Monday, April 28, 2008

2008 Trail Marathon - My First Marathon

Well, I did it. It took me 6 hours 52 minutes and 27 seconds, but I crossed the finish line. I was 6th from last place, but this is a race that I'll be proud of for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I'm hardly able to walk right now and can't even think about running for at least few more days. My legs are totally useless and steps are near impossible. I love it!! :)

Here is the story from beginning to end. I'll try to keep it un-boring (new word), but there is a lot to tell from an experience that I will never forget for as long as I live. Thank you to everybody who believed in me and up yours to all those that didn't think I could do it... Just kidding. :) This race was for me and me only.

The Start
I wanted to start early because I knew that I was going to have a slow race. Unfortunately the 'early start' time was at 7am and I got there at 7:05 am. They wouldn't let me start until the actual start time (7:30 am). My leg was a bit tight from the day before; I did the 5 mile run the day before and it brought back my knee pain (as I suspected it would). I'll post my race report about it later, but for now just know that it flared up my knee injury a bit and I toed the marathon starting line with a slight limp. All of my senses were telling me to cancel this race and focus my training efforts for my race in July... I listened to my heart instead and knew that this was something that I wanted so bad; even if I had to crawl across the finish line.

I knew nothing about what I was getting myself into, so I packed for the worst. I read Ultra Runner magazine and Trail Runner magazine and read all kinds of horror stories about blistered feet, chaifing, soggy socks, electrolyte depletion, "call of nature", etc... I decided to wear a backpack with all the necessities. The backpack proved to be pretty valuable as the race progressed. I packed the everything I thought I might need, like (non-runners, move to the 3rd item) toilet paper, petroleum jelly, travel first aid kit w/ band-aids and Neosporin, my iPod, clean pair of Injinji socks, cell phone, GU gels, electrolyte powders, a few power bars, and 2 extra bottles of water. I'll probably pack a backpack for my next race too because I used it quite a bit.

Mile 1 - 5

I kissed the family and took a deep breath. I knew that I was going to be running through the woods for at least the next 5 hours. I was nervous, excited, tired, and anxious (all at once) when the gun went off. I started my limp-run and pain was shooting from my knee to my hip on some of my landings. I was already wanting to walk the flat sections before the first mile marker but I didn't. If I'd given in at this stage, I knew I'd continue to give in throughout the race. I ran steady for the first 7 miles. The only times that I walked was uphills and that was mainly because all of us runners were crammed onto this narrow footpath through the woods and I had to walk because they were walking too.

There was a lot of conversation going on around me and it was all "runner" talk and I didn't really like it to be honest. There was a group of girls that were behind me talking about their training schedules, their work out regiments, running Boston and it all sounded a little too "loud" to pass as a friendly conversation between 3 girls in a large crowd. I just rolled my eyes and kept pushing along trying to keep to myself. Once I let them pass me, I was able to enjoy the race.

I got involved in a conversation with a group of runners who had all ran the Western States 100. I made it a point to not tell them it was my first marathon for fear of switching the conversation to me and I really didn't want to get any advise or anything; I just wanted to run. It was so fun to just listen to their crazy stories about their experiences. These people are amazing and it was nice to meet a group of humble (yet extreme) runners. They asked me what was in my backpack and I just told them I kept a pizza in there for mile 20. They all got a big kick out of it, so I continued to use it for the rest of the race whenever somebody else asked the same question. I didn't want to tell them what was really in there, as I'm sure it would have generated a different kind of laugh. :)

Mile 6 - 10
Nothing too exciting here. I really just focused on my footing. I noticed a lot of people in front of and behind me were tripping over some of the roots. I kept thinking to myself "why don't they just watch where they're going?". I didn't have any problems with roots up to this point and couldn't believe that some people were tripping over the slightest things on the course. The scenery was absolutely beautiful; spring was in full bloom and it was a blue-sky day today. What started off as a cold morning turned into a very comfortable sunny day (mid 60's) with a slight breeze. My knee was still bothering me, but (whether good or bad) it went totally numb at about mile 10 and didn't bother me for another 12 miles.

