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There is No Map in Hell

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How would YOU like to do TWO marathons with over 16,000 feet of climbing, EVERY day for a week?

Ever since Dan Kimball dragged me into doing OtillO and Rockman, he’s gotten me involved in 50K trail runs and thinking about other crazy adventures. So, with that said, I’ve picked up books here and there about other folks taking on really crazy challenges.

Back in 1986, a guy by the name of Joss Naylor ran all 214 Wainright fells (a fancy Norse term for mountain) in the Lake District of the United Kingdom.  He accomplished this 300 miles (or so) in 7 days and 1 hour.  Everyone thought it was a record that would never be broken.  Enter Steve Birkinshaw.  His book, There is No Map in Hell, recounts his attempt to break this record, complete with how he prepared, how the attempt went and gives you insight to what some would call a crazy mind.

I had only one question for Steve.

Marcus: If you were to change anything, what would you do differently in planning a Wainwrights challenge again?

Steve: Looking back at my run around all 214 Wainwright fells it is amazing how many things went well.

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Initially the key thing was selecting a good route. Looking at the map of all 214 Wainwright fells and picking the route with both the least distance and climb was a major task but an enjoyable one. I spent many happy hours plotting various routes before I was satisfied I had picked the best route. After that the key job was trying to get together my support team. Jane Saul looked after all the logistics, and I had about fifty other people helping out on the fells and at the road support points. I sorted out who was doing which section with me as much as I could before I started, but once I was on the move Jane had to sort out all the many, inevitable changes to the plan.

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For me as I was going round, I felt the following things were a success:

  • The campervans and the support runners were in the correct place to meet me at the end of every section. It was great to be able to rely upon this as I was usually in desperate need by the time I arrived at each stop.
  • There were at least two support runners with me on every section, who were carrying essential supplies and also kept up my morale.
  • I did not miss any peaks and went to the correct Wainwright summit on each one.
  • I was never lost, and in total I lost less than thirty minutes in six days and thirteen hours, from taking the less than optimal lines.
  • Whatever food or drink I wanted was always available. This included gels, bars and ‘normal’ food.
  • I always had dry, clean clothes and shoes to wear. I’d change at every support point; being able to have fresh socks so often was so crucial to my comfort.
  • I had a quick wash at the end of every stage and stopped at three friends’ houses for showers on the way round.
  • I had regular massages and work on my feet to help prevent injury.
  • I was always (or at least I think I was) grateful and thanked my support team and never got cross with anyone even when I was incredibly tired and desperate.
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So what would I do differently? The short answer is very little. The thing that lost me most time was the blisters on my feet and tendonitis at the front of one leg above the ankle. At every support point from the third day onwards the dressings on my blisters were removed, Nurse Mel treated them and then put on some more dressing. This meant that instead of a stop of twenty minutes I was often taking up to an hour. My running speed was also slightly slower because of the pain of running on the blisters. However, the hour-long stop meant I was eating a lot of food at the support points. As Billy Bland said when he reviewed the book, ‘I actually think Steve’s blisters might have been a blessing, as they caused him to slow and rest and stopped him running himself into the ground’. Similarly the tendonitis slowed me down but was kept under control with massage treatment from Jim and Phil Davies.

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So could I have done anything differently, to avoid the blisters and tendonitis? I am not sure I could have. Beforehand I was very worried about blisters – although I have never had bad blisters before – as I knew they could prevent me from finishing the Wainwrights. So I made sure I had twenty pairs of new Berghaus running socks and various different shoes, and I knew the sock and shoe combinations did not cause any rubbing. I also changed my shoes and socks at every support point. But because of the heat and humidity and the twenty-hour days on my feet, blisters started causing me problems from the third day onwards. So would different socks, different shoes or pre-emptive taping of my feet have helped? I do not know and I will never know. I would need to do three twenty-hour days in similar weather conditions over similar terrain trying different things and see if I got any blisters…!

