Monday, March 26, 2012

That "Egg" Ain't Gonna Move Itself

Bill in the Rock Garden

Leon doing one of many Burpees
Carrying my "egg" up the mountain, one step at a time

The forecast for today called for rain showers. I was looking forward to this as it would add a difficult dimension to the training that Bill had planned. It never did rain but the workout proved difficult none the less.

Bill’s goal was to simulate the hills of Vermont as much as possible, not an easy task to do in Maryland. We met at Gambrill, a state park in the mountains west of Frederick. A thick fog hugged the ground which gave an eerie feeling. We were told to bring our backpacks, our 50 pound sand “eggs” from previous workouts, nutrition and hydration.

Our day started with dead lifts of the eggs. We didn’t do a lot of them but it was enough to get our blood pumping. Next, we loaded the eggs into our backpacks and headed off into the forest, opting to bushwhack rather than take trails. We had parked near the top of the mountain so our route took us straight downhill. Along the way, we stopped every fifteen minutes for burpees, push-up or crunches. The first part of our hike was made difficult just by the need to duck under limbs, going through underbrush, and climbing over fallen logs. Soon we came to an area we called the "rock garden". The area was littered with granite rock outcroppings that were covered with lichen, moss and wet leaves. The lichen and moss were actually quite pretty. This portion was treacherous as the rocks were very slippery and many of them were loose. The weight in our backpacks added to the difficulty of staying upright. As we stepped over each rock, I am sure Leon and Bill were thinking back to the sign back at the parking area warning about Timber Rattlesnakes, as was I. After about a mile of making our way through the rock garden, we climbed into a stream and waded our way down the rest of the mountain. The water was cold but refreshing.

Near the bottom of the mountain, the stream began to parallel a private drive where we came across a couple of people chatting by a pickup truck. They turned towards us and gave us the now familiar “what in the hell are you doing?” When we told them we were training, the grouchy old lady told us to leave her property. Realizing we had wandered out of the park, we ever so politely apologized and turned around to head back up the mountain. This time, we opted for the private drive and then bush whacking again when we reached the end of it. This route was even more steep than the way we came down. Every step strained at our quads. The steep slope caused us to take small steps which only made the trek longer. I actually began to look forward to the calisthenics as a way to take a break from the climb. Eventually we made it back to the parking area. Leon had to leave early for a family event. Bill and I jumped into our cars for a short ride over to the Frederick Watershed Area for the next part of our workout.

We left one car at the top of this mountain, loaded our eggs into the other car, and headed three miles down the mountain. This road was one of the steepest and most winding roads I have ever been on. Our task was obvious, carry the eggs back up to the top, no backpacks. We moved way slower than either of us thought we would. To be honest, it was painful but I knew it would pay off in Vermont. Every so often we would need to put the eggs down and rest. When it was time to get moving again, our mantra became, “These eggs ain't gonna to move themselves”. Finally, the top of the mountain was in sight and our workout was over, for this day at least.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Back to Black Rock

The Seneca Creek looking upstream

Bill either contemplating life or taking a dump
Leon laughing in the face of pain
Today’s workout was at the Black Rock Mill west of Darnestown. I’ve always been drawn to the mill, there is something spiritual about the place. Maybe that is what the band OAR felt too since they wrote a song about it. The girls and I have hiked here many times and the trails are some of my favorite.

My new friend Leon Nasar joined Bill Benoit and me this week and hopefully will for other workouts. I was introduced to Leon by some mutual friends who said he had completed some marathons and was interested in Death Race. I’ll be honest; I did not know much about Leon or how much outdoor experience he had so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He proved to be tough and hung right in there with us.

The required equipment for the day was a backpack, a 50 lb bag of sand, duct tape, a 5 gallon bucket, and an ax. I had re-claimed Bill’s and mine duct taped bags of sand from the Tunnels of Doom workout. We met at Black Rock at 7am, just before first light.

After introductions, Leon put together his sand bag and duct tape egg. We loaded them into our backpacks along with our axes and headed off on our “hike”. Bill and Leon headed for the Seneca Greenway Trail. I stopped them to inform them that we were not taking the trail, we were taking the creek, just like last summer at Death Race.

