The Laurel Highlands Monsters

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Pete versus the Laurel Highlands Monsters

It was a dark and stormy night. Heading back to the hotel after the pre-race meal, I was filled with apprehension. Just how tough was this course, and how bad would the weather be? And what else could the trail throw my way? I’d run some challenging races, but I was not too sure about this one. I began to imagine a line-up of terrifying monsters awaiting me on the course, each more ferocious than the last. Where would they be? How many would the Highlands fling at me, and when would it start? Very soon, it turned out…

Monster Zero: Here was an unexpected beast, sent the night before to shake up the unprepared. Unlike many runners, I usually manage a good night’s sleep before a race. Not tonight, though. The hotel I was staying at was nice, but there were lots of people making noise in the halls until late, and I wasn’t very relaxed anyway. Soon enough, it was 2:30 and time to get my stuff ready.

To the finish line by 3:30, which was already buzzing, then a long bus ride sharing stories with Ron from Tennessee, a physicist who designs proton therapy machines for radiation therapy–so cool! And typical of the amazing and interesting personalities that populate the ultra community. After a long and dark ride, it became first light as we pulled into Ohiopyle, an outdoor adventurer’s mecca in SE Pennsylvania and home to the wild rapids of the Yochigheany River. Checked out the daunting, roaring falls and surveyed the intimidating hills all around us that we were about to climb. This inspired me to reflect a bit about why I was running this race, and for all the great kids with physical challenges who struggle like I would at times today constantly. Then talked with friends Clare and Hal, friends from my old running group Misery Loves Company. Both were attempting this as their longest runs ever, exciting!

Then we were off! 123 starters moved as one up the road, and soon we hit the trail. To announce its presence, it immediately went pretty much straight up with railroad tie steps, but luckily only briefly, then leveled out for a while, until…

Monster 1: A big, shaggy one right in our faces. The first hill! I knew we had the 3 IMG_1722biggest ones in the first few miles. This one was 600 feet, and it was quite steep, more so than almost anything I’d been training on. I was planning on walking all the hills today and hiked steadily up at the same pace as a knot of runners I was with, though I passed Clare as she was smartly pacing herself more. Soon enough we started cresting the hillside to some amazing views of the Yough valley below, where I realized that we had now met…

Monster 2: Sneaking up from all around, silent and unnoticed until it is too late. The weather–it started out cooler than I had even hoped for, in the low 70s, but quite humid, and as we looked out into the valley, I realized just how humid it was. There were clouds below, which meant fog, which meant close to 100% humidity. This didn’t change for a loooong time, which makes it really tough on a high surface-to-volume heavy sweater body time like mine.

Almost all that elevation gain quickly evaporated as we descended into a deep, forested glade that was absolutely beautiful. Dark, mysterious, with mossy rocks scattered throughout a meandering stream.This was repeated many times, often with hemlock groves near the water that gave the feel of an enchanted forest. Then we crossed the creek, to run into…

Monster 3: Another big, hairy, ugly thing. The 2nd big hill, higher and steeper than the first. This took longer and a bit more energy, but it was conquered again after 700 feet of climbing. Then straight back down, with plenty of…

Monster 4: An insidious little fellow that kept nipping at the ankles. Lots of rocks, and a fair number of roots. This became a constant for many, many miles. The rocks were in long stretches, not the constant rock-filled courses of central PA, but always big and frequent enough to require constant scanning, course correction, and quick decisions. There were a fair number of makeshift stone steps in places as well, where you had to be careful not to make rash decisions. I love this type of terrain, but it does take its toll. Once again, we bottomed out, crossed a run, and came up to major…

Monster 5: The big one, a super colossal giant with a threatening club! This climb was 1200 feet, and it was VERY steep. Worse than that, it kept getting steeper and steeper. Worst of all, it was mostly a straight trail where you could see just how big the giant was (forever), with not even a hint of a leveling off for a long, long way. Nothing to do but put the head down and keep powering through with a brisk and steady walk upward. While I am a decent climber, I could already feel fatigue in my legs and knew that this was sapping energy quickly.