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Another thing that caused me issues was being violently sick towards the end of day one. I think this was caused by the amount I needed to drink because of the heat and humidity I was running in on that day. I was sweating profusely, but the sweat was just dripping off me rather than evaporating and keeping me cool. I think I drank about ten litres of liquid in the twelve hours before I was sick. In hindsight, I probably should have gone slightly slower and then I wouldn’t have sweated so much and so not needed to drink as much, and so perhaps not been sick. In the moment I was really keen to stay on schedule, whereas I now know that I could easily have taken a little more time from my schedule and picked it up later. However, the fact that I was sick did not really make that much difference, as by the morning of the second day my stomach was back to normal and hardly caused me any problems for the rest of the week.

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A bigger problem was that I really struggled to sleep on the first three nights. The first night I was planning on a two-hour sleep and then I planned on four hours’ sleep on nights two and three. But in those three nights the only deep sleep I had was the last two hours of the third night. The rest of the time I was lying down but awake, in quite a lot of pain as my knees throbbed. If I could have avoided this problem I would have been much more refreshed during the day and the sleep I had ‘banked’ would mean I would have needed less sleep later in the week. I had a very similar problem on the Dragon’s Back Race, so I was not really worried about it but just frustrated, as I knew more sleep would have helped me. I am not really sure what I could have done differently as I am not really sure what causes the problem. I think it is some sort of nerve pain with the source of the problem my lower back, so I have been doing more core-strengthening exercises since then.

When you are out running for twenty hours a day for seven days, however well prepared you are things will still go wrong. The important thing is to accept this and not get stressed when it happens, but to work out how to cope. This is when experience and a great support team helps, and for me meant I was successful in my ambition to break the record for running round all the Wainwright fells.

Marcus: Holy moly.  Whelp, folks.  If you want to know more about Steve’s adventures, check out one of the other blogs as part of Steve’s blog tour below or pickup the book.  You’ll be amazed.

 

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Cheetahs and Gazelles – XTERRA Fort Yargo

It’s been a couple of years since I hit the one-cow town of Winder, Georgia to race XTERRA Fort Yargo.  With the change in the XTERRA points structure, I figured it’d be another good race to earn some points.  Race morning, the temp and weather were perfect for a fun day of racing.  There was a slight threat of rain, but not until later that afternoon.  As we gathered at the water’s edge, you could see the low-water effects leftover from the park draining the lake for maintenance purposes.  The shoreline extended way out and you could see trees that were normally submerged.

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Photo: Nozomi Shinoda-Wade

The advertised swim distance was 750 meters, but looking at the buoys, I could tell it was a bit long for 750.  This was more than the normal, “Geez that looks a lot farther than 750” reaction that most folks have when looking at their first open water swim after spending the winter in the pool.  With at least a half-dozen open water swims under my belt already this year, along with a swimrun race, the usual, post-winter suprise had already been overcome.  I could definitely tell it was long.  I didn’t give it much thought beyond my first peering out at the buoys. Quickly dismissed, I got in ready to race.  After a short briefing, the ~100 person race was underway.

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Photo: Alba Barton

I managed, somehow, to stay out of the normal washing machine mess this race.  I didn’t feel like having any sort of punch fest this day, and I lucked out and found clean, calm water all the way to the first buoy.  The entire pack started out pretty fast but started to thin out as we rounded the first of three buoys.  After rounding the last buoy and heading for the shore, I felt that my pace was good, but had a few folks ahead of me.  I think I managed to get out of the water in 6th or 7th place and headed for the transition area to try and pass a few of them.

Coming out of the water, I tried my best to take off like superman, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get more than a few inches off the ground. (Actually, I was just unzipping my wetsuit)

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Photo: Alba Barton

I knew that a bunch of other fast bikers, such as Caleb Baity were not far behind and would be gunning for me.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Also in the race was Peter Lilly and Charlotte Mahan.  Peter always does a dance number coming into T1

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

I grabbed my bike off of the rack and took off out of T1. I was pretty upset because someone removed my wad of bottle rockets that I had duct taped under my seat.  I was going to attempt a rocket assist takeoff that I saw back during an air show from my Air Force days.  The Navy boys always showed off the procedure and I figured, “What the hell, I’ll give it a shot.”

