Posts Tagged 'Ultrarunning'

The Toughest Ten

I started working on this post months ago. It took a very snowy day for me to find the time to finish the list. I have shaped it and updated it as I have reflected on the meaning of endurance sports in my life. The physical suffering associated with the training and competition is something that I thrive on. Athletics is a big part of who I am and I have gotten great pleasure from the activities that I have done during two decades of endurance sports. I played hockey as a youth, ran cross-country in middle school and high school, and remained active at the start of my college career in Army R.O.T.C.

However, it wasn’t until I took up road cycling in college, that I started on the current path. A while back, I started thinking about the most challenging races that I have done. I referred to them as the toughest. Not counting the cross-country and track meets that I finished in middle school and high school, I have done more than 700 endurance events. I’ve gone through different phases. After high school, I continued to run, andthen I did mountain bike racing, then road racing, then cyclocross, then trail running, then adventure racing, and now triathlon.  There have been other interesting variations in between (e.g. snowshoe racing) and all of these sports have overlapped at one point. There have been years, especially recently, when I’ve done all of these different sports in a twelve month period. I like mixing it up and I like the benefits of cross training. The variety helps minimize the risk of injuries.

I’ve never been great at any one of these sports. Body type/size and training time are two big limitations, but that hasn’t stopped me from competing and having fun. So, which ones have been the toughest to date? I’ve ranked them here with a brief description. A common thread is the length of these races and their multi-sport component. I have migrated more towards these types of races. Until now, these are the toughest races that I have done:

1) Jay Challenge, Jay, Vermont, 29-31 July 2005, 20:09:11

Hands down, this is the grandaddy of my palmares. Just finishing the Jay Challenge was an accomplishment.  It is a bit different from others on this list because it was a three day stage race with the overall winner achieving the lowest cumulative time. Each of the three stages would make this list on their own. I was 10th overall and know I would have done better with a faster kayak, but that doesn’t matter. Finishing was the real accomplishment. The first day was a 27 mile kayak paddle across Lake Mephramagog from Quebec to Vermont. The second day was the classic Jay Mountain Marathon, but it wasn’t 26.2 miles, it was 33. The third day was a 65 mile mountain bike ride on hilly terrain. You summited Jay Peak in both the run and bike. There was so much climbing in this race (except the paddle) that it made you silly. The race was in late July and at the time, I had never been more fit. We completed our end-to-end hike of the Long Trail three weeks before Jay, so I had a pain threshold like never before…and never since. I could go all day long, get up and do it again. The LT was 13 days and 285 miles of supreme effort, so three at Jay was simple, yet still very hard. Pain Index: 10

2) Sea to Summit Triathlon, Jackson, New Hampshire, 22 July 2006, 9:29:21

It was difficult to rank the Sea to Summit Triathlon second ahead of races three and four because they were all wicked hard. However, given the fitness I had at the time, this one beats out the others. The Sea to Summit Triathlon was an 112 mile jaunt from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Jackson, New Hampshire. The race consisted of a 12 mile kayak up the Piscataquis River to Berwick, Maine. Then, after a transition, you rode 90 miles to Jackson, New Hampshire. From there, you ran four miles uphill on Rt. 16 to Pinkham Notch. Then, you ran/hiked five and a half miles up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit of Mt. Washington. Only 40 people were allowed into the race. It was a special day, though I suffered dearly. I started the morning at sunrise in the pea soup fog at sea level near the mouth of the river. I finished wearing a skinsuit and a windbreaker on the top of the mountain in gale force winds blowing cold rain and sleet at 6322 feet, the highest point in New England. If it wasn’t for my awesome crew (Debbie, Art, Mel, and Bill), I might still be out on the course. It was shorter than an Ironman, but the weather conditions, lack of organized support/aid stations, and terrain, made it tougher than any other triathlon. Pain Index: 10

3) American Zofingen Ultra-Distance Duathlon, New Paltz, New York, 12 October 2008, 8:28:02

The American Zofingen was also run at a time when I wasn’t quite at my top fitness, but it helped me get back to a high level after my first real long layoff. That means it hurt a heck of a lot. After I finished it, I knew that if I could learn to swim, then I could finish an Ironman. Zofingen is the toughest duathlon in the country, and maybe the toughest in the world. The first leg was a 5 mile trail run in the Mohonk Preserve. The second leg was an 84 mile bike ride around the Shawangunk Mountains. The third leg was 15 mile trail run on the same course as the first leg. Again, at 104 miles, it was shorter than an Ironman, and there was no swimming. Still, due to the terrain (major hills) and my lack of fitness, it was harder, but not by much. Pain Index: 10

