22 September, 2015

Barkley Fall Classic 2015: The Baby Barkley has plenty of bite

A big part of me feels like the value of race reports has decreased significantly over the last few years. With social media commentary, more comprehensive websites, ultra signup, etc that there is way more information about ins/outs of any given ultra that it’s almost redundant to add my two cents. Nonetheless, I’ve been wanting to get a chance at the barkley for a long time so even if it’s the "baby barkley” I felt it worth capturing a few things.

First the facts: my finish time was 11:55 and I came in 57th out of 101 finishers

214 started; 162 male, 52 female
101 finished the 50km; 79 male, 22 female
69 finished the marathon; 51 male, 18 female
44 did not finish; 32 male, 12 female

The hype is part of the experience for the BFC. Scary emails from the spiritual father of the BFC, and actual race director for plenty of other nutty races Gary/Lazarus Lake incl The Barkley, are exercises in discernment. Clearly, most of it is designed to induce fear and nausea. But there are always nuggets of important race details, course intel and, he’s a damn good writer. I do get a little weary of it but now I know to accept it as part of what makes people so love his events.

I love a sport where there’s a better than even chance that a grown 51 year old man will take a fall like a cartoon character. FYI, that’s me. Twice yesterday. The first time was probably pretty boring but I’m sure the second time I would have been impressed with my total lack of control, off the path into the dirt/sticks/rocks. I’m feeling it today but I rather like the fact that the can happen and I’m moving the next day…slowly but moving. 

I was scared of this course. I did a ouray 100 training run on some of these trails in july and knew that the climbing would be serious. I wasn’t even close to how much climbing there would be. This year they added two major climbs that are part of The Barkley (rat jaw and testicle/spectacle) truly freaking amazing. Briars, jungle, elevation gain of about 20k feet in 50k of trail and some grade that was, essentially, vertical. I can do the stuff that is just about putting down my head and grinding it out. What was surprising was how much was runnable. Some really sweet downhill trails through gorgeous eastern TN mountains that are the beginning of the blue ridge. For me to hit the cutoffs, I had to do both. Some of it I really nailed and some I struggled with. But if you were taking this as just a hike, no way you could finish. And if you weren’t willing to really run, NFW either. A real test of ultra running I think.
The very beginning of rat jaw. It got worse. Much worse.

It got into the upper 80s with about 85% humidity so the conditions were tough. I definitely went into the hole on the hydration side. Scary at the end because I couldn’t get back on top of it. Urinating blood was a sobering feeling.  I just couldn’t drink enough. Was in good shape about an hour afterward however. It was weird that I never felt like it impacted me though it must have on some level.

You didn't need a lot of imagination
Getting to run through brushy mountain prison was really cool. It was purely for show and it was totally worth it. The prison has been closed for years but still feels creepy. It must have been hellishly hot in the summer and brutally cold/damp in the winter. This is where james earl ray was imprisoned. A prisoner escaped from here and in 55 hours only covered about 18 miles. This is the genesis story for The Barkley

I’d go back for this. I really did enjoy the experience. One thing that it also did, unequivocally, is to take away any desire to do the full barkley. They almost never go on trails and have more climbs and descents. In the dark. I’m just not tough enough for that. This 50k gave me all I need.

As always, thanks to becca for accepting (understanding may be going too far as I’m not sure I always understand why I love ultras) my commitment and giving me the space/time to do it. Sometimes at a real cost. I only hope it is one of the things that’s kept me sane enough to be her partner in so many other parts of life for more than 20 years.

(Photos by will jorgenson and brandon yorke)

18 October, 2011

Grindstone 100 Race Report - Running in the dark.

You know it’s either a great race or a very low spot when you start composing your letter to the RD and race report...in the middle of the race.

For me at the Grindstone 100 in Swoope VA, it was definitely a low spot. A four-hour, rock-kicking, I-

will-never-run-another-100 miler, this-RD-should-be-tarred-and-feathered low spot. the race report in the middle of the race.

First, the numbers, usually the least interesting part for me:

  • · 101.85 miles
  • · 23,600 feet of elevation gain
  • · 23,600 feet of elevation loss
  • · Top men’s time 19:15
  • · My time 30:58
  • · 118 starters
  • · 85 finishers
  • · 42nd overall

I chose the Grindstone for two reasons: it was my last chance to qualify for Hard Rock and one of my best friends from high school and I had a chance to do this run together. But from the beginning I was leery of those tough East Coast mountains and the 6pm start time. It’s nice to be able to tell myself “I told you so” as all those things and more came to pass.

We arrived at Camp Shenandoah around 12:30, just before the mandatory pre-race meeting. They gave out lots of Patagonia schwag as door prizes and let the legendary David Horton say a few words. I can boil them down to two sentences:” Don’t be stupid. Minimize your mistakes.” Not cheery but great advice for what lay ahead.

We then set up our tent, optimism springs eternal at the beginning of a race as we thought we might need it, and I tried to grab a nap. While I managed about 45 minutes of off/on sleep, knowing that we had to check in again by 5:30 made it a restless time. I made a quick call home to say goodbye to my girls, did some last minute drop bag checking and rearranging as it turns out that the website had the old aid station map and I was supposed to use the one that they emailed. Not critical, but a little disconcerting so close to the start! My friend Phil Rice was introducing me to lots of the local runners and I also said hello to Deb Livingston from CT and her husband. Deb was there to win the women’s race, which she did in just under 25 hours.

A very low key start led us around a small pond and about one mile of trail around the Boy Scout camp and then we were on the trail proper. Phil and I were planning to run together as long as it made sense for both of us and we had lots of time to catch up the first 5 miles till the first aid station. They were not very organized and ran out of water just after we got there…a bit of foreshadowing. The volunteers were all terrific, really first rate, but the aid station fare was uneven and inadequate (esp on the second night with so little hot food).

We were already running in the dark by then, which meant that with my goal of 30 hours, the next 15-20 miles would be in the dark both ways. This was a long section between aid stations, almost 10 miles, and was “highlighted” by a two-mile hike up a 25% grade on a gravel road. I love that word “highlighted.”

After reaching the summit of Eliot’s Knob, the highest point on the course at 4500 feet, we scrambled down the gravel road and then back on to a long section of runnable, slightly downhill, very rocky trail. Oddly, the rocks didn’t stop much for the next six miles or so. I remember thinking this was going to be a real challenge on the way back. Quite the understatement as it turned out.

We ran smoothly and in good spirits till mile 22ish at Dowell’s draft in about 5 ½ hours or so, the first place with crew/drop bag access. We didn’t stay long and Phil and I were out for a long uphill section. It wasn’t too steep but not really runnable so I got into my fast hiking gear here and started to pull ahead of Phil. I wouldn’t see him again till about mile 55 as I was headed back in.

The serious up and down of the Blue Ridge Mountains was fully felt, though not much seen, for the next several hours. I had my first stomach issues, mostly too much caffeine in the gels I think, and was glad to get some Tums at the next aid station. And though my stomach started to stabilize, the trail deteriorated so much so that even the downhill sections were at a snail’s pace. Pretty much like running down a ditch filled with volleyball-sized rocks supported by a network of roots. In the dark. I was cursing, out loud, the enthusiastic but uniformed volunteer who said this section was “easy…all downhill.”