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But, since someone removed them, I had to resort to just using my legs.  Oh well, I guess it was for the best since there was so much pine straw around.

As we headed out of T1, I was in third place behind Kevin Jett and Michael Loutzenheiser.  One of them had issues in the first mile.  I’m not sure if it was a crash, a mechanical, or both, but he was trailside working on his bike.  As I passed, I asked him if he was ok.  He said he needed a multi-tool, but I didn’t have one with me (only a tube and co2).  I apologized and kept on trucking.  A short time later I made another pass and gained the lead.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

It’s rare I get to truly experience the thrill of being chased.  Usually it’s a combo of chasing someone AND being chased, but at this point in the race, the feeling was 100% “get your butt moving, they’re coming for you.”  I felt like a gazelle being chased by a bunch of cheetahs and that at any point one of them would pounce from around the corner and take me down.

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As I got closer to T2, I kept catching a glimpse of someone through the switchbacks and twisty trail behind me.  Every now and then I would catch the sound of their rear hub whirring down the trail.  As I was finishing up my transition in T2, Josh Shaffer came in and threw his bike on the rack next to mine.  We exchanged winded pleasantries and I took off running out of T2 and the chase was back on.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

I didn’t know who else was behind Josh, but knowing fellow XTERRA Ambassador, Caleb and his fast bike splits, I knew he couldn’t be far behind.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

I knew if I could just turn out a good run split, I might be able to hold them off.  With each passing mile, I fully expected to see Caleb, Yaro or Josh to come up behind me and give me that virtual tap on the shoulder, but it never happened.  Coming into the finish I was elated to have stayed in front of some of the stiffest competition on the circuit.

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Photo: Shannon Kimoto

The final placement of the top 4 were (from right to left), me, Yaro Middaugh, Josh Shaffer and Caleb Baity.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Yaro coming into the finish strong
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Photo: Alba Barton

Josh coming in just ahead of Caleb

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Photo: Alba Barton

First overall female goes out to the super fast Christine Grant.  Great job!!

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Photo: Nozomi Shinoda-Wade

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Photo: Alba Barton

After the race we had fun times getting some awesome schwag from the folks at Gone Riding.  I sat on the can to contemplate life.

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Photo: Alba Barton

I must have been doing something right, as I was joined by Caleb and Jenna Hoover.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

It was great to see a lot of the “regulars” aka my XTERRA family at the race.  If you don’t know these folks, walk up to them and say hi.  They’re the biggest bunch of fun (and fast) clowns around.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Especially these two: Peter Lilly and Charlotte Mahan.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

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Photo: Me

After some great Mexican food and many, many laughs, we all parted our separate ways, with a promised gathering at the next race.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

If you’re not familiar with XTERRA, you’re missing out.  Not only is it TOUGH, but you’ll meet some of the best people on the planet.  I met Jonathan Woodford, a first-time XTERRA racer, in the transition area after the race.  We talked at length about his race and he mentioned that it was a lot tougher than he had anticipated.  He added that it was a blast and he was looking forward to his next one.  Lastly, he mentioned how friendly everyone was and how he hadn’t experienced that before.  Time and time again I’ve seen people make the switch over from other sports or from the pavement to XTERRA and they find the most laid back, fun-loving and unpretentious crowd around.  What are you waiting for?  I think Jim Dandro’s calf is a poster pic of how tough XTERRA can be, but the people’s hearts and attitudes are anything but.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Race: XTERRA Fort Yargo
Location: Winder, GA
Date: Apr 29, 2016
Distances: 1000m Swim / 10 mile mountain bike / 4.5 mile trail run
Result: 1st Overall
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane Gel and GU Roctane Drink Mix, American Classic Wide Lightning Wheels, Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tires, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V, Hawk Racing Bottom Bracket, Hawk Racing Pulleys.

Be a warrior!