4) Ironman Lake Placid, Lake Placid, New York, 26 July 2009, 10:44:48

Ironman USA in Lake Placid was an amazing race. I did it this past August and it was my longest ever one day race. 2.4 mile swim/112 mile bike/26.2 run. That should be enough to put it on the top of this list. However, I managed to get into top form, so it hurt, but not as bad as some of the other races on this list. I had my rough moments, and the swim was terrifying, but I managed to race within my limits and finish strong. The support was phenomenal (great volunteers) and the conditions were good. I’m sure that most people would put Ironman at the top of their list. For various reasons, it isn’t quite there for me. Thinking back, Zofingen and Sea to Summit were just plain harder, but mostly because I fell apart in both of those races. I was strong to the end during Lake Placid. I’m still proud of my first ever Ironman finish. Pain Index: 9

5) Ultimate XC (Jay Mountain Marathon), Jay, Vermont, 28 July 2007, 6:51:37

The Jay Challenge has not been held in the past few years, but the race morphed into an ultra-distance trail running race, when it was reduced to one day from three. Now known as the Ultimate XC, the Jay Mountain Marathon started as a run years ago, became part of the three stage Jay Challenge, returned to a run, and eventually migrated from Vermont to Quebec. A version of the race has also been held in Moab, Utah the past two years. All of the variations and names are hard to keep track of, but the one constant is the difficulty of the courses. This run took us up Jay Peak to an elevation of nearly 4000 feet. Then, it plunged us down the backside, through deep mud, into a bushwhacking section, then into a series of streams, then to a river crossing, then through a swamp, and eventually back to town. It was 33 miles of agony. Debbie caught me at mile 16 and I hung with her for 15 miles, before she dropped me like a wet sandbag. I finished, and that is what counts. Pain Index: 9

6) Hampshire 100, Greenfield, New Hampshire, 17 August 2008, 7:41:57

Other than the third stage of the Jay Challenge, the Hampshire 100 is the hardest mountain bike race that I have done. It was 100 kilometers, but it felt like 100 miles. Thanks to a month’s worth of unseasonable rain, the course was a quagmire. It was one big loop, which added to its epic nature. There was a ton of climbing and there was the added benefit of racing against two teammates for the honors of fastest mate. I kept dropping off their little group, before getting shed for good. Then, I had a wild mechanical failure when a stick wedged into my lower derailleur pulley going downhill at 20mph. I came to an abrupt halt and my chain was jammed. With less than five miles to go, I was afraid that I was going to have to walk the rest of the way. I made a delicate repair, extricated my derailleur from my rear wheel, and rode it in. It was a long day! Pain Index: 9

7) Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb, Gorham, New Hampshire, 23 August 1997, 1:14:54, 21 August 1999, 1:10:37, 19 August 2000, 1:08:04, 25 August, 2001, 1:11:04

I’ve done the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb four times. Incidentally, I’ve run it once, but it is the bike race that destroys the legs and puts your heart rate into a new category. Each time, I  pushed so hard that it made me dizzy. The last 22% grade is nothing like anything you have ridden before. As far as I’m concerned, it is the hardest section of road on Earth.  It comes after 7.6 miles of constant uphill at an average grade of 12%. For a hill, on a bike, this is as hard as it gets. My best finish was in 2000 when I rode a 38 x 25 low gear, which was way too hard. My knees are still hating me for that decision. I haven’t done the race since 2001 when the entry fee rose to $300 (though it is for charity) and the event got too popular. I’ll do it again someday. This is the second shortest race (time) on the list, but there is no resting. The weather at the top is the most inhospitable in the world, with constant wind and cold temperatures, even in August. It is no surprise that two of my top ten toughest races have finished on the Washington summit cone. Pain Index: 8

8 ) Jay Mountain Bike, Jay, Vermont, 30 July 2006, 8:56:00 DNF

It is a testament to Jay Race Director, Dan DesRosiers, that his events show up on this list three separate times. They are unique, they are painful, and they are unmatched. He goes out of his way to make the races difficult. You feel like a champ just for finishing. Unfortunately, this one, I didn’t finish. I was a DNF at the Jay Mountain Bike, with only five miles to go in the 70 mile race. It was one of two DNF’s on this list. I stopped at nine hours and I was at least an hour from the finish. Debbie was eight months pregnant and crewing for me (no excuse). It was hot (no excuse). I did Sea to Summit  a week prior (see number two on this list, but no excuse). I just didn’t have the legs, and suffered terribly. I walked the five miles before I quit and was resigned to the fact that I just wasn’t going to make it, so I climbed off after hours of struggling on the bike. It was the brutal fresh-cut singletrack that was the last straw for me.  No regrets. Pain Index: 8

9) Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse, Grimbergen, Belgium, 06 August 1994, 2:19:56

I spent the summer of 1994 racing kermesses all over Belgium. In 15+ races, this was the hardest one. There have been many longer bike races over the years and many that hurt a lot, but the Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse had the romance of racing in Belgium. I made the front group for the first time all summer. There were 15 other riders in a breakaway and I had to give it everything I had just to stay with the group and take my pulls. My heart rate hit 200bpm in this race, which was typical at the time, but still very high. This was the race where I started to burn out on road cycling. The other riders in the break were downright violent. There is no question that performance enhancing drugs (amphetamines) were being used. I risked being crashed out of the race at the hands of these merciless riders. I was happy to be up there, but wasn’t going to make it to the finish with them anyway, so I dropped off the group and finished behind them. I’ve never had to ride harder to stick with a break. Pain Index: 8

10) Race for the Gate, Nashua, New Hampshire, 24 June 2000, 1:08:00, DNF

I did a lot of tough road cycling events over my career. I’ve wrecked in many, but that doesn’t mean they were hard. There have been long and hilly road races. There have been intense cyclocross races where I was in oxygen debt. But, the longest cross races were 65 minutes. I did the Race for the Gate criterium when it was held as a twilight/night-time race. That alone made it different and difficult. I recall that it was a crash fest. The race was delayed by a huge pileup and people were going down left and right. The shadows cast by the large spotlights that the organizers had on the course, were very deceiving. There were more than 100 riders in this Pro/1/2/3 race and I was hanging on for dear life. I wish I had made it to the finish, but I got popped off the back with only a couple of laps to go. I was completely anaerobic and I was in danger of losing control in a corner. I was ecstatic to have made it as far as I did. It was a long criterium and it was a hard one. Pain Index: 8

Honorable Mention’s in no particular order: Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, Nipmuck Trail Marathon, 7 Sisters Trail Race, The Bluff 50km, National Cyclocross Championships (Providence), Vermont 50 Mile Ride, Vermont 50km Run, Wapack Trail Race, Six Foot Track Marathon, Walt Disney World Marathon, Moby Dick, Mt. Washington Road Race, Tour of the Adirondacks Road Race, Stowe Road Race, Killington Stage Race, Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon, National Collegiate Cycling Championships Road Race

Battles with Deb & Her North Cove Outfitters Seminar

I’ve written much about my epic trail running battles with my spouse, Debbie Livingston. She got me into the sport of trail running 10 years ago, and I have hated every minute of it. She would say, “Not true.” Well, truthfully, I have grown to love the sport, but in the beginning, it was painful, and I’ve got the scars to prove it. I tried way too hard to beat her and I ended up paying the price. At one time, we were a good tandem adventure racing team, but the fierce competitiveness between us, often caused strife. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but it is fun to laugh about our bickering now. Mostly we argued over navigation and my wining. When we are battling each other, our true desires come out. I’ve learned that if you intend to match her stride for stride, especially on a steep and rocky descent, then you better be insured. Seriously, I’ve warmed to running trails, my legs are used to the feeling, and now I’m out there in the woods every chance I get.

Debbie Livingston at Bimbler's Bash Trail Race

A week from tomorrow, Debbie is speaking at one of Connecticut’s best known independent outdoor retailers, North Cove Outfitters. I don’t know what she is going to say. I expect she will discuss how she got started trail running, and how that took her to the even more specialized discipline of ultra-marathon trail running. I’ll be honored if she mentions me, because that means I rate in her world! She and I are pretty evenly matched up to marathon distance, but when it goes to 50km, 50 mile, and beyond, I’m dead meat (and that’s coming from a vegetarian). I would rather crew for her at that distance.

She has done some amazing races in the past 10 years, and I expect that she will reflect on those experiences. From the Arizona desert to the California headlands to the Blue Mountains of Australia to Table Mountain in South Africa to the European Alps; she has run interesting trails. Those trails have given her some great stories to tell and in appreciation, she has given back to the trails. As President of the Shenipsit Striders, and Race Director of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races, she has returned much to the sport that has given so much to her.

Coming off a year of pregnancy and after the recent birth of our second child, she is primed to regain her form. My days of finishing in front of her are likely to be numbered. I had my chance when she was carrying an extra 20 pounds around her midsection. I’ll be afraid to challenge her on our tricky New England trails when she gets her fitness back to peak strength in 2010 and 2011. We have been compared to the tortoise and the hare. I go out hard and blow up. She paces herself and always gets to the finish first.

She has gotten amazing support from the Vasque US Trail Running Team. I think it is really cool that she stayed involved with the team throughout her phenomenally active pregnancy. In 2009, while her teammates were winning races all over the globe, she was setting a new fitness standard for expectant mothers. She is my inspiration and I know that she inspires others too. If you are in the area, join her at North Cove on Wednesday October 28th for a fun fall discussion about the joy of trail running.

