Bunchgrasser’s World

My unique filter on life

I just registered for my first ultra…

Posted by bunchgrasser on November 5, 2009

Yesterday I registered for my first ultra marathon, the Hagg Lake 50k Trail Run. After about 2 minutes of staring at the email confirmation, fear began to replace the excitement that I was feeling.

The first thought that came to mind was – I just wasted $60. It’s not that running 31 miles around a lake on a muddy trail bothers me. It’s more a question of whether I can make it to race day without any race-stopping over-use injuries. My past history hasn’t been good in this area. I’ve made several race fee donations over the past few years due to injuries. It seems every time I train for a long race (i.e. marathon), I end up with a sore leg or foot that either prevents me from racing, or affects my ability to run well.

I guess I’m one of those runners that doesn’t handle high mileage very well. It’s unfortunate because my attitude and psyche are both perfectly suited for long, endurance runs. I just need to get the muscles & tendons on board and I’ll be ready to kick some ultra ass!

I’m currently nursing a sore Achilles tendon which has been an on-again, off-again problem for me this year. Not sure how to get rid of it other than just stop running for a long period of time. I actually did that (2 months), but it came back again. I’m trying to approach this problem in a smart, realistic way – but the bottom line is that I need lots of miles to be ready for an ultra. My fingers are crossed..


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Black toenails again…

Posted by bunchgrasser on October 29, 2009

I’m currently sporting two black toenails again (courtesy of my last marathon in early October). I realize I’m not alone in the running world when it comes to this particular affliction. Judging by the many, many questions about it that I saw on various forums and websites – it seems to be a common problem.

I was actually searching online for ways to prevent black toenails, but every site seemed to mention the same things over and over again: buy your running shoes a size larger to prevent your toe from hitting the end of your shoe, tie your laces tight to keep your foot from slipping forward, etc. These suggestions are certainly good advice – but I’ve been doing them for several years and they haven’t prevented my black toenails at all. So, I’m left wondering…what am I doing wrong?

I’ve tried all kinds of preventative measures, to no avail. Taping my toes, thin socks, thick socks, two pairs of socks, massive amounts of Vaseline or BodyGlide. But alas, so far – no relief. I’ve also consciously monitored my toes while running to make sure they are not hitting the top of my shoes (they aren’t).

My latest idea was silicon toe caps, which seemed like a surefire winner. And, I believe wearing toe caps on each of my big toes would have solved my problem, except for one small issue…once my feet became warm and moist from running, the (now sweaty) toe caps just slid off the end of my toes and formed a lump in the ends of my socks. I tested these toe caps on two separate runs (different days). Regrettably, both toe caps slipped off of my toes between mile 4 and mile 5 on both days. I suppose I could try taping the toe cap to my toe – but I’m not too excited about that. At some point, the preparation time and effort of going for a long run becomes too much of a hassle. I’m deeply envious of those who just throw on some shoes and go for a run.

For lack of a real solution to this problem, I’m starting to resign myself to the idea of revolving, colorful toenails. Maybe I’ll paint them over with black toenail polish (midlife crisis?), or have the nails permanently removed (seems a little harsh). I guess there is always the “badge of honor” thing. If anyone has solved this problem or has any (new)  suggestions please feel free to comment.


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Yes, I (kind of) ran the 2009 Portland Marathon

Posted by bunchgrasser on October 14, 2009

I’ve been avoiding this post for more than a week now. Not sure why – but most likely because there is little positive to say about it. The net-net is that after training for the Portland Marathon for many months I suffered a weird injury in my left calf muscle around the first week of July.

I’m still not certain if it was a calf muscle tear or an Achilles tendon problem. The actual spot was not right above my heel, but further up where the tendon spreads out and attaches to calf muscle. I’m equally perplexed as to how I got the injury in the first place. Although I did increase my mileage enough to warrant this type of response. I was also doing some trail running at the time which could have been the culprit.

Regardless of the cause, I was smart enough to stop all training in order to fully recover. It would be about 2.5 months later that I started easing back into a few miles here and there, which brings me back to the marathon. I had completely decided against running the marathon for obvious reasons (little/no training) during the 3 months prior to race day. Actually, I did run the Timberline Trail Half Marathon on September 14th as kind of a “test run”. That went ok, but it was clear that my body was not at all ready for 26 miles.

