February 2, 2016

Who Is Adam (of Adam's Heart Runs)?

This article is also found in the Birmingham Track Club's newsletter: Vulcan Runner. Online registration (and guaranteed shirt) for Adam's Heart Runs closes Thursday. Go here to register. I'm race directing and planning to have a blast this Saturday, so I hope you come out and join us!


Adam's Heart Runs, you know it as the first race of the Birmingham Track Club's four-race series each year.


Who the heck is Adam? Why was he running or what was he running from? And what's up with hearts? When I agreed to be the race director for this year's Adam's Heart Runs, I knew basically zero about the race, other than that it supports the Birmingham Track Club, which I love, and it is held at Oak Mountain Park, which I also love. But learning the history of the race and especially more about the founder of this race was high on my list of must-dos to help me feel a more solid connection to this run and its purpose. 

Enter Dr. Adam Robertson, who I was fortunate enough to meet for lunch earlier this year. At one time a smoker turned avid runner and runner advocate, he played an integral part in growing Birmingham's running community. His motivation was to help others find an easy and fun way to stay active. "This was not about competition; this was about getting in shape," Adam shared. Living what he preached, during his tenure as emergency room director at Cooper Green for over 25 years, he would run commute to work, seven miles each way.

And even though he was a huge running promoter, he actually wasn't the race creator of Adam's Heart Runs. Around 1977, the race was started by a runner who soon moved to California for work. When it came time to hold the race again, Adam decided, "Well, I'll just do this for a couple of years until we can get somebody else." That couple of years stretched out further and further as Adam and his wife Ginni continued to direct the race for many years.

Adam's Heart Runs finish line. 

"Every year it was so easy to do because it was out there [at Oak Mountain], and we only needed one police officer at the corner. We measured it, and Rick Melansen certified it." Even though people tried to convince him to move the race downtown to increase the numbers, the simplicity of working with the park made the decision easy to keep the race at Oak Mountain.

Adam's Heart Runs start line.

"My wife did really well with the results. As the last person would come over, she would hand me the results. No computers. I just took a big circular clock that hung on the wall, and started it at 12, so as you crossed you could see your time." 

Originally the race was named Birmingham Heart Runs and was a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. When the Robertsons passed on the race directing torch, the track club changed the name of the race to honor Adam with the name Adam's Heart Runs. 

Speaking to how tight-knit the original Alabama running groups were, Adam shared, "Back then, everybody felt like they had to show up at every run. Nowadays there are people out there who run every day and never show up at a race. Which is good. The purpose of it to begin with was to get people to do it." 

Adam not only supported road running but was on the board at Ruffner Mountain for at least 20 years. During that time, he and his friends Bucky Wood, Vic Kelly, and Craig Christopher (who were dubbed The Ruffner Mountain Boys) held trail races that sound eerily similar to Race Against the Sun. "We had some red tape, and that was where you were supposed to turn. If you missed that, you were out of luck," said Adam about the simplicity of race marking for their Ruffner invitation-only race that almost got shut down. 

"We didn't realize that the coalition had already bought part of the mountain, and we were up there putting [the race] on when this guy walked up and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We're having a run on the mountain.' And he said, 'No, you can't do that.' So we invented the name Rufus McGrew as the race director, and we sent invitations to everybody each of us knew. Very formal with Rufus McGrew as the return address. Other people heard about it and asked if we could get them in. Before you knew it, we had a couple hundred people."

Proving even further that he has extensive knowledge of Ruffner trails, Adam testified, "You run 10 miles at Ruffner, it's close to 20 miles on the road." Truth. 

There were also white tuxedos and barrels of beer involved in his Ruffner race stories, so if you ever get the chance to meet Adam in person, you should definitely have him tell you about their Ruffner Mountain adventures. 

These days, Adam continues to better the Birmingham community by volunteering as the Crisis Center's medial director. 

From the Crisis Center's web site: 
According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. That is why we’re here - to help survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones heal from this terrible crime. No matter when it happened to you or your loved one, the Crisis Center offers help through our Rape Response and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (S.A.N.E.) Programs. This includes:
  • Free and confidential crisis counseling 24 hours a day
  • Prevention education programs to schools, civic organizations and other public groups
  • Services for the victim’s family, friends, partners or spouses
  • Information and referrals to other services in your area

Advocates are available to accompany survivors of sexual violence during the forensic examination at the SANE facility or the hospital, to the police station, and to court. Advocates provide objective, knowledgeable, and supportive intervention on behalf of the survivor, making sure that she/he has the necessary information about each system to make critical decisions. The advocate provides individual advocacy to the survivor to ensure that her/his rights are upheld.
Along with the SANE program, the Crisis Center provides a crisis line, help lines for kids and teens, a senior talk line, support groups, and mental health services. 

