Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Circus 12-hour race

[Most photos courtesy of Spectrum Racing]

Well, it was a wet one!  And a muddy one!  I signed up for The Circus to run in loops for 12 hours, partly because I really like the trails at McKinney Roughs and also for training.  At various times during the day I was "training" for upcoming trails races like Bandera, adventure racing in the rain, and occasionally even a tiny bit for the nasty weather/steep slippery hills of the Barkley.  I have no idea whether I'll ever get into the Barkley again, of course, but the thought of it is always good motivation when the conditions are less than ideal.

Several bright sides - it was obvious that it would be raining all day, so we could prepare.  It wasn't cold (low 50's), actually perfect running temperature.  It wasn't pouring rain, just rain.  I was running loops and could make adjustments frequently if needed.  And there was a warm building - with warm bathrooms - with a covered patio.  That last part made everything way better for spectators and crew.  Like John!

Part of the start/finish area, under gray skies:

Course marking arrow leading runners out on the "pink" 7-mile loop:

I suspect the photographer snapped those two photos during the lull in the rain early on.

The 12-hour solo runners and teams started at 6 am, in the rain (of course).  We had a choice of which loop to start on - 3-mile, 5-mile, or 7-mile.  Finish a loop, get it recorded, pick another loop and head back out.  The one rule, which made everything interesting, was that you couldn't repeat the same loop back-to-back.  How to maximize your miles and finish with the right combination of loops?

That line of thought went out the window when we ran into Joe Prusaitis before the race.  Hi Joe!  It was so great to see him again.  He had the super-awesome suggestion that it wasn't worth running the 7-mile loop - too much deep, sticky mud in the fields.  I had originally planned to start there (before the 30K and 10K runners stampeded through it a couple hours later).  Time to reassess and think about sticking to the 3- and 5-mile loops only.

Well, one decision to make - which loop to start on?  I had no idea what the trail conditions would be like, how my legs would feel, how the trails would degrade after repeated exposure to runners' feet, how my legs would degrade after repeated exposure to mud.  Maybe I could get 50 miles?  Starting with the 3-mile loop would be the most obvious way to reach that goal, so that's what I did.

Starting into the dark, rainy night, I tore off down the trail, trying to catch all the quick little turns right at the beginning.  The trail was great!  For a mile, anyway, nice wide flat gravel.  I scared up a rabbit, that was funny!  Next a double-track road, still good footing.  A runner came by asking how many had started on this loop, not a clue, sorry.  And is this the right way?  Yes, you're going the right way.  Yes, you're still going the right way.  The route was well marked, plenty of flagging along the right side (and along both sides in the out-and-back sections).  You just had to pay a bit of attention in the dark.

Down a long slightly-slippery hill, then into The Swamp (part 1).  The trail along the river was muddy and would only get worse every time someone ran through it.  I managed a combination of running, slogging, hopping, sliding, and eventually got through it.  The uphill on the other side was a bit slick but manageable.

Up to the top of a local maximum (and later a nice view of the river, once it stopped being dark).  I picked up a blue wristband, then continued on trails up and over a ridge, down some fun switchbacks, up another small hill, and back to the excellent gravel trail leading back to the start.  3 miles down!

Let's see what the 5-mile loop has to offer.  The long windy trail along the plateau was in great shape, ins and outs, little downs and ups, fun running.  Oh look, a road.  Oh wait, there's a huge puddle across the whole road.  I tiptoed around the edge, not minding getting my feet a bit wet but trying to avoid the deep wading while I could.

Good road running, and with glimpses of a zipline course that looks like fun.  At one turn the flagging all said to go left, but there was also a "wrong way" sign in the direction - ?  I flopped the sign face-down, figuring the flagging was correct, which turned out to be true.  Over the top of a high point with a nice view, quite lovely.

The trail dropped down into a drainage and along a little creek.  A group of runners was coming back toward me - ?  They thought they had missed the out-and-back and were coming back to look for it.  I assured them (or tried to) that we still needed to go up and over another ridge first, having memorized at least one section of the map beforehand.  Yep, there's the start of the out-and-back section, they had turned around just a short ways from it I'm guessing.

Down toward the river, it was getting light enough to actually see the river now so that was nice.  The first part of the river trail wasn't too bad, as long as you made it down the slippery chute without landing on your butt (somehow I managed).  But The Swamp (part 2) was worse over here.  Once we were right next to the river, the trail was covered in deep mud.  Wading required.  I tried various things like skirting the edges, running through the middle, walking in other footprints, nothing worked.  It was all deep and slippery.  I'm down with going through the middle of puddles if that's where the good footing is, but that wasn't the case here.