Mile 11 - 13.1

It was about this time, when I realized what I had signed up for. I wasn't even at the half way point and my legs were already starting to get sore and my stomach was getting very hungry. I had already burned through my McGriddle breakfast and it was time to tap into my backpack. I knew I was going to be passing the 1/2 way point in about 2 miles, but I needed nourishment before then or else I was going to cramp up and put myself on empty.

Up to this point, I'd been able to bypass all of the aid stations by raising my two water bottles and saying "Thanks, you guys rock!". Unfortunately, when I realized I needed some replenishing, I had just passed an aid station and didn't get any snacks or Ultima, so I got to use my backpack for the first time. Without missing a beat, I took off the backpack and pulled out some GU gels and dumped some electrolyte powders into one of my water bottles before refilling it. This seemed to do it. I slowly came out of my hunger pains and was getting some nourishment back into me.

This section of the course was pretty crowded because the 1/2 marathoners all started about 30 minutes after the full marathoners and they were all flying by one after the other. I think a lot of the elite full marathoners were also finishing their second loops too, as it was about 2 1/2 hours into the race. Basically, everybody was in a huge hurry to get to the finish line except me. :) I noticed that the first few people to pass me were very encouraging and I loved it! They would say things like "good job buddy" or "keep it up, looking great", and then as they began to be more common, some would just yell "LEFT!", and I would move to the right. :)

Mile 13.1 - 15
I crossed the 1/2 way marker at 2 hours 59 minutes and 53 seconds. As I crossed the half way point, I think a lot of people were surprised to see me stay to the left (which indicated I was running the full marathon). I don't look like a distance runner and (up until today) I wasn't. This was my first true test to see if I could do this thing, and I noticed some of the looks when I stayed to the left and kept running. On my way past the finish line, I was able to steal a couple of bagel chunks and water bottles. Once I got back into the woods I stopped and got my iPod out so I could listen to some music, I refilled my water bottles (both with my electrolyte powders) and put some GU gels in my Nathan water bottle pockets for quick access. This whole process took me about 2 minutes, but it paid off; I felt strong once I got moving again and was ready to do my second loop.

Mile 16 - 20
Running felt very comfortable and I was just enjoying my stroll through the woods. The elite runners had all passed me and I found myself on the loop all alone for the most part of the second loop. Every mile at this point was longer than I had ever run before. The longest distance I did before today was 15 miles at Mohican with my running friends back in December. I recall lifting my arms in the air and doing a small celebration chuckle as I passed miles 16, 17, and 18. However, after mile 18 I began counting backwards from 26 instead.

My mind switched from total joy to really focusing on the little elements of pain throughout my body. My neck hurt, my shoulders hurt, my thighs were really hurting and my feet were in a lot of pain as well. I was pretty much a mess at this point, but I kept running.

Mile 21 - 25
My knee pain came back in full force. I literally running on a battered knee and all the numbness that I'd felt up to this point had come back and my body let me know I still had a "knee injury". It didn't stop me though, for I had less than a 10k to go and nothing was going to stop me at this point. Again, I had no shame in crawling if it came down to it. Fortunately, I didn't have to do that and I was able to focus on my other pains to block out the knee pain.

At about the 24 mile marker I passed somebody that wasn't a member of one of the aid stations. It was my first sign of civilization in a long time and we traded words of encouragement. We were both in bad shape at this point, but I was happy to know that I was "running" past somebody who was walking. This felt good to me and helped me put a hop in my jog even after I got out of sight. I was gonna do this; I was hurting really bad, but I realized at this point that I was really gonna do it...

Mile 26 - 26.2
My emotions started to catch up with me at this point. I couldn't believe I actually ran 26 miles through such a tough course. There were so many hills, roots, rocks, fallen logs, etc... and I did it all for 26 miles with no shortcuts. What may seem ordinary to some of my running buddy's was very extra-ordinary for me. I didn't think I was going to be able to do the entire full 26.2 miles as I started off limping at mile 0. I did not want to jeopardize my leg permanently. Luckily my body went numb at mile 10 and stayed numb for the most part of my race. I was going to earn my Trail Marathon Medal and show my girls how tough daddy really was.

