Friday, 8 December 2017

The Agony of Dunpheat

     This past Saturday, I ran the inaugural Run Santa Run 5k here in Pittsburgh (well, actually Cranberry.)  It turned out to be my 99th competitive race.   That brings me to this coming Sunday at the Trot for Tots in Oakdale, which as you can see mathematically is number 100.   I'm looking at that milestone and thinking to myself, "have I really competed in 100 races?"   I guess I have.

Wore number 89 for race 99
     I've kept every bib I've ever worn including one from The Great Race in 1997 (which I ran when I first got home from the Navy) and from The Big Boy Classic in 1999.  I wasn't really into running back then, but I ran each with one of my best friends growing up, Aaron Plunkett.  I don't remember much about the Great Race except holding my arms above my head as we learned in the military when we finished a run, and the only thing I remember about The Big Boy Classic was that it was very long and I walked a lot.  Twenty years ago I guess I decided I wanted no part of running, but a lot has changed since then.  So, here I am on the verge of race number 100.  The 99 preceding races I've run happily and willingly.  Each one has also been memorable.  However, not all of them have gone the way I thought they would.  In fact, two of those  races ended in three letters: D.N.F.

Sara and Amy cheering me on for
The Hell Hath No Hurry 30k in 2015
     As you can tell by the title of this blog post, I'm a fan of the show Modern Family.  I pretty much stole a great Phil Dunphy quote because Phil is a very "punny" guy.  (This pun was also intentional.)  For those of you that may not know, D.N.F. stands for "did not finish." (Would Phil call him self Phil DNFy if it was him?  I'd like to think so.)  The first time I encountered this terrorizing acronym was three years ago when I registered for the Hell Hath No Hurry 30k at Settler's Cabin Park in Robinson Township.  This is a great trail race organized by Peter Kozlowski.  I remember that day very well as it did nothing but rain the entire morning all the way up to the 2:00 PM start.  Within the first three quarters of a mile I rolled my ankle in a huge puddle of mud, and that ended my day.  I hobbled through the first 10k loop and as I crossed the timing map, I let the officials know that I was not going to be able to continue.  I was pretty bummed that I couldn't finish because at that point in time it would have been my longest race to date.  It simply was not in the cards for me that day, but I was smart enough to know that I had to stop.  My ankle hurt pretty bad and I had to take a break from running for about four weeks.  But, I told myself that I would live to run and fight another day.

First D.N.F.  I was in a lot of pain from the
swollen ankle, but I still needed a pic
that said, "Eh, oh well."
     Since then, I've finished not only a differnt 30k, but also two marathons and a 50k.  Knowing that, the wheels started turning in my head once more and I thought "what if I could go further?"  When registration for HHNH opened up this year, I decided to register for the 50 mile option (or as I like to call it, 8 fun laps through the park!)  I had all the confidence in the world that I could finish this one and told myself I would.  I had a goal, and I had a plan.  I told everyone I knew that there was no way I wasn't going to cross that finish line.  Yeah, I was wrong.

     It had rained all day the day before the race (I'm beginning to see a pattern.)  Since it hadn't rained all week, I was OK with the rain because I felt it would soften the trail a bit.  For me, sometimes a dry trail is a fast trail, and a little too fast for my legs.  A softer trail was my friend.  Well, all day rain is actually not my friend and it turned a good portion of the trail into a boggy, muddy, mess.  I still had my goal however, and I was ready to go.

Hobbling through the woods of the 30k
on a bum ankle.  Photo Credit: Mike
     My first loop went very well.  I had run it in just over an hour and ten minutes.  When I appeared out of the woods ready to hit the timing map, my friends were there waiting to start the 10k and cheering me on.  I told them to hold their applause because I still had seven loops to go.  My second went just as well as the first, and even after my third loop I was still feeling pretty strong.  I felt as though I was drinking enough fluids and eating enough gels.  I was also eating salty things at the aid stations, and I felt pretty chipper.  My plan was working and so were my legs.   With an ear to ear grin on my face and only 5 more loops to go, I felt like this race was mine.

     It wasn't.