And it was an out-and-back, oh goodie we get to do it twice!  I went over and collected a green wristband, then made my way back through the muck.  Eventually I'd start resorting to wandering through the weeds to the side, which was equally slow but at least the ground was solid.  I suspected there might be poison ivy in there (later confirmed that there was, but at least most of it washed off my legs in the rain).

Back out of the mud and up some nice stairs, a good solid climb toward more solid ground and another good view.  The road up top had a lot of puddles, but it was in pretty good shape in comparison to other parts of the course.  After a long gentle climb, it was back to the start.  5 more miles down!

I was running in shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, plus a rain jacket, and that combination (along with the speed I was keeping up) was plenty warm.  A Buff and cap on my head, thin Smartwool socks, that was working too.  The only change I made was swapping my overmitts for a thin pair of Smartwool gloves (just purchased the day before - thank you, REI!).  The overmitts were collecting water, I suspect rain that was running down my sleeves and into the gloves.  Not cold, but not fun to deal with.  The thin wool gloves were perfect for that day.

John and I developed a system where he'd put some water in my bottle, I'd drink some Spiz, we'd record my lap time, and that was pretty much it.  Quick turn-arounds once we got going.  I told him he didn't need to hang around all day just for that, but he found a place inside to do some work while I was running and it was awesome to see him as I finished each lap.

The next part of the morning went great!  I was running faster than I had expected, the rain slowed way down, and it was mostly fun running (except for the swamps, but they were relatively short).  I was so glad Joe had suggested skipping the 7-mile loop.  The 5-mile loop was in great condition (except for the swamp, which continued to get worse) - the road coming back actually dried and had fewer puddles for a couple laps.  The 3-mile loop was not so great.  It kept deteriorating, not just by the river but the entire climb back up.  Slippery gray mud, hard to find purchase to get up the steep slope.  But at least it wasn't raining much.

The 30K runners started at 8 am, doing the 7-mile loop twice.  I did not envy them.  Our friend Art was running, and the photographer got a couple shots of him (I don't see how it was dark, not sure what's up with the lighting in these photos):

And oh yeah, it was raining again - hi Art!

The 30K'ers finished with one 5-mile loop so I saw some of them, but missed Art.  It was fun seeing him after his finish later, and John got to hang out with him for a bit.

The 10K was all on the 7-mile loop (slightly shortened for them), so I missed that crowd entirely except they were waiting to begin as I came through the start/finish area at 9:45 am - hi and bye!

My running was going well and I started wondering if I might be able to fit in an extra loop at the end for 56 miles total.  I had some leeway, but I knew I would be slowing at least a little over the course of the day.  The problem was that this slowing occurred right as the rain came back in force and the trails got significantly worse.  I pushed hard around the 3-mile loop, putting in some extra effort but still losing quite a bit of time because of the mud.  Dang it.  Then the 5-mile loop started getting crappy too!  Mud, mud puddles, sloppy mud, slippery mud, sticky mud, squishy mud.  Hey, I never lost a shoe in it (it was close), that was something.

The photographer didn't capture any photos of me (and it certainly wasn't a priority for either me or John to get our own photos), so here's a stand-in of someone else's feet that pretty much sums up the situation:

I wasn't running quite fast enough to look like this, however:

I finally gave up on the 56-mile goal and figured that 51 should be straightforward as long as I held it together.  I also gave up on the rain ever going away.  It's wet.  It's muddy.  Just run.  The best thing about going through something like this is gaining perspective - because I could honestly say I was happy it wasn't snowing (a la The Bear a couple months ago).  And that it was only 12 hours long.  I knew the hardest part would be the middle miles, and that was true, just get through them.

My acceptance of the situation seemed to help with my lap times too - they slowed to something manageable and then stayed there for the rest of the race.  Wow, I actually could have ALMOST fit in another 5 mile loop if I had been 10 minutes faster overall.  Well, what can you do.  It's not like it mattered.

Actually, it almost mattered.  There was another woman making a run for the top female spot, Lise from France.  Toward the latter part of the race, John started giving me reports of how I was doing, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that I was in 3rd overall and currently the top woman.  In fact, I might have made a mistake in starting with the 3-mile loop.  As it turned out, I would have had time to get 53 miles if I had started with the 5-mile loop instead.  And Lise might have been able to do that too.  Except she went for the 7-mile loop early on, and now the math wasn't in her favor anymore.  Phew, that was almost quite unlucky!  One of the attractions of this race is the fact that it's a "3-ring circus" and there is strategy involved.  Definitely something I would love to try again, especially in better weather  :)

In the end, I had only to finish what I had started - 6 times on both loops plus an extra 3-mile loop for 51 miles.  Lise was far enough behind me (15-18 minutes) and lacking enough time to run an extra loop.  I could (mostly) take it easy on the last 3-mile loop, finishing right past the 11 hour mark and glad (very glad!) to be done.