IMG_1727It took a long time to summit, but eventually things leveled off, and the trail got to be very runnable and enjoyable. The tough hills were done! We traversed ridges and glades, crossed streams and meandered through the dense forest, and passed through rock gardens with maze-like mini-canyons. I was feeling good, and the famous concrete mileposts that marked every mile were passing by quickly. I ate and filled up bottles at the first aid station, and then kept on more gentle trail until about mile 19, when suddenly I came across…

Monster 6: A loud and obnoxious ogre crouching unnoticed suddenly yelled and startled this unsuspecting runner. Here was a relatively short but very steep climb up a rock garden, with lots of rocky steps. For some reason, this one killed me, so that I could barely even lift my legs up to get to the top. Something was definitely wrong–I suspected that I was rapidly overheating and needed to slow down.

Just after, I ran fast and with a big smile on my face into the next aid station as I always try to do, but this time I was totally faking it. I needed lots of liquid and asked for ice for my hat as well, which I had brought just for this purpose. I’d never tried this before but have read about it from others. Well, it was WAY too cold for me and became extremely painful after just a few seconds. How do people do it? I settled for ice to the neck and walked to slowly recover for most of the next mile. This was gonna be much tougher than I thought.

The next 12 miles or so were pretty flat and forgiving, so I made a good recovery IMG_1723and cruised along though many fern-covered glens, and a surprise lake as well. Some time along here, the first 50K runner (the 50K race started later and was on the same course) zoomed by. Much, much later the 2nd 50K runner, a young woman, came bounding down a hill, hesitated just ahead of me at a confusing junction, then turned right. 50K runner #3 started to follow her, then realized he was going wrong and alerted runner #2, who had figured it out and was coming back. They headed down the correct path just as the 2nd woman came down the hill right beyond. This mistake had really compressed the battle for 2nd!

At one point, we heard the shooting range off to the left, and saw some warning signs to stay on the trail. Some of the shots sounded fairly close and from some serious weaponry! About this time, 50K runner #5 passed, then he stopped just ahead and started rubbing his legs. I asked him what was wrong and he said he was cramping up, so I supplied him with an S-cap (he seemed to not know about electrolytes) and some gatorade, which seemed to do the trick. I’m always amazed at how fast these elite runners can go on such challenging courses, and they look so graceful doing it.

We got to the “highest point in the Laurel Highlands” and ran through the Seven IMG_1725Springs Ski Resort amid an aid station and then a crew station around miles 26-28. This was a real delight, running in the open on grassy slopes for the first time, past another lake, and getting amazing views of the valleys far below. Still, it seemed like it had taken forever just to get through a marathon distance. This was becoming a real slogfest.

From this point on, I was realized I needed to eat more and had been going anaerobic. Once I started chowing down, using ice, and overloading on drinking at the aid stations,, I started feeling much better. The next stretch was great, and I connected with a few similar-paced runners for some nice chats. I was typically slowing on the hills, doing OK on the flats, and bombing the fairly frequent downhills. The only monster I had going was…

Monster 7: A nagging, persistent little bugger, this was the constant rubbing of the wrong choice in shorts. Along with plenty of sweat, I was starting to chafe raw in a whole lot of places. This gradually led to a constant dull buzz of pain that just had to be ignored, as aid station treatments were not doing much. All I could do was to try to keep this out of my mind as I cruised on, only to encounter

Monster 8: This one seemed innocuous, but its size and ferocity were cleverly disguised. It started out at the mile 32 Aid Station with no ice available, which unnerved me a bit, as while the humidity had decreased in the mid-day sun, it was still plenty humid, and with higher temperatures. I also kept hearing from some veterans I was leapfrogging that there weren’t really any more significant climbs until about mile 50. They were wrong…so wrong! This next stretch of 7 miles seemed to constantly climb up, shoot down the ridgetop into another hollow, then back up the other side. Over and over and over. It just seemed to go on forever, and each time it sapped more energy out of me, so that I was practically stumbling into the mile 39 Aid Station.