     Now, when I tell you how awesome and how much fun Hell Hath No Hurry is, I truly mean it.  Peter and his crew do such a fantastic job not just with the organization of the race and the trail upkeep, but also with the out of this word first aid/nutrition station at the end of each loop.  If you needed salt to keep from cramping, it was there.  If you needed pop, peanut butter sandwiches, chips, and pretzels, those were there, too.  If you needed pickles (again for a salty deli-case) they had them.  (God I love pickles.)  But, not only was there more than enough food to replenish there, but there was also enough at the mid point of each loop.

Photo Credit: Run Santa Run 5k
     One of the legends in the running world of Pittsburgh is Audrey Burgoon.  She had volunteered to help out with this race and set up a spread just as big at the halfway point of the runner's loops (grilled bacon and cheese sandwiches and more pickles!)  She had assistance from Suzanne Lancaster-Natter, Alyssa Cammarata-Chance, and a few other seasoned trail running veterans whose names escape me at this time.  Not only did these ladies volunteer their time to help aid everyone with their nutritional needs, but they also provided sound advise and energetic cheers each time me and everyone else reached their station.  I cannot emphasize enough how much crowd support helps when going the distance.  These ladies are beasts in their own right, and I look up to them and the many great things they have accomplished in the years I have gotten to know them, as well as run with them.

Hell Hath No Hurry 50M.  Climbing this 6 times
was not a lot of fun.
     I was in the middle of my fourth loop and when Suzanne looked at me and told me I needed to sit down.   Now mind you, I didn't feel like I needed to sit, but she's the coach and I listen to what coach says.  She had felt my face and told me I wasn't sweating enough and I looked tired and wanted me to eat and drink something.  I honestly did not feel as if anything was wrong, and I felt as though I was doing a great job of staying hydrated.  But when I look back and think about the race, I was not taking in enough fuel to keep me going.  I was not eating much, or anything really.  I thought that my gels would do the trick but I know now that they weren't.  So, on Suzanne's wise words, I rested as long as I could.  She knew what she was talking about so I'd better darn well listen.  I was working hard to finish this race, but I was pushing my body harder than I should have and ever had before.

Lap 5 I believe, but maybe lap 6.  Either way there
is fatigue in my expression.  Photo Credit Coach Kim
     When I finished that fourth loop, I saw that my running buddies (Amy, Sara, Stephanie, and Dana) had returned to to bring me some more moral support.  When they asked me how I was feeling the only thing I could say to them was, "what in the heck ever made me sign up for this?"  They encouraged me to keep going and assured me that I "got this."  I remember looking at my watch and telling them that I felt I was running out of time.  Their only words to me were, "just keep going."  So, I did.

Emerging from the woods after loop number 4
     On my fifth loop, I got to run into (again pun intended) another Pittsburgh running legend, Tony DeLuca. (Tony also happens to be an official Pittsburgh Marathon blogger for the 2018 season.)  He asked me how I was feeling, and I told him pretty tired but I was still going.  I also told him I didn't think I was going to finish because it looked like I was running out of time.  Not only did Tony offer me some encouragement much like my friends, but he also told me no matter the outcome to be proud of what I was trying to accomplish.  He knew it was my first attempt at a 50 miler and told me everything I needed to hear.  With a final "good luck Jedi Master" Tony went on his way as did I.

Photo Credit: Coach Suzanne.  I'm looking a little beat.
Loop 4 I believe.
     I was able to finish my fifth loop, but after the sixth one I knew I was finished for the day.  I was tired.  I was hungry (simply not enough pickles to satisfy my belly.)  I was also limping.  I just didn't have enough left in the tank.  I hobbled across the timing mat and had to let the race officials know that I couldn't go on.  I looked at my running buddies with a touch of disappointment on my face.   I really thought I had this one.  Sara even offered to go back on the trail with me to keep going, but I just couldn't continue.  But, it's like my friends said, like Tony said, and like Suzanne said: "be proud of what you've done."  Disappointment in not finishing the race soon turned into a smile.  I may not have run 50 miles, but I had run further than I had ever thought myself capable.  At no point of that day did I ever throw in the towel just because I could.  I played it smart and again said I'd live to run and fight another today.  It may not have been my day, but it was still a day I could l look back on and be proud of what I had done.  D.N.F may mean did not finish.  But, when you, I, and we are running, no matter the distance or race, it will never, ever mean "did not try."

     Hell Hath No Hurry 2018, I'm coming for you.  I've got you lined up and in my sights.  We're going for round two so you'd better be ready.  I will be.  I'm bringing pickles.