The look on my girls faces when I came out of the woods did it for me. I was broken and battered and my legs were totally shredded (it's the only word I can think of to describe that pain), but it all went away when I saw my girls yelling my name. I picked up Daizi and asked Lizzie and Jazzy to cross the finish line with me. It's a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. All of the people had left, there were only about 4 people at the finish line waiting on the last round of runners and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

My girls ran across the finish line with me! They skipped and ran beside me the whole way and was asking all kinds of questions. I answered them and told them how much I missed them all day. They kept reminding me that I was gone a long time. Jazzy said "Daddy, what took you so long?" and Lizzie said "Jazzy, he just ran 26 miles.". The funniest part of that whole little conversation was that the only reason Lizzie knew is because I told her the night before in the tent while Jazzy was sleeping. :) Lizzie doesn't even know what "26 miles" means, but she sure said it like she did. :)

The picture above is from behind, but I can't wait to get my finish line photo (from camera dude on the left) so I can buy it, blow it up, and mount it on my wall for all to see. I'll look at it whenever I feel like I'm having a bad day and it will mean more to me than anyone reading this could ever understand. My girls don't know how awesome it was that they crossed the finish line with me. What was fun for them is a lifelong memory for me.

The Finish
After I crossed the finish line I put down Daizi and walked out into the freezing lake (socks, shoes, and all) and gave my legs a bit of relief while I let all of my emotions go. Jennifer was standing up on the shoreline with the girls and I think she realized what this thing meant to me. I did it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

T Minus Three Days

In 3 days, I'll be running my first marathon up in Pinckney, Michigan. Tyler and I rode the course on our bikes so I know exactly what to expect. I've trained about as well as I can for it considering my slew of injuries this year. I'm pretty excited that it's finally here to say the least!

Jennifer and I are taking the girls up and we'll be enjoying our first family camping trip as a family of 5. We've taken Lizzie and Jazzy camping before down in Georgia, but this will be Daizi's first camping experience sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag. We have all of our bags packed and we are heading out tomorrow night to get setup and checked into the campground. We have a huge 3 room tent that we will be setting up and we're taking all the necessities with us (bikes, food, fishing poles, bug nets, screen room, etc...). We were going to take our canoe with us, but decided that we probably won't have much time to enjoy it, so why bother hauling it up there.

These last 4 - 5 weeks of training have been very hard on me. I've had some major problems with my left knee and it has been very difficult to run on. I found that running on a treadmill helps, but it still causes some pain. On Saturday, I have a 5 mile race and if I notice that my knee is bothering me, I will not hesitate to walk the rest of the course so that I don't ruin my knee for my Sunday 26.2 mile race. The way I look at it is that I'm going into this weekend with 80%, so I need to preserve my knee as much as possible for the grueling Sunday run.

At the end of the weekend, I just want to be able to say that I gave it everything I had while still enjoying a family vacation with my girls. I have a 2 mile trail run scheduled for tonight, just so I can see how hard it will be on me. I figure that if I can make it 2 miles tonight, then what's 6 more miles? Right? 2 + 6 = 26... Once I finish this 31.2 mile weekend, I plan to come back home and start training for my next big race in July. My buddy, Rob (who just kicked ass in Connecticut) is going to help me create a training plan for my Grand Island Trail Marathon in July. My plan for that race is to drop 30 pounds so that I'm in tip-top condition to finish with a respectable PR.

The next time you see me, I'll be an official "Marathoner"... Not only that, I'll be an official "Trail Marathoner", and that sounds a little more bad-ass if you ask me.

New me, here I come...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

MindMapping with MindNode

I was just turned on to a new application (for Macs) that allows you to easily create mind maps; the tool is called MindNode and it's free! They also give away another app called InfiniteCanvas which is very similar to WebCanvas, but oddly deals strictly with comic drawings. Anyway, I thought that MindNode's freeness was worth the post.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Turning 30

Well I turned 30 yesterday and I must say that it was rather easy. :) People built me up over the last few weeks telling me that it's "so hard" to turn 30, but I didn't believe them. All day I kept saying to myself "Dude, you're thirty!" and I think it started setting in later in the day. By the end of the day, I had accepted the fact that I'm one year older to being old. It's amazing how the older you get, the older "old" gets. When I was 18, I thought that 30 was really old. Now that I'm thirty, I think that 60 is really old. Sorry to all my friends that are 60. :) The math is all different though and I'm sure that I'll re-evaluate the definition of "old" when I'm 60...