However, with more food and drink, I regained much strength and again started feeling better, as always happens in ultras. There were more climbs in the next 7 miles, but I was hanging in there. Also, there were many cool features that IMG_1726included the biggest rock dens and mini-canyons, some huge boulder formations, and fields of ferns that were huge and went on forever, as far as the eye could see in every direction. There was also a very large hemlock grove that had no undergrowth and was very dark and spooky. This was magnificent, primitive country that was breathtaking in its beauty and serenity.

Then at the mile 46 Aid Station, I picked up my first drop bag, which had a desperately needed Ensure in it. This was like liquid gold, and I soon felt the best I had all day, plus the temperatures were starting to cool a bit in the early afternoon. Everyone kept saying “it gets easier after mile 50”, but before that spot, I knew about the biggest, baddest demon yet…

Monster 9: This one was enormous, given my depleted state. It rose up in front of me, a huge ridge with no end in sight, and I knew I had to climb to the top. But I was in a conquering mood, so my steady hiking pace overcame the hideous shape and rounded out to the ridge that we would follow for the duration. It seemed as if I had won, but of course the Highlands had many more creatures yet to unleash…

Monster 10: This sneaky gremlin was a well-hidden root or rock that caused me to tumble to the ground. I’d fallen early in the race to a similar obstacle and was unhurt except for stubbing my one bad toe/toenail pretty hard. Later in the race, I tripped on a short, thick stick that lay lengthwise in the trail and refused to budge until I did. But this one was different. I landed fast and hard on my side, right onto a stubby tree stump sticking out of the trail about 2 inches in diameter. IMG_1724This caused tremendous pain and I cried out a few times, thinking at the same time that my race was over, or at least I had some broken ribs. Miraculously, it had hit my side just below my ribs and above my pelvis, and it didn’t puncture me either. My hamstrings were strangely strained, but after a few moments, my body returned to normal. I had very narrowly missed a real disaster, with some great luck that held until…

Monster 11: With a flash and a distant boom, the newest challenger announced itself–a thunderstorm. I knew this was a possibility and was a bit worried about a severe storm that might have a big wind front. Luckily, the trail had been all on the east side of the ridge, where one might expect less wind. So of course as soon as the thunder announced itself, the trail crossed the ridgetop to immediately get onto the more vulnerable west side! Luckily, this wasn’t an issue, and the clouds didn’t look too menacing. Soon enough though, the rain began to fall. And it fell and fell, longer and longer. I expected a quick storm, but this one just kept going on, sometimes with a bit of rain, and other times raining pretty hard. In total, it must have lasted nearly 2 hours. The trail started getting sloppy, and my shoes started getting wet (though I didn’t really notice at the time). Despite this, the rain was refreshing and a bit cooling for the first time in the day, and the ferns were beautiful. This monster wasn’t so bad, or so I thought, but it was not alone…

Monster 12: Slowly enveloping me, wrapping me in a shrouded coat of evil. was mountain fog! Even though there should have been plenty of daylight, the clouds and now this thickening fog was advancing the coming night and making things challenging to see. Worse yet, this meant yet again that there was 100% humidity. I was really starting to get fatigued by this point, but I was still running the flats and downhills much of the time, and there were many. The trail ambled around the sides of the ridge, occasionally crossing over, to a very peaceful tune. Eventually, I made it to the last checkpoint and Aid Station at mile 57, where another dropbag awaited. But here I made a critical mental error by not changing my now soaked shoes and socks. My feet felt OK, but there were some sore spots. That would soon change.

I downed another Ensure and hooked up with new running buddy Clint, whom I had been running into at many of the Aid Stations. We decided to set out together to get the last 13 miles over with. It was headlight time, as the darkness and fog completely came down on us at this point. Was it…

