me.

Shortly after, the members of Cereal Killers arrived. We ate and drank and recapped the hilarity. I bonded with CK friends Meredith and Greg, who like me were veterans of “Leg 1” (this and last year, respectively).

We dreamed about “next year.”

Seaside beach was magnificent.

Cold waters: Photo by Matt's camera, but that's Matt, so I am not sure ...
Chilly water, sand and fog: Photo by Matt’s camera, but that’s Matt prancing along the coast, so I am not sure …

Josh and I, while too wimpy to fully submerge ourselves in the icy water like some of the others, dove into the balmy sand and slept for 45 minutes, and we woke as the sun burned off the last of the morning’s dense fog.

Thanks, Craig Miller. You were right. We absolutely had to do this.

Comrades, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, trail running, ultra, Uncategorized

Dallas runner finishes famous Comrades Marathon

White Rock Running Co-op team member Hari Garimella ran the 2014 Comrades ultramarathon: Photo courtesy Garimella
White Rock Running Co-op team member Hari Garimella ran the 2014 Comrades ultramarathon: Photo courtesy Garimella

Hari Garimella accompanied by his wife and young son, just returned to the White Rock area after successfully trekking the mountainous 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. A version of this article was first published on Advocatemag.com.

A few years ago I read a piece in Runner’s World magazine about editor and former professional runner Bart Yasso’s experience running the Comrades Marathon in South Africa.

Even here in The States, among the running community, Comrades is notorious. In Africa, beginning in 1921, it has reached Super Bowl — or World Cup, even — levels of acclaim.

The race involves running about 56 miles through the mountains of South Africa in under 12 hours.

It is more popular, say the editors at RW, than the Boston Marathon, with as many runners, from as many various nations; the entire country — anyone who isn’t racing or spectating — watches the 12-plus hour television broadcast, they marvel.

After first reading about the event, I too was enthralled. Unlike our usually precise American races, the 56 miles is an estimate. “They change the course every year and no one minds,” RW editor Amby Burfoot says. There seems less a spirit of competition than a spirit of community. A group of physically disabled students sing for the runners. Most participants, aside from some elites, aim not for a particularly fast time, but to strategically pace themselves to finish before the 12-hour cutoff. At 12:00:01 a course marshal fires a shot. Anyone who has not crossed the finish line at that point did not run (according to the official results, anyway).

Students from the Ethembeni school for disabled children performed for Comrades runners: Photo courtesy Hari Garimella
Students from the Ethembeni school for disabled children welcomed Comrades runners with singing and dancing: Photo courtesy of Hari Garimella

At that point, runners stop where they stand and fall to the ground, often wailing, moaning and weeping from exhaustion and disappointment, one former participant tells RW.

To finish before that dreaded gunshot was the goal of 39-year-old White Rock Running Co-op member and Texas Instruments employee Hari Garimella, who just returned to the neighborhood after racing the 2014 Comrades ultra-marathon.

“During the course of my training and previous experiences of running a few ultra-marathons, which included tasting my first ever DNF (did not finish) on a 50-mile race at Palo Duro Canyon, I realized that I was going to have to get very disciplined on my training, as the Comrades run was going to be my longest-ever race,” Garimella notes in his race report that you can read in full here.

Garimella says he trained near White Rock on Saturdays, with his running club. The rest of the week he ran with his dog, Dunbar or his friend Viresh Modi, who also was training for Comrades.

His preparations began with a New Year’s Eve marathon followed by six months of daily runs, which included several long training runs of 21, 31 and 35 miles, and one day of rest per week.

When he arrived in South Africa last week with his wife and son, he says his appreciation for the historic event grew, following a trip to the Comrades museum and meeting a few renowned Comrades competitors. (Former Olympic runner Zola Budd — famous in the 80s for her bare feet and for becoming tangled with American runner Mary Decker during a disastrous 3,000 meter Olympic race in 1984 — was one of the top female competitors).

Garimella’s strategy, he says, involved walking some on the uphill sections and running nonstop on the downhills. Despite temps in the near 90s and more hills than he ever could have imagined, he stuck to it. Mostly. With just 5k to go, fatigue forced him to walk, but a fellow runner motivated him to finish the last of the 89 kilometers fast.

“I felt this motivation come out of nowhere. I thanked my new friend, and all of sudden ran the remaining one-kilometer, and ran it strong. I got to the Kingsmeade Sahara stadium and could hear the entire stadium cheering for the runners,” he says.