The Seneca Creek at this point is about twenty feet across, ranges from shin deep to shoulder deep and can have a decent current. The water temperature was about 50 degrees, not quite what we experienced in Vermont but a good taste of it just the same. We trudged our way upstream getting used to our 50 pound packs. Each of  us slipped from time to time on slippery rocks but Bill seemed to be getting through this the 
Billy once again challenging gravity.
Will he ever learn?
best. Every so often, we would stop at a sandy area for pushups, leaving our water soaked backpacks on our backs. The biggest thing we all noticed during the "hike"was the strain on our outer hip abductors. That, and he fact that the backpacks got heavier as the sandbags got wetter.

After an hour and a half, we reach Germantown Road and exited the stream. I had scouted the area a few days ahead of time and knew there were some good log rounds that “needed” splitting. We proceeded to split the logs when a Department of Natural Resources ranger truck came to a screeching halt on the road above us. The ranger drew his gun and shouted down “What in the hell do you boys think you are doing?” 

Brainteasers supplied by my loving (and sadistic)
wife and daughter
All right, I’m just messing with you. But a ranger did show up and tell us we were not allowed to split wood on park land. He actually said, "Think of the visual. If other people see you doing this, they may want to do it too”. I am not making this part up! He really said this. Hold back the mob! We packed our backpacks, left the area disappointed, and headed onto the Seneca Greenway Trail.

Around ¾ of the way back to Black Rock I told the others to drop their packs. I pointed to a steep slope covered with underbrush. Our next task was to scramble up the slope and then back down. After this was completed I handed out three sealed envelopes from my pack. Nicole and   
Penalty for wrong answers: burpees
Nellie had prepared the envelopes as well as a forth one with an answer key. We had 15  minutes to correctly solve as many of the enclosed brainteasers as possible, paying a penalty for wrong answers and blanks. My concern here was the evil laughs I had heard from Nicole and Nellie when they prepared the test. We began, and, we failed. I had to do 200 burpees and hold a front plank and side plank each for four minutes. Bill and Leon had to do fewer burpees and the planks. Burpees suck.

When we got back to Black Rock we finally got to the backpacks off our backs. We grabbed our 5 gallon buckets. I led us down to the creek where we filled the buckets to the brim with water. Our next task 
Calculating how many stream push-ups
will be required
was to hike the Seneca Ridge Trail to a place called Three Skulls while spilling as little water as possible. Every inch of water missing from the buckets when we got to Three Skulls would result in 25 push-ups per inch, in the creek. A 5 gallon bucket of water weighs 40 pounds and is awkward to carry. Plenty of water was spilling out of the buckets as we went up and down the hills of the trail. I know we were each calculating how many push-up we would be doing. Along the way many mountain bikers passed us, each giving us their version of the “What the F” look. We hiked on and arrived at Three Skulls only to find that someone had stolen the three deer skulls that were usually on the log there. I was disappointed by this as people usually put little hats on them (see Mud, 
Leon taking the easy way out

Sweat and More Mud for a photo) and wanted to share this with my friends.

At this point we calculated the water loss and headed back towards Black Rock. We stopped at a stream for our push up penalty. I had to do 125, face in the water every time. More mountain bikers passed, more “What the F” looks. It was a great workout today. We were all soaked to the bone and covered in mud. What could be better?

PS  N.C. State beat Georgetown! Go Pack!  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Adventures of Fluffy

A Beautiful Day For A Ride
Today was Bill’s workout. I was told to be at Shaeffer Farm in Germantown at 7am. Shaeffer Farm is the mountain biking park in the area so I assumed that we would be doing some mountain biking. I don’t have a mountain bike so I was pleased to see that Bill brought one for me. We did a little over an hour on the trails stopping periodically for burpees, of course. The trail was beautiful and it became a gorgeous day. I have not done much mountain biking but I really enjoyed it. The big lesson I came away with was that running into trees is considered bad form.

Dragging Fluffy Through The Woods
Tight Squeeze
After we stowed the bikes away, Bill handed me a length of climbing rope and took one as well. We headed back into the woods, this time staying off the trail. We found two decent size logs, tied the ropes to them and dragged them through the woods. I named my log Fluffy. We spent a few hours going up and down the steep slopes on either side of a small valley, always dragging Fluffy behind me. There were plenty of thickets and obstacles to make the trips difficult. When we got to either the top or the bottom of the slope we did 25 push-ups, crunches or other calisthenics. We made the push-up more challenging by keeping our feet on the stream bank, our hands in the water, and requiring our faces to go in the water each time down. The one rule we had while pulling the logs was that if there was an opportunity to go under a fallen log, we went under rather than over. There were quite a few tight squeezes.
Can't Go Over It, Must Go Under

Before long, we came to a turn in the creek. Here Bill wanted to build a dam in the stream. We collected rocks and did a decent job. This was simply a test in accomplishing something that was just tedious and made no sense at all, similar to some of the tasks in Death Race.