That was a lot of fun, and that post-race shower was the best!

The relay teams were fun to watch - some very fast runners kicking up all kinds of mud and water while tearing around the course, and a woman who could run uphill in the mud, inspirational.  I was really glad I didn't have to run, stop and wait (and get cold) and then run again.  Kudos to all runners out braving the elements that day!

And I love that one of the teams is named "Taco Cat" (it's a palindrome...):

Thank you Spectrum Racing, and THANK YOU JOHN!  Big hugs (after I got clean and dry).

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tiny House at the Beard Farm

Just a short post to brag about what my in-laws have put together - they built a tiny house!  It's on their farm property, and we think it's really cute  :)

My one tiny contribution is helping them list it on AirBnB - my first listing (and a side plug for AirBnb who makes it really easy to list and book places like this).

Some photos to show off the space:

The open downstairs area which includes the kitchen, living room, and even a TV (on the wall behind me):

Stairs up to the loft:

The downstairs bedroom:

Nice tile work in the bathroom:

The cozy loft:

View down from the loft:

Pastoral scene out the kitchen window:

And a photo of the outside; this picture is already out of date after some recent landscaping work (and Jerry is working on adding an outdoor BBQ grill):

The AirBnB listing is here if you want to see it:

Thanks for reading my shameless plug!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Random recent photos

A collection of things we've been doing around Texas lately.

I've been riding around the streets of Tyler, and one notable stop was at the Tyler Rose Garden:

I found an interesting, nonstandard Peace Pole there:

Also a pretty pond and fountain:

And of course, lots of roses:

Finally a bit of sunshine to light up the flowers:

Our first Austin orienteering meet of the year, at Walnut Creek.  It was a bit of a mess, with trails not always matching the map and checkpoints placed in precarious positions.  John adapted the best of all of us (I'm sure he enjoyed it the most too) and came in 2nd overall.  Dave and I saw each other briefly in the middle of the course, before I started floundering, misreading creeks, and attempting a route along the top of a cliff that didn't work.

Here's Dave at the next-to-last control, photo courtesy of John who was hiding and taking pictures of us:

Making a plan to the last control:

And off he goes...

I apparently made up some ground in the second half, because I arrived at the same control just a couple minutes later:

Making a plan...

And away we go:

Hi John!  Displaying my "blazing speed" to the finish line:

Somehow it was enough for 4th place, with Dave just behind me in 5th (out of 10).  Certainly an interesting day, and good practice for adventure racing  :)

More practice - a fun day riding on gravel roads with Sheila and Sheila - thanks for letting me tag along!

My bike finally made it into a photo of "fun things along the roads of Texas" (not sure what Looney Litter is, but the sign sure is eye-catching):

Another day, another workout - this time back to the Barton Creek Greenbelt (yay!), finding trails mostly how I remembered except for a couple small detours, a bit of wet feet training, and a discovery that Bruegger's Bagels isn't all that far from the top of the Hill of Life (especially if you're doing a long run) - perfect mid-run refueling:

Jumping back to East Texas, and a Thanksgiving feast with the family, yum!

It's a good thing I've been doing all that running and riding lately...

John demonstrating the quadcopter to Collin:

Giving the kids a chance to try - and it turns out that a hay field is a perfect place for a hard landing, plus this quadcopter is (so far) pretty indestructible, surprisingly:

A short example of the quadcopter in action:

Fun times!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tyler long run

Occasionally I take a camera when I run, especially when I'm exploring a city and looking for curious and interesting things.  Time to check out Tyler, Texas!

Heading out from John's current work site at Texas Responsible Energy & Efficiency - see you later, John!

Some pretty foliage - finally seeing colors turn in east Texas:

Well, this is different!  Yes, THAT David Koresh, buried in a cemetery in Tyler, who knew?

I never would have found it without an exact lat/long location in the back of a large cemetery:

In another part of the same place, a howitzer (easier to find):

Moving on to downtown Tyler, this large water tower was apparently set up as a nuclear fallout shelter at one point:

One of many red brick streets downtown:

I had to go see what an "Earthkind Botanical Garden" is:

I'm not sure I found it.  But this garden sure is pretty:

Lovely bench:

This place nearby sure has seen better days - I just happened to notice it blocked off behind a gate as I was running by:

Barbershop pole = checkpoint!

I like the local bus design:

And the rose logo for the city:

I didn't find many murals, but the science center made up for that with several good ones.  Lots of detail here, planets and waves and layers of the earth:

Things that fly, including a butterfly for Mom  :)

Science on the smaller scale:

This probably isn't an official whaling wall, but I still like it:

I'm a fan of colorful utility boxes:

Peace through discovery - a wonderful concept.  It made me ponder why science and facts aren't more broadly used and appreciated when talking about important subjects, like climate change; is it possible that peace and saving humanity aren't desired by all people?  That thought made me sad.  Big thoughts for the middle of a long run, just bubbling up by looking at one mural.