Garimella family in South Africa: Photo courtesy of Garimella
Garimella family in South Africa: Photo courtesy of Garimella

“I saw my wife and son on the sidelines and waved to them. I kept running strong and in a few seconds I crossed the finish line. I was done and had succeeded in finishing my first Comrades marathon in 11:13:12.”

He says his wife, Nirisha, and son, Jay, are his biggest cheerleaders. “My son is going to be a better runner than me soon.”

Garimella is home and intends to take a couple of weeks rest before resuming training. His plan? The 2015 Comrades, which will run the opposite direction (with more uphill than down) of this year’s race. He says he will continue regular uber-long runs, which he thinks contributed vastly to his healthy condition at Comrades, and he will run more on hills and add weight training to strengthen his quads. Read more from Hari here.

Sidenote: Zola Budd reportedly has been stripped of her age group win at Comrades for failing to properly pin on her runner identification information.

inspiration, running, trail running, ultra

Dallas women kick ass at Rocky Raccoon 100

I spent last Saturday night in front of my laptop watching the results of the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler.

Seamus — the mutt I adopted from Nicole, the RR100 champ — accompanied me as I followed the race online.
Seamus — the mutt I adopted from Nicole, the RR100 champ — accompanied me as I followed the race online.

My friend Nicole Studer won the women’s race, for the second year in a row (Nicole fostered my dog Seamus and brought the two of us together, so I will forever be indebted to her; he is the best mutt in the world – just look at him).

The second-place female Kaci Lickteig began gaining on Nicole over the last several miles and the 16+ hour ultra came down to a near neck-in-neck with Lickteig just three minutes behind Nicole at the finish. Whew – what a day.

Worth noting: the ultra-running/trail-running community did a bang-up job on coverage with live streaming, tweeting, Vine-ing, blogging, etc. so kudos to irunfar.com and endurancebuzz.com.

Below is the write up I posted on Advocatemag.com about our area’s kick-ass ultra-running women.

White Rock Running Co-op members James Ayers, Brent Yost, Nicole Studer, Eric Studer and Brent Woodle

White Rock Running Co-op members James Ayers, Brent Yost, Nicole Studer — and her hubby Eric Studer — and Brent Woodle are exhausted but ecstatic after a long day at the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile race.

Ultra-running is a fringe activity that is gaining popularity, and women from the Dallas and White Rock area are proving to be leaders in the sport.

An ultra-marathon refers to anything longer than the 26.2 miles that is a regular marathon — 50k, 50 miles, 100 miles and beyond — and they typically are run on dirt trails (and frequently over mountains and other grueling terrain).

We wrote a year ago about White Rock-area resident and White Rock Running Co-op member Nicole Studer when she won the Huntsville Rocky Raccoon 100-mile race.

This year’s Rocky Raccoon 100, held this past weekend, served as the USA Track and Field 100-mile Trail Championship, and Studer defended her title against an even tougher field of women than last year. She won again; she ran under 16 hours and beat second-place Kaci Lickteig from Nebraska by just three minutes.

Another neighborhood woman, Shaheen Sattar — who also improved last year’s time by more than an hour — placed third.

Dallas Running Club member and neighborhood resident Bryan Fisher snapped this pic of Claudia Zulejkic, who he supported as she tackled the 100-mile race.
Dallas Running Club member and neighborhood resident Bryan Fisher snapped Claudia Zulejkic, who he supported as she tackled the 100-mile race.

Claudia Zulejkic, who you’ll find most days working at Bikram Yoga Dallas on Mockingbird-Abrams, ran all day and night, completing the 100-mile ultra-marathon in a little more than 25 hours and placed in the top 25 women out of more than 100 who started the race.

The finishers all benefitted from the help of pacers and crew, they say, and therefore several members of the neighborhood-based Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op participated in that capacity.

Studer, an attorney by day, tells us her toenails are a little messed up, but other than that she’s feeling good.

injury, inspiration, marathon, running, running as religion, ultra, Uncategorized, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

A year ago he was near dead from a freak accident, now he’s ready to run the Dallas Marathon

An almost-recovered Brandon Cumby ponders his upcoming 26.2-mile race: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate Magazine

This story originally is published in the December 2013 Lake Highlands Advocate and East Dallas Advocate magazines.