     Sinceriously yours,

     Chuck Hull
     The Running Jedi

     #10YearsRunning #runpgh #teamlemieux #lovetorun #pittsburghmarathon #runnerofsteel

PS:  Don't forget, if we raise $3500 for the Mario Lemieux foundation this year, I'll be running the full marathon in the flamingo suit.  To donate, click here:

Enjoy just a few more pics:

Photo Credit Mike McNeil.  HHNH 30K 2015

Run Santa Run 5k
Goofin with Amy after the finish
Bryan got out an walked the day
to get a work out in. I was just
being "normal"  Photo Credit:
Run Santa Run 5k
Race 99 in the books! Photo Credit:
Run Santa Run 5k

SCRR Friend Sean Jonez and I
Photo Credit: Mike McNeil

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Summer of Chicago

     It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  That's the best way that I can describe the Chicago Marathon.  It's hard to believe that it's been almost a month now since I made the trip to Chi-Town, and completed my third marathon.  It's also hard to believe that I spent the entire summer preparing for that trip, and that race.  But just like my feet on occasion, time flies.

     For the lead up to the Chicago Marathon, I took a different approach.   When training for Pittsburgh I'll join the Steel City Road Runners group runs on the weekends, and even run with friends during the week.  But, for this go round I decided to do as much of my training on my own as I could.  I felt that I needed to know one thing: could I do this on my own?  After 603.77 miles of training I had my answer.  I could (and did), but I'd also rather not.

     One thing that makes the group runs special is that there is always someone there to pick you up and keep you going.  Someone is always there to check on you and make sure you are OK.  Someone is always there to help you laugh and smile and to keep you distracted so yo don't get into your own head.  I truly enjoy that aspect of the group run.  However, I also don't mind when my short runs during the week are a little quieter.  In fact on more than one occasion this summer I chose not to even bring my music with me and just enjoyed my surroundings.  But for some of those long weekend runs, I really could have used the companionship even with the music.  It seems I just kept telling myself I wanted to see what I had in the tank, and I wanted to see what I could achieve.

     For most of my long runs I did what I considered to be the Neville/Cory/Moon Tour.   I started at my house on Neville Island, ran though Coraopolis and up Montour Road into Moon Township.  I eventually headed back into Cory and home.  On one run I even stopped at my friend's (Bryan and Amy) place for a refill on my water.  Seeing the look on Amy's face knowing that I just ran from my house to hers was worth it alone.  The one take away from always doing this route is that I had to tackle a lot of hills.  Man do I hate hills.  I loathe them.  But, I know I have to run them.  After a while, it seemed to get a little easier.  Now I just whine about them because it's fun, and I'm still a big baby.

     When I look back at my summer training, I lucked out.   I don't recall running on the treadmill much.   I think I only ran on the treadmill one time because of the rain.  Most of the summer was pretty sunny and exceptionally hot, and I was able to spend the majority of my training outside.  Every day seemed just as beautiful as the next.  I really do love running with music, but keeping it off for most of my short runs this summer truly did give me a better appreciation for the wonders of nature.

     No matter where I was at in my training, my friends had always continued to check in and see how I was doing.  I relished those texts or instant messages.  We may not have been running together, but we were still together in spirit.  Knowing that always helped me to push myself just a little bit harder.  Another friend of mine, Kirsten Vietmeier, was also running Chicago.  I would check in with her on occasion as well to see how her training was going and how she was doing.  As much as it seemed like I was doing this on my own, I really wasn't.  My friends were "there" as was Kirsten.  It makes all the world of difference having that kind of support.  But soon enough, training was over and it was now time to head to Chicago.

     The drive to Chicago wasn't too bad.  It was pretty much a straight shot across the interstate.  Kirsten and I jammed out to a lot of great 90s and early 2000s era of Hip hop, Rock, and R & B.  You can never go wrong with some old school Nelly!  Kirsten kept saying "this takes me back to middle school," more or less reminding me that I was old time and again (thanks for that.)  It did help pass the time, though.  The only scare we had was when Kirsten thought she left her cell phone in the bathroom of a rest stop with us not knowing how she would get it back or if someone would even turn it in.  As it turned out, my car trapped her phone in the compartment of the passenger side door.  I'm not sure how neither of us saw it the first 5 times we looked in that same spot.  At least we had a small misadventure for a brief 10 minutes.

