31 May 2012

Race Report Writing: The Story of the Race

After the Build Up (part 1), you now have your audience just where you want them, willing to accept almost anything you write as fact and sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to learn how you overcame harsh weather, wild animal attacks, and fierce competition comprised of probably the best athletes in the world.  Or, they're just reading further in the hopes that you fell off a cliff and are now flying piecemeal in the bellies of several vultures.  Either way, you have to give the performance of your life over the next few paragraphs that make up the bulk of your race report:  The Race itself - part 2 of How to Write An Amazing Race Report.

And they're off!  "I woke up for this?"
I try to get the start of the race over with right away.  Not many people want to bother reading boring shit about standing around in the dark, freezing your ass off while feeling like you could have nervous explosive diarrhea at any second.  So I usually just say something like, "The RD got us started."  Pretty intense, I know, but let's be honest, unless it's a highly competitive 5k that starts ten feet away from a narrow single track that forces everyone to claw their neighbor's eyeballs out to get to the trail first, starts are fairly boring.  And 100 milers?  Yeah, watch those electrifying starts if you run out of sleeping pills.  A bunch of white, hairy legs (unless Anton happens to ever race again) shuffling along at shopping mall speed-walking pace.

In fact, for 100 mile reports, unless something cool happens like your shoe falls apart or you fall in a lake, there really isn't much action.  I typically just say, I eased into a good pace (plodding) and focused on hydration and fuel (drank and ate).  Using words like "focused", "hydration", "fuel" make it sound more race-like when all you're really doing is trying not to be a newbie-looking moron running 7 min pace in the first 2% of a 100 mile event.

"Goddamn, my feet hurt.  And I haven't seen another runner in 14 hours."
By mile 35 (or about 1/3 into your race), things pick up a bit because pain begins to emerge.  And, of course, we all love to see suffering.  This is where you can break out your thesaurus and flower up the descriptions of your maladies (I looked up maladies).  Your feet are going to be hurting by now.  You just spent 6-7 or more hours on them, so, big surprise there.  Saying, "my feet hurt" sounds like a whiny little girl.  Saying, "Suddenly, it felt as though Thor himself was thundering away with his hammer on the bones of my tumescent (thesaurus) feet!"  Anyone reading that would say, "Hell yeah, the dude had a God beating him to death."  Also, I used an exclamation point there.  You might assume that exclamation points are the way to go in race reports, you know! to express how awesome you and the race are!!!  No.  It just ends up sounding like an old man yelling at your readers after about 3,000 "!"s, so just play it cool and throw one in once in a while just to keep people awake.

Competition is always a great topic.  Unfortunately, I run a lot of races with like 13 people running and spread out like three national park rangers at Yosemite.  Justification for talking about competition is easy to find, though.  For instance, in the entrants list on Ultrasignup, if there are any people within 10% of your performance score, then he/she qualifies as "stiff competition".  For instance, my current score is 88.6%.  If I see the lady below me on the list has a score of 85%, I can deem her "near-elite", even if she only ran two 8 mile trail races in Owasso Michigan to get that score.

If you're lucky enough to actually see another runner during the race, then you have the makings of a tight race.  "I glanced over my shoulder at mile 82 and saw Mildred breathing down my neck.  She looked strong."  Never mind that you saw her two canyons and about 3 miles away from you and that she was lying next to the trail apparently not moving.  You had to put the hammer down to put distance on her late charge.  Whatever.  Making shit up is ok, too.  Look at Amy Sproston, World Champion 100k this year.  People made it sound like she had her legs chopped off and sewn back on the night before the race.  She had a blood clot that got fixed like 90 years before the race and was training like 220 miles a week, lapping Hal Koerner on mountains up in the Northwest somewhere.  The point is that she got street cred that was a 10x cooler than the truth.  She also obviously read part 1 (The Build Up) of my report because she got other people to say the cool stuff about her.

The finish, especially of a 100 miler, is about as dramatic as a pair of socks.  If you're lucky enough to even be walking, then you can find ways to make it sound heroic.  Getting lost is good for a couple purposes.  One, suddenly there's a chance you may die of dehydration or starve.  Two, you just added 10 miles (always double whatever distance you actually covered while lost) to your already inhumane race, making you seem almost like a robot that doesn't bend (or cry) like a real human.

"Hey, look at me you two people, I just ran 100 miles."
If the Race Director is even awake (if it's Leland Barker at the Bear 100, chances are that he isn't), throw him your camera and tell him to just keep taking photos until you tell him to stop.  This is your chance to muster all seven calories you have left in your body and break into a 14 minute per mile sprint, gel wrappers flying out of your pockets, tears streaming, dried poop on the inside of your legs, while you cross the finish line.  Make sure you delete the photos of you crumpled to the ground with a pool of your own vomit around your head like some homeless angel halo.