A freak accident left him burned, broken and dependent, but this White Rock-area runner intends to finish what he started training for two years ago — the Dallas Marathon

On a cool November morning, Brandon Cumby rounds the last turn of the Dallas Running Club Half Marathon at White Rock Lake. Feeling better and stronger than he’s ever felt in a race, he smiles at the breaking sun and crosses the finish line in 1 hour, 51 minutes and 14 seconds.

His time places him at a nondescript 416 among male finishers. But considering where the 33-year-old runner was little more than a year ago — facedown in mud, spewing blood from multiple orifices, nose and ribs broken, flesh smoldering, no discernable pulse — the finish ranks him decidedly outside the realm of ordinary.

The accident
In summer 2012 Cumby began training for the Dallas Marathon, but his plans screeched to a halt in August. Cumby cannot cohesively recall anything between July 28 and Aug. 24, he says. But family members and friends help him piece together the events that nearly snuffed out his future.

On Aug. 13, a Monday, the air conditioner in Cumby’s car died. After leaving the North Dallas office where he worked as an accountant, Cumby stopped at his friend Scott Boyle’s house. He figured he could park in Boyle’s driveway, hopefully fix the blower and avoid a sweltering drive home.

While Cumby toiled under the hood, Boyle and mutual friend Michael Baker played with their new toy — a high-tech remote-control helicopter.

By the time Cumby joined them, the sun was sinking, and visibility was low.

“They were ready to take it in — they didn’t want to crash it. It was expensive. They’d pooled their money to buy it. But I asked them to do a couple more runs. I egged them on, telling them to fly higher, do crazier stunts.”

Promptly, the copter crashed into a nearby tree, embedding itself in the uppermost branches.

Boyle went for a ladder.

Cumby, confident in the strength gained from his marathon training, and feeling responsible, was determined to climb and retrieve the object himself.

In fractured flashbacks, Cumby recalls ants biting his hands as he climbed the tree, looking way down at his friends and feeling the first pang of anxiety, seeing the power lines in the distance (avoid, he noted to himself).

He couldn’t get to the helicopter, he assessed. But he could climb close enough to loosen it from the branches, if only he had something long with which to prod it.

A neighbor who had joined the guys below handed him an aluminum pool-skimmer pole. Perfect.

He was clutching the pole with his right hand when his foot slipped. Falling in the direction of the wires, he lost control of his arm, which launched the pole over his head and into a power line.

A deafening “hmmmmmm!” shot through the air.

The hum was so powerful it made your teeth chatter, the witnesses say.

Then there were flames — orange and blue, that looked like they were shooting from Cumby’s belt buckle and from behind his knees, Baker recounted.

Then he fell, maybe 20 feet, “like a rag doll doing a gainer,” one witness later told him.

Motionless, Cumby lay prostrate. Boyle rolled him over; Mud clogged Cumby’s mouth, blood gushed from his nose and face, he was black and blue, smoke was rising from his groin and he smelled like burning flesh.

Boyle, a onetime lifeguard, searched for a heartbeat, a pulse. Nothing. He began chest compressions and kept working until paramedics arrived.

EMTs intubated, defibrillated, pounded Cumby’s chest until, finally, mercifully, his heart sprung to life.

But Cumby still was in grave danger. He was bleeding internally.

His friends say that even in his bed at Parkland Hospital, blood was seeping from his nose and mouth, from everywhere, it seemed.

The doctors could operate, they told Cumby’s loved ones, but his chances were not good. As his family waited with the hospital chaplain, a team of surgeons administered 22 units of blood and, against the odds, repaired Cumby’s lacerated liver and abdominal wall well enough to keep him alive. Later, burn and trauma surgeon Dr. Francis Ali-Osman later told Cumby that 100 out of 100 other people in his situation would have died before surgery.

Alive, but not well
The days and weeks following the first operation were the most mentally and physically agonizing of Cumby’s life, he says.

He was released from the hospital temporarily at the end of August. In his condition, he could not live alone, so he moved in with his grandparents. Clothing felt like sandpaper on his sensitive skin. Movement was nauseating. Stillness was unbearable.

“The pain and swelling from my burn excisions was unbelievable — I couldn’t tolerate walking or sitting down without one of those donut-shaped pillows.”

He couldn’t sleep, experienced hot and cold flashes, and lacked an appetite. A walk to and from the bathroom exhausted him.

