Joshua Ebert

Trail Runner | Misadventurist | Storyteller

Category: Running

It’s Been Awhile

It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog and a lot of that has to do with my injury. I broke my big toe in the beginning of the summer, which sidelined several of my plans. It prevented me from running for about 6-weeks, during which I gained a lot of weight. Nobody had told my appetite that I had stopped running. Now I am locked into a battle with weight loss.

So let me recap my summer:

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We first met in Italy, you were in your second incarnation as the SpeedCross 2’s, and I was a budding half-marathoner. I fell in love with your aggressive outsoles and rugged rubberized lugs. You were the perfect temptation for someone with trail runner aspirations. I bought you even though you were a half size too small. I crammed my feet into you and loved you anyways.

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Together we toured Italy, ran a race in Davos, Switzerland, and then tackled the rugged mountains of West Virginia. Even though you were too small I was happy with your performance. I converted to your brand and then I started experimenting with the rest of your Salomon family. There were packs, shorts, t-shirts, and more shoes. For over five years we’ve had an on and off relationship, sometimes I saw other shoes, but I always kept a special place in my heart for you.

Then you reinvented yourself as the SpeedCross 3, a lighter, new and improved version of your old self. I was over the moon and did not think things could get better. I continued to order you as I spent at minimum 500-miles with each pair of you. You carried me through my first ultra marathon, the Triple Lakes 40-miler. You were part of every ultra I ran after that. Frozen Sasquatch twice, Leatherwood Ultra 50-miler, Uwharrie Mountain Run 40-miler twice, and most recently the entire Mountain-to-Sea Trail (MST) 50k.

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It was during the MST that I started to think about our relationship. It’s not you it’s me. For these past 6-years, I have been making myself fit into you. This is not how a relationship with a shoe is supposed to work! You are supposed to fit me.

I found my feet hurting a lot, more than I think they should during an ultra, so I started to question if you were actually right for me. Yes, my feet will always hurt, but maybe another shoe would make the hurt less. I’m not mad. I just think it is the time that we both move on.

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My last pair of you is circling the 500-mile mark and I do not think I am going to reorder you. To be honest I’ve already started looking around to see what my options are.

I want you to know I will not badmouth you to my friends or other runners I meet. I will just say that we both moved on. It will be difficult at first because for so long I’ve told people I’m a SpeedCross guy. It will be a major change of my identity. No longer will I be Josh the SpeedCross runner. It will be hard because I would always tell people there were no better shoes, and to me, this was true because I did not stray much from you.

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Going forward I will be judging all future shoes by your technical capabilities. I just need to find a pair that fits me better. I hope it will not be awkward when we see each other at races or REI.

Thank your for all the miles and adventures but I must look out for my feet.

P.S. I hope you do not mind but I plan to still see your sister, Sense Mantra. She will never replace you, but she is great for an easy jaunt.

Race Report: The Mountain-to-Sea Trail 50k

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This race will go down as my worst race so far because of the choices I made leading up to it. First, I picked up some sort of bug that knocked me down for a few days and left me with a persistent cough making it challenging to breath while running. This caused me to barely do any running for the three weeks prior to race day. Second, I attended the Beer and Bacon Festival the day before the race. While I promised myself I would practice moderation going into the event, the reality of a festival filled with great tasting beverages and bacon proved to be a mighty temptress. Lastly, I decided to attend a festival after-party, which led to more drinking and getting very little sleep before the race. So yeah, I stacked the deck against myself on this one.

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Here I am making bad pre-race choices.

The Mountain-to-Sea Trail (MST) 50k is an out and back race that follows the MST along Falls Lake from Blue Jay Point Park to Falls Lake Dam. The course varies from nice pine straw laden smooth sections to a series of rock and root covered climbs and descents. The course is not particularly technical but has a few challenging sections. It is a great course for first timer ultra runners.

The morning started with a much-deserved hangover headache. I switched between pounding water and coffee trying to shake the previous day off. Just before leaving the house around 5:15 a.m., my stomach decided to riot. I chalked it up to nerves and figured it would settle once I got going. My wife, Silvia, and I headed out driving through the early morning to Blue Jay Point. As if my iPhone knew what I needed most it played “F*** Those Who Go Untried” by Small Town Riot. This song became a bit of a mantra for me during the race.

We got there with plenty of time to check in and visit the bathroom one last time before the race. I started to feel better as my adrenaline kicked in but I had not prepared for the morning temperatures. It was 32-degrees (F) at the starting line and I had only really thought through my plan at the daytime high of 56-degrees. I was clad only in a light long sleeve shirt and a kilt. Oh yeah, I decided to try running in a kilt.