Anyway, for my birthday I got a lot of really cool stuff. Most of my stuff was things that will support my running addiction. I got a power tower, a hydration back pack, a water bottle (to match my other water bottle), and then a bunch of geeky stuff (4gb flash drive + cool geek shirt + iTunes gift card, etc..). Of course, I got lots of well wishes all day long from all my family members calling me, people at work, and even old friends called to wish me happy birthday. I'm pretty fortunate to say the least.

It goes without saying that I had an amazing birthday. My girls were very excited for the fact that I had a birthday; that made it so much better for me. The fact that they were so excited gave the day a lot more meaning than if I had to have it with no kids. There is a certain element to having a birthday when you are a kid and I got to experience it yesterday with my girls.

So there it is. I'm 30, and damn proud of it! Jennifer thinks I'm more sophisticated, but I think that's her way of saying "I still love you, even though you're old". :) It'll be fun for the next couple of weeks for her I'm sure; anything she can find to make fun of me always makes her smile, which of course is fine by me. At the end of the day, I was really excited for this "milestone" birthday.

I'll close with saying my plan for my 30th year is to run a lot and try to stay young. My new goal is to drop 30 pounds by late July (a pound for each year I guess). I figure if I try to keep my goal a secret, then I'll never drop the weight. However, this way I'm kinda commited to it since everybody (both of you) knows it. You're gonna be seeing a new me this year... Basically, I have to do it because I have 4 big races lined up this year and if I stay at my current fitness level, I'll be a ball of goo after each race. I have a huge race lined up for the end of July and I want to give it my all. My first marathon is 2 weeks away, I've pretty much decided I'm just going to "finish" it; I'm injured, I'm out of shape, and I have no clue what I'm getting myself into. I'll post my results on here of course, so be sure to read that. :) It should be a good one!!

Oh yeah, I just found out today that my good friends Brad and MacKenzie had their baby yesterday and her name is Adeline. How cool is that!? The scary thing is that I think they conceived her while they were camping up on our hill last year! :) Either way, it's cool the way it all worked out and she was born on my 30th birthday. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I can't believe Michael Johns is going home tonight!? He was one of my favorites! I don't think we've seen the last of him, but it sucks that he isn't going to win. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then ignore this post... 

I'm speechless... :(

Mohican Trail Running

A few weeks back, Rob and I did a trail run on the Red Loop at Mohican State Park. I went up to get in a 12 mile run and Rob was there to do 42 miles (aka: a LOT more than me). I followed rob for 6 miles, then turned around. This was a very fun loop. At the 3 mile marker or so, we had to cross the river by balance-walking across a log that fell over the river, just like in the movies. :)

Of course, I took my Garmin 305 and told him I'd post the map of my run to my blog later that day, but never did. Sorry dude, here it is (link) and it even shows the brain fart where I forgot to start the timer when we began:

I'll never forget this run. It was still very cold and there were spots where the snow was sculpted with jagged footprints that had been frozen in time. Basically, it snowed, people walked in it, then it refroze. Rob called this terrain "ankle breakers" and I couldn't agree more. If you read my last post, you'll know that I talked about a knee injury. I think this is the run that caused that injury. My feet were twisting one way and my knees were twisting another. At the time, I didn't feel any pain; it wasn't until a few days later when I ran again that I noticed my knee was starting to hurt.

Anyway, I'm planning to go up to Mohican this weekend to do a 18 miler before tapering next week before my race. If anybody is reading this and wants to get in some miles this weekend, I'd love the company! I'm gonna be doing the Orange Loop again (I loved that course).