Monster 13: This devious hacker was attacking my equipment! As we headed out, I realized that I could hardly see anything between the fog and the dark, certainly not any trail markers–and we had been warned that there were confusing cross trails throughout. Was the fog deflecting my light that much? After a few minutes of this, and noticing that Clint behind me seemed to be doing fine, I switched headlights and sheepishly realized that it was just weak batteries. Another crisis averted by “brilliant deduction”. The totally cool thing was theIMG_1728 mountain laurel, which we had increasingly seen along the trail, until there were stretches where it was a constant grove of brilliant and fragrant white flowers, with a faint pink hue. Here in the dark, the flowers seemed to glow in the dark from our lights, as if they were guiding lanterns directing our way. They became our anti-monsters. Inspired, we kept on going, alternating runs and walks through this very forgivable trail, except for the muddy stretches and occasional pools from the now-subsided rainstorm. Only to find…

Monster 14: Perhaps the biggest foe yet! My body still felt OK with minimal soreness, but my feet were starting to hurt as if I had one massive blister on each foot. This turned out to be maceration instead of blisters, but it got increasingly painful until it felt that my whole sole of each foot was sliding back and forward with every step. Our running stretches got shorter and shorter, and we hit a one mile stretch of gravel road that was slightly uphill and we walked completely to the last Aid Station. From here, it was mostly a very fast hike to the end, as our legs and feet were just too beat up to attempt much more running. We weaved in and out of a few fellow hike/runners and figured we had this in the bag. My original goal of 18 hours had long passed, though I had been on pace for much of the day. 20 hours seemed doable if we could keep this up (unbeknownst to me, finishing in under 20 was a Western States qualifier!). Mostly, I just wanted to finish, as this seemed to be going on forever. However, the mountain still had some things left for us…

Monster 15: This slippery, slimy shadow of the night was literally just that. The last 3 miles were a steep and very rocky drop. The downhill was killing our legs and my feet, and the rocks were not really walkable as they were so slick; nor were they runnable as it was too dark. So we sort of stumbled down them, constantly slipping and tripping on rocks. How we managed to stay upright, I will never know. This would be a delightful stretch in daylight and early in a race, but not now. Finally, we leveled out, crossed a weird sandy stretch under a powerline that looked just like an eerie moonscape in the dark, and then we saw it:

Monster 16: The last, fiercest serpent rising up to strike at us. It really was a serpent, too! A baby timber rattler lay literally at our feet until I heard a noise and noticed it. Somewhat comically in my drained state, I just casually said “look, a timber rattler”, and we all stood there and admired it. It was shrinking back against us while shaking a very small and pretty pathetic rattle that sounded more like someone rubbing two small twigs together. We were really way too close to it, but by this time, it almost seemed like a “whatever, is that all you got left for us?” moment.

We knew we had it at this point, and moments later we burst (our first running in five miles) into the open to receive congratulations, a wicked cool trophy, some fantastic chili, and NO MORE MONSTERS!

Prologue: This was probably my toughest race ever, between the weather, the terrain, and relatively light training. I ended up pretty unscathed, as the soreness and chafing quickly faded, and I’m back to running again.

Congrats to endgame buddy Clint and friends Clare and Hal for also finishing in a year with one of the highest dropout rates in the history of the race.

Thanks to the organizers, who every year put on one of the most historic and storied ultrarunning events. They manage to keep it old-school and well-oiled, with fantastic support from enthusiastic and experienced volunteers. The course is very challenging and divinely beautiful, a must-run or hike destination for all outdoor adventurers.

Thanks to my ever-supportive wife Lori and my kids, who keep me going with their inspiration and constant patience. And most of all, thanks to the CP community and all of you who are embracing Celebrating Perseverance. Monsters tamed, first quest complete, on to Superior!

Laurel Highlands: The Big Warmup

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June 12th:

Tomorrow marks an event that will measure where I am in the 100 mile quest. This will make or break my efforts to meet my goals, a very sobering thought that is creating endless waves of nervousness through my body right now. Am I ready? Have I prepared enough on tough terrain and endless hills? Will the heat and humidity be too much? Will those vague twinges of soreness and pain that we all constantly feel, but which my mind has singularly focused upon lately, lead to anything real? We are about to find out!