In keeping with his running history, Adam assisted in planning the Crisis Center's 2015 5K fundraiser, called Just a Call Away 5K, which they plan to bring back to the community in August 2016.

So who is Adam? With what started as a desire to "just get people out running," Adam Robertson helped establish a race that has brought thousands and thousands of people to Oak Mountain State Park over the years. Insider tip: look for Adam on February 6th, this year's AHR race date. It's no surprise that he volunteered to come out and support the event, even 40 years later. 

January 19, 2016

Lookout Mountain 50: everyone should run this

Well, everyone who wants to run all day long, that is.

Getting there: We stayed in downtown Chattanooga so that my family could take advantage of all of the fun to be had there while I was running. Museums, climbing, good eats, places to watch Star Wars. It was a bigger haul than we thought to get to the race start from downtown, with lots of twisty turns for the carsick-prone. On the way out of the race, I actually almost vomited. Because I was trying to read texts on those curvy roads. Combined with race exhaustion, that was a horrible combo.

Race start: I picked up my packet the night before at the brewery, but they didn't have shirts available yet. No problem because they were at packet pick-up on the morning of. Everything was organized and fast, plus they had snacks and a fire. Neither of which I used but was grateful for the option. I dropped one bag in a pile to be hauled to mile 34 and dropped another in a pile at the start/finish, which we would run back through at mile 22. It was nice to be able to drop a larger bag at the start/finish. Because they don't have to cart them anywhere, they don't really care about the size even though it says they do on the site. I used that start/finish bag to stuff my jacket that I wore up until one minute before start time (because it was freezing!) and my post-race clothes, plus all of the things I would have put in a traditional drop bag.

Weather and clothes: The temp was about 30 at the start of the race, but I knew it would warm up quickly once we started running. The high was set to be 45 that day. When we were in the shade on the west side of the mountain, you didn't really feel that 45 degrees (frozen legs!). I spent some of the day without gloves, but I had to wear them at the beginning and intermittently in the middle. For most of the race, I wore a short-sleeve shirt, removable sleeves (arm warmers) that covered my hands, shorts, toe socks to keep away blisters, a buff around my neck, and my BUTS hat. Also sporting this pack and this watch, and in love with both. Once or twice, when the sunlight hit us hard for a brief moment, I rolled down my sleeves. In summary, we had the most perfect weather that anyone could dream of for this race. 

Frozen before the race start.

Comrades: A few of my friends from Birmingham were running that day, and I was able to spot one before the race (TJ!!).

About three minutes into the race, I ended up beside the other one (Bradley!!). Happy trail coincidence. We stayed together almost half of the race because we got in a long line of folks going down and up the mountain. It was perfect because we were both trying not to trash our legs in the first half of the race by getting too optimistic about pacing down the mountain. 

And besides the friends I already knew there, this race was overall so positive, full of folks there to laugh and have a good time. Maybe towards the front of the pack things were a little more buttoned up and serious, but I was running at a speed that enabled me to get on and off the party train several times during the race. Party train = multiple folks in row willing to chat it up and make jokes with total/semi strangers while potentially experiencing intense pain from ultra running. 

A damn long chain. 

Also of note, up to mile 22 the course felt somewhat crowded, and I wondered if it would thin out ever. It did for me after 22. Things spread out a lot, and I often ran alone with the occasionally seeing someone for a few minutes.

The course: Stop what you are doing right now, and put yourself on the email list for this race. It is so gorgeous.

As you head out from the start, the sun is just starting to break its way through the trees while you pick your way carefully past jutting rock faces on the right and steep I-better-not-trip-here-or-I-die drops on the left. Sprinkled throughout the rocks and trees are loads of baby waterfalls. Some that you can easily jump over, and some that take a little more effort to avoid soaking your shoes.

Sunrise on the way out.

Once you come off the single track, you wind down some wider service roads to the bottom of the mountain. There was actually another race the same day as Lookout Mtn 50 that made some intersections a little confusing (for the easily confused, like me) because our flags would go one way and a giant arrow would point the opposite way. Just enough of a juxtaposition to make you go hmmmmm, say what, and maybe pause for effect.