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For my birthday, my wife got me a JWalking Designs Running Kilt. They say that you should not try anything new on race day, but with only one 6-mile run of experience, I decided to go all in with the kilt. The kilt is made of lightweight, moisture-wicking material that makes it barely noticeable. As I ran the material flowed around me allowing air to circulate and kept the material fairly dry. Since it was not a hot or humid day I don’t know if this is a common benefit of the kilt over shorts that tend to stay soaking wet. For a more in-depth review, I suggest you check out Trail and Ultra Running’s review.

The race began with the ringing of a cowbell and we were off. I started out trying to take it easy knowing I was not in good shape. The key to finishing this race was going to be pacing. I fell in with two guys whose pace was less aggressive than I typically would run in the beginning of a race. This allowed me to conserve energy for later in the race.

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The guys were great to talk to. This was their first ultra so we chatted about strategy and then shoes (I’ve previously found this is the number one icebreaker for runners). We hung together till the 6-mile aid station. I stopped to refill one of my bottles and to get some Tylenol from my wife. I was already experiencing pain, which was not a good sign. I took off pushing forward towards the turnaround.

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I seemed to be doing okay but I was hesitant to take in any calories because of my morning stomach issue. Finally, I broke down and ate a Clif Bar. Clif Bars are usually my go to for a pick-me-up during a race. While I did not pay attention to how old it may have been, I did notice that it was misshapen and the oil had separated out of it. This may have been the cause of distress later on.

My strategy for an ultra is to break it up into chunks. I had not spent a lot of time planning for this race so for me it was all about the turn around point. As I have run this section of the trail several times, I was fairly familiar with the terrain and found that it was all blurring together. I do not know if this helped me or not. One thing I did improve on from past races was that I spent less time at the aid stations. I did hit my target time of reaching the turnaround between two-and-a-half and three hours.

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After the turnaround, I found that my condition had begun to deteriorate. I was suddenly struck with my stomach issues again. This caused me to have to quickly locate a fairly isolated section of the woods to deal with my issue. Once dealt with, I felt fairly good to go but I was getting stiff.

I have to attribute my stiffness to dehydration caused by both carousing the day before and the three-week hiatus from running. This became demoralizing, as I would run for what I felt was a decent bit only to check my Garmin watch and find that I covered less than a 10th of a mile. Still I pushed on.

One of the best parts of the return had to be passing the people still on the first half of the 50k or running the 12-miler option. As they would notice my kilt, often their faces would light up and they’d say things like “nice kilt.” It helped me, and hopefully, them, to momentarily forget exhaustion and soreness.

It was not until the last 9-miles that I would say things came together for me. While I was not moving as well as I did the first 6-miles, I was feeling better and more motivated. I picked a guy out and overtook him, then worked as hard as I could to stay just ahead of him. This meant that I forced myself to run some hills instead of walking them. Then another runner came up and was catching up to me. He had a great downhill kick but was walking anything that had a slight incline.

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This strategy activated the competitiveness in me and now I had people that I wanted to beat. I would push the downhills and shuffle up the up hills. I worried that I would exhaust myself and not have enough in the end for a final kick. This other runner’s kick was strong and would often close the gap till a hill, so I had to keep pushing on.

The final bit of the trail played with my emotions as it first led up towards the finish line before turning back downhill away from the end. As I saw the exit of the woods and heard the crowd, I pushed even harder to make it look more like normal running as I appeared from the forest. I crossed the finish line completing the race.

As usual, Bull City Running put on an excellent event. The volunteers were all amazing also. After all those hours sitting along busy roads, they remained motivated and gave encouragement. So thank you to anyone who was involved in the race!

I want to thank my wife Silvia for her love and support through this event. After my friend Terry was unable to run the race, she came out to be my supporter. She was at most of the aid stations cheering me on and taking pictures and video. With how rough I was feeling at the start, it really helped that she was there to help me push through.

Also a shout out to all my friends from Raleigh Trail Runners who cheered me on when I passed as they waited for the 12-miler to start. Thank you to Carla (who was the 2nd place women’s finisher), Scott, Kelly, Pete, and Alana (I’m sorry if I missed anyone)–it was an awesome feeling to cross that road as a bunch of people cheered your name.

Thank you for reading. Please leave your questions and comments below.

The sport of running is a bit challenging to start. I think the biggest challenge for people is that it takes awhile before you start to see improvement. Along with a large amount of time, it is also a painful process. As this study published by The Onion points out, running every day leads to years of soreness. Yet every day millions of people put on their running shoes and head out the door.