The Challenge: The 36th Annual Laurel Highlands Ultramarathon

The Location: The Laurel Highlands, of course…stunningly gorgeous setting in the western PA Allegheny mountains

The Date: Saturday, June 13th, 5:30 AM

The Distance: 70.5 miles

The Course: All trail, rocky and hilly to begin, meandering and undulating throughout

The Terrain: 12,000 feet of elevation gain

The Weather: Warm (70-80°) with fairly high humidity, and a fair chance of thunderstorms throughout the day

The Setup: Up at 2:30 for a loooong bus ride from the finish to the start

The Crowd: Over 200 for the full race and many more for the 50K and relays, great to see some old PA friends at the dinner and more tomorrow!

The Mental State: Not so good right now, need to get my game face going

Driving up to check out the finish tonight, there was a thunderstorm rushing through the 2000 foot gap in the ridge where we will be finishing…an awesome sight that this picture doesn’t convey nearly well enough. This is truly stunning country.

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Pigs CAN fly

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May 3rd: Today was a big day in Cincinnati–the annual running of the Flying Pig Marathon!

Jason is the world’s greatest running race enthusiast, either if he is “running” in his stroller in a race, or if he is cheering on others along the sidelines. In the past, he was a regular both at the Philadelphia Marathon and the Broad Street Run, the two biggest races in Philly. He’s been asking “when is the race?” every day for the last 2 months.

Today, we had an extra special treat. The Flying Pig raises money for charities who provide volunteers for the race. Jason’s hockey sled team mobilized a big group, and both Jason and Pete eagerly joined the group. We had to get there by 6:30!!!

IMG_1649 (1)Once we arrived, we hung out with some newly made friends and fellow volunteers on a most beautiful morning. We were in charge of keeping traffic away from the main route on a particular side street, which wasn’t too difficult. Before long, the leaders came by, followed soon by a huge number of runners.

Jason started going crazy and yelled and shouted to everyone going by, “Good Job!” “You can do it” “Almost have it!” This was usually followed by his hysterical belly laugh and a huge smile. Be sure to watch this great video of him here.

Once the “serious” runners went by, most of the runners and walkers started noticing Jason and calling out to him. Then Jason started putting his hand out, and chaos soon ensued. Runners would start to high five him, and once they did, everyone wanted some of his energy. This started causing some major traffic jams as runners would see a line forming and come across the street just to get some encouragement. Some even inadvertently cut off others just for a little love. It was great (and not the first time Jason has had this effect)! Here is a great, great video of some of Jason’s finest work.

Lots of folks were decked out in costumes, including a lot of pink (still not completely getting the Pig/Cincinnati thing). A few had full pig costume, even one with a cute curly pink tail in the back. Pete’s running pal Jill and her husband stopped for a picture on their way for a sub-4 hour time, way to go!

It’s always very inspiring to see so many people of all walks, backgrounds, and body types coming together to persevere over a very challenging goal. The collective time and effort in training and during the race is mind-bogglng, and to see so many looking good and smiling above their effort is quite uplifting. You can feel the positive energy flowing down the street.

Congratulations to everyone who ran the Pig, you are all rock stars!

Jason’s 6/20 Car Rally for CP!

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Jason LOVES to sit at busy streets and say hello to cars. Wherever we’ve lived, Jason’s had a special place to sit, and he is quickly known as the “mayor” of his spot. People wave, honk, stop and chat, and even have been know to bring him presents!

A few weeks ago while sitting out, a special man named Jack stopped by. Jack rides with a local car club, and he offered to organize a special drive by of the club’s special cars, just for Jason. What an awesomely kind idea!

This is rapidly turning into a serious event. The club is looking for a charity, so they will be raising money just for Celebrating Perseverance. We expect a large number of special hot rods and old-time cars to participate. We have friends, neighbors, and family also involved to help turn this into a local event, and our town’s police department will be on hand. We also expect that Cincinnati Children’s Hospital will be on hand to help out.

Here are details of the car rally:

Date: Saturday, June 20th

Time: 2:00 PM

Place: Cornell Rd and Woodlands Way, Blue Ash OH

Information or to help out: celebratingperseverance@gmail.com

Please come by and check it out!

Building confidence

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Pete’s been busy building up his fitness for Superior 100. Here are a few recent workout highlights.

April 25th: This weekend was a big training milestone at East Fork State Park.