We went back to dragging our logs again which was good because I don’t think Fluffy enjoyed dam building. We came to another turn in the creek. Here Bill pulled out two math problems that Irene had created. They involved calculating the percentageof calories supplied by the protein in an energy bar (Irene is a nutritionist). Sad to say, we both got the problem wrong. More face-in-the creek pushups. 

Pushing 400 lb Log Up A Big Hill
Bill looked around, pointed to an 18’ log and said we were going to try and get the log up the slope. I corrected him and said we were going to get that log up the slope. There is no try, just do. I released Fluffy back into the wild and we slowly moved the big log across the stream and started up the hill. We guestimated that it weighed 400 pounds. Slowly, foot by foot, we made our way up the slope, going around trees, slipping on the leaf humus, and just holding on for dear life lest the log roll back down the hill, flattening us in the process. This was no easy task but after an hour and a half, we succeeded.

Satisfaction At The Top
After resting for a few minutes, we headed back through the woods. On our way, we both picked up new logs to carry the couple of miles back to the trailhead. No Death Race workout is complete without carrying logs. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mud, Sweat and...More Mud

Deer Skulls Wearing Sombreros! You never know
you will see on a trail.
This week’s Death Race training was running in the Seneca Greenway Trail 50K, which is actually 34 miles, not 32. I wanted to do this race because I did not train for it. In fact, my longest run leading up to it was just 14 miles, a week ago. I didn’t even sign up until Tuesday. My thought was that making it through the pain and suffering that was obviously going to occur, it would help me get through the pain and suffering of Death Race.

Tom the Creek Troll
The weather the day and night before was heavy rain. This trail has very wet sections even during dry periods. I knew we were in for a mudder and was not disappointed. My friend Aaron Stanley, who I ran a large portion of the JFK 50 miler with in November, was coming down from Pittsburgh for the race and I was looking forward to running with him again.

A tame section of the muddy trail
I arrived at the Riley’s Lock earlier than expected. This is a point to point race ending at the lock. They bus you up to the trail head at Damascus for the start. There were only a few other racers there at this time plus Ed Schwartz, the race director. Ed asked if we wanted a ride to the start so we all jumped in. Once there, me and another guy (I can’t remember his name so I will call him Fast Guy) decided that we were bored waiting for the start. Since we were both doing the race as training days, we asked Ed if he minded if we started early. Ed shrugged his shoulders so off we went. Fast Guy looked to be very fast so when we got to the trail head I told him to not let me hold him back so off he went. 

At around mile 5 I was met by Tom the Creek Troll at the creek crossing. The water here is about thigh deep, it was cold but felt refreshing. For the next 2 ½ hours I was in second place of an ultramarathon (yes, I know I left an hour before anyone else but let me have this fantasy please)! To pass the time, I sang Garth Brooks and OAR songs. As the true leaders came flying through I was in awe of their speed and ability. They all wished me well and I did the same. Trail runners are a friendly lot.

After many hours, I started to get some chafing in a couple of very awkward places (use your imagination). It was becoming very uncomfortable. At the time, I was running with a bunch of guys. The pain was becoming excruciating so I blurted out, “Does anyone have any vasaline or lube?” I was met with an awkward silence realizing that asking a bunch of guys for such things in the middle of the woods may not have been the best strategy. I decided that my options were to grin and bear it at the risk of losing a testicle or drop out. I kept running. If Lance Armstrong can live with one nut, so I can I. Odd decisions one makes when in distress. (I am happy to report that “righty” is doing just fine).

A majority of the trail was under water or very muddy. This presented challenges but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. The day turned quite beautiful. I even took off my long sleeve shirt around noon and opted for the short sleeves. There were tons of extremely nice and cheery runners and the aide station volunteers were fantastic. I never did get to run with Aaron but after the race he and his friends Pat and Mike (also from Pittsburgh) came over to the house for showers and beer. Later it was off to Kelly and Tom’s for a goodbye party.