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.

inspiration, people with true grit, running, trail running, ultra

Dallasite does Western States 100

First published on Advocatemag.com, the website of the Lake Highlands Advocate magazine June 25.

Lake Highlands runner Nick Polito at mile 30 of Western States, just before getting his second wind.

Lake Highlands runner Nick Polito this past weekend completed the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in 28 hours 47 minutes. Yeah, so the guy seriously ran for almost 29 hours straight. Well, he would correct me there—he says he walked up the steepest hills (about 18,090 feet of climbing overall) and ran/walked the final 20 miles.

Before entering Western States, which began at 5 a.m. last Saturday at the base of the Squaw Valley ski resort and finished Sunday at a high school track in Auburn, California, Polito had to qualify by completing another endurance run in a certain amount of time.

Polito—who lives in Lake Highlands with his wife Sunny and sons Christopher, 14, and Luke and Campbell, 7-year-old twins—took up running several years ago and showed promise.

I met him through the Dallas Running Club way back when he was working to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He indeed ran the Boston Marathon and a year later ran it again in under 3 hours, which is a feat for anyone, but especially impressive for a guy in his 40s.

So, I guess he just needed more of a challenge. For Western States, he says he trained about 13 hours a week or 80 miles per week in the three months leading up to Western State. That’s a time-consuming hobby for a father of three who also works full time, so support from the family was essential, he says.

“They are supportive and very proud. They do just about anything I need to accomplish my goals. They know that running is my passion and in many situations my social outlet,” he says. “They give me the time and on race day they love to come out and support. For a 100 miler this means 24-30 hours of running around in the rain to only see me for three minutes at a time.” Christopher served on Nick’s Western States support crew.

During the race, Polito says he felt bad 30 miles in. “At the top of an 8700-foot climb, it started to hail, with gale-force winds,” he says. By mile 30 he thought he might stop, “but I told myself I would not quit. They would have to pull me off the course and I didn’t see anyone big enough to do that. After my climb up Devil’s Thumb, mile 48, I had my strength back.”

Today he feels a “little tired” but mostly high from the experience. “A lot of that has to do with all the support I get from friends and family.”

For better or worse, he’ll need to return to regular life for a bit now. “The reality is I am back to being dad and life with the family and work gets started right back up. I look forward to a couple of weeks of rest and no running.”

He has another race, a mere 50-miler, planned for October.

probably a bad idea, running, trail running

Trail of tears

The trail hates me.

That was my thought driving home from Rowlett Creek Preserve last week. I had run the ten-mile loop on several occasions and last weekend I planned to double loop for 20. Things went beautifully for a few miles. I was hanging back with a slower group, chatting and meeting new people. I anticipated the second half would be tough and I didn’t want to be fatigued because having tired legs on the trail for me usually means hurting myself.

Unfortunately, our slower group wasn’t exactly familiar with the trail, so about 7-8 miles in, we found ourselves standing in a field. Confused. Lost.

One of our sandbaggers, Alan, sprinted ahead, hoping to catch a glimpse of the more-experienced group. I stayed right behind him. I knew there were some even-newer-than-me trail runners in the slower group and I probably should have stuck with them, but at this point, for me, the pretty, laid-back trail run had quickly devolved to an every-man-for-himself sort of panic.

Within a 5-10 minutes, Alan hollered that we were on track. The faster group was just ahead of us. I fell in behind the rest of those bastards (sorry guys, that’s just what I was thinking of you at the time) for the remainder of the first loop.

We stop briefly at the trailhead and then three of us take off for a second loop. The pace is fine, but I am a little flustered from the whole getting lost thing. My knee is throbbing a little bit, which adds to my grumpiness. I run at the back of our little line, which is a good thing, considering what happens next. About two miles into the second lap, I kick a root. Hard.

Now, let me take a moment to describe my footwear: Sketchers GoRun. The shoes are great and light and flex-y, but when you hit a tree in ‘em, you might as well be barefoot. Ah! I yelled. You OK? My partners ask. Ah. Yeah. Fine. But my eyes were filling with tears and I could in no way land on my left toe.

So I run on the side of my foot for about another mile. Tired. Hurting. Frustrated. Off balance. Unable to land on my forefoot. Not surprisingly, this is where I belly flop into the hard, crusty dirt. (Later, our leader David would tell me, “I really thought I heard something break. You went down hard.”)

I jumped up fairly quickly, but the loudness with which I had hit the ground startled my fellow runners. Everyone stopped. I brushed myself off. I’m OK. I say. Their faces register extreme doubt. “You’re done,” Julia says. “No, I can make it.” We jog a few more feet and David says, “See that trail off to the right? You take that and the parking lot is less than a mile.”

I take the detour and return — shamed, filthy and broken — to my car.  At least I am not thinking about my knee pain.

Unsure if the toe was broken or just badly bruised, I took the week off running (I was no fun this week). I returned today for a 13-mile road run and my knee hurt, which means my toe is OK.

Ordered some trail shoes and I’ll be back at it soon. Even though the trail hates me, I don’t hate the trail. I will make you love me you stupid trail.

probably a bad idea, racing, trail running

Cross Timbers half marathon

I registered yesterday for the Cross Timbers trail run (half marathon), billed as the toughest little trail run in Texas.

I’m only doing the halfer, while the other few people I know who are going are doing 26.2 or 50, so I sort of feel like a wimp, but, I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew here. Just testing the trail-run waters.

This is all part of my resolution to not take myself or my running so seriously and exploring unchartered (for me) territory. I will post a race report next week.

Meanwhile, I did find a couple of years past race reports out in the blogosphere — in this report from “The Naked Runner”, I learn for the first time that the course has a 5,500 elevation loss/gain.

This blogger says the five miler at Cross Timbers would be a perfect introduction for someone who has never run on trails. Five-13.1: close enough.