Next:  The Conclusion (thanking every person in your life you've ever met or seen on TV).

25 May 2012

How to Write An Amazing Race Report - The Build Up

The Build Up.  Me on an exposed wall at 14k ft.  I do epic shit.
If you haven't read the intro to writing an amazing race report, do it HERE.

You've just run an epic race, whether it be a half marathon in a local park or an ultramarathon in a place so remote that the pre-race briefing included costs involved in search and rescue operations.  You planned, trained, worried, talked about it until friends' ears bled, then lined up and did it or, maybe, didn't get it done.  Either way, it was an adventure and you need to do something to capture the details before they are diluted by the thin liquid of daily life.

If you ain't so good at writing but good (and prolific) with a camera, you could put together a photo album of the race and call it a day.  Photos say a lot but only you can personally and completely express how you felt during your race and words are the way, my friend.

It's not difficult.  You have the hardest part out of the way: the experience itself.  You simply need to lay it out in a somewhat organized and hopefully entertaining way.  Even if it's not that entertaining, you'll at least be able to go back to re-read it and relive the experience.  It's more fun to make it entertaining, though.  Here's how to do it.

1.  The build up.
I like to use snippets from conversations with others about the race or quotes from emails, race reports, and/or the event website.  This is the first opportunity to make people aware how difficult the race is and how your level of awesomeness for taking on such an impossible task is off the human charts.  It's also the first chance you get to slip in a little sandbagging.  I like to use, "My training wasn't great."  This phrase is so vague that it could mean you've only been running 98 miles a week instead of 100, or that you've been eating 98 delicious cream filled Twinkies a week and running 20 miles.  Either way, the purpose is to soften the reader's expectations of your pre-set abilities going into your epic race.  Here's an example:

"In the weeks leading up to the race my training was lackluster and I missed some sleep.  I felt ok but something was missing."

Read in context with preparation and build up to your race, those sentences blend in and subconsciously set the reader up beautifully for either a triumphant or disastrous outcome.  "Man, he killed that race even though his training was lackluster and didn't get much sleep!" or "Well, of course he had a bad race.  His training was lackluster and probably didn't sleep since January."

Ok, let's dissect that phrase.  "In the weeks leading up to the race my training was lackluster (lackluster?  what are we, like 90 years old - who talks like that?  What is lackluster?) and I missed some sleep (like entire weeks of sleep or 15 mins one morning when the garbage truck woke you?).  I felt ok but something was missing (WTF? something was missing, like a lung or your car keys?)."  

The beauty is that it's so vague you can twist it's meaning when questioned post race.

Another key during the build up is making sure people understand that you're probably the only human who's badass enough to undertake such epic shit like this race.  Any cool race has warnings; these are great to add to your build up.  Here's one (of many) taken from the awesome Hardrock Runner's Handbook:

"The weather is a dominant factor for this run and can be at least as formidable as the terrain, remoteness, or high altitude. It is our general opinion that the first fatality we may have will be either from hypothermia or lightning! We would rather that there never be a fatality, and so we will continually be giving you warnings, cautions, updates, and suggestions regarding the exposure you must face when attempting this run."

They all usually have warnings about wildlife encounters (more frequent than you might imagine), like bears, mountain lions, elk, buffalo, snakes, and other scary stuff (wait 'til you see the reflection of eyes in the woods on your first night run in the wild…).

Quotes from friends warning you of imminent death are great.  Here are just a few from my Hardrock Race Report last year:

"Be careful crossing above the waterfall, it's a fatal spot."  -Karl Meltzer

"Watch out for cliffs on the left.  Fatal spot again."  -Karl Meltzer

"There is always one more climb.  You will feel the worst when you are high on the passes so get off of them quickly, your condition will return to good quickly.  I know this.  I have sat there on the passes with death coming soon but just know it will be a matter of minutes before you feel better if you get down."  -Scott Jaime

"Virginius Pass, go across the Talus slope and pick up the route through the notch, it is steep, slippery, brutal."  -Karl Meltzer

How great are those!?  Other guys telling your readers how badass you are for even thinking about doing this death defying event.  It serves a couple purposes.  It validates the difficulty and your bravery and it bolsters the sandbagging/excuses angle, sort of an ancillary benefit.