Marcus

I’ll Tumble For Ya in the Woods–XTERRA Whitewater

It was slated to be a hot one and with the torrential downpour the night before, it was also a slick one.  Hot.  Steamy.  Slippery.  Take those ingredients and mix it with a hard course and you have yourself one tough-as-nails race.

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Photo by Deb Dandro

Showing up race morning, not only had it rained, but the winds had blown everything out of whack.  Cones were strewn, transition had taken a beating and pop-up tents were completely missing.  The folks at the Whitewater Center had their work cut out for them.  They quickly got things squared away and before you knew it, transition was beginning to fill up.

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Photo by Deb Dandro

I knew that Caleb and Dwayne would give me a run for my money to get on top of the podium, with Dwayne being favored for the win.  My only chance was my intimate knowledge of the trails, knowing just about every root and rock out there.  With that said, we saw Continue reading

Hulk Got Some Upgrades XTERRA Myrtle Beach

One of the beauties that makes XTERRA so much fun is the change.  How boring would it be to go do that same road triathlon, with the same boring course, that never, ever changed? Again.  And again. And again.  One thing that keeps me coming back to XTERRA, year after year, is the fact that some races are constantly evolving.  Take XTERRA Myrtle Beach for example.  The first year it was held, the swim course was a rectangular course in the intercostal waterway.  This meant that if the tide was on the move, you’d be fighting it on one of the sides of that rectangle.

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Rear from left: Danny Pagan, Pete Dizon, Ornela Vazquez Rivera, Jim Dandro
Front from left: Caleb Baity, Marcus Barton

The next year it was a one-way swim.  Last year, I raced Myrtle Beach for the first time and I thought the trails were a blast.  I wrote about them last year, so I won’t rehash that over again, but the run was Continue reading

New Years, New Friends and Mud

For the 7th year in a row, we had our annual New Year’s Day Almost Noon Almost 10k Unorganized Group Trail Run.  After everyone arrived, even a few folks who still had race bibs on from the morning (literally running straight there from the race), we ended up with a total of of 22 runners.  I got to meet some great new people who I really hope to spend some more time with jumping, skipping and hopping the trails.

Before

We loaded up on goodies from GU Energy and headed out.

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The temp was per-fect-o and the trails in good shape even though there were a few Continue reading

Tougher than a woodpecker’s lips – USAT Off-road National Championships

When putting together the race calendar for this year, I attempted to figure out what my “big” races would be. My original plans were to race as part of Team USA in the Netherlands at the ITU Off-road Triathlon World Championships as my first big race. My second would be racing the road equivalent in London (ITU Triathlon World Championships).

After digging into the off-road race, I discovered that the bulk of the race would be racing on the beach or on sand dunes. To me, that didn’t sound like much fun, especially given the price. Where I REALLY wanted to race was at ITU Offroad Triathlon Worlds in Germany for 2014. Giving up the Netherlands race in 2013, however, meant I would also be giving up a spot on the team. Soooo, that meant I would have to re-qualify for 2014. I set off to figure out how since, in the past, the qualification had been fuzzy at best.

I discovered that this year, USA Triathlon would be holding their inaugural Off-Road National Championship in Grand Prairie, Texas, which would be the qualifier for Germany 2014. The problem? It was the same weekend as London (road triathlon worlds). So if I REALLY wanted to go to Germany, I’d have to also give up racing in London. After a quick calculation of the costs to fly to London, accommodations and a brief discussion with Mr. England himself, Peter Lilly, I decided to forego it as well.

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After racing a fun XTERRA season, joining the 325 club (grin) and qualifying for XTERRA Worlds, I set my sites (and training) on USAT Off-road Nats. Training went well despite a few injuries and setbacks. I felt good, but still worried that I was unprepared going into the race.

Alba and I showed up a few days in advance to unwind from work and life while allowing some ample time on the course and acclimating to the heat. Indeed, the course was flat as a pancake and despite two creek crossings and some sand to contend with, it was a non-technical course.