When I finally I reached Little Bald Knob a/s just as the sun was about to break. I had my longest set down here as I had to get my act together. Some solid food, best of the entire course, helped me regroup as did the rising sun. It didn’t hurt that the next 8 miles or so was mostly runnable and I was finally able to see how beautiful this trail really was. Fall colors were everywhere, stretching

to each horizon with not much civilization in between. When I made it to the next a/s at Reddish Knob, I was able to look east into Virginia and west into West Virginia. Simply spectacular.made it to the North River Gap aid station at about the 50k mark, I was not in the best of shape. I sat down to get some hot food and talked with Phil’s wife Kathy who was doing a heroic job of trying to crew multiple runners at her first-ever ultra. I stayed too long and got cold enough that I shivered all of the soup out of my cup as I walked away from the fire. For the first time I put on my arm warmers, gloves and beanie for the seven mile climb ahead of me. I almost needn’t have bothered as the trail immediately turned up and so did my body temp. I knew this was going to be “the” section that mattered so I just put my head down and got to work. But I don’t think I quite knew how long seven miles of uphill was. So, long before the next aid station, I was out of food, water and energy with 1.5 miles to go. I congratulate myself, however, that in the midst of my meltdown, I had the good sense at the top of Little Bald Knob to stop in the meadow, turn off my lights and just be awed by the night sky full of stars. It didn’t do anything to fuel my body but I like to think it helped me gut out the next 30 minutes of slogging on.

Next was a long road section that seemed out of place before transitioning to the dirt road out to the turnaround. Back down from there I made a quick crew stop to change shoes and restock. It was such a gorgeous day I just wanted to keep moving. A mile or so after that stop, I passed Phil who had picked up a new friend at mile 30, Gil. They ended up running the last 70 miles together step for step and were a huge help to each other, finishing in just under 37 hours.

Now was the time to get some running in and after the Reddish Knob a/s on the way back, I really felt like a trail runner. I cruised through Little Bald Knob a/s ready to tackle the seven mile downhill. And a funny thing happened…this nighttime monster turned out to be a daytime teddy bear. Filtered sunlight, red and yellow leaves and a gentle downhill made me wonder if I was even on the same trail! I had a great run back down to North River Gap where I stopped only long enough to brush my teeth, my secret weapon to feel like a new person mid-race, and headed out again. At this point, I was several hours ahead of Phil and poor Kathy was going to be hard-pressed to crew both of us. So I planned as if I wouldn’t see her any more, which was wise as it turned out to be true.

The next section, the “easy” one from the night before, went pretty well. Daylight is such a boon! From there to mile 80 or so back at Dowell’s Draft, I ran like a rock star. Slightly downhill for much of this section with an open trail and no rocks. God, it was great. I did the math and figured I had a shot at 29 hours!

Then I started making mistakes. First was switching shoes again, this time to the MT100s. Because I was focused on light and easy, it seemed like the right call. Because I was a moron about remembering the rocky, brutal trail ahead, I was about to pay that price. I also had misjudged my food again because I was staying away from anything with caffeine. So now I had the wrong shoes, wrong food and wrong idea about what was ahead. Yikes.

I hadn’t gone 30 minutes before night was coming on and I just ran out of gas. The combination of 24 hours out on this demanding course and the second night ahead just left me flat. I sat down on a log with the 1000-yard stare, wondering how I was going to get through the next 20 miles. “Don’t be stupid…Minimize my mistakes” seemed like words to live by at that point so I just got started.

I can’t much to say about the next 10 miles. It was the crucible for me in this race…I had to reach much deeper than the seven mile climb the night before because I was much emptier. That’s when I started writing a letter to Clark Zeeland, the RD. Let’s just say it wasn’t a love letter. I staggered through the next aid station managing to thank the volunteers for suffering out there to help us. I am always amazed at the ultra community’s willingness to give and RD’s penchant for difficult!

But the slog was far from over and I really had no idea where I was. The course was clearly marked but I just didn’t have any points of reference for how much

progress I was making. All I knew is that when I hit the gravel road, I was home free because we did not have to resummit Elliot’s Knob. When I finally stumbled out of the woods, I actually whooped with happiness. How short lived that turned out to be. It was impossible for me to run down this steep, unstable surface that seemed like ball bearings. Mostly, I was terrified of falling and winding up in a ditch. But as I continued down, the road started to flatten out and I knew the aid station was just ahead and I started getting excited. Wrong again. What was all this flagging directing me back into the woods? I had absolutely no recollection of this section. Any juice I had left just drained out of me. After what was easily another 45 minutes, where I did manage to appreciate the sound of a waterfall for a few minutes (how did I miss that on the way out?), I saw a sign that I had one mile till the aid station. I trudged in, sat for about two minutes while the terrific volunteers refilled my water bottles, and headed out. I knew I was going to have to move it if I wanted to break my new goal of 31 hours.

One of the volunteers had run Grindstone the year before and gave me a great sense of the last five miles. Also, for the first time, there were glow sticks instead of ribbon so I could now often see far ahead and get a sense of the grade. Not much running ahead but it was so great to feel confident in what was around the next corner.

As I wound my way back to the Boy Scout camp, my energy level spiked…I was almost there! But even then I misjudged how far the trail wound around before the finish. I was getting concerned because I couldn’t hear the finish, which had to be close. Now, after 100 miles, I did the math enough to determine that I needed to run, hard, to break 31 hours. You can imagine the swearing. Finally, a sign that said one mile to the finish! My watch had 12:47 and as I was “flying” down the last ½ mile with things falling out of my pack, I could not believe that I had the energy and will to dig deeper for such an arbitrary goal. But I embraced it wholeheartedly and finished like a runner, which gave me tremendous satisfaction, in 30:58.

I don’t know if I will run Grindstone again though it taught me a great deal. It took me to a new place psychologically and was the most difficult course I've ever run. The 6pm start made this run more challenging than I expected, with 19 of the 31 hours in the dark. I do think it gave me some insight into what Hard Rock might be like with the second night, though the altitude and elevation change make it orders of magnitude more difficult. So the Hard Rock application goes in this week and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for whatever lies ahead.

Thanks to all those who made Grindstone possible. It is a first rate event. If you need an East Coast whipping, I highly recommend it.

19 August, 2010

Headlands 100 race report.

For me, this was the ultra that almost wasn’t. I signed up for the Vermont 100 in July but had to cancel because of business demands. I wanted to run the inaugural Grand Mesa 100 in Colorado but that didn’t work out. So with a lot of support from Becca, I wound up at the Headlands 100 in Marin, just north of San Francisco. With all the heat training in the great plains of north Texas, I decided to run a four-loop 25mi course with 20,000ft+ of elevation gain and loss (more on loss later) where they actually warned people about hypothermia at the last minute because of the cold, windy, foggy conditions. Nothing like condition-specific training! The final omen was that I only packed half the race food I intended to; I was just a little disorganized. Then, in the coup de grace, in my concern that I not oversleep I set two alarms. However, on one I made the chime go off every hour, which it did, so I got a lot of 58 minute snatches of sleep. Despite the ill forebodings, I was totally relaxed. Either in the zone or not paying attention, we left our friends house at about 5am to drive the hour north.