Mountain Bikes, Love, and Life

Recently, the New England Mountain Bike Association held an essay contest. Members were asked to write about the importance of mountain biking to their family. My submission didn’t win, but I had fun writing it.

Mountain biking was so integral to the formation of our family that we have a connection with it that others cannot begin to understand. At the 1999 Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run, I met Deborah in the parking lot of the Ascutney Mountain Resort base lodge. It was the night before the big race and I was getting dressed for a quick warm-up ride with my teammate and friend, Arlen Wenzel. We had the great fortune of parking our truck next to a small white car with Vermont plates. We were almost ready to roll out of the parking lot when the owner of the car, a petite woman with a long pony tail, appeared. Arlen amiably chatted her up while I got dressed. He asked her where her bicycle was, noting that there was no rack on her car. She laughed and said, “What bike, I’m running the race. I would never ride 50 miles on a mountain bike.” Huh, we thought. Who is this woman? Arlen shot back, “You are the crazy one, running this thing.” I chuckled and let them spar. She said she was from Connecticut, but was living in Vermont since graduating college a few years earlier. We told her we were from Connecticut too. We exchanged a few more pleasantries, wished her luck, and she ran off.

Arlen was ready to go, but I had grabbed a business card and written a note on it. That card is in a frame on the mantle above the fireplace in my home. It says, “Deb, if you ever want to ride or maybe run, give a call.” I got out of the truck as Arlen hazed me. “What are you doing?” he asked. I said, “Hold on.” I put the card on her windshield. He shot me an evil look and said something like, “You dirty dog.” I hadn’t had a date in a long time, so it had taken some serious courage to act upon this chance meeting. She was fit. She was beautiful. I had never met a woman at a bike race before. My odds were improved by the fact that Arlen was already married. I had nothing to lose.

Arlen had talked me into riding this epic event. He had a couple finishes under his belt and had convinced me that there was no better way to spend the first Sunday in October, than to explore the countryside of southeastern Vermont. Little did I know that the experience would change my life forever. We hopped on our bikes and road down the hill to test those first few turns. He had warned me that a sunrise mass start with 200 mountain bikers with limited group riding skills, would be a recipe for disaster. We had to get the hole shot, and stay out front.

This love story has some twists, just like a challenging section of singletrack. We saw Deb the next day when she finished her first ultra-marathon trail running race. I had my own successful day, finishing first in my division and more importantly, beating Arlen by two seconds. We were hanging out at the finish line, cheering all of our fellow finishers. When she crossed the line after eight plus hours on the trails, and promptly burst into tears, I kept my distance. Arlen and our teammate, Randall Dutton, were pushing me to say hello again, but I gave her space and told them that I was happy to wait for a phone call or e-mail. We packed up and went home, but I secretly kept my fingers crossed.

I was hoping that she saw that card. A week went by without a word. Then, I got an e-mail message from Deborah. She said she didn’t normally respond to overtures like mine, but she figured that since it happened at a special race, she would give it a try. We exchanged e-mails for a few days before she finally sent me her phone number. That first conversation was exhilarating. We both had incredible experiences at the VT50 and found common ground in our love of nature. I was a button downed preppie with business acumen and pants that were too short. She was a hippie wanderer with a love for fitness and yoga who had stumbled across long distance trail running. Her pants dragged on the floor. I had done my fair share of running in the past, and she had done a lot of mountain biking, so our athletic pursuits were a match. She told me that she nearly threw away that business card. She thought it was a bit pompous of someone to make a play like that and had tossed it into her car without ever reading it. Fortunately, she found the card when she was cleaning out her car and noticed the note on the back. Lucky me. Our first date started at Eastern Mountain Sports near the Westfarms Mall. It was the one place we had in common. A month later, we shared our first kiss in the parking lot after a cyclocross race at Winding Trails.

We dated for a year, spending lots of time on the trails. We pushed each other to pursue our passions. After an engagement and second year together, we were married under a big pine tree at the White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield, Connecticut. I rode with the groomsmen in the park before the ceremony while she and bridesmaids went for a run. We have continued to cross over to each other’s sports. As a tandem adventure racing team, we have spent hours on mountain bikes in all sorts of conditions. There have been tension filled rides when Deb, the runner, didn’t take kindly to advice on shifting, braking, or cornering. As our navigator, she is the one that is supposed to hold on to the map. There was a race in New Jersey when she lost it during the bike leg. I always need a map and a plan. She can do without. Somehow, we rallied and went on to win that event. I was stressed out while she was as cool as a cucumber. For the sake of our relationship, I have had to bite my tongue more than once on a ride. I think that lessons learned while riding and racing as a couple can be applied to every other aspect of our lives.