This was the first weekend where lots of different flowers, ground cover, andIMG_1623 leaves on trees really started to show, and it was gorgeous! There were flowers everywhere. It’s amazing how different the same landscape can look in the course of a few weeks–still lifeless and open in early April, and rich and enclosing to the point of solitude in late April.My schedule called for 5 1/2 hours on Saturday, and another 2:50 on Sunday.

The days are starting to get warmer, which also means dreaded higher humidity on days like today. Runners can compensate for heat, but not really for humidity, as IMG_1622they can’t cool down easily in humid weather. That means that core temperature rises, and eventually that means slowing down. It wasn’t too bad today, but I definitely struggled some towards the end. My legs are feeling good and strong, but it will take time to get my “heat and humidity” training up to speed.

Luckily, my recovery was great overnight, and my long run on Sunday with the neighborhood gang was a breeze. I even had enough energy to take Ryan and a friend hiking that afternoon at the Cincinnati Nature Center. This was a great mental boost, with only one more big training weekend before the big warmup challenge, the 70 miles of Laurel Highlands!

May 2nd: Back at Mt Airy Forest for an “easy” Saturday, which was about 12 hilly miles. Today, I finally ran all the way up the Stone Steps without stopping! I also ran the creek again, my new favorite route. A great outing with perfect weather.

May 9th: Once again, blessed with super weather, cool and low humidity. I started out early as part of a 3 hour outing, and encountered a beautiful painted turtle in the middle of the trail. Then, to my great surprise, I ran into a ginormous wild turkey. He was seriously big enough to feed a small village for Thanksgiving. What a delightful sight to see!

For the 2nd hour, I managed to finally meet up with new friends Pat, Dave, and organizer Steve of the Greater Cincinnati Trail Runners, who are a loose-knit bunch of ultra and trail enthusiasts in the area. They all turned out to be great company and ran about km100-kettlethe same pace as I did–except for youngster Dave, who I couldn’t keep up with but was nice enough to stop and wait for us old-timers at key junctions. I learned that Pat and Steve are taking on ultras in June as well as me, the challenging Kettle Moraine race in Wisconsin. Pat is attempting the 50K, while Steve is going for 100K (62 miles). I again managed Stone Steps, and also Gummy Bear x2, all without stopping or walking.

These were 3 great weekends, and I am feeling stronger and more confident about all of this!

 

Walking with Knox

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April 19th: Today, we had a chance to make some new friends who newly experienced the great Cincinnati Children’s Cerebral Palsy Program. Today, Jason and his brother Ryan headed to Winton Woods with Pete to join the Walk With Knox. Knox is a very cute, energetic, and wonderfully enthusiastic young boy who was very recently diagnosed with CP. His parents and family were very appreciative of the attentive doctors and staff they met, so they quickly organized a fundraiser to help support this program that has also been so helpful to our family.

Parents Kelly and Brett, along with their large and extended families, put on the IMG_1610Walk With Knox fundraiser for the CP Program at a local park, which was a 5K walk for everyone who wanted to participate. We got a chance to witness firsthand some of Knox’s great energy at the playground, where he showed everyone how to maneuver all the equipment–even showing Pete how to climb IMG_1613up the slide! His attitude was cheerfully infectious, even though the walk itself was pretty rainy.

The walk started off with a release of many green and white balloons into the sky. Kelly and Brett spent lots of time talking with Jason and sharing their experiences with us. Their whole family was very welcoming, and we enjoyed lots of food before and after the event. IMG_1615

Even though this was set up without a lot of organization, it raised more than $5,000 for the Program! It was really heartwarming to see such an outpouring of gratitude for a great cause. Thanks for including us, Knox!

Many more pictures can be found here.

Ohireland’s New Sport

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Pete’s been busy building up his fitness for Superior 100. In the next few days, we will post a few recent workout highlights.