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When I meet people and they learn about my love of trail running they often say they would love to run like I do. For a majority of these people, there is nothing stopping them. Truthfully it is easier to come up with an excuse not to run than it is to tie your shoes. I am very familiar with this barrier and usually the first to suggest trading a rainy run for breakfast. Even when I am running it is easily for me to come up with excuses. Things like “I’ll walk the spots with lots of roots or rock.” I’m a trail runner so most of the trail is comprised of roots and rocks.

One of my tactics to force me to run is to tell people my plans. If I plan to do a long run on Friday I talk about it. It makes feel that I have to be accountable to those I told about it. Another great tool is using programs like Strava, as they have various challenges for you to complete each month. Staying motivated is key to success in running.

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The thing I notice is while people wish to complete a marathon or ultra, they typically hesitate to sign up for a race. They start building the distance up to be something bigger than it really is. Here is where it is important to take that leap. It is easy to snowball running a distance race into this monumental task. People look at the training program and cannot see how they will fit it into their busy lives.

Once you make running a part of your schedule it will begin to become more natural to you. After a few weeks, it will no longer feel alien for you to slip into your shoes and go for a run. It will become a part of your day. Then on the days where life does get in the way of your run, you will start to be bothered that you did not run.

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For me, running is something that enriches my life. It allows me to explore new places, meet new people, and see the world around me through a different lens. Whenever you meet another runner you instantly have a connection with them and start talking about shoes, seriously it is a lot of talk about shoes. Whenever I travel I like to go for runs, which allow me to see the area differently because my route is not dictated by my a destination. This allows me to see areas in ways different than most tourists.

So get out there and make it a habit. Go find a race at Ultra Signup or Running in the USA, and get started on that life of soreness.

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Fastest Known Times or FKT’s have recently surged into popular culture after this past summer when Scott Jurek and Heather “Anish” Anderson both set separate records on the Appalachian Trail. FKT attempts and records are set all the time and most people never hear about it unless you are actively following them, but because of Jurek’s celebrity from “Born to Run” and the epic distance of the Appalachian Trail it drew in more people than usual.

For years, runners have been actively pursuing FKT’s on famous routes like the Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim or Colorado’s Nolan’s 14. Their unofficial record keeper, Peter Bakwin, of the Fastest Known Times ProBoards, started maintaining all these records around 1999 after he and a friend set the FKT for the Colorado and John Muir Trail. Now it has grown into a full Internet community where people can see what is being run around them and if maybe they can set the new fastest record.

For those ultra runners who aren’t drawn to the “fortune and glory” of actual races (we all know of the untold fortunes the top ultra runners make) it’s a way to prove yourself in a new way. Some may see it as being a purer form of ultra running. It is a way to compete in a realm without aid stations, race organizers, and to face down the trail within your own mental arena.

Some of the benefits I see to FKT’s are you have more control over when you challenge the course. With races, you have to accept the conditions on the course and how you feel or wait till next year. For an FKT you can say, ‘I don’t feel it today, maybe next weekend or next week’ (Of course this is if you did not have to travel to the course). You can also attempt it more than once in a year and determine which conditions you found more favorable.

Lastly, I think FKT’s are a great thing because not many sports are set up for such a DIY element and it gets back to that root of racing, “I bet I can do it faster”.

Have you pursued an FKT? Are you thinking about pursuing an FKT? Please share your thoughts and comments, thank you

Finding My Trail in Brooklyn

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As an avid trail runner, I decided to take on the challenge of finding trails to explore in Brooklyn. So I, of course, looked to Google to help me find suggested runs. The first thing I came across was the website for The Brooklyn Trail Runners, who happened to have a group run my first day in town. So here is a wrap-up of all my locally sourced, artisanal miles.

Sunday: The Brooklyn Trail Runners “bRUNch” (Strava Data)

This technically is not a run in Brooklyn, or even New York City, as we ran across the George Washington Bridge (GWB) to Fort Lee, New Jersey (Gov. Chris Christie was out of town so the bridge was open). After meeting at a restaurant in Manhattan we dropped off our stuff, made quick introductions and began our run crossing the GWB and connecting to the Long Path.

Long Path

The Long Path starts at the GWB and goes 357-miles to Albany, New York. The trail starts out wide and easy but as we ran up the river the track became more technical. My biggest complaint about the trail is how close it stays to the Palisades Parkway. It does have some great vistas as it winds closer to the cliffs.  We cruised out about an hour and then returned to the restaurant for some well-deserved food and beers.