We have supported each other at events all over the world, and it has been an amazing ride. In 2006, our son, Shepard, was born. Two days before his birth, we rode with friends at Gay City State Park. Deb had the most active pregnancy you can imagine, commuting to and from work by bike. We built a beautiful home on the Hop River Linear Park (Rail Trail) in Bolton, Connecticut. We cherish the days that we can ride or run on the trails that are right out our front door. Deb is my is my greatest inspiration. Though she prefers to run with our son, we have both ridden with him everywhere. We have lugged our bikes and our Chariot (stroller/trailer) to Acadia National Park, to Quebec, to Northern Maine, and elsewhere around the region. Shepard thinks that spending half a day in his trailer is completely normal. He is nearly three, and he asks to go for rides, runs, and hikes. We knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t change our active ways when we had a family. Our plan was to just keep doing the things we love.

Deb is due with our second child on September 19th. Once again, she is having the kind of pregnancy that other women dream about. Naturally, we are hoping for the best. We don’t think that what she is doing is difficult. Ride and run. Stay active. It is simple advice. She is proof that staying healthy is mostly mental. You have to have the self confidence and drive to remain fit while being a busy spouse and parent. When Shepard sees me getting ready for a ride, his eyes light up. “Daddy, bike ride,” he says. “Yes,” I say, “Daddy, bike ride.” I can’t wait for the day when we can ride side by side together.

Since 1999, we have been to the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run nine consecutive times. We have had great years and we have had good years, but never a bad year. We have ridden and run in the sun, and we have dealt with the rain and mud. Maintaining a streak like that is sort of like maintaining a marriage and raising a happy family. It isn’t all bliss, and it takes lots of work. This September is going to be very interesting. Our family is going to grow again and we are very excited about that. I’m anxious about missing the VT50. This year will be our tenth anniversary together. That event is our Mecca. We are drawn to it and it gives us energy. Life will go on if the timing of our second child’s birth prevents us from being there. If we miss the race, I know we will find a way to stay connected to the land that we love. Maybe we will drive up to spend some time in that parking lot. It doesn’t have to be on race day. It can be on a Tuesday afternoon. It can be anytime, as long as our family is together to experience the vibe. Shepard wouldn’t understand, and the new baby certainly won’t have mountain biking on his or her mind, but the day will come when they learn about how their parents met. When the story is told, probably on a bike ride, then they will eventually realize how a love of sport brought our family together.

Pregnancy and Running

Pregnancy and running (really all exercise) have been hot topics around our household for the past eight months. One view of pregancy is that it is an ultramarathon, just like one of those long distance running races. You have to pace yourself (so I have been told), you tire at the end (I don’t need the end so that I can be tired), and then you rally for the big sprint finish (if you have the legs). Debbie Livingston is an inspiration for other women who remain active and fit during pregnancy. Three years  ago, when she had our first child, she sought as much information that she could find on the subject of pregnancy and exercise. Unfortunately, she didn’t find much, and what she did find was very basic.

Very little research exists on pregnancy and athletics, and here isn’t anything specifically about pregnancy and ultramarathon trail running. There haven’t been any documented studies of women who go from being elite athletes to mothers, and back again. Last year, Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain, made news with her comeback after having her first child. She is a top level road marathoner and track and field distance running star. She most recently won the New York City Half Marathon…yesterday. It is pretty cool what Radcliffe has done, though she does do it for a living with coaches and professional support staff. There have been many other notable athletes who have come back strongly after pregnancy, including triathlete Karen Smyers, swimmer Dara Torres, and ultrarunner, Kami Semick.

The best information that Debbie could find were anecdotes about the experience from mothers who had been through the process. She connected with some via phone and and others via e-mail. Testament to the age we live in, there seems to be more information in the blogosphere than in traditional media outlets. The Internet has allowed a really small network of super-fit mom’s to connect. Now, she is one of those mom’s that other women reach out to for shared experiences, and she is going through it again. By the end of 2008, Debbie had pretty much gotten back into top shape. It took some time and there were some obstacles, but she regained her form. It was a little frustrating to let it go again, albeit for a wonderful and unique experience. However, this time, she has the lessons of her own prior comeback to refer back to.