Trail Marathon Training

Well, I'm two weeks away from my big race day at the Trail Marathon in Pinckney, Michigan where I'll be running 26.2 miles through some intense terrain. I'm actually very nervous! It doesn't help that I've been fighting an injury the last two weeks and it's got me even more scared. I've basically been injured all of 2008 between my foot, my ankle, and now my knee. Luckily one of my good running buddies, Rob, gave me some great advice on how to get through it. Thanks Rob! I'm gonna take it and do this thing come hell or high water (as they say... exactly who are they anyway?).

A couple of weekends ago, my best bud (Tyler) and I took our bikes up to Pinckney, Michigan and rode around the course Potawatomi Trail where this thing is going to take place.

Tyler and I started out and had a hell of a time even getting started. I had just gotten my bike and thought it would "just work". I was wrong. We ended up killing about 2 hours finding a bike store and getting the tools that we needed to get started. I ended up dropping about $50 into a mini tire pump, a patch kit, and a universal tool for working on bikes. We didn't actually get on the path until about 1:30pm rather than our goal starting time of 11:30am. Oh well...

About 2 miles into the course, we knew we were way in over our heads. We should have just left the bikes at the car and hiked this thing. There was snow everywhere and it was near impossible to ride in many places. Tyler's brakes were busted, so he had no way of stopping on the downhills. Going uphill was next to impossible on our bikes due to the course; so we did a lot of walking while guiding our bikes through the narrow paths. We should've known better; the guy at the bike shop said this was considered a 'black diamond' course for extreme mountain bikers. I didn't really know what that meant at the time... but I do now! If anybody tells you that, reconsider your plans and leave the bike in the car! Unless of course, you are an extreme mountain biker.

About 6 miles into the course, both Tyler and I were physically and emotionally done fighting with these bikes. We both took really hard spills and came away with some nasty bruises and scrapes. Unfortunately, there was no time to lay down and cry about our situation, we just had to get up and crank through the next 7+ miles. The sun was going to be going down in a couple of hours at this point and we needed to make up for some lost time. We were literally on the exact opposite side of the course and there were only two ways back: the way we came or the way we're going. We decided to keep moving forward.

At one point, Tyler was in pretty bad condition due to his nasty falls (he took 3 really bad ones). I actually took both bikes (one in each hand) and told him I'd go ahead of him and push through what I can and wait for him when I get too tired. He agreed that it was the best thing to do since he was having a hard enough time walking without the bike from one of his spills. I took off ahead of him with one bike in each hand and navigated up and down the nasty hills of this trail doing a 'fast walk' or 'slow jog' pace. Needless to say, my shins and calves got tore up. The pedals kept racking them and I have some nasty scratches and purple bruises from them, still today.

The goal of our adventure was to (1) scope out the terrain, (2) get some quality "guy" time, and (3) get a course map on my Garmin. Well, we accomplished all of them! Here is the actual map that was created from our journey (link):

At the end of our voyage, we both agreed that didn't regret doing it the way we did it (with our bikes). We did however, vow to come back and hike it in the near future. Keep in mind that this whole post described one single loop around the path... I'll be doing 2 loops around it on my feet on April 27th. :)

I can't wait!!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Building Connection Strings Visually

Ever run into a situation where you need to generate a connection string for a database and forget how to write them? I know I do. I can pretty much do an Access db connection string in my sleep and also SQL Server connection strings, but anything outside of those, I just guess and have to go to

Well, I'm here to tell you that there is an insanely easy way to get this functionality without an internet connection or deep digging in help files.

  1. Simply right click on your desktop
  2. Choose "New" then click on "Text File".
    This will create a text file on your desktop and allow you to edit the name.

  3. Name the file cheat.udl (the key here is the udl extension).
  4. Now, double click on the file. :)Once you've configured the connection using the dialog, just click OK. Once you're back on your desktop, simply right click on the UDL file and view it in Notepad. You should see the connection string and it's easy to copy / paste it into your code.
OK, I have to give props where props are due; Issam turned me onto that cool trick a few years ago. I always forgot about this trick until I had to build a connection string. Well, now I'm sharing it for all to see. Pretty cool huh?