The Ultimate Challenge

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This weekend, I had the dual opportunity to seriously ramp up my training for the Superior 100 and to get a faint whiff of one of the most unique events in all sports, the Barkley Marathons.

The Barkley is almost indescribable–it is a race that is designed to be at the limit of human capability. Set in the wild mountains of Tennessee, it is a combination of running event, hiking challenge, and adventure race so difficult that there have only been 15 finishes out of nearly 1000 attempts. It is also extremely creative and filled with rich, colorful characters and Appalachian humor. Here are some descriptions that are well worth reading:

For years, I was fascinated by this race and wanted to visit just to see the event, but I never thought I’d make it down there. Upon moving to Cincinnati last summer, I realized I was close enough that this might be possible. Then, while running with some new friends a few months ago, a miracle happened–one of the runners, Joe Kowalski, casually mentioned that he was training for a race in Tennessee that he thought no one had probably heard of. It turned out to be the Barkley, and he had been going for years. What’s more, he eagerly invited me to come down and help him train on the rugged course at Frozen Head State Park. Sold!

IMG_1486We headed down on Friday, and hit the trails Saturday morning, to discover almost perfect conditions–clear and cool but not cold. As we approached, the mountains got closer and more intimidating by the mile, and they were making me increasingly nervous:

As we parked in the lot at the base of the mountains, we unexpectedly met two more folks who were training for the race, Dusty Hardman and Hiram Rogers. Dusty was confirmed to run and had driven up all the way from Florida just to check out the course (the race is March 28th this year) and wanted to get some course tips from long-time “Barker” Hiram.

We jogged up the road to the famous Yellow Gate where the race starts:IMG_1498Then we went up, up, up Bird Mountain, 1500 feet in 1.5 miles. This is known as the easiest section of the race, but it wasn’t runnable (at least not for me), and it went up a long time. From there, we hit snow, ice, sloping trails that headed almost straight down,. After Hiram and I each slipped off the “trails” and down the steep slopes before sliding into trees below, we quickly changed our route and took some “easier” trails. You are not allowed on any of the off-trail portions of the course except during the race, but these were more than hard enough for me, and at times made me wonder how much more I could handle. We managed only 21 miles in 9+ hours of running and mostly hiking. Here’s what the harder off-trail sections are like, luckily we had to do very little of this:

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What we did paled by comparison to the race itself, but my calves and quads were aching by the end. Best of all was getting a flavor of the race from the stories told throughout the day by Joe, Dusty, and the extremely gracious Hiram. Thanks all for an epic day!

Here are a few more pictures that only partly demonstrate the amazing beauty that is Frozen Head:

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Here is our route:

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13 quite sore miles this morning, and I made it through my toughest training weekend so far! Then a delightful but very slow walk with Jason around Sharon Woods Lake, where he shouted “hi”, “good job”, and “peace out!” to every walker and jogger he saw. What an inspiration, and what a weekend!

Biggest challenge ahead

Your contribution helps us celebrate!

Here’s the latest news at Celebrating Perseverance:

Fundraising: The wonderful donations keep coming, and we are nearing the $1,000 mark already. Shout outs to our newest supporters: Crissy D., Richard S., Lisa W., Pepper K., Billy S., Thea S., and Steve B.–you all rock!

Facebook: The Celebrating Perseverance page has skyrocketed in popularity to 126 likes. Next goal: 150. Can we do it? Be sure to Share the CP page with your friends, it’s an easy click.

CP news: Here is an awesome video of a CP kid determined to finish a race, and all the help he received as a result of his determination.

Jason: Jason turned 17 today! Check him out on the phone to his buddy Mr. Pete:

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Training: 4 miles in the rain this morning, and 4 more in the snow expected tomorrow. And then: Saturday, heading down to Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee with running buddy Joe K. to tackle parts of the Barkley Marathons course–the race is next month, and Joe is entered. If you haven’t heard about it, Barkley is the toughest race in the world. This short video about the race will amaze you and is well worth watching:

We are only allowed to run on the trails there, whereas Barkley is mostly off-trail. Still, the terrain is daunting and it will take all I have just to get up a few of the hills. Stay tuned!

A great first week!

Your contribution helps us celebrate!

What a first week after launch it has been! Here’s what’s happening:

Fundraising: Still more kind donations have come in, with nearly $500 in already. Latest all-star supporters: Susan G., “Anonymous”, Janet R., and Sophorn C.–thanks so much!

Facebook: The Celebrating Perseverance page now has 47 likes. Let’s try to get to 50 by the end of the day. An easy and very important contribution that would mean a lot to us is to just Share the page with your friends.

CP news: Here is a new post that describes cerebral palsy and some of the challenges that kids with CP face. They are true endurance athletes that face life with endless smiles and usually a joyful view of their different realities.