For those of you looking for the bottom line, here it is. There is more color commentary following.

60 starters, 44 finishers. I was 23rd with a time of 26:10
Loop 1 – 5:07
Loop 2 – 6:18
Loop 3 – 7:35
Loop 4 – 7:18

Clockwise loops (1 & 3) were 5:07 and 7:35
Counterclockwise loops were - 6:18 and 7:18

So though my third and fourth loops are a little hard to compare because they’re in opposite directions, I ran 75-100 faster than 50-75 by 17 minutes. I'm happy about that. Pace worked out to about 15:40/mile.

I must say that a great first experience was starting a race to the sound of ocean waves on the beach and a real foghorn. I did almost miss the start and forget my water bottle but given that I was planning on being out there for 30 hours, it didn’t seem that big a deal to miss the start by 30 seconds. The whole event was very low-key, with about sixty runners, most all from California. I was certainly the only runner from Texas. The first loop goes clockwise and starts out with a 1.7 mile climb that gains about 1100 ft. So while (thankfully) I didn’t have to acclimate to altitude, it was a serious hike to start the day. The first aid station was approx 4 miles away so after topping out of the first climb, it was mostly downhill to Tennessee Valley where I would see Becca.

We had planned for about an hour to get there and I pulled in after 48 min or so. I ran with a very nice woman Nancy for a while heading into the aid station and as we headed out to Muir Beach, also about four miles away, she inintroduced me to a friend of hers, Karen Bonnett, and after Nancy pulled away, Karen and I got in the same gear and ran the next 46+ miles together. She is an accomplished athlete who completed a full IronMan distance triathlon THE WEEKEND BEFORE!!! Wow. She’s also an ultracyclist riding 1200 kilometeres at a time. But I'm jumping ahead.

The section from TV to Muir Beach is another serious up and down, going from about 900 feet back down to the ocean, back up again and down into Muir Beach. This is a really pretty section with amazing ocean views from high up above. Amidst the beauty, however, I already had a sense that the running that was going to most tax me was all the downhill. My guess is that less than five miles of the 25 mile loop were actually flat. So if didn’t run the down hills, then I might need more than the 30 hours I anticipated. With a 33 hour cutoff and a course record of 18:44, the math did scare me a bit. When I got to Muir Beach after about 45 minutes, I was feeling good and checked in with Becca again before pretty much heading right back out with more calories, water and a boost from seeing her. Early on, everything is possible.

Leaving Muir Beach and following another trail back to Tennessee Valley, Karen and I continued to talk and run, just enjoying the trail and the cloudy, overcast day. Another four miles back in the now familiar format of long climbs and descents on a mix of rocky trail, wide horse trail and the very rare segment of pavement. We eased through a nice downhill into the eucalyptus trees, popping out at the aid station again. Changing from a short sleeve shirt into a singlet, more calories and water, then off again at about halfway through the first loop. I was still running ahead of my schedule but wasn’t worried about it at that point.

The next section started with another mile or so climb, though more gradual, then dropped down to the ridge that we would run out and back on each loop to get to the aid station under the Golden Gate Bridge. Much of this section is exposed to some pretty strong winds from the ocean and the race director had even cautioned about hypothermia. The wind was definitely much stronger along here, maybe 20 miles/hour, but as soon as we dropped the over the ridge toward the bridge, it got warmer and calmer in a hurry. So the big 900 foot or so drop down to the Bay was a welcome respite even though tempered by the knowledge that we’d be turning right around and marching back up this steep path. Becca was totally ready at the aid station, of course, so a quick hello, picked up enough food and water for the 8-mile section to the start/finish started, then we started the steady walk back to the ridge.

Feeling strong, Karen and I made great time back to place where the trail split to this out and back and began a really long, steep descent back to the valley floor. We were moving easy, the temp was a little higher and we cruised into the aid station a little after noon, both recognizing that a 5:07 first loop was WAAAAAY too fast and more like a recipe for disaster. It was so companionable running with her that staying together was no effort and great for the spirits. To keep my pace a little more under control, I put on my heart rate monitor for the next loop. Definitely glad I did, as I was about 5-10 beats over where I wanted to be. Wearing it really helped to dial me in.

The valley was an easy jog/walk and then changed to full walking up the long climb to the out and back trail to the bridge. I have to say that I don’t remember much specific for this next loop. I was digging the weather, the company and the fact that I was feeling so good. When we got back to the split, I had the great surprise of seeing my friend Errol “the Rocket” Jones. He is one of the Bear100 co-RDs and the guy who talked to me about the Bear right after my Leadville DNF last year. He’s a great spirit and he had come out to run with some friends that morning, knowing that I was registered and looking to say hello to me, Becca nd the girls. We ran together for a while and it was another pick me up to hear his stories and enthusiasm. What a treat.

Becca continued to be upbeat and in total control of the support side of the race. She had managed to go to REI to pick up the rest of the race food and even find a bunch of non-caffeinated gel/shot blocks. That played a big part for me being able to eat and drink the entire race. She had a nice lunch on the water in Sausalito, talked to lots of folks on the phone and generally made the most of the time she had. That makes it a lot more fun for her and easier on me knowing that she’s not stressed.

Karen’s boyfriend (Nattu Natraj) was now on crew duty and planning to pace her the last 25 miles. He’s an accomplished runner in his own right with lots of ultras to his credit, including three Badwater’s, and is planning to run the Spartathalon this October. Not to mention a super nice guy who knew all about NTTR and seems to be a student of the sport. I hope to run into them both again soon. They were an ultra power couple for sure! We continued running smoothly, mostly, for the rest of the loop and pulled into the half way point at about 6:30. We both planned to regroup here. She changed shoes and picked up a pacer, I brushed my teeth. Felt like a whole new day.

Now with Karen’s pacer, we headed out for the clockwise third loop. The three of us chatted and huffed/puffed up the big climb and soon were not as connected. I was definitely moving slower than the previous loops though I still felt great. I stayed on my nutrition and hydration all day and consistently gobbled or choked down 200-300 calories per hour, which is a gigantic improvement for me. I can't tell you how much it helps running in cool weather that lets my body work like it’s supposed to!

At the next aid station, I grabbed my headlamp and flashlight but was pretty determined to run without turning them on for as long as I could. After a slight adjustment, I was surprised at how well I was able to see and feel. Eventually I couldn’t safely move ahead, so I flipped the switch and got a pretty nasty surprise. The foggy day was turning into a foggier night and that made my headlamp nearly worthless. Just like with the highbeams in a car, when my headlamp was set on its strongest setting, I couldn’t see a thing. With the low setting I could see but only about two feet in front of me. I was getting a little tired just when I need to ratchet up my concentration, not the best combination! Getting in and out of Muir Beach, with that long, slick downhill, was uneventful but I sure wasn’t running much of the descent. More like a stiff-legged jig. Not pretty but it got the job done, I suppose.