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Race morning, the transition area was abuzz with locals, out-of-towners and a mix of XTERRA athletes.  Lots of familiar faces such as Charlotte Mahan, May-Li Cuypers, Darrel McHugh, Victor Mason, and power couple, Steve and Melanie Etherton (to name only a few).  It was good to see old friends and to make a few new ones.

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Mandatory pre-race briefing led right up to the start of the race, so there was no time for swim warmup. Bummer. We started off with a 600 meter swim.  Even though it was a short swim, my swim felt “flat”, but I knew with the hot water and the upcoming hot bike, I didn’t want to overdo it.  I may have been a bit over-cautious as my swim was waaaaay slower than I wanted it to be: 11 minutes, 12 seconds which was 20th fastest. Ugh.

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Coming out of the water with a herd of folks already in transition, I knew I had to make up time. I wasted as little time in transition as possible: 35 seconds (5th fastest).

Since the bike course was flat and non-technical, the goal was to hammer it as hard as possible while still remaining upright in the turns. There was one small creek crossing, one larger one and a couple of bridges. Other than that, it was flat and sandy. Final bike time: 52:29, 10th fastest.

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Coming into second transition, there was a pack of 4 of us coming in at the same time. I noticed a couple of guys in my division, so again, the goal was to get in and get out asap. Racked the bike, ditched the helmet and put on my running shoes. T2 time: 22 seconds, 4th fastest.

The run was more of the same sort of trails as we had just biked. Most of it was shaded with a couple of open spots where it felt like the surface of the sun. I managed to pass two more guys in my division to put me into first. I couldn’t catch the other 4 guys ahead of me (that weren’t in my division) and I finished up 26 seconds behind 4th place. Final run time: 16:25, 6th fastest.

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I finished 5th overall and 1st in my division and the first old guy over 40 (Masters) securing a National Champion title and a spot on Team USA.

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Going into this race, I expected it to be a lot “easier” given that it was flat and non-technical. Boy was I wrong. The effort expended may not have been horrendous climbs or gnarly, technical single-track, but it still was a tough race. You had to race hard to gain or maintain your position. Since there were no climbs, there also wasn’t any downhills to recover. This meant a sustained, hard effort for the duration of the race. It was a tough one for sure.

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I am REALLY looking forward to being on Team USA for the 2014 ITU Cross (Off-road) Triathlon World Championships. It’ll be my fourth year on the team, and if all goes well, my third ITU World Championships participation.  In 2014, they will be held in the small border town of Zittau, Germany. While cross triathlon normally consists of a 1km swim, 25km mountain bike and 6-8km cross-country run, Zittau has proposed a 1.5km (1 mile) swim, 36km (22 mile) mountain bike, 9km (5 mile) trail run course through the mountains.  Sounds like my kind of race.

Some stats for this race:

Race: USAT Off-road Triathlon National Championships
Location: Grand Prairie, TX
Date: September 15, 2013
Distances: 600m Swim / 14 mile mountain bike / 2.5 mile trail run
Result: 1st Male Masters, 1st in Division, 5th Overall
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Rocket Ron Tires, Cobb DRT SHC Saddle, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals.

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Super special thanks goes out to Alan Tyson and team at Architect Sports and Physical Therapy for patching me up and making sure that despite injuries I could still perform at this tough event.

And of course I couldn’t have done it without Alba being my all-around sherpa and chasing me around on the course to be my personal photographer.  If it wasn’t for her, you’d be reading text without any cool pics.  :-)

USA Triathlon Off-road National Championship

Full race report is still forthcoming.. But just wanted to do a quick update to let you know the results.

I finished the USA Triathlon Offroad National Championship in 5th place overall and first in my division. That gives me the title of National Champion and secures a spot on Team USA where I will be representing our fine country at the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Offroad World Championships in Germany next year.

And since I managed (ever so slightly)to squeak out a win over anyone above 40 years old (yes there were some FAST boys in 45-49), I was awarded the National Champion Overall Masters Male title as well. (big grin). A polite way of saying “old guy”.

Race report on the way

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