2009 has been another year of transition because we are expecting baby #2. Debbie has stirred a lot of conversation, especially at the races, because she has maintained a very high level of activity. Most people view that as a risk. They can’t help but be worried for her. She is the first to point out that exercise level during pregnancy should be relative to the exercise that an expectant mother did prior to pregnancy and intends to do after pregnancy. This is an important notion. Last November, she was in peak ultramarathon shape and the Javelina Jundred was the last of 16 ultras that she ran in 2007 and 2008. This was in addition to all of her shorter trail running events, the run training that she does in preparation for racing, and the cycling that she does as cross training. It is important to note that she is a yoga, Pilates, and fitness instructor so she is very much in tune with her body. She isn’t the average expectant mother, but that is OK. Any expectant mother can adjust her exercise regiment to suit her needs. The keys are that there should be exercise, and there should be a regimen.

There aren’t a lot of references for how active you can be during pregnancy when you have the kind of fitness level that Debbie has. With about a month to go in her latest pregnancy, she is making news again. Hopefully, the latest coverage might contribute to the limited amount of information about pregnancy and running. If another expectant mother reads the story from yesterday’s Hartford Courant and gains confidence from it, then Debbie feels like part of her mission has been accomplished. Her number one priority with this pregnancy is to deliver a healthy baby, but I know that she cherishes the role of being an inspiration to other women. I’ve been to all of her races this year and I get a lot of comments and questions. She isn’t racing to place. She is racing because that is what she loves to do. It is motivating for her and when she pins on a number, she can focus on the task at hand. She loves being part of the trail running community and racing permits that. People are amazed that she has maintained such a high level of activity. I wish that it wasn’t such a foreign concept for them, but alas, at least they see that it can be done.

In 2007, USA Today published a story about her last pregnancy. For as much as there is written about pregnancy in general (entire magazines, including one titled Fit Pregnancy, are devoted to the topic), it really is surprising that more isn’t written about the importance of remaining active with exercise during the nine month gestation. Fit Pregnancy itself, is an inaccurate title. The magazine is loaded with all of the other trite information (and advertisements) that the general pregnancy magazines are filled with. Top baby names, celebrity mothers, the latest baby gear…I flipped through a copy and scanned the website…the longest article was pretty short. I was naive to expect that there would be hard hitting information about fitness and pregnancy. I know that a magazine that is supposed to be devoted to fitness could really do so much better, but I think they are just like the rest of the lightweight pregnancy offerings that are tapping into a multi-billion dollar marketplace, only with the benefit of a catchy title. Their website suggests that if you want to model for them, you should “seek representation.” Lovely, so they can agree how to air brush your image after they shoot the photos.  

The stereotype of the pregnant woman taking it easy is one that is hard to shake. Couch potato syndrome is a bad enough problem in our society that we shouldn’t be saying is OK just because of pregnancy. Pregnancy shouldn’t be an excuse to overindulge in anything. Realistically, women should be supported and encouraged to be as fit as possible before, during, and after  pregnancy. Dare I suggest that they should get even fitter in the run up to birth? Being fit can only benefit the mother and baby to be. There are so many good things that come from exercise. Having stamina and endurance are huge advantages for the challenges of birth and the stressful time following delivery. Months of sleep deprivation and nursing (drains energy) can be overcome with the help a great level of base fitness. One of the primary benefits of exercise: increased blood flow, benetits both mother and child.

Understandably, complexities do arise in some pregancies. Some women are told by their doctors to “take it easy.” What does this mean? Stop moving at all? Bed rest? Yikes, that can’t be healthy for anyone. Medical matters outside the scope of a “normal” pregnancy do arise. Sadly, it happens. We could debate the merits of monitoring and intervention for a long time. The hospital centric modern medical model, especially in the USA, requires a lot of doctor engagement. We could also spend lots of time discussing the challenges that ObGyn specialists face, including the high cost of liability insurance.  Tort reform as it relates to obstetrics is a huge topic these days.  Not all women subject themselves to the normal approach, but it is the dominant one in our culture. We are also a sedentary society. Our medical model, lack of emphasis on health and prevention, and our sedentary nature are very much related.

As the stories indicate, Debbie has shocked many and disturbed others. There are folks who just refuse to believe that a pregnant woman should be trail running. Fortunately, she also has a lot of admirers. Those people are encouraged by her rational testing of the limits. She knows when enough is enough, but her limits are much greater than the average. She is slowing in the last month with no big events on the schedule. The heat of summer is finally here and it takes a bit out of everyone, whether you are carrying an extra 20% of your body weight or not. I don’t think she is ready to give in yet, I think she is merely tapering…relaxing a bit…just so she can accelerate for the big sprint finish.

2008 Javelina Jundred–The Aftermath & Photo Images

The Javelina Jundred was quite an adventure for all parties involved. McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona, USA, was an awesome venue for this past weekend’s ultra-marathon trail running race.