As the fog got a lot closer to rain, I had a harder and harder time with seeing the trail. Inevitably, I missed a ribbon and turned left when I should have turned right. Just as inevitably, it seems that no one ever makes a wrong turn that takes them uphill. So after pounding downhill for about 10 minutes, it looked/sounded and felt wrong. So I trudged back up the hill just in time to catch a couple I had passed a long time ago who got me back on the right path. I was so turned around by then that I probably would have jacked it again up without their help. That probably took about 20-25 extra minutes.

Now running a little more slowly, I headed out to the ridge. When I saw Becca at the last aid station, before we crossed the ridge again, she gave me the rain coat which I had packed for her at the last minute. On this section, I really don’t know that I could have stayed dry enough to avoid hypothermia given the combination of wind, temp in the upper 40s and the moisture. I was lucky that I had the coat and that becca had enough other warm clothes to let me borrow it.

When I saw her at the Golden Gate aid station (did I mention how cool it was to have an aid station in that spot!) she was pretty worried. Even though I had pounded down to the bridge, I knew I was behind Karen and her pacer. That meant that when they got there, I hadn’t checked in and Becca’s stress level was going to go up. I was probably 90 seconds behind them because of getting lost, so the panic didn’t last long. Becca was going to stay at this aid station and not meet me at the start/finish so she could grab a few hours of sleep while I did the 16-mile roundtrip. A quick kiss, the routine fueling up, and off I went. I passed Karen and her pacer but as I headed up the fog worsened and I missed a different turn at the same freaking intersection!!!! I only let myself go for about 15 min total this time and got back on the track. I caught up with Karen at the next aid station and she was again surprised to see me behind her. A little embarrassing to say the least.

The rest of the loop was uneventful and though it was the middle of the night, I was actually pretty jazzed for the last loop. I sat down and changed shoes to my much lighter New Balance MT-100s, choked down most of a grilled cheese sandwich and headed back out. My friend Matt Crownover has a saying about the “eye of the tiger” and that’s exactly how I felt heading back out. I knew I was going to finish, barring any injury, and the course didn’t hold any surprises. It really was all about my attitude. The counter clockwise direction seemed a little tougher to me but I was ready. I cruised up the mountain steadily, saw Becca who had managed to get 3-4 hours of sleep, then headed right back up the windy and cold ridge. By the time I got to my Bermuda triangle intersection, it was daylight enough for me to realize how I had goofed up earlier. Somehow I was much calmer after seeing how I made the mistake. I settled into a serious walk up a long stretch to the top of the mountain and then ran, really ran, down to the next aid station at mile 87ish. No sitting down, no lingering… got some hot soup and kept on going with encouragement from the fantastic volunteers and my lovely wife. I would see these guys one more time but when I did, I’d be down to four miles!

Really feeling strong, I made great time to Muir Beach and hardly stopped before leaving for Tennessee Valley the last time. On the way out, walking up the hill, I passed Nancy who had been running so well for most of the race. She had had some biomechanical problems during the night and was going to mostly walk it in. She had a great attitude about her day and was still smiling at mile 92. I love this sport.

Running back along the beautiful coast, there is a long, delicious downhill to Pirates Cove, which presaged a beating of a climb up some gnarly stairs and a much longer than remembered climb back to the top. Despite feeling good at the bottom, now less than six miles from the end, I have to admit to cussing a bit about wanting some flat. But when I got to the gentle jeep road that was the trail for most of the way back TV, I ran it. The previous loop in that direction had me peg-legging it down in a way that seemed slightly mocking after coming out of Pirate’s Cove.

When I got the last aid station before the finish, I gave Becca my Amphipod waist belt (which might now be my favorite piece of running gear), put a shot block in my bottle and hammered out of there… for like 25 yards till I started the 1.5 mile climb out of the valley. Then it was back to a really strong ultra walk. I passed a number of brave people who were dealing with massive blisters and low spirits and we chatted about the finish we all knew was so close. When I reached the crest, I knew that the next 1.7 miles was going to be a struggle but I was equally determined to run it. And I did. All the way down, through the empty gun bunkers, the stairs, the painfully hard pavement and the last few switchbacks down to the beach. I can't tell you how cool it was to come into the finish with the fog horn, the buoy bell ringing and those still crashing waves. Karen finished a few minutes behind me for first in her age group and third woman overall; just amazing. An awesome finish to one of the most enjoyable hundreds I have experienced.

Here are the overall results http://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=6157

07 October, 2009

The Bear 100 race report

I am always amazed and impressed by those runners who quickly get out race reports with lots of details about pace, what happened between aid stations and how they felt minute-by-minute for 24+ hours. So if that’s what you like to see in a race report, you shouldn’t spend much time with this one. But if you like headlines, here’s mine The Bear 100: Long, Hard and Worth The Effort. This report it a little long; forewarned is forearmed.

I went into this race with a strange mix of prepared and terrified. I had worked hard to get ready for Leadville 100 in August, which I completed in 2004, but for some very smart reasons, I didn’t finish this year. I had hurt my back two weeks prior and despite rest and drugs and a sense of being ready, I clearly wasn’t. After leaning to the right at a 30 degree angle for most of the first 50 miles, the back spasms started and I knew it wasn’t going to be my day. So I left Leadville with my first Did Not Finish (DNF) and my tail a bit between my legs, though I know I made the right decision. It was harder on my crew (Becca, Taylor and Laura Macie) than on me, I think.

The day we were leaving Leadville, we ran into Errol Jones. He has run almost every 100-miler out there, though he’s clearly partial to The Bear where he’s one of the co-race directors. He painted a great picture of the course and the people. While it was too soon to decide whether or not I was up for it, the seed was planted.

The real driver for this summer’s 100-mile effort was to complete a qualifying race for the Hard Rock 100 in Silverton, CO. This is the pinnacle of ultra running for me but there are only a handful of races out there that, upon completion, allow me to put my name in the HR100 lottery. With a DNF at LT100, I didn’t have that many choices.

So with incredible, as always, support from Becca, I signed up for the Bear in mid-September. There was no chance to run any hills or get up early to Logan UT to acclimate at what would be, by far, the ultra with the most gain/loss of any run I had ever attempted. And with an average elevation of 7500 and topping out at 9000, the Bear is not to be underestimated.

And then there was the weather. Usually, the Bear is pretty cool (a few years ago it snowed enough to shut down roads to aid stations), this year’s run looked to be one of the hottest on record. I get plenty of hot weather running in Dallas and an 85+ day or two didn’t sound that appealing combined with so much climbing. It made the packing interesting and in the end we just put it all in there from singlets to gloves, rain coats to sunblock. Far better to have it and not need it…

We arrived on Thursday and the drive up to Logan was beautiful. The leaves were fantastic with red maples down low and golden aspens at higher elevations. We connected with another couple from Dallas, Chad and Julie Armstrong, to drive as much of the aid station route as we could. The Bear was Chad’s third 100miler but his first real mountain race and Julie was very concerned about knowing what to do as his crew. Becca was very keen to know the route and quite concerned that we only had time to make it to the 45 mile mark before we had to leave for the prerace meeting.