As fate would have it, my daughter’s soccer team volunteered at the Portland Marathon expo the day before the race, so I offered to drive her there for her “shift”. I figured that I would pick up my packet and browse through the expo for any cool running goodies or gadgets.

However, once I had my race bib in-hand, cruel forces began to conspire against me and my decision to sit this one out. I began to think how bummed I would be if I missed even one year of the Portland Marathon. I envisioned how much fun it would be running past the thousands of spectators, cheering and yelling my name…Go Danny! Looking good! And, finally I started rationalizing just how far 26.2 miles could possibly be. Heck, I could just run most of the race and then finish the remainder by walking! There’s no reason to skip this race at all! I mean, how bad could it possibly be???

Well, as you can probably surmise…I now know exactly how bad it could possibly be. And, yes it was that bad. For the record, I did finish the race in under 5 hours…but not by much. In fact, my splits were pretty good up until about mile 16-17. But crossing the St Johns bridge seemed to be a turning point for me, as both calf muscles started to cramp simultaneously. I pushed on a little further, but by the time I hit mile 19 the wheels fell completely off and my lower legs were in full-on mutiny. The calf cramps were severe which made running impossible and even walking seemed like too much to ask.

Needless to say, I found myself in a difficult situation with 7 miles left and no real ability to get there under my own power. I attempted to stretch out my calf muscles several times and continued to walk, hoping that eventually my condition would improve. Over the next 3-4 miles I tried running (slowly) a few times but couldn’t keep the cramping at bay. It felt so strange to be walking the course rather than running. I noticed things that I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed if I had been running. For example, I saw several groups of people along Willamette Blvd that were seriously partying. I’m not sure if they realized there was a marathon going on right next to them. I noted that people don’t cheer for the walkers much, other than an occasional, quietly-spoken “good job”. I also now realize that walkers aren’t a very exciting target for race photographers.

Well, not to belabor this any further…once I hit the long downhill section starting at the Adidas HQ I was able to manage a slow jog (mostly gravity I think). I eventually made it across the bridge and with an alternating run/walk strategy pushed myself up Naito Pkwy to the turn at Salmon and across the finish line.

I accepted my foil blanket and finishers medal, then stumbled through the food section – carefully avoiding the chocolate milk that didn’t sit well in my stomach last year. Bananas and fritos chips tasted good this year. I picked up my shirt, skipped the photo and did the zombie-walk through the cordoned-off section to the reunion area. Life would have been good had there been someone waiting to whisk me away to a hot shower and soft bed, however I spent the next 20 minutes walking the 6-8 blocks to where my car was parked in a garage. To make matters worse, I wasn’t quite certain where my car was and actually had to circle a few blocks before finally locating it.

I’m tempted to say…”let this be a lesson of what not to do”. But in reality even though it was ugly (well, actually very ugly), there was something that I truly enjoyed about the experience and I think it was pushing myself well past my “perceived” physical limit. It was ignoring the warning signals my brain was voicing loudly. It was venturing ever-so-slightly into that uncharted territory of the unknown, wondering just exactly what would happen if I just kept going. I think we could all benefit from pushing ourselves beyond our fears and our own limitations. It reminds me of a quote I jotted down some time ago:

“Few of us know what we are capable of doing… we have never pushed ourselves hard enough to find out.” -Alfred A Montepert


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Running the 2009 Timberline Half Marathon

Posted by bunchgrasser on September 23, 2009

Mt_Hood_Timothy_ LakeKirsten and I ran the Timberline Half Marathon last Sunday and we both had a blast. It was Kirsten’s first half marathon and my first trail half marathon. The course took us on a beautiful loop around Timothy Lake that was mostly technical single track but opened up to dirt access roads in places. We also ran directly through several of the campgrounds around the lake.

The weather ended up being perfect with blue skies and plenty of sun. Although the majority of the trail was deep in the trees so we stayed pretty cool. Kirsten and I ran together the entire race, except once when we were separated accidently. I stopped to chat with a friend at the first aid station around mile 7 and she went on. The idea was that I would catch up, but she mistakenly followed a couple of ladies down a wrong trail and I ended up passing by her. I ran (really) hard for 2-3 miles and never caught up to her, so I eventually determined that she had to be behind me. I waited at the next aid station and she came cruising in a few minutes later. I was guzzling Powerade and nursing a bee sting. The yellowjackets were numerous and fierce on the trail.