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This was only the Livingston Family’s second experience with an 100 mile event and we enjoyed every minute of it. The volunteers hustled to fill bottles, prepare food, provide directions, deal with timing issues, take out the garbage, and offer support. The radio guys and gals had to help everyone stay connected. The medical staff had their hands full with cactus stabs, swollen ankles, dehydration, and a host of other minor issues. The crews had to rub down their runners, provide words of encouragement, and execute fast pit stops. The pacers had to run, though not as far as the runners. The runners had to deal with the heat, the darkness, and the desert during their 100 mile jaunt.

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Everyone had to deal with sleep deprivation, except Shepard. Despite all of the start/finish around-the-clock, line chaos, he was asleep in our tent by 6:30 P.M. on Saturday. I heard nary a peep from him throughout the night. The same couldn’t be said of the runners. Groans were heard constantly.

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I had a ringside seat for this bout. Camped out at the start/finish line, Shepard and I experienced the whole race unfold. From the pre-race meeting at 5:00 P.M. on Friday, to the last runners straggling home close to noon on Sunday, we were there. The carnival-like atmosphere helped the time go by. There were little kids running around, there were dog fights, there was lots of food, there were campers, there were day visitors. There was so much going on. Some runners would come into the aid station and be on their 5th lap while sitting across the pavilion were runners who had just completed their 2nd lap. Having the elite runners and pack runners all mixed up was great fun.

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I got a chance to see much of the race from Debbie’s perspective. She had reflected on her failed experiment at the 100 mile distance last summer in Chamonix at the UTMB. She was back and ready to prove that with better conditions, she was up to the 100 mile distance challenge. For years she has been running the 50 kilometer and 50 mile distance on trails. Javelina was her 9th ultra distance race of the year. She was the first woman to complete the first lap, but Michelle Barton and Jamie Donaldson weren’t far behind. The top women marked each other and went out at a comfortable pace.

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Eventually, Jamie grabbed the lead and turned on her accelerators. She has road speed from her college days as a distance running track star. Over the past couple of years, she has made a big impact on the ultra running scene with her biggest win to date, the 2008 Badwater Ultramarathon. She set a course record for the epic 135 mile event this past summer. I did my research, gathering much information from her husband, David. We had a fine time passing the hours by chatting and trading tales. It didn’t take long to realize that it would be a tough task for Debbie to overhaul Jamie. She may not have been up against Nikki Kimball, but Jamie’s talent is about as close as you can get to Nikki, who is the top female ultra-marathon trail runner in the country.

Jamie did go on to win the event and finish fourth overall. On the men’s side, Todd Braje, led after two laps, but faded due to injury. He eventually became a casualty of the race and was a DNF for the 100 mile distance. Overall, attrition was pretty high. Jeff Riley assumed the lead and finished strong for the win.

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Full Results

Debbie had a really good time. She had some funny experiences. One such moment was when she was taking a “nature call” in the middle of the desert in the pitch black. She was taking care of business and then became startled when a she realized a wild horse was only five feet away. Horses weren’t the only wildlife encounters. Several folks saw coyotes and most of us at least heard their yapping during the long night. You had to be careful out there.

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This was the 6th Javelina Jundred. It is always held around the full moon closest to Halloween. Next year, the race is actually on 10/31. That ought to be cool. Despite this year’s November date, there were still some really great costumes. The Javelina blog has all the award winners and good costume photos.

We saw two great desert sunsets and two beautiful desert sunrises.

I captured as many photos as I could while tending to my crew and Daddy duties. My adventure wasn’t quite like Debbie’s, but it was still an adventure.

It is worth noting again that this event had a wonderful vibe. The ultrarunning trail running community should really be proud of this event and the hard work contributed by Jamil Coury, his family, and his volunteers. There are many other people that could be named. Traveling from Connecticut to run in the Sonoran Desert takes a leap of faith. Our trip was made so much better because the hospitality and resources available at the race were top tier.

Debbie has already recovered. She will probably run by this coming weekend and will certainly line up for the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day. Five miles should be a piece of cake. Her quadriceps suffered the most muscle damage and her right knee was quite stiff, but she will bounce back quickly. The look of pain on her face when she finished was enough to convince me that she had given it her all. The 100 mile distance was conquered. Don’t bother asking her when she will run 100 again. I’ve checked and there are no plans…yet.

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Race Photos

Javelina Jundred–Post Race Post #1

The 2008 Javelina Jundred is over. I’ll definitely be posting more about the race in the coming days. I also have lots of photos to sort through and I know there are some good ones. Here are some quick highlights:

Final results for this 100 mile epic are not available yet, but the last race director blog entry at 6:27 A.M. today (Sunday) had 28 finishers under 24 hours with 54 other runners still on the course. I collected similar stats from the results that were physically posted at the finish line at McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona. 147 runners started the race at 6:00 A.M. Arizona Time, on Sunday. 65 runners were official DNF’s, with that number sure to climb. There was a very high attrition rate.