April 11th: Today’s workout was again at Mt Airy Forest, for about 14 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. This was really fun today, for a couple of reasons:

First, it was the first run where springtime was really evident, as it started breaking through the gray and brown grip of late winter. The skies were intensely blue, the temperatures were still cool and with low humidity, and I felt great coming off of a low mileage week. It was still awfully muddy in places, but the promise of warmth made it easy to splash through the puddles. Mt Airy is always tough, but its steep and IMG_1601sometimes rocky challenges always keep my mind sharp and refreshed. My battle with the massive hill that is the Stone Steps continued, and I made it closer to the top before having to stop momentarily for a breather–maybe next time I will conquer!

Second, while running towards the end IMG_1602in the Arboretum side of the park, I came across a truly inspiring sight–an entire valley of buttercups just emerging from their winter hibernation. It went on as far as the eye could see, tiny and fragile yellow flowers wrapped in a verdant, undulating green carpet. For some reason, it reminded me of the lush green plains of Ireland. So I doth name thee Ohireland.

And best of all, I got to invent a new sport! I’m worried about the rocky and technical terrain for both Laurel Highlands and especially the Superior 100. There are rocks and roots in place on the Ohio trails, especially at Mt. Airy, but it’s not the same as I expect to encounter in my target races. Nor is it similar to my old training grounds in Pennsylvania, a state that is basically a big rock pile covered by a thin veneer of soil.

So lately I started eying some of the creek beds close to our house. I noticed that many of these are broad and flat with not much water in them. They also often have big and flat stones. I tried walking a few of them nearby our house to see if they were stable and easy to maneuver in, and they seemed to be so perfect that they were almost like walking paths.

Today, I tried out my idea. Where one of the trails dipped into a ravine with an inviting creek, I turned into the creek and tried to run down the creek bed. To my joy, it was pretty easy to do so! There was almost always an obvious place to step, either on a flat rock in the creek bed or a flat spot alongside the creek. The rocks were stable and not slippery at all. Only occasionally was there a spot where I had to stop or slow down to find my way, usually either a pile of debris or a log to go over or under. With a bit of practice, I could start to look ahead and figure out a path to take without stopping. This was also great lower leg proprioception (balance) training and kept my mental focus sharpened. After a bit of learning, it became a real joy, both for the challenge and for bringing me even closer to nature’s wonders.

Here is a video of my first attempt. This is in a place where it wasn’t so easy to run, so it’s not so representative of the whole outing. I did this for about half a mile and can’t wait to try again! Not sure what to call this new sport, “Creek Running” seems a bit lame. Any ideas?

 

Jason Climbs into the Sky

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March 31st: On our way back from Georgia, we decided to stop in Kentucky and check out Red River Gorge, a rugged park and natural area east of Lexington we had heard much about since our move to Cincinnati. This turned out to be an awesome side trip and a special adventure for Jason and the whole family.

The gorge is indeed very rugged, with steep mountains everywhere that have been slowly eroded into imposing cliff faces. Many of these have further eroded into “arches”, where the sandstone below a hard granite capstone rock is worn away to cause underlying indentations. There are many wicked hiking trails, and this is awesome trail running country, as the Rugged Red Half Marathon held here in mid-September attests to (4000 feet of climb in only 13 miles!).

However, hiking up to the signature Natural Bridge, the highlight of the park and a true natural arch that has eroded all the way through, was not in the cards for us. While there were several trails to view the arch, none of these were wheelchair accessible for Jason. We contemplated our strategy during lunch at Miguel’s Pizza and climbing shop, which is a can’t-be-missed restaurant with super awesome pizza and rice bowls. Finally, we decided to see if we could take the “tram” to the top. This turned out to be nothing more than a short and scarily IMG_1597steep chairlift straight up the side of the cliff and onto the top of the arch. However, the lift operators were incredibly friendly and helpful, and they offered to load Jason’s stroller onto a chair and take it off for us at the top. Jason got to sit with Mom and loved the ride, while the boys rode on ahead to set everything up at the top.

At the top, it was a real struggle getting Jason wheeled across a short but VERY bumpy trail to the top of the arch. But it was totally worth it, as you can see from the scenery in one of brother Ryan’s famous “trip clip” video travelogues at the summit. The bridge is 78 feet across and 65 feet high, but it seems much higher from the top. A very happy day!

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