The rest of the build up varies in depth.  This is where you write about the details of preparation.  Write about some big training runs, about family and friends sacrificing for your self-centered venture, lists of every item you packed in drop bags, what you plan to start with, what the weather was like, things like that.  Over time, I've gone from long lists of things I "need" for races to now when I basically make sure my privates are covered and I have some water.

Next up:  The race itself…

24 May 2012

The Art of the Race Report

Over the years I've blogged about several things, a lot about running, but also a lot about other topics in daily life (some a bit too personal and thus pinched from public view after a scant few hours).  Seriously, though, how many times can one write about the eight mile run he does routinely without lulling even himself into a deep sleep?

This is where the humble race report shuffles out onto the stage from behind the black velvet curtain and shyly acknowledges the audience of blog readers who've grown accustom to following varying levels of blog reading etiquette and mores.  They question ideas when appropriate, plump up the original context with their own comments, and often rally to the defense of notions and even other people whom they will likely never meet in real life.  The diversity and anonymity of the blog reader is not always for the thin skinned.  But the race report seems to bring readers together in a like-minded circle of campfire warmth to share in the recount of self imposed race struggles.

Our friend, the race report, serves as reporter, lamenter, cheerleader, and historical reference.  Races are unique, even the same event from year to year is unique.  Players change, crowds grow, the venue morphs.  And yet they are similar.

Other than the bib number, medal, or belt buckle (if you're nutty enough to finish a 100 miler), the only thing that stands as a tangible reminder of the event is the race report, so respect and effort must be given to produce the best place holder possible of your great achievement, or, unfortunately sometimes, your suffering defeat.

So, what exactly makes a great race report, well, great?

For me, the prospect of death or at least scary close encounters with death seem to evoke the most memorable and lucid writing from me.  There isn't a lot of intrigue in the local trail half marathon just a mile from a large city, aid stations every 3 miles, and spectators at several trail intersections.  However, consider a tough, remote mountainous 100 miler and now you've got a good shot at finding a way to kill yourself, or at least suffer tremendously, and terrific fodder for your race report.  Other situations that virtually guarantee a good report are a competitive race to the finish, wardrobe malfunction, wildlife encounters, and crapping your pants.  I'm not saying you can't create a great race report on a shorter local event, you can.  It just takes more work to squeeze the interesting parts (i.e. fabricate) from the experience.

There are varying approaches to the race report.  Gary Robbins is adept at the humorous report, typically in a humbling, self-deprecating way.  Geoff Roes lays it out in a realistic, journalist manner, leaving you knowledgable about the mundane facts of the race as he experienced it.  Some reports are so overly detailed (dragged out) that you wonder how the person ever made to the start line after exhausting himself in the pre-race preparations, while others seem to be written by a half-witted sloth - "I tied my shoes and ran.  The end."

The astute reader will eventually see patterns to all race reports.  There are ingredients that have become  fundamental.  Some of these include sandbagging, excuses (Major = I got hit by a bus walking to packet pick up.  Minor = my iPod broke half way through "It's Raining Men"), pre-race bowel movement details, running out of water, feet hurting, trouble with pre-race sleep, etc.

In part 1 of this post, I'll layout my guide to writing a good an amazing race report.
Part 1 - The Build Up

07 May 2012

Miwok 100k Race Report

My amazing crew, Lauri Abrahamsen and Karen Peterson
My training has been mediocre for the last couple of months with milage in the 40s per week, albeit with a lot of quality climbing and strength.  I've been relying on heavy racing to keep me in somewhat acceptable shape.  I had just run the Diablo 50k two weeks previous and didn't feel all that great over the last couple miles, so I was lacking confidence in the outcome of trying to double that effort.

Kara Teklinski is running the Zion 100 next week, so she offered her sweet place in Mill Valley to me to stay at for the race.  Dave Mackey stayed over too; he finally admitted to me that he was racing Miwok on Friday.  We got up at 3am and I arrived at the start just 15 mins before gun time.  It was a little hectic trying to get my bib in the LONG line at check in but I made it to the start with one minute to spare. 

We were off and running through the dark streets of Stinson, heading to the trailhead of Willow Camp and the 1,800 ft climb in the first two miles.  I settled into around 12th-15th place and alternated between running and fast hiking the steepest sections, making our way over to the Coastal Trail of lumpy, off camber single track.  It's my least favorite part of the race with hip-high weeds bending over the narrow, gutter-like trail, making it impossible to see where you're stepping.  I rolled my ankles every quarter mile until we finally reached the wooded single track leading to the first aid station at Bolinas/Fairfax Rd.