The prerace meeting was very low key and we ran into the Texas contingent, including Lynn Ballard from Dallas, who ran a terrific race at sub 31 hours. We also had a chance to talk with Errol, who is in charge of aid stations for the Bear and planning his 11th start there. He said the fall colors were not at their peak but that we were in for a real treat on the course.

Heading back to Logan, prerace jitters began to really set in. I was a little freaked out about what to eat; even more so than usual. I was really trying to go into Friday morning with my “stomach empty and muscles full” to minimize any issues during the race. I had some pasta while packing bags and talking through things with Becca. She might not like to run but she has a lot of insight and experience at knowing what I might need and when. She knows more than I do about it sometimes!

We were in bed by 9:30 and I had my alarm set for 2am to get up and drink a Boost before the real wake-up call at 5. Getting up both times was easy and I felt really good when we left at 5:20 for the start. It was a little cool but I started the day with a t-shirt and my camelback filled with water bottles rather than the bladder, lots of food, sunglasses and a singlet. I don’t like running with the bladder because it’s too hard to tell how much I'm drinking. I wouldn’t see Becca till 20 miles, though there was a runner-only aid station at 10 miles, so I wanted to have all my gear with me.

It didn’t take long on the steady climb out of Logan to see the beautiful valley come to life with the sunrise. After about 6 miles of mostly uphill, I stopped and prepped for a warmer day. Changing clothes is a little easier with such a fantastic view. I was moving well and enjoying the various conversations with runners from all over the country. I pulled into the first aid station way ahead of my “if everything goes perfect” 32 hour pace. I wasn’t worried because I was keeping my heart rate in the zone and eating/hydrating well. A quick water top up and I was off on the next leg.

I planned to be at the Leatham Hollow aid station by 12:30 or so and pulled in closer to 11. My stomach was starting to feel queasy, though I wasn’t concerned. At mile 20, still getting the kinks out is pretty typical. Becca put some sunblock on my shoulders; I switched to a waist pack and headed off a long jeep road to the next aid station 3mi away. The waist pack wouldn’t set right and I could hardly run without being beaten to death by the full water bottle. It was just fine as the grade was steady and it was now pretty hot. The next aid station had really planned ahead; the cold towels were a blessing. I wanted to run some of the next section so I went a little light on the water in the waist pack bottle. Dumb. My stomach got more nauseous and I ran out of water because I was moving slower and the climb was pretty steep for much of this section. I caught up with Lynn Ballard who had slowed some because of the heat as well and we suffered together for awhile.

When I got to the Cowley aid station just before 2pm, I dragged myself off to the shade and just lay down. Becca took great care of me but I couldn’t get the stomach back on track. After burning 25 min there, I slogged out looking less than the picture of health. I was still drinking well but getting any food down was pure discipline. That damned watch going off every 20 minutes to remind me to eat was getting faster and faster. It seemed like I had no sooner finished choking down a hammer gel than it was time for a Shot Blok. I finally got sick enough that I pulled out my secret nausea weapon from Julianna Crownover, Zofran. This powerful anti-nausea drug is often used for chemo patients and Julianna had some because of her serious morning sickness and it was a “Bear” present from her. When I sat down at about 8:30hours into the race, I needed it bad. But nothing happened. When an hour had gone by and I still felt lousy, I was officially worried. I had barely covered 50k and suddenly the next 70 miles was looking like a very, very long way. The stunningly beautiful setting was all around me but I wasn't in the right spot to enjoy it, sadly.

And then, as I was getting more and more wrapped around the axle, it hit me. I figured out why I was feeling so bad: caffeine. I usually take in an espresso gel with 50mg of caffeine and include shot bloks for the rest of my nutrition. I had not taken into account that my favorite flavor had recently added 100mg of caffeine/package. So I was rather consistently getting 240 calories and 150mg of caffeine an hour. I only drink green tea, so this was a lot of caffeine! I later figured out that that was more than the equivalent of a cup of coffee every hour for almost 11 hours. No wonder I thought I was going to heave, and tried my best to, for so long. Becca went into high gear finding non-caffeinated food and after a longish aid stop at mile 45 to get ready for the night, I was off again.

Though I knew I had hours till the caffeine worked its way out of my system, just having an answer made a huge difference in my mental state. I wasn’t able to run much but with so many hills, I really just kept on grinding out the miles. Nothing pretty about my style but I had made up my mind that I was going to finish the Bear. The stars coming out helped. One of the most spectacular nights ever; at least when I managed to pull my eyes up from the trail. I saw a shooting start that must have lasted 10 seconds; simply amazing. Those little things matter.

I rolled into Tony Grove at mile 51 around 9pm, starting to come down from the caffeine. Shaking like crazy and a headache coming on, Becca got me some hot soup which tasted great. She had made friends with the aid station folks because she was helping so many people and one of the guys saved her the last can of soup for me. I brushed my teeth and shivered out a little after 9:30p. The next aid station was about 10 miles and mostly downhill. But this was probably the slowest part of the course for me. I was not recovered from the caffeine overdose and I just couldn’t find a gear. I was proud that I kept moving steadily but speed was not even in the cards.

From Franklin Basin, it’s four miles up and four miles down to Logan River. I don’t remember much. Trudging, trudging, trudging is about all I can report. When I get to the aid station at mile 70 around 4am, I finally felt myself coming back to life. John Sharp from San Antonio dropped here, which is always tough to see, and Becca helped take care of him for the next 12 hours or so. They had a gigantic bonfire going, which is both great and a huge mistake as it can trick runners into getting comfortable. They also had hot towels that felt better than any Four Seasons spa and some more hot soup. It really revived me, along with the approximately 100 Tums I had chewed in the last several hours, and I was ready to roll. I crossed the river, fell in of course, and then climbed up the next pass like a new man.

I ran into the 76 mile aid station feeling pretty good at 7am. The sun had come up and I had less than a marathon to go. All night long I had been putting on and taking off my coat, gloves and hat (which I almost hadn’t even bothered to pack!) It was cold in the hollows and warm up high so it almost never stayed the same temp for long. I couldn’t wait to give all that stuff to Becca so when I left, I was just in a tshirt. Also dumb. I just about froze the next 90 minutes as we crossed, finally, from Utah into Idaho. I was in a good enough mood to enjoy that moment but it was just another step along the way, so not much celebrating. The next aid station, Gibson Basin, was runners only and I stopped long enough for water and some undercooked ramen, then actually started running across this gorgeous basin ringed by aspen. Finally the downhill was the one that led to the Beaver Creek aid station at 86 around 10:15am. I switched back to my old shoes, which felt great, had perhaps the best potato soup I have ever had in my life and got back on the trail.

I really think the last 14 miles were the toughest of the entire race. Steep ups and downs kept it interesting though hard to find a steady pace, as if such a thing could be found! A big section of this leg was out in the open above 8500 feet. So it was hot by now, dry as a bone with humidity in the single digits and a wind whipping up the baby powder-fine dust into a less than ideal breathing environment. Even though it was only 7 miles away, it seemed like that final aid station at mile 93 just kept moving further and further away.