“Before I had the accident I was fit. I rode a Harley, played the guitar, ran, cycled, worked on building lean muscle … I had lived on my own since I was 22, had relationships, had a house, was financially independent. Now I couldn’t live by myself or cook my own meals, drive or wash my clothes. I took medication out of a daily pill sorter so I wouldn’t get mixed up.”

And there was this hole in his gut, he says, whose source was anxiety over the idea that he might never run another mile.

But there is no space left in your head for marathon dreams when, say, the open wound located near your genitals inflames and oozes blood.

During a trip to the Parkland emergency room, Dr. Ali-Osman told him the wound wasn’t closing — it is called dehiscence. Cumby would just have to give it time.

“The anxiety of having an open bleeding wound in a sensitive area is worse than the wound itself,” Cumby says.

Before his groin-area wound healed, he was readmitted to the hospital because, once it became clear he would live, surgeons needed to mend several sinus and facial bones broken during the fall (fractured rib and cervical bones also were dealt with separately).

This time, doctors cut a line from one ear, over his shaved head, to the other. They folded down the skin, repaired the bones — adding synthetic bone filler and wire mesh where needed, Cumby explains — and sewed him back together.

Seemingly endless sleepless nights and sickening withdrawal from opioid medicines — tremors, insomnia, nausea and increased sensitivity to pain — followed.

For weeks, his face remained swollen beyond recognition. He weighed 143 pounds, down 30 from his training days.

Several mornings on end, he had his stomach pumped — exploratory measures to determine the effectiveness of his digestive system. Unbearable abdominal pain sent him to the emergency room on multiple occasions. Digestive distress and stomach pain are results of postsurgical ileus and abdominal adhesions, respectively, Cumby explains.

Through it all, doctors prodded Cumby for information.

“They seemed to wonder how I had survived,” he says. “Their best guess is that my fitness, the running, saved me.”

Two weeks after his release from the hospital following cranial surgery, Cumby snuck out of his grandparents’ house. He needed to run.

“I made it about a half mile before I had to lie down in the grass. I was wearing a heart-rate monitor, and it was going crazy. I walked home.”

A couple of days later he tried it again, with similar results. His mom, though she didn’t understand why he needed this so much, began walking with him, and they eventually began adding small jogging intervals.

Running therapy
Even as he was recovering from electrocution and life-altering trauma, Cumby felt this undeniable urge to run. Why? “I don’t expect anyone who is not a runner to understand this,” he says.

“When I first got out (of the hospital), I was entirely focused on the physical components. I wanted things to quickly return to normal. I needed to go back to work, get in shape, get my own place, make things look and feel normal. Turns out, there’s no quick way.”

Going out too fast can be detrimental in a long-distance race. Same goes for recovery, Cumby says.

He realized he had to go back and build a stronger foundation before he could rebuild his life, he says.

“So I asked myself, ‘What brings you joy?’ That is a good place to start.”

And his answer was: running.

“Running empowers me, centers me, focuses me,” he says.

The exercise strengthens his atrophied muscles and weary heart, but he says it is about much more.

“People think running is physical. It’s not. Most of it is between the ears.”

When he first started running years ago, he learned that.

“At that time, I was overweight, ending a marriage, unhappy, so I started running. Back then, I did my best thinking while I was running,” he says. “It is no different now. It is my Zen.”

Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate magazine
Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate Magazine

The marathon
Rebecca Baker is Cumby’s running partner. In 2012 the duo decided to train for the Dallas Marathon.

After Cumby’s summer 2012 electrocution, which was witnessed by Rebecca’s husband Michael, the Bakers only wanted their friend to survive.

“Everything was so touch and go for the first few days that we were more worried whether he would live,” Rebecca recalls. “It took a couple of days for them to figure out that he didn’t have any significant spinal injuries, which meant that he would walk again. At one point, he was so disoriented that he thought he had overslept and missed the marathon start. He kept telling his mom he needed his water bottle. Clearly, running was never far from his mind.”

Rebecca says she wasn’t all that surprised when he resumed training. “I was worried that he would try to do too much too soon, but he has done pretty well this season.”

The running community rallied around Cumby after the accident. The Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op held a fundraiser to help with medical expenses.

In January 2013, the Bakers and Cumby’s lifelong best friend Aaron Stevens (a Lake Highlands resident whose birthday, Cumby points out, fell on the same day of the accident), joined Cumby for a 5k race.