Off the single track.

There's an aid station at the bottom of the mountain that gets you fueled for the climb back to the start line at mile 22. It's seven miles from that aid back to the start line, but two of those miles are serious hikers. For my Birmingham friends, think Yellow/White connector, only longer.

Once you go back through the start (yay for a drop bag with lots of snacks), you head out in the opposite direction for some new trails. So the race loops one direction and then back in the opposite direction for new trails. Between the start line and Lula Lake were some of the muddier spots along the course and some water crossings that required me to get my feet wet. No choice but to jump in! 

But the reward is Lula Falls and the best snacks of the race at the Lula Lake Aid Station. The waterfall was breathtaking, especially when you are already out of breath to begin with, and the folks at this aid station were hilarious and helpful. Around this point, runners started running towards us on the trail, which is the first time I realized that this portion of the race is an out-and-back. I had read the aid station descriptions before the race, but didn't put those pieces together that the aid stations they were describing were the same ones from before. So it is clear for everyone in the future of Lookout Mountain-ing, the second half of this race is an out-and-back. Do not be confused when runners start racing towards you on the trail!

After the race, I kept seeing pics of folks climbing a rope, and I could not figure out where the heck the rope was on the course because I didn't remember climbing up one. Thank you to the course photographer for solving that mystery. Turns out I opted for the hands and feet option because I never noticed the rope. Ultra marathons, ultra focus. Do not let yourself be distracted by frivolous things like ropes!

If there is any course where I didn't mind an out and back, this was it. When you hit this overlook of Chattanooga (and beyond!), you have to, I mean HAVE TO, veer off trail and take a minute to enjoy that view. Another breath taker! 

From there you wind through very soft single track and a tiny section of asphalt road to your next drop bag. Which means more snacks! And a contemplated change of socks, but I decided to skip changing them because at this point I felt so close to finishing, although it was still hours away.

Next up was a circle around some private land that makes you feel like you might be the only person left on earth. Once you get around that loop, you are back to the aid station with your drop bag and headlamp, which seemed unnecessary because I had some high hopes of getting back before nightfall (did not happen!). 

From there, you just retrace your steps to home. When I realized this, my mind immediately started to categorize what I would see next. The soft Hobbit trails, the see-forever overlook, the massive waterfall, the Jedi trail, the creek that you have to get your feet wet in, the muddy low trails, the red rolling hills, back to the finish! It all seemed so simple, like playing connect the dots with my memory's trail markers. 

Stopped again, for another deep breath and a panorama this time.

The brightest spot on the way back was definitely the Lula Lake Aid Station. Again, shout out to them for making it fun and being helpful and having hot soup. 

About to ugly cry? Over seeing an aid station with happy people. And soup!

Thank you, happy aid station volunteer, for turning my headlamp right side up before night hit. It is highly likely that I would not have figured that out at mile 45. Brain mush at that point.

More mental trail markers. My family was watching the new Star Wars while I was running, and I still have not seen it! The shame.

I got to the clearing and rolling red hills just as the sun was setting. Another spot to stop and take it all in. This was the point where I thought, I could keep running. If I needed to. Not that I wanted to, but physically, my sore ankles were still functioning. Although my toenails all felt like they were going to fall off, but I was sure that had already happened and was not worried about it after hour eight. Plus I hadn't gotten gut sick, which is a Tailwind trail miracle. 

But even though a mile out I felt like I could keep going, as soon as my feet crossed the finish line, I was majorly done! Like sit-down-and-not-move-for-a-few-days done. But immediately my kids were like, we want a snack, can I have a frisbee, give me a doughnut. So I changed my dream of not moving for an hour to hobbling away after a few minutes. 

My race: My finish time was around 10:30 for the race, and I was super happy with that because it gave me the qualifying time I needed for Vermont 100, which I just registered for this weekend! Sticking with a pack of runners for the first half of the race to stop me from going out too fast worked perfectly and is a strategy I've been trying to use more often. Because most all of the humans try and go out too fast and burn up their legs too early. It's in our programming somewhere. 