As we neared the finish line we could hear people cheering and the announcer’s PA. Kirsten and I both raced the last 1/4 mile and crossed the finish line strong. I immediately started looking for any kind of food as I was starving. A couple of bags of salty chips and a cereal bar helped. We retrieved our shirts and finishers medals and headed to the car to relax a bit before heading back home.

Kirsten handled her first half marathon very well and I’m so proud of her. Before the race her previous longest run had been only 10 miles – so this race really pushed well beyond that distance. The actual distance of this race was more than 14 miles. It was also a pretty technical trail with lots of rocks, root and hills.

Personally, I loved it and can’t wait to do my next trail race. I’m hoping to do my first ultra in 2010 and this was a good starter. I’ll be looking for a 50k trail race someday soon I hope.


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2009 Pints to Pasta 10k

Posted by bunchgrasser on September 14, 2009

I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to register and run the 2009 Pints to Pasta 10k on Sunday. My wife and daughter were already signed up, and when we picked up their packets I got caught up in the excitement and had to register myself.

I had planned to skip this race because my calf muscle/achilles tendon injury is still not quite healed. However, I’ve done a couple of short test runs this past week and with an easy pace my leg didn’t seem to hurt. I needed a test race to see how my leg would hold up in a competitive situation.

We parked near the Old Spaghetti Factory and took the shuttle (school) bus to the start line at the Adidas HQ on North Greeley. We got there pretty early so we had plenty of time to stretch, use the bathroom and contemplate the race. The first mile was all downhill, and against better judgment I took advantage of the free speed. Over the next 3-4 miles I settled into an easy pace and tried to monitor my left leg for any sign of trouble. Happily, it felt great the entire race. My cardio fitness level however had fallen off dramatically due to not running for almost 2 full months. Needless to say, my pace was not very impressive. I finished in 53:02 (8:32 pace) which put me 49/98 for my age group (366/790 for all men).

My wife and daughter both finished their first 10k race in just over an hour. I think they both enjoyed it and hopefully this is the first of many races that we will run as a family. I’m still working on getting my son to join us.

Big thanks to Dave & Paula Harkin at Portland Running for putting on another great race!

2009 Pints to Pasta 10k Results are posted here.


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I really, really want to run an ultramarathon…

Posted by bunchgrasser on September 9, 2009

I’m giving my wife (and extended family) yet another reason to think this 43 year old desk jockey has lost his mind. Last year, after completing my first (and only) marathon I decided that I really liked running long distances. Never mind that every time I build up my mileage I seem to injure myself. Knee pain, plantar fascitis, achilles tendonosis, sore this and sore that. Whatever. I’m taking it all in stride though because I know getting stronger takes time and patience. Did I mention that I’m very, very persistent?

For many months now I’ve secretly been watching (lurking?) and reading about trailrunning and ultramarathons. I didn’t know much about ultras, so I ordered some books from Amazon.com, I subscribed to a couple of magazines and currently I spend seemingly every spare moment reading any trailrunning or ultra-related blog site. Heck, I feel like I already know elite runners like Scott Jurek, Sean Meissner, Hal Koerner,  yet I’ve never actually met them (yet). They and many others have inspired me in ways I may never fully comprehend.

I have a history of deep-diving into whatever activity occupies my mind at a given time. And yes, my obsession knows very few boundaries.  Not only am I deeply envious of all those who have completed an ultra, but I had my “aha!” moment and realized that ultras are my perfect event. Clearly I’ll never set any speed records running half marathons or marathons. Not to mention I much prefer the natural scenery and mind-enriching trail environment over paved streets any day. The slower pace and focus on simply finishing a challenging ultra course really appeals to me. I’ve also read many times that the close-knit ultra community is like an extended family. Cool… 

Yes, like many before me – I’ve stumbled onto something that I believe will enrich my life in many ways. I sit here in my office chair – dreaming about crossing the finish line of my first ultramarathon. I feel a wave of emotion fill me up just thinking about it. I’m pretty sure I’ll cry like a baby when it happens. Yes, I’m certain of it…