The next section of Bolinas Ridge offered up views of the deep orange sunrise that make me say to myself, "This is why I do this."  I focused on managing my pace and taking inventory on how I felt.  I concluded that I was feeling pretty dull with low energy but otherwise fine.

Returning from Randall aid station.  Photo Tanford
My crew of Lauri and Karen were to first meet me at Randall aid station at mile 12.6.  I switched my bottle out with them and was on my way back.  After hitting Bolinas again (mile 19.5), Kevin Rumon caught up to me and I couldn't match his pace for long.  I was into my first bad patch that lasted 3 miles, so I just focused on moving as quickly as possible and not being a pansy.  Once I hit the top of the descent of Matt Davis Trail, I was feeling better and bombed the descent into the Stinson Beach Fire Department aid station at mile 26.2, 4:03 into the race and in 20th place.  I saw and said hi to Gary Gellin and hit the trailhead leading up and over to Muir Beach.  

I hit the 50k mark at 4:58 and shortly thereafter arrived at Muir Beach where my pit crew traded bottles with me and I was on my way out and over to Tennessee Valley.

At Tennesse Valley (mile 38+) I told Lauri and Karen that this is where my race starts.  I passed Kevin Rumon while he lingered in the aid station and began the climb up Marincello to Bobcat.  Kevin caught up to me and we shared the trail for probably 30 mins.  The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding valleys along the CSA trail are stunning.  About a mile out from Rodeo Valley aid station I gapped Kevin and caught a runner up ahead.  At the aid station, Todd Shipman refilled my bottle and gave me some good info that Topher Gaylord and another runner (Owen Bradley) were just mins in front of me.  I bolted out of there and bombed the descent, finally catching Topher and Owen just before crossing the road leading to Rodeo Beach.

When I reached the sand of Rodeo beach I glanced back and saw I had a 2-3 min gap, so I hammered the beach and road section leading to the next climb.  Once I reached the top of Wolfe Ridge and Miwok, I looked down to see no other runners for a LONG way down.  I dropped off the other side onto Old Springs trail and ran as hard as I could on the long descent to Tennessee Valley.  

At TV, Lauri said I had moved up substantially and others in front of me "look bad".  That info was confirmed by a photographer at about mile 52, who told me I was in 12th place.  This section of the Coastal trail around Pirates Cove along the cliffs of the ocean are among my favorite in NorCal.

Photo Peter Beck
My gut was all bloated from sloshing water and gels - big pot belly!  Photo Peter Beck
Reaching Muir Beach, I switched out my bottle and thanked Lauri and Karen, knowing I wouldn't see them until I was finished.  Top 10 was all I could think about and I ran harder than I think I've pushed in a race in a long time.

I caught a glimpse of Jonathan Gunderson and his pacer up around the next turn on the Redwood Creek Trail, so I ate a gel, took a big drink and turned the screws tighter.  I made the point to go by them as quickly as possible, so there'd be little chance of them jumping on.  Once the adrenaline of passing them wore off, I had to focus on keeping a strong pace.  

After the disgusting last long climb of 1,400 feet in three miles I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Jean Pommier about 600 meters in front of me.  Knowing what a fierce competitor he is, I thought it would be a big struggle to catch him but it was only a matter of 5 mins before I came up behind him in a full sprint.  He graciously hopped off the trail to allow me to pass.  I didn't bother looking back and just hammered the descent down the Dipsea trail.  I was now in 10th and wanting the finish line.

With just under a half mile to go, I saw Kevin Shilling pretty far ahead.  I ran hard enough to where my vision narrowed with stars filtering around the edges, trying to catch Kevin but the lead was too great and he crossed 35 seconds in front of me for 9th.  Patrick McKenna took a short video of my finish.  It's on my FB page.

Afterwards, I hung out with Lauri and Karen, ate some good food, and basically really enjoyed chatting with the other runners for a couple hours.  The new Miwok course is a MONSTER.  It came in at nearly 13,000 feet of climb and 63.6 miles long.  It did serve to give me a huge (and much needed) confidence boost for San Diego 100 in 4.5 weeks.  Tia Bodington and all the people involved with Miwok do a tremendous job with it.  I'm very appreciative to be able to run such a great event.  

Lauri and Karen were simply amazing.  They did everything perfectly, not pushy but efficient and, most of all, incredibly motivating.  I always felt a big smile inside when I would see them as I approached each aid station.  After taking care of me all day long, they volunteered as sweepers, working to clean up the Miwok course late into the evening.  I owe my whole race to them and feel incredibly grateful to be able to call them my friends.

AND, they took care of Pippit all day!!