Even better than decent feeling legs was the fact that my stomach did not revolt at any point. I drank Tailwind (which I put in baggies to pick up at the drop-bag points) the entire race and ate snacks and gels and gummies in addition to that when I felt like it, eating early and often and making sure to grab something at every aid station plus have something on me to eat in between aid stations. The hot soup at mile 42 was so baller. Thank you again, Lula Lake Aid Station. Pretty sure I will never again taste such heavenly saltiness. Ultra hunger makes food taste so amazing. Or sometimes so horrible. Either way, so I'm glad it went the amazing way.

For my family, I turned my phone on airplane mode between aid stations to save battery life so that I could text them and let them know where I was along the course and when they needed to come back and pick me up. Also, it gave me the chance to send them lots of awkward selfies, like this!

Uh, what, huh. I'm tired and climbing a hill. Holla back.

And thank you to all my friends who sent texts and messages. I read them during those long hill climbs and laughed. And maybe cried too. Because I cry happy cries when I run over 30 miles. 

Summary: Do this race, everybody everywhere! You will not set any speed records, but you will at least have a chance to be entertained by nature the entire way. If you let yourself. But don't go out too fast! It is so easy to do, and you need your ankles for some muddiness later. And try and get lucky with weather like we did, because I don't know if I would have loved it as much in freezing rain. And you get a warm hoodie at the end from Wild Trails, and for that, I will always love them. As a recovery activity, definitley go to Rock City and be slightly weirded out by the gnome caves and gardens.

Bonus: I ended up not losing any toenails even though my first and fifth toe toenails on both feet felt like they had been ripped off with the teeth of an angry adult shark on meth.

Bonus takeback: Literally five minutes after I hit publish, one of my toenails fell off. I cannot make this stuff up. Well, I could, but I didn't. And I have the scratchy old disembodied toenail rolling around on my bed to prove it. 

December 24, 2015

How long it takes to run 100 miles

From sun up to sun down, that's how long it took me to run Lookout Mountain 50 this weekend. During the race I kept my family updated with pictures like this.

And this. 

These pics said something like, hey family, I'm alive enough to use my fingers to operate a camera and mentally aware enough to switch my phone into airplane mode between aid stations to save battery juice and still crazy enough to be smiling even though my pinky toenail is slowly detaching itself from my left foot with each painful step. 

I was sending texts from stops along the route because I never expected my family to try and meet me at aid stations or follow me around the course. Mostly because they had things to do, like watch Star Wars and swim at the hotel pool. Plus, I want my family to still love my running, and forcing them to stand around and wait three hours by an aid station in the woods to see me for ten seconds isn't the best way to inspire run love. 

But even without being in the middle of the trail action that day, my kidlets took notice of what went down. 

1. That their mom ran so much that she needed all hands on deck for feet and back massages (as long as they did not touch the toenails!). 

2. And that running 50 miles takes All. Day. Long. 

In the spirit of observing things, my son Creed used all of the wisdom he gleaned from Lookout Mountain 50 to calculate how long it's going to take me to run Vermont 100 this summer. 

The accuracy. The emphatic hand. The addition. This kid is my hero. 

December 18, 2015

Lookout Mtn 50 is tomorrow!

Our trail runner book club is reading Into Thin Air this month. First, how have I not read this before now?!! Second, whaaaat? I'm not a climber and have no desire to become one (although a trusted source swears that you can have a fear of heights AND be a climber), but man, this story hit me so hard. Even though I finished it weeks ago, I can't get the people and events out of my mind, and they'll be with me tomorrow as I take on Lookout Mountain 50, here in Chattanooga. 

One of the messages from the book: never stop dreaming.

(see he CAN smile in pictures) Those pins represent some of my top dreams too.

Another favorite part of the book: the descriptions of how it felt on top of Everest. To be there striving for greatness but up against decreasing oxygen, incredible fatigue, and crushing elements. 

No, it's not even close to Everest, but ultras have this element of nothingness at some point. It started out as a great idea, a fun adventure, a spike in adrenaline. But at some point, your body is just on a mission to survive, and you lose the ability to find joy or sorrow. You are just tired. And why do we put ourselves in these situations that push us to that nothingness? I'm not sure, but knowing that you can push through joy, pain, joy, pain, nothingness, and beyond is something. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable -- that is the challenge, tomorrow and in life.

But don't worry, the nothingness isn't all of it. There will be a lot of happy moments tomorrow. And if they don't come to me, I will go out and find them (as long as they are within arm's reach of that trail, and I don't have to move very quickly to get to them).