On the lighter side - something pretty:

You have to be looking in the right place to find this sculpture:

Tyler City Square has a nice little fountain - I wonder if the water jets spray higher sometimes:

"Make Tyler a beautiful work of art" - first time I've seen such an elaborate print on a trash can:

I definitely had to find the grave for Shorty the Squirrel:

A bell that was used as a fire bell before being returned to the church:

The only statue I found while roaming around, here is Mr. R. W. Fair at a parking garage:

An important discovery - the Foundry coffeehouse, a most excellent (and warm) place, a little haven in the middle of downtown:

The warm spiced cider was most excellent:

One of many beautiful houses framed by lovely flower gardens, this one with all kinds of honors including a historical plaque and two types of medallions:

The Children's Park is a wonderful (and sobering) little place to walk through.  There are many sculptures honoring children, like the little kid playing with a frog.  Also a couple of large bears possibly tickling each other?

The butterfly garden, very nice:

Aaaagh!!  A giant ladybug, noooo!  You have to understand that ladybugs have been SWARMING in east Texas lately and I have spent many minutes hunting them down and removing them from inside our trailer.  So my reaction was a bit unusual as ladybugs go...

I've seen several Micro Family Farms in Tyler, finally got a picture of one.  I've not heard of this before, apparently they are helping people set up gardens in their yards in Tyler, Austin, and soon in Dallas:

Obviously it's the off season for a garden right now, but here's a brief glimpse of what they look like:

An impressive amphitheater in Bergfeld Park:

A really impressive gravestone in Rose Hill Cemetery:

I'll stop using the term "impressive" as this point and switch to "humorous":

The halls of Tyler Junior College:

I like this tower of books, called "Foundations", in a courtyard at the college:

Not quite sure what to think about the totem poles nearby:

Wonderful depiction of geese taking off from a pool:

A southern checkpoint:

Bubbly fountain at UT Tyler:

Brilliant red foliage on campus:

A tall tower with carillon bells:

I just happened to time it exactly right (got lucky) to hear the noon performance.  It went on for 10 minutes so I was able to get over there and capture just a bit of the very end of it:

This sculpture of (I think) a snapping turtle is called "East Texas Watch Dog" - love it!

I ran on the twisting, turning, switchbacking bike trails through the UT Tyler campus.  Only mountain bike trail builders can imagine just how much trail distance can be fit into such a small area.  I enjoyed running on it; biking would be more challenging for me with all the little dips and steep climbs.

One item of note was this sign on the bridge - "Bridge maximum capacity: 12 persons or 2000 pounds" - but did they really have to call it out?  I can imagine some people would consider that a challenge and would not be surprised to see a Facebook photo with 13 people standing on it:

A bit of the trail winding through the leaves:

Solar for John (and while it would have been a better picture if the sun were actually shining, I did appreciate the cloudy day for my run):

This one really made me wish we were going to the Bay Area for the annual Christmas decoration nighttime orienteering run next month - so fun!  The question for this checkpoint would be something like, "Who is standing on the left?  A) Santa  B) The Grinch  C) Dinosaur"

Second mid-run break - for a bagel and coffee.  Thank you, Einstein's!

This sign has made me laugh several times recently (see the part on the right), so I was happy for the opportunity to include it in this post:

Making my way back to the west, here's an interesting bunch of animals advertising the World of Wildlife Museum:

And the museum is actually free, so I poked my head inside.  I decided I wasn't really up for seeing a bunch of taxidermy that day, so I snapped a quick photo and went back out to continue my journey:

Running through Lindsey Park to see if I could find the bike trailhead, I happened to pass by this unusual disc golf goal - I daresay it could be considered "impressive":

An excellent sign about how long litter takes to decompose (plastic bottles = 450-1000 years) - please don't leave trash on the ground (obviously) - and maybe reconsider occasionally before buying a plastic bottle in the first place:

Wow, I have never thought about a disc golf course as meriting such a "Warning!" sign like this one.  Makes me want to check out the course and see if there are alligators out there or cliffs to scale or something:

Ah yes, here's the trailhead.  Not visible from the road, so I guess you need to know that it's here?  Maybe I missed a sign somewhere.  Anyway, I'd gotten enough miles for the day already, so I'll come back and check out the trail another time.  [UPDATE - yes, there is a sign across from the parking lot.  Don't pay attention to the mileage on the big map board - total trail length is about 13 miles.  And the trails are awesome!  Bring your bike!]

John, I'm back!

That was fun!  Thank you Tyler!