Finally, Ranger Dip station came into view around 12:30pm. Seven miles to go, with the steepest climb of the course right out of the aid station and then a monster downhill, losing 3000 feet of elevation in six miles. Most of that loss comes in a two miles section that felt like falling off a cliff. I was amazed at the several runners who came by like they were either being chased by demons or protected by angels. Allan Wrinkle, a terrific runner who I had passed long ago came gliding down the hill like a ghost. He was impressive! I was terrified of falling and jacking up my back so close to the end. These guys saw nothing but the finish. Downhills after so many miles can really take their toll on a runners quads, so I was even more in awe.

I ran down the mountain as fast as I could and picked up speed when it changed from deadly to just steep. Only one place on the course had I gotten lost and now, with the finish line less than 3 miles away, the course markings changed and I burned 10 precious minutes chasing my tail. Finally, I just decided to plunge ahead and crossed the last creek before turning down the dirt road to the finish. Somehow I had in my mind, not exactly high functioning after 33 hours, that once I got to the dirt road I was almost done. Not exactly. It was freaking ENDLESS…no other word. Lots of nice people on ATVs telling me I was getting close but all I saw was pink tape telling me I had more to go! Then, I heard some traffic and saw a man at an intersection who looked like he was there to help runners. He shuffled with me for the 20 yards along the highway and then he pointed the way to finish, another short 30 yards away. Chad, who ran a very solid 32 hours, and Lynn had already finished and were the first to cheer, along with Julie and Becca.

33:17 was the finish time. My feet were in really good shape, though my calf muscle was pretty wrecked and I think it will be another week or so before I'm running. I was about as dirty and disgusting as I've been after a run and maybe more satisfied. I ate two veggie burgers and we rolled out for the 50 mile drive back to Logan. Becca was zonked, she had about 20 min sleep during the whole thing, and was out by 8:30p. I was a little wired and stayed up till after 10pm, making it about 41hours without sleep.

Most importantly for me, I completed a Hard Rock qualifier so I can put my name in the lottery this January…only an 18% chance for someone in my position so have to keep my hopes in check.

This is a first class race with incredible race management and volunteers. It’s so organized that the three RDs all run the race! I highly recommend the whole experience. I want to thank Becca again. She was amazing not just as my crew but in helping out so many other runners and their crews. I am so lucky to have her in my life and having her in my running world is just icing on the cake

20 March, 2009

Headed to Grasslands trail marathon tomorrow then volunteer at one ofhte 50mile aid stations. Should be a great day.
8 Excellent Tools to Extract Insights from Twitter Streams http://ping.fm/yLlun

09 March, 2009

Headed to miami for our annual meeting. Usually an intense week w people from more than 50 countries.

22 February, 2009

dont agree with all of them but many a serious thing is said in jest http://ping.fm/0TAKx

17 February, 2009

mobile might change even more than we think...like our brains http://ping.fm/27p6m

16 February, 2009

The Sightings newsletter from the Martin Marty Center is really first rate if you care about the role of religion in civic life. http://ping.fm/57sCo

15 February, 2009

Sunday tip: dont read email before going to church. hard enough to clear my mind. wont make that mistake again.

11 February, 2009

quirky article about turning something most of us loathe but have to do into a great opportunity. http://ping.fm/6r1hc

05 January, 2009

Puppy pics

Santa brought two pups this year. An Airedale Terrier named Artemis and a Golden Retreiver Taylor named Athena. Lots to do, lots to learn but they are terrific dogs so far!

10 May, 2008

More about El Retiro and our friends

As many of you have read, we have really loved living so close to El Parque del Buen Retiro, or El Retiro. It's a huge blessing to have such easy access to a beautiful and well-used park practically next door.

Here two quick pictures that illustrate our links. In the past few months, Laura Macie has learned to ride a bike in the park. We don't have room to store a bike so we have rented one for the times she was learning. Amazing to watch her learn and now enjoy wheeling around El Retiro with Taylor or Becca.

A few weeks ago, we had an ideal day in the park. We rode bikes for a bit in the morning. For lunch, our friends the Boldens came down and they brought bikes for their girls. So all four of the bigger girls were out and around, allowing the grownups and the Bolden's two-year old to just hang out and talk. Delightful. Here's a picture of all the girls.

Lunch stretched out for quite a while and pretty soon, it was about 8:30pm and time to think about dinner. So we loaded up and went out for an impromptu dinner. The Boldens had just returned from a few weeks in Australia so the jet lag hit them and they decided to go home. But we had dinner out and rolled back home around 11pm. Just lovely.

08 May, 2008

A perfect day

Two weeks ago today, I had a nearly perfect day. I was on the 6am train to Cercedilla for a run. The weather looked terrific so I was very excited. I worked on the 90 min train ride, mostly in the dark, but the sun was up when I got off the train at the station. A few minutes of repacking and changing clothes and I was off.

After about five minutes of warm up, this was the view! What a total surprise. I hadn't noticed the snow on the peaks on the way up but as soon as I lifted my head...wow.

Spring is a bit slower to arrive in the mountains so it's that perfect mix of things just blooming and a few trees already in that fantastic fuzzy green. The part that I can't really hope to convey is the audio track to the day. It would have been a crime to listen to music as there must have been a dozen different types of birdsong. Sweet, innocent chirps from little ones hopping around in the brush, fantastically melodic tunes from birds I never saw and the raucous bark of the gigantic blackbirds here. And as much of the snow was melting, constantly changing sounds of water running and falling down the mountain. Positively amazing.

After about 30 min of moving pretty steadily, I reached the Calzada Romana http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_road (this is a crazy long article about the entire concept over the Roman empire but there's a better picture of the road that I ran on). This 2000+ year old road was in use until the mid 1800s and some of it is still in usable shape. But it's a steady 9.3% incline for about 5k so there wasn't much running for the next 45 minutes!

Then I reached La Puerta de la Fuenfria and this was the view. Just spectacular. I ran down the road for a few km, turned around after catching a glimpse of an old estate home built in the 17th century for Queen Ysabel to rest when she was pregnant, and then headed back to the train station as fast as my legs would carry me.

Back at the train station with 20 minutes to spare, worked on the laptop for an hour or so on the way home. After a quick bite to eat and a shower, I was ready to work a full day. Not too shabby at all.

30 April, 2008

?Sweet home tecnocasa?

Tecnocasa is a real estate/rental company here. I was listening to the radio recently and heard some very familiar notes coming through my headphones. Which was unusual given it was lynrd sknryd. not exactly typical Madrid fare. Turns out it was an advert, sweet home tecnocasa. Muy estrano! I hope that some good ol boys in muscle shoals are getting paid and having a little laugh.

23 April, 2008

La primavera en Madrid

Jet lag has been tough this time. Going to bed late and this AM was up at 545. So when the PM arrived, all I wanted was a nap. Instead, I went for a walk in El Retiro. What a sheer pleasure. These two photos are part of it but I could have taken a dozen more of peacocks, flowers, lovers, runners, slackers and just people on their lunch break grabbing a few winks and some fresh air.

I love this city.

05 April, 2008

No end of strange things in airports

I travel a fair bit and have seen many interesting things over the years. Boom boxes the size of refrigerators, refrigerators, car parts, unrecognizable parcels shrouded in paper and then shrink-wrapped are all on the list.