My drop bags are packed with a variety of things that might appeal to me in the moment:
Honey Stingers
Sport Beans
Hammer Gel -- Apple Cinnamon, the best flavor of all time!
Pocket Fuels
Huma Gel
Tailwind (which will be the base fuel!)
Justin's Nut Butter

And practical stuff like:
Dry socks
Extra buff
Portable phone charger

We did our shakeout walk through downtown Chattanooga.

And my flat trail runner is all laid out.

High of 45 tomorrow and no rain predicted. So basically, it will be a perfect day for running!

Text me if you are bored tomorrow! Your text will probably be the thing that helps me run another mile.

November 16, 2015

[Fill in the blank] is not stirred

The last week or so has been the week(s) of the crappiest things. Terrorism and policy changes and whole-family stomach viruses. 

The only upside to any of those is that a stomach virus, turns out, is a highly successful diet plan. 

The Virus Diet protocol: 

1. Send your child to any school or public setting, especially Chuck E. Cheese's.

2. Child bites fingernails or picks food up off of the ground to eat it. Also probably forgot to eat breakfast, and mom did not verify.

3. Virus starts as an upset stomach that you promise them is just because they need to poop. 

4. Receive call from school nurse that child has vomited at school and probably told nurse that you made them to go to school even though they previously mentioned an upset stomach. Or told them that you watch Dance Moms

5. You start to feel sick right as you have finished volunteering to hand water cups to everyone at a 2K-person race. (not an actual event, but a fake scenario that will now haunt all of my future trips through a race water stop)

6. Even though you declare you are sick first, your spouse acts sicker. And potentially fakes a second vomit to not have to be the first one to get up when the next kid blows chunks. 

Bam, no one eats for three days. 

Guaranteed to lose at least five pounds on this plan. If you are looking for more, you could try the Flu Followed by Virus a Week Later plan. 

Once my mom told me that she was trying the Concentration Camp Diet, and she was not trying to be funny. She heard about it on TV. Probably making Benjamin Franklin regret finding electricity. 

With all of these sad thoughts crowding the week, I decided it was time to make family cards to send out. 

I couldn't decide whether to go with this deceivingly depressing (or depressingly deceiving) quote about happiness from Henry David Thoreau: 

Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder. 

Trying to be happy is so 2014. Like Diesel Jettas and the ice bucket challenge. 

Or should the card stick with the mood at the start of this post:

I am usually a very peaceful person but this is making me very warlike at this time. I will step on every one of your heads using your skulls as stepping stones to the river that is the street. And then I will take hot tea and take a sip of it spit it into each and every one of your mouths. Sure, it'll burn me. But it'll burn you twice. Burn me once with tea, shame on me. Burn you twice in your own mouth, shame on everyone involved! (Candace, Portlandia)

And in the interest of all things that didn't make the Christmas card cut, I present the Enoch is Not Stirred series. Similar to Enoch is Not Impressed, but that was taken. Plus, Enoch is Not Stirred is way more Downton Abbey than "not impressed."

Sharing because it makes the least sense of all the things.

Sure as the middle child, Enoch possesses the physical ability to smile for family pictures. 

Proof it can happen.

But why smile, if you can use family photos as a platform for your disappointment in any given activity?

Family reunion, 2010, the original Enoch is Not Stirred. Breaking your arm on a zipline is a pretty good excuse.

This year's family vacation provided the rest of my night's entertainment, as Enoch was not stirred over and over again, rendering almost 90% of group pictures too weird for the Christmas card. 

Here Enoch looks thrilled to see some of the largest trees on the entire planet. 

Space Needle, face needle. Both sound awful. Who needs it?

Doing whatever I want for a whole afternoon in a groomed park, ugh, why?

Going with the obvious choice in a whole family photo, frown city. 

This was a full-out photo rebellion because his siblings (and a million other tourists who were waiting to take their picture right outside of this photo's frame, while I yelled at my child 100 times to stop whining and have fun already) stole his idea to "hold up" the rock. 

His mom's college campus and where his parents fell in love. Big nope.

Still not stirred. 

Rainbow art installations. Meh. 

And it was cold outside. 

Arches National Park. Got nothing for ya.

Stay tuned for the final version of the card that is probably less stirring than this post but also includes a quote. 

And just once this week, be not stirred in a group picture in honor of Enoch. If we can't preserve any other kind of human decency this week, let's go ahead and take the reins on the right to express our true feelings in group pictures.