“It took 33 minutes to finish, and I thought I would die,” Cumby says. “But that got me over a mental hurdle.”

He didn’t like being slow, though.

“I am my own worst critic. I look at the other guys in my age group and their race times and feel inferior,” Cumby notes.

However, both he and Rebecca acknowledge that the way he is running now, all things considered, is nothing short of a miracle.

In March, Cumby ran the Rock n’ Roll half marathon in a little over two hours.

Then he registered for the Dallas Running Club’s training program for the December 2013 Dallas marathon.

As the miles increased and Dallas marathon hopefuls ratcheted up the calorie, carb and protein intake, Cumby ran into trouble.

In August he landed in the ER with severe pain and vomiting blood.

His doctor wanted to operate to remove scar tissue growing around Cumby’s intestine.

Cumby begged for an alternative.

“The doctor looked at me like, ‘Let me get this straight. You are refusing surgery because you do not want to interrupt your marathon training?’ and I say, ‘Yes’.”

The doctor made a deal. They would try one more thing, and if his symptoms improved, he could resume training. Cumby said he would try anything.

The treatment was dietary — Cumby would go on a strict low-carb, low-protein, high-fat diet.

To avoid mid-workout distress, he also started fasting for several hours before any long-distance run. The diet essentially goes against everything marathon coaches preach, Cumby says.

But it has worked.

Before racing the DRC Half Marathon in November, Cumby completed a 21-mile training run with the running club’s 4:10-marathon pace group.

When he runs the 26.2-mile Dallas Marathon course on Dec. 8, he won’t be wearing a watch, he says.

“I don’t want to put any undue pressure on myself by worrying about how fast or slow I am running,” he says. “I am just going to concentrate on finishing the race.”

As he expected, while he focused on running over the last few months, Cumby’s life shaped up. He recently got his own place near the lake — the epicenter of Dallas fitness, he calls White Rock — and a new job at a small firm.

He’s learned some lessons: No tree-climbing with aluminum poles. His friends and family are too good to be true. Follow joy. Forget the odds. Do not make specific plans, because you risk short-changing yourself.

After the marathon, he might try ultrarunning or a triathlon, he says.

“I want to see how far I can go.

healing and recovery, injury, marathon, running, shoes

A running junkie’s withdrawals

I will be OK as long as I can consistently keep in my bloodstream a steady flow of that magical stuff with which running injects my psyche.

Alternate headlines — “how not running has made me a miserable bitch”, “Crazy, fat and pitiful”, or “I know I am a self-absorbed whiner, but allow me to continue” or, for Google-bility, “Running injury recovery.”

Happier days, last year at the DRC Half:Photo by Jose Vega
Happier days, last year at the DRC Half:Photo by Jose Vega

As many of my friends and readers of our city’s daily paper already understand, I have gone through drug withdrawals. Bad ones. If you want to know the whole gory story, my memoir-ette won a prize in 2011 and was published in a literary journal, and an excerpt ran in the Morning News last year.

But, as badass as it makes me sound, I am not here to brag about my drug addiction, jail time, rehab. The reason I bring it up is because withdrawal from running, though not nearly as intense, bears a striking resemblance to withdrawal from opiates.

As with drugs, I did not quit running because I wanted to. I quit because I was badly injured and had no choice.

Hitting bottom

In classic denial, through the end of springtime, I ran on a fasciitis-riddled plantar as my pace progressively slowed and my well-practiced gait deteriorated into an awkward unbalanced trot.

In desperation I paid a podiatrist some $300 to inject my feet with cortisone; the result was nil.

My intervention came in the form of firm lectures from my training partners Paul Agruso and Chris Stratton, strongly worded Facebook comments (this isn’t going away, was the overriding theme, peppered with some heartfelt sympathy) and, finally my coach’s refusal to further enable me.

After my planned spring marathon (Vancouver) came and went (I did not go), and after I — in a period of grief following my grandfather’s death — decided to walk 50 miles in one night, Coach informed me that he would not coach me for the October St. George marathon. It wasn’t going to happen, he said. He called it tough love, told me to stop running for six to eight weeks, let my foot heal … he didn’t come out and say this, exactly, but I felt that his point was this: If I train you in this condition, you are going to run that marathon very poorly and you will embarrass yourself and thus so you will embarrass me,  your coach. Continue reading