But at the Dubai airport this week, I had to take a picture. Any international airport can feel like the bar in the first Star Wars movie. But this guy with four car tires, naked in their travels, struck me as a particularly curious mix of the practical (hey! What a great deal on tires) and the ridiculous (I know, I'll get them back to India when I check my luggage).

30 March, 2008

Another typical Madrid experence, unfortunately.

Madrid is, without doubt, one of the safest cities we've been in. The one exception is pick pocketing. Hands down the most common criminal act here. We've been here 10 months and it finally happened to us. Curt and Helen had just arrived and we were at lunch in the la Latina area and her purse was swiped. At a restaurant where we've eaten many times. Scene of the crime is in the photo. No cash, but credit cards, mobile and ipod. Not the end of the world but a hassle. We canceled it very quickly, which was good as they tried, unsuccessfully, to use one of the cards twice in the first hour!

First family visit

My brother, Curt, and his family are the first family members to visit is in Madrid. They arrived Thursday morning and we've spent a few days seeing the city.

Today Curt and I took all four kids to the park while Helen and Becca did a little shopping. Here's a picture of all the kids at the playground.

18 March, 2008

Pictures from Sevilla

We had a quick trip to Sevilla where we had the chance to see the first Easter processions. It's a tradition going back to the 1700s.

05 February, 2008

Marcy in Madrid

We recently had the good fortune to have one of Becca's friends, Marcy Floyd, visit us here. Rather than describe it, I'll use her words and just add a few pictures.

Madrid is amazing. I am not quite sure how to describe it. This is a very big city of approximately 4 million people and yet there is such an appreciation for the culture and city. It is like nothing I have ever seen before. The city is clean (except for the current strike by the metro cleaning crew) and the buildings are amazingly ornate....all of them. I keep asking "What is that amazing building?" and I keep getting answers like "Oh, that is the Bank" or "People live there" or "That is the post office". I keep expecting answers like "The king from the 17th century built it and it is now a museum"!

My first few days here were spent exploring the city. Becca, Taylor, Macie, and I walked to all of the plazas, had churros and chocolate, and went to the Cathedral. Becca took me to the spanish grocery store, the fabulous Sorolla museum, some shopping markets, and to eat some great food. I think that I spent much of the time staring up at the buildings with my jaw dropped.

The big event of the trip happened on Friday. As my Christmas present, the Teasters treated me to a Segway tour of Madrid. Now, most of you know that I am not the most graceful person and was therefore quite apprehensive of the Segway, but after a few short lessons and more or less getting over it, it was great and by the end we all desparately wanted to keep our segways! Becca, Buddy, Taylor, and I zipped all over the city with Antony and Marta (our guides) for 4 hours, saw many amazing views and sites and took fabulous pictures. Antony took many pictures for us as well (Here are a few).

The past few days have been spent celebrating Three Kings Day. This is a big holiday in Spain...very similar and in addition to Christmas (this is my kind of place!). The Teasters had an aftrnoon party on Saturday (Three Kings Eve) and I was able to meet many of their friends. We all went together to the Three Kings Day Parade (similar to the Macy's Parade) and later that night the Three Kings came to visit. Tradition dictates that you leave grass and water for their camels and cookies and milk for the kings. The girls also left their shoes out to be filled by the kings. We had a lazy Three Kings Day and spent several hours in Retiro Park, which is basically across the street from Becca's apartment. It is beautiful. I have only seen part of the park (we are going back today to see the rest) but it is filled with statues and fountains and gardens and playgrounds and people. We fed the fish in the lake, danced to the music of a drum circle, and watched as thousands of ballons were let go for the three kings.

Tonight Becca and I are going to watch Flamenco Dancing! I am so excited and may just join the ranks of dancers and stay in Madrid. I could certainly get used to Spanish life....of course it is easy when you have such great hosts. The girls start back to school tomorrow so Becca and I will be touring the Palace and going to the Prado Museum among other things in my last few days. I love it here!

05 January, 2008

Best regards

Buddy Teaster

Spain Mobile: +34 695 235 517

US Mobile: +1 214 707 3085

Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile so please forgive any misspellings or grammatical errors.

Mobile post sent by bteaster using Utterz Replies.  mp3

31 December, 2007

Unexpected Snow In The Mountains: It Ain't Running...

This is something I wrote to the North Texas Trail Runners list. John Morelock is a member of NTTR who lives in the Pacific Northwest but stays connected to the Texas crowd. http://www.nttr.org/.......

Though I've been living with my family in Madrid since last May, I’ve continued to follow the invitations to meet for runs, race results, etc. I even made it back for the Cactus Rose 100, which was one of the most enjoyable ultras I have ever done. And I don’t think “enjoyable ultra” is an oxymoron :-)

But I've particularly enjoyed John Morelock’s postings. Though I've never met him, and may well never meet him, earlier this week I thought of his attitude about running and he saved the day.

First the background: Madrid has been an unexpected joy for daily running. We live half a block from El Parque del Retiro and a 15 minute run from Casa de Campo, which is then about 10+ miles around in trees and hills. I can easily put together a 20-miler with minimal traffic in the heart of a major European capital with 4 million people! An even bigger surprise is that a 90 minute train ride away and I'm in the mountains at 3700’ and an hour later up to almost 6000 feet. With a little work and more time, I can reach about 7000. and when I get to the train station in Cercedilla, the trail literally is right off the end of the platform. Sweet.

I went up this past Thursday for a long run. I was feeling a little christamased out and needed a break and a long run. I was out the door at 6am and was planning to be running when it started getting light at 8am. The train ride was mostly in the dark so it was a big surprise as I started hiking up the mountain and I realized the tops of the mountains were covered in snow. Just gorgeous with the sun coming up behind them, me in the pine trees and not a soul around. Sweeter.

When I got to the dirt road I was planning on running, I found it covered in six inches or so of snow over top of an icy, ankle twisting base. That’s when I realized that my plans for a long run were out the window. And then I got irked. I had made a big effort to make this day happen and now I wasn’t going to get much more than a hike. I stomped along for another 30 minutes or so, grumbling and self-righteous. At that point, I looked up at the snow covered peaks backed by a cobalt blue sky and I thought of John Morelock and his insight into the heart of running and being out on the trail. Here I was in a beautiful situation and I was complaining? Only because of my expectations (certain number of miles in a certain time) was this not a glorious experience to be relished. I thought of his posts about the weather and the internal conversations of an ultra runner. And then the day, at least the one inside my head, changed.

So I happily missed the 10:30 train home and took a little longer way back to enjoy the views from the other side of the valley. I got back down out of the snow, and on a long slow downhill, and ran my legs off. I made the 11:30 train with five minutes to spare and a great day behind me.

I got on the train, which was full of people clearly not in the same exalted frame of mind, saw the snowy mountains dwindle down into the lower altitudes of Madrid and once again counted my blessings.

24 November, 2007


Needless to say, Thanksgiving is not a Spanish holiday. Assumption Day, Ascension Day, dozens of saints days and the entire month of August are holidays but we were surrounded by about 4,000,000 people who had no idea why we took the girls out of school! (As an aside, you can buy a turkey here though it’s not something the Spanish eat. And the price matched…about US$4.50/pound!)