One of the best aspects of finding a running group/club to run with for a day is you get a little insider knowledge about the place you are visiting. On top of that, you get to meet new and interesting people. I was not the only tourist in the group as a businessman from South Africa also joined us. It was nice to be able to talk to trail runners whose experiences have been wholly different from my own.

Monday: Prospect Park (Strava Data)

It was a straight shot of about a mile and a half to get to Prospect Park from my hotel. I burned up Flatbush Ave attempting to get away from the busy street as fast as possible. Running on the streets of NYC is more than just a physical workout, but also a mental workout. Constantly I found myself judging rates of speed, calculating if I could make the crosswalk in time and figuring out my path through the sea of other pedestrians. Once I got there, I was rewarded with a bit of a trail run.

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The trail was not much compared to what I am used to but it was there. In this park where paved paths guide you around, people have been compelled to create their own paths. This says a lot about how people still desire that connection with the earth, the feeling of dirt under their feet. It all reaffirms that need for green spaces and what the mental health repercussions would be without them.

Conclusion:

I did not make it out for a third run, as I had hoped. I guess we can blame it on the many fine dining and drinking establishments of Brooklyn. The thing I took away from this trip is my continued love of exploring someplace new through running. Even when I was not running, I was walking and experiencing how people interacted with the city. It left me with a better understanding of how the city worked and how to navigate around. So next time you are somewhere new, I would suggest even in a city, unplug and wear down some of that shoe leather.

What have your experiences been exploring somewhere new? Have you tagged along with a local running club?

…But Are You Hearing Your Adventure?

But Are You

Popping in earbuds and going for a run seem to go hand in hand. A great up-tempo playlist will keep you cranking out the miles at a solid pace. I know that I really enjoy bombing down a technical hill while listening to the bombastic melodies of The Shell Corporation or Billy Talent, but on those runs am I really connecting with the natural world?

In the running community, the headphones debate will rage on for all eternity (or until implants replace headphones). I definitely see the merits of both sides of this debate because I have rules for whether or not a run is a headphones run. For me if I am running somewhere new, then I will definitely not wear headphones. Not only does it help me feel as if I am truly experiencing a place, but also it makes me more receptive to what is going on around me.

When I was visiting Portland, Oregon a few months ago I went for a short pre-dawn run (Like 4 a.m. pre-dawn) and started to enter an unlit park. As I started winding up a hill I started hearing voices and laughter coming from ahead of me. I stopped and moved into the shadows of some trees and waited. The laughter continued, like in a horror movie, but I could not exactly pinpoint where it was coming from ahead of me. Ultimately, I could not decide if those ahead of me were a threat or not so I turned and silently jogged back towards the lighted city streets. If I had been listening to my headphones I would have probably ran right into whoever was out there ahead of me.

I do listen to music though when I run around my neighborhood or when I’m alone in Umstead State Park. These places are familiar to me and I relatively know what to expect around each turn. For me these are the times when I experience the music the most, my mind focuses on the lyrics and the arrangements. It is during these runs that I use the music to tune out the monotony of a run I have repeated so many times (or road running).

One place I do not believe headphones should be is in trail races. I know, “run your own race”, but to me, it’s skipping out of a part of the race. The toughest battle you face on a run is in your head and music is tuning that out. I am not putting music in the same category as PEDs, but in my opinion, you are not facing the entirety of the run.

Another thing is you are shutting yourself out from meeting new and interesting people. The one thing I tell people about the trail and ultra community is that it is made up of some of the best people. I know one of my favorite parts of racing is getting to meet the people you are pacing with. I like hearing where people are from, why they run, and how they got here. I see us as a small interconnected community, so I value when I get to meet people of my same tribe. This is also the place where I can talk about my passion for ultra running without coming off as a bragging or getting asked the typical mental health screening questions that non-runners like to ask.

Finally, I’ve seen people blow through aid stations with their headphones on and “forget” to thank the race volunteers. DO NOT BE THAT PERSON! The volunteers having given up their weekend to support us and if you cannot be bothered to thank the volunteers then you don’t need to be out there. These people are as bad as those who blast music from a Bluetooth speaker as they run, go run a Rock & Roll Marathon you’ll fit in better there.

Sorry, it turned into a bit of a rant but I guess I have some strong opinions on this topic. Also after reading one of Mid-Pack Zach’s rants I was kind of inspired (he has a great running blog). Thank you for reading and feel free to comment with your opinion.

 

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