Someday soon…

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Doing the Timberline Half Marathon

Posted by bunchgrasser on August 19, 2009

I registered Kirsten and I for the Timberline Half Marathon on September 20th. It will be our first trail half marathon and given the setting should be an amazing experience. I’ve finished several half marathons but all have been on pavement. I’m truly looking forward to a loop around Timothy Lake. Hopefully my leg will be feeling better by race day…


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Still on the bench…

Posted by bunchgrasser on August 18, 2009

I’m in my 4th week of R&R and I’m getting really, really anxious to run again. The first couple of weeks were the most difficult but I’m slightly more at ease with my current reality. Deep down I know it would be wrong to put the shoes back on before I’m completely healed up. That is the strategy I used to use and it never worked out very well for me. I’m somewhat impatient and its just that I don’t know how much longer the healing process will take. Come on already…!

I’m not entirely sure what my problem is because I haven’t seen a doctor about it. I’m pretty sure it is either achilles tendonitis, or possibly a bad muscle tear in my left calf muscle. I have some pain and stiffness (especially in the morning right when I get out of bed) about 2-4 inches above my heel. I also have extremely sore muscles going in a vertical line all the way up my calf almost to the back of my knee. The deeper I push with my thumb the more tender it is. I first thought I had multiple muscle tears, but it seems more logical that the upper muscle soreness is caused by those muscles attempting to cover for the injured muscle/tendon lower down.

At this point the soreness in in my upper calf has decreased and (I hope) is almost healed. However I still have a ways to go with the lower area pain. If it is an achilles tendon problem – I’m guessing it will be awhile longer before I can run on it. I’ve read that achilles tendon problems are notoriously slow to heal.

Meanwhile, I daydream about running my favorite trail in Forest park and look forward to restarting my training for the Portland Marathon, and hopefully my first 50K or 50 miler someday soon. I’ve been adding equipment to my garage gym and my latest acquisition was a nice bike trainer. I’ve been able to put in some nice 30-40 minute rides that don’t seem to bother my sore calf. I’ve also been hitting the weights and various other strengthening exercises (pullups, pushups, situps, air squats, etc).

With the Portland Marathon coming up on October 5th – I’m not certain of my status for that race. It is clear that I won’t be prepared to go for a PR, but the question of whether I’ll be suitably trained enough to run it at all is unclear. Bummer days…

Wish me luck…

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I’m a proud owner of Vibram Five Finger KSO’s

Posted by bunchgrasser on August 14, 2009

Following on my earlier post about Vibram Five Finger shoes, I finally purchased my very own pair. Ok, part of the delay was my own procrastination, but once I decided to actually buy a pair I found it very difficult to do so. I live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon which is a very outdoor-adventure kind of city, so you would think a number of local stores would stock these shoes. And you would be wrong…

The unique design of these shoes convinced me that trying them on first would be a good idea. So, I made a trip to my local REI store and learned that they didn’t have any in stock. I checked around with other stores and received the same answer. I checked the Vibram website (which did list REI as a supplier) and found only two other stores in Oregon that carried the shoe. Unfortunately one store, Foot Zone was in Bend (3.5 hours away) and the other, Kayak Shed was in Hood River (less than 2 hours away).

Well, it just so happened that we decided to spend a weekend in Hood River for some hiking on Mt Hood this past weekend. Being the opportunist that I am, I factored in a side trip to the Kayak Shed to try on Five Fingers shoes. The folks at Kayak Shed were very helpful and I found the pair that suited my needs for fit/function (black KSO’s).

I’ve worn them a few times around the house – but I’m looking forward to some outside time to see how my feet and leg muscles handle the relative lack of structure and padding. They feel absolutely wonderful on – kind of like each toe is wrapped in a mini-hammock. Also, it goes without saying that I’ve gotten some snide comments from family members on the looks. I’ve started calling them my “monkey shoes” but we’ll see what name sticks.

Stay tuned for a follow up post later on…

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Bunchgrasser’s quote of the day

Posted by bunchgrasser on August 14, 2009

“All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”

– James Thurber

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