The Cincinnati Children’s CP program is hosting its annual Aaron W. Perlman Memorial Symposium for Cerebral Palsy on April 24th. The organizers have put together a tremendous program

Jason: Our Jason will be celebrating his 17th birthday on March 4th! Yesterday he started the celebration with attending a Chinese Dance concert. He was easy to recognize as he was the only one shouting “Bravo” after every dance, and as usual saying “Hi” and “Peace Out!” to everyone who passed by. Also, he started shaving today, shedding his peach fuzz moustache. We had recently been calling him Pedro after the character in Napoleon Dynamite.

Training: A rest week this week, just 10 flat miles in the light and sloppy snow this morning. Thursday’s early morning run turns out to be a comical disaster. After convincing the group that it would be great fun to run on the cleared but still snowy paved trails in the park and in the dark, I slip on an unexpected ice patch and go down instantly on the first step of the trail! Here’s the impressive-looking result:

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It was actually much worse looking than the actual scrape, luckily no pain and no problems except a bruised ego. Gotta be more careful!

Off to a great start!

Latest update to our fledgling effort:

  • Fundraising: More donations already, so much appreciation for the generosity. Super shout outs to Jason M., Paige M., and Mindy K. for their support. We are over 4% to our first goal in just one day.
  • Facebook: Jason already has 28 friends, and the Celebrating Perseverance page is up to 14 likes. Let’s make it 100–spread the word!
  • Training: Four early morning miles in, yes, you heard right, minus 12° weather! That’s the coldest temperature Pete’s ever run in, but it was actually okay after a few minutes. Thanks to neighborhood running buddies Jill and Melanie for the motivation
  • Jason: Last night, first ever Sled Hockey experience! Check out the picture:

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Magical training day

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Survived my biggest weekend of training so far! I was scheduled for 4 hours and 10 minutes on Saturday, and another hour and forty minutes on Sunday. With the weather, that turned out to be a huge challenge, but a great workout with some magical moments. I couldn’t wait to get out there as I’d been grounded the last few days with messages like this waking me up:

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Woke up Saturday to see that a forecasted snowstorm was in full bloom, with several inches on the ground and more on the way. The temperature was reasonable, just around freezing, but I wasn’t sure what to wear or how this was going to go–snow? Ice? Rain? After several moments of indecision, I packed quite a bit of clothing options, changed my mind once or twice, and headed out for the trails.

This winter, virtually all the long trail options in the Cincinnati area are not available without danger, as it is hunting season in most of the parks (as I discovered several places after running into hunters! Yikes!). The only real exception is the backpacking and mountain biking trails at the beautiful East Fork State Park. With the snow falling heavily, this was a very long and slow drive, and I arrived to be what looked like the only one in the park:

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I soon found that the “trail” was very snow-covered with no real tracks for the whole stretch, and with about 6″ of fresh snow to try to break:

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After a few minutes of trying to slog through at my usual pace, I discovered that because I needed to high-step, I was not going to be able to keep this up at any reasonable speed. Also, my uphill hip started getting really fatigued, and I was soon breathing raggedly and getting fatigued. I started taking short walking breaks and then walking/slipping through all the uphills, while having great fun cruising the downhills and trying to stay on my feet. A few times I slid out of control and into the snow, but there was no chance of getting hurt, so this added to the fun.

The views of the lake were spectacular:

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The trail was incredibly peaceful–soft to the feet, on the eyes, and on the ears as well. The only sounds were the gentle breeze, my feet on the cushioned snow, and an occasional flock of geese honking somewhere above in the low clouds. Soon, all thoughts of outside business and bustle dropped away and I glided though a magical, ancient forest:

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Lost in my drift, the time passed much more quickly than I would have thought possible. While the extra stepping motion was challenging, I soon got the hang of the necessary pacing and finished up feeling great–not too fatigued, and with plenty of energy for the rest of the weekend. I found I’d only made it 16 miles from my GPS (but an impressive, and clearly much inflated, 45 miles with my new FitBit One!), which is a pretty slow pace. No matter, it’s the effort and time on my feet that matters, and that had been an amazing leg workout.

Finished up with 10 miles Sunday with Melanie and Tom, tough to begin but not feeling too sore. I’m definitely on track for trying out the Barkley Marathons course in 2 weeks!

Launch up!

First post at Celebrating Perseverance! We are working hard on all of our outlets, and are now somewhat live. Our website, which is this log, is partially complete–look for us to fill out the rest of the main menu items in the next few weeks. Already in place is a summary and ways you can help.

Our fundraising site is now operational as well. Here’s your chance to be the first to raise money for the Cerebal Palsy Program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the nation’s premier pediatric research center. You can help in a variety of ways–donate, fundraising, or passing along the news to friends and family. Help us grow a strong community to help these remarkable kids and young adults!

Also, we now have a Facebook page for the cause, so be sure to like us and let your Facebook buddies know about us!

Thanks, we are excited to begin this journey with everyone!