     Leaving earlier in the morning and arriving early evening, we got checked into the hotel (and grabbed those delicious Double Tree Chocolate Chip Cookies) and then made our way to the expo to get our bibs.  I always thought Pittsburgh's marathon expo was big, but when I walked into the convention center in Chicago I was a bit surprised.  Their's was ginormous!  There were so many vendors and just as many people.  I was in awe.  I knew Chicago was a big deal, but now I could see it with my own eyes and really understand just how big of a deal it truly was.  After we got our bibs, we headed out to get some grub, and then headed back to the hotel to relax.

     Saturday wasn't that much more exciting.  Kirsten and I just wanted to stay off of our feet as much as possible but found ourselves doing a 2 mile shake out run, hitting up the expo for about an hour, and then visiting the Nike store.  We had dinner at the hotel and got our "flat me" ready to go for Sunday morning.  Like I said, nothing too exciting for the weekend.  We didn't want to walk around a whole lot because we knew Sunday was going to be a big day.  Our sole focus was the run in the morning.  By the evening, after nice pasta dinner at the hotel restaurant, I felt I was pretty tired and figured I'd actually be able to sleep.  Wrong!  That was not happening!  As soon as my head hit the pillow, my heart started pounding and the excitement set in (or the adrenaline.  Take your pick.)  I knew I was in for a long night.  I think I may have gotten four hours or sleep if I was lucky.  But when it was time to get up, I felt like I was well rested and ready to go.

     Our hotel was only about seven tenths of a mile away from the start but in true Chuck fashion, I got us lost on the way there.  I thought I knew the way, but I should have known better.  I'm a typical male and didn't need directions.  When I finally asked for them, we probably walked a good half mile out of the way.  We still made it to the starting corrals on time so I didn't get us that lost!  I could not believe how many people were there.  Sure Pittsburgh has a great turn out and the participation blows me away every year but there in Chicago, it seemed like half the world was ready to run!  Kirsten and I then took a quick pre-race selfie and parted ways with a plan to meet at the finish.  It was was go time.

     I felt pretty good when I hit the starting line timing mat.  The temperature was still nice and cool and we were in plenty of shade.  Except for a quick side trip to the port-a-potty, the first three miles were going very well for me.  There was so many people out in Chicago to cheer everyone on!  So many that I couldn't even hear my music, but honestly I didn't mind.  I love crowd support.  Pittsburgh does it very well, and it was nice to see that Chicago did, too.  After about 7 or 8 miles, I still felt great.  The temps were still a little cooler, but I could tell it was start to warm up, and rapidly.  My pace didn't change at all so I just kept doing what I was doing and kept the smile on my face.  I really felt like the day was going in my favor.

     10 miles in and the crowd did not change.  There was still a ton of people lined up on the course.  Chicago really did come out in droves, cheering like crazy.   Right around that time I spotted someone wearing a Steelers jersey so I screamed at them happily and made sure to high five my fellow Steelers fans!  As I did so I almost rolled my ankle in a small pot hole I didn't see, but I was OK.  The day was mine and I was feeling very strong!  That feeling would not last, and a lot sooner than I had thought.

   When I hit the half way point, I really started to feel fatigue setting in.  It was definitely a whole lot hotter and I was sweating a lot, maybe way more than I probably should have been.  There were more than enough fluid stations on the course (one at every mile) so I took advantage of that as much as I could.  It was really nice to see that not only were they offering cups of water, but they also had volunteers holding water jugs to help fill up runner's water bottles.   Well done Chicago.  Well done.  I found myself dumping as much water down my back as I did down my throat.  I didn't want to dump any on my head because I didn't want the pink hair spray to start running down into my eyes.  But, with the temperature rising and not a cloud in sight, I hit my wall earlier than expected, and my mind started to get the better of me.

     It's funny, I'll run in the summer around home in 90 degree weather and not bat an eye or think anything of it.  But, for some reason this felt so much worse that day.  As much as I was trying to feed off of the crowd's energy, I was still questioning myself as to why I was putting my body through such torture.