Taylor was totally freaked out about how the holidays were going to be so different and Thanksgiving without the cousins in Dallas and running the Turkey Trot just wasn’t going to be any Thanksgiving at all. But she totally underestimated her mother!

While I went out for a glorious long run in Casa de Campo, Taylor baked a pumpkin pie and Becca/Laura Macie chocolate mousse. After that, she and the girls spent the morning at the police station getting fingerprinted for their residency cards. We should have them about the time we head back to the US.

But when they returned, we dragged our bags full of US Thanksgiving goodies, we walked over to our friends Chris and Kathy Cooper for the full on deal with turkey, dressing, gravy mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and on and on. They did a terrific job at moving their apartment 3000 miles west for an afternoon. Two other Americans joined us and we had a day that would have been recognizable in just about any house in America. We missed our families and we managed to recreate a sense of belonging that will be a Thanksgiving we’ll remember.

Otono en Madrid

I have been traveling a lot for YPO work, and some with the family, since mid-October. There was even a three week period or so where Becca and I saw each other for less than 24 hours…that was nuts. But when I came back from the latest trip to Cartagena de Indies, Colombia it really hit me how much el otono had settled in. For a week or so earlier in NOvebmer, while I was gone and the girls didn’t have any heat, the temperature dropped down to the low 20sF!

Someone had told us that November is usually the worst weather month in Madrid but we had been extremely lucky. Instead of the usual wet and windy weather, we have been blessed with brilliant blue skies and cool evenings and moderately warm days. As I went out to meet the girls on their way home from school earlier this week, the walk through el Retiro’s beautiful trees, water and that sky just hit me. We are very fortunate to be here and be together.

With all the signs of continued good weather, today we decided to hie ourselves up to Cercedilla for a hike. It was probably 10 degrees cooler in the foothills and much windier but we had a delightful day walking through the trees, always looking for a sunny spot, till we stopped for a picnic lunch and then back to the station for the 90 minute train ride back to Madrid. I think we’ll all sleep well tonight.

Granada and La Alhambra

Well. I am making no apologies for being so far behind. Travel and work have taken over for the last six weeks and I may not be able to catch up. I do apologize, however, for those of you who have come to visit and found nothing but old news. Still, here’s to a fresh start!

One of the recent family trips was to Granada in October. We had the chance to visit with some new friends there, Cliff, Sara and Alex (four years old). Matt and Julianna introduced us last year in Dallas. They went to school with Cliff in Texas and Cliff married native Granadian Sara. They hosted us for breakfast, let us borrow one of their cars and gave us an overview of their city. I don't know how we could repay the debt but hope we have the chance sometime.

We stayed in a cortijo (old farmhouse converted to a hotel/inn) called Cortijo del Pino just outside the city that is owned by some of Cliff and Sara’s friends. An old tobacco farm, the rooms were simple and comfortable and we really had a sense that we were someplace, not a generic hotel that could be anywhere. The girls in particular fell in love with the passel of cats and kittens which found Taylor and Laura Macie a generous source of treats. And they got to ride horses without any of the usual "worried about liability" outfits they're used to! (I was off doing a long run getting ready for the Cactus Rose 100, which was a total blast for me. I ran about 35+ miles and saw Granada and environs in a different way than most visitors, I'm sure.)

The old Granada is a very walkable city with beautiful streets, plazas and buildings. Life seems to move at a very nice pace and, as a major university city, full of students from all over the world. The only odd note in this peaceful city was as I was waiting one afternoon, outside a church where a small crowd was filling up their water bottles, an older lady was cussing a blue streak (my Spanish is good enough to recognize a few of them) at a young woman who appeared impervious to the invective being screamed at her. The older lady must have been doing a good job as several people passing by on the street showed surprise and then laughter.

The real reason to visit Granada, however, is La Alhambra (please take a few minutes to read this article and look at the fantastic photos.) It is the most visited monument in Spain and we now understand why. Our first real experience of seeing the fort was the night before our scheduled visit. We wandered through the town looking for a place to eat. We wound up in El Albacin, which is the old Arab quarter. In a very tight area, there are hundreds of streets that were oddly quiet. It was about 8:30 when we sat down at a restaurant with a little outside patio. We sat down and, much to our surprise, as we looked up we saw the sheer side of La Alhambra with a ¾ moon rising behind it. Just fantastic and really got us excited about seeing the entire thing.

There is no way I can do justice to La Alhambra. Books by smart people and full of pictures by professionals are dedicated to trying. But this 13th century wonder was built by Muslims, taken over by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand when the Reconquest of Spain was complete in 1492. This is also the spot where Cristobal Colon and the Catholic Monarchs, as they were known, sealed the deal for his voyage to the New World. The palace fell into disrepair for hundreds of years. Vagrants and Gypsies lived in it, taking or destroying the furniture and paintings and generally trashing the place.

Strangely enough, it was an American who saved it. Washington Irving (author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow among others), was in Spain in the 1820s when he became enchanted by the legends of La Alhambra. He wrote Tales of the Alhambra and soon people were flocking there to bask in the romantic aura. The government got reengaged and now the palace and gardens are being restored and maintained and it’s pure magic.

One other note. Granada is also home to most of the Gitano (Roma or Gypsy) population of Spain and they have lived in and around the area since before the medieval times. With the Gypsies, you also have flamenco. We were walking through the streets, late in the afternoon, and heard this couple playing flamenco outside the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella and their children. It was a cool combustion of Muslim streets, Gypsy music and the Spanish monarchy. Here’s a link to some of the music Song 1, Song 2, Song 3. I bought a CD from the musicians…one of whom, I'm sad to say, might have been one of the ugliest women I have ever seen. But she played the guitar incredibly and she helped create a lasting memory of Granada.

04 October, 2007

Old Post from August I just found

I wrote this back in August but I had some PDA problems and was just able to recover it today, 45 days later! Madrid is very different now in early October the beautiful chestnut trees (las castanas) in El Retiro dropping their frutos secos (nuts) and beginning to change colors...though I think they're just going to go through shades of brown, no fireworks of colors. This is not my photo but a pretty good shot of what El Retiro looks like now. In any case, here's the August note with some links.

Today was a very lazy day and we finally got out of the house about 1:30. We've been very lucky with the weather this summer as it usually blistering hot in August. There have been a few hot days but the low humidity, and relatively cool nights, make it bearable. We still have a month or so to go but we've only turned on the airconditioning once or twice.

But the Madrilenos plan to get out of the city and August is VERY quiet here. Hardly any rush hour and I'm guessing that 50% of the citizens have left or are on vacation. Enough that it's a big deal when small shops are open that it's a marketing opportunity because we've seen a few signs that say "No cerramos in Agosto" to let people know they are open!

The girls were great on the 2mi or so walk and we had a picnic lunch and some ice cream in the Plaza de Espana. There's a huge fountain dedicated to Cervantes here and it's lovely, shaded little spot.

It's then just a short walk to the Templo de Debod with the girls. A gift from Egypt, it's a little disconcerting to see a 2nd century BC building in downtown Madrid, but there you go!

There was nothing special about the day; no big plans, no big "culture" moment. Just another day living in this city. Delightful!