The first overall and first male finisher was Jeff Riley (Oregon) in 16:48. He was followed by Andrew Heard (Arizona) in 17:38, and Brian Krogmann (California) in 18:25. Fourth overall and first female was Jamie Donaldson (Colorado) in in 18:43. She was followed by Deborah Livingston (Connecticut), who was 9th overall in 20:17, and Brenda Corona (California) who was 13th overall in 21:34.

The temperature was a factor. The high temperature was in the low 80’s (F) with a blazing hot sun, even by November standards. There was a slight breeze most of the day, which kicked up quite a bit of dry desert dust. The low temperature was in the mid-50’s (F). That 30 degree differential was the real challenge. You had to be prepared for the heat of the day and the chill of the night, as the heat escaped the desert through radiational cooling.

Trail conditions were dry and dusty with lots of sandy washes and loose rocks. Most of the physical injuries were to ankles and other joints. There were a lot of dehydration related problems and gastro-intestinal problems. Some fall related injuries included bumps, bruises, abrasions, and cactus pokes. I saw a lot of sunburn, and other heat and exhaustion related problems. Of course, these issues are typical in any 100 mile race held in a desert.

Debbie was happy with her result. She was aiming for sub-20 hours and held that pace through the six full laps up to the 91 mile mark. It is likely that the total distance was a bit longer than 100 mile, possibly 101. Regardless, she fell apart on the last short loop (at 2:00 A.M. Sunday) and faded a bit. Nevertheless, she finished strong and ran the final 3.6 mile descent from the last aid station. She is pretty sore, with most of the damage to her quadriceps. Her right knee took a beating and is swollen and stiff. The knee was seizing up and slowed her considerably in the last 30 miles.

I’ll have a full race report and recap of this 100 mile adventure, soon. The Javelina Jundred was a lot of fun. The race direction and support was excellent. RD Jamil Coury, his family, his friends, and his volunteers really gave it their all. As always, I’m sure there were glitches, gripes, and issues, but overall, it seemed like a successful production. The format, with 7 laps sharing three aid stations including the start/finish; made for a controlled and festive atmosphere. The start/finish itself was like a 55 hour tailgate party. It started at 5:00 P.M. on Friday and was still going strong when we rolled out this morning. The cutoff was at noon, then the real clean up was the begin.

Race Photos

Javelina Jundred Preview

Team Livingston has relocated to McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona, for the weekend. The main event: Javelina Jundred.

This will be Debbie’s second attempt at the 100 mile distance. She has more than enough 50+ milers under her belt. The 2007 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc didn’t go as planned, but what the heck. Javelina is practically designed for first timers. The moon will be just past full on Saturday night, perfect for the runners. The desert conditions should be fabulous with daytime highs in the low-80’s (F) and the mid-40’s at night.

Karl Meltzer did his normal pre-race odds. Time will only tell if he is on the mark.

Tune in to the live race day webcast. Debbie is shooting for under 20 hours, so let’s see how this goes!


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My daughter chose the hair piece, so I proved to her that I do have a sense of humor. #selfportrait
Great fun at today’s @minutemanrdclub #Cyclocross in Lancaster, MA. @horstcycling #horstcycling #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad @zanksscx @the_ccap
Great day at the #vermont50 🚵‍♂️🍁
Good morning! 🚴🏽
I got to sample the fun activities at Boy Scouts @troop25ct Camp Kirkham. I slept under the amazing stars. We had a full agenda of geocaching, archery, cooking, disc golf, and paddling. I even squeezed in a run to the top of Silver Mountain where I had a 360 degree view. #boyscouts
It was great fun cheering for the Bolton Center School XC Team and their coach @trailrunningmom at The Panther Fest. Go Bulldogs! #crosscountry #trailrunning 🏃🏽‍♀️ 🏃🏿
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It’s easy to love the infamous water (muck) crossing at the Trails to a Cure (Cockaponset Trail Race). We felt like sea monsters! I can’t believe how out of breath I was after fetching my camera at the finish and running the 1/4 mile back to catch @trailrunningmom and Shepard make their crossings. Either hey are getting faster or I am getting slower! Maybe more swim-run is in our future. 🏊🏽‍♀️🏃🏽‍♀️ #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #blueblazedtrail #trailrunning
Good fun kicking off the 2019 #cyclocross season at the #QuadCross It was also the launch of the 2019 @zanksscx which is my prime CX objective. #crossisboss @horstcycling #horstcycling #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #crossspikes #sevencycles

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