     "Why am I doing this a third time?  Are you nuts?  Yeah I think after Pittsburgh next year, I'm done.  I don't even want to finish today.  I just want to stop running.  But I have to finish.  Yeah this was a stupid idea.  Not as dumb as trying to run 50 miles though.  Pretty sure I'm never doing that again.  OK just get to the finish and that's it for marathons.  You ran a couple, so you're good."

     I walked all of mile 18, as well as mile 20 and 22, but once I got to mile 23 I knew I only had a little over three to go so it was time to finish.  I had to fight through everything.  My arms were covered in salt.  I could feel my left calf starting to tighten and getting ready to cramp up.  I just wanted to get done and if I was going to finish, I was going to run.  I didn't care how fast or slow I was going.  I just wanted to make sure I ran the rest of the course and finished strong.

     The closer I got to the end, the more emotional I felt myself becoming, and even more overwhelmed.  There were still thousands of people cheering on runners even this late in the race.  It was something to see.  It made me happy and kept me distracted from telling myself to get bent and to never do this again.  Right around mile marker 25 or 25.5 (not exactly sure where since at that point I had tunnel vision,) there was an M.C. telling people to cheer and hug the person next to them because they had done it.  I hugged that dude just because I could.   He got a kick out of it and then told everyone we were boys and I knew how to get the job done.  That made me laugh a little.  But then, it got quiet.  The crowd ended at mile Marker 26.  The rest of the course was closed off to spectators.  Well this sorta sucked.   I was so used to seeing people all the way up to the finish in Pittsburgh, so what the heck was this madness?  What was I going to do for the last .2 miles with no one there to cheer me to the end?  If you didn't think .2 miles was long before, it certainly seemed to last forever right then!  You can't leave me alone in my own head Chicago!  Son of a......

     "Great, now how the heck was I going to find Kirsten?  This is going to be impossible.  She wasn't going to be able to find me or find out where I was.  I can't leave her by herself.  I can't be left by myself!  I'm going to cry.  Yep, I'm also going to puke.  I can't breathe.  What...the...ever....heck????   Darn you Chicago!  Oh wait...there's the finish line chute!  Where's my Terrible Towel?  Where the heck is my towel????  I gotta twirl it across the finish, even if Chicago spanked the Steelers a few weeks ago!  These people have to know where I'm from!"

     It was at that point I smiled a little more.  With a twirl of my pink Terrible Towel I hit the finish mat, I grabbed my free beer, and I just kinda bent over in a sigh of relief.  I did it!  I finished marathon number 3.  My God was it freaking hot.  I just wanted to lay down and die (figuratively.)   I then heard my name being called out and it was Kirsten.  I was so glad she found me because I was truly worried I wouldn't find her in that mess of a crowd.  She asked me how I was doing and I told her not good because I couldn't breathe.   But, it wasn't because of running.   I just started to get a little emotional and that feeling of being overwhelmed had not passed so I just needed to sit and calm down a bit.  I needed to drink that beer, too.

     Despite all the soreness in my legs and feeling a bit over heated,  I felt pretty proud of what I did.  My time was the slowest of my three marathons, but it was nothing to be ashamed of and I knew that.  I ran and finished the Chicago Marathon.  Kirsten ran and finished the Chicago Marathon.  It was time to celebrate (and we did!)  While out at dinner that night Kirsten asked me if I would do it again.  Even though my kept trying to convince me otherwise earlier in the day, I looked right at her and said, "you darn well know I will."

    Like I said at the beginning, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times (5 hours and 7 minutes.)   What running the Chicago Marathon was, however, was a damn good time.

     Until we meet again folks, keep on running.


Chuck Hull
The Running Jedi

#lovetherun #runpgh #runchi #26miles26dedications #teamlemieux

For a fifth year, I decided to raise money for the Mario Lemieux Foundation for the Pittsburgh Marathon 2018.  This coming race will be another fun one!  If I hit $3500 raised, I will run all 26.2 mile in this glorious suit.

To Donate, bookmark, click, and share this link:

And thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.

PS - Enjoy a few more pics from Chicago!

Who wouldn't want to come back to see this show?
Gotta stop and get some world famous popcorn!
Not a cloud in sigh on race morning
Almost time to start!
Taking a picture of us taking a picture in the bean.

Could not have asked for a nicer day to run!
Like this picture needs a caption.

Kirsten, I, and our waitress at dinner.
Chicago deep dish.   Yum!