Saturday, November 25, 2017

Army 10-Miler

My opportunity

I was at my annual training in June this year and I saw a flyer to try out for the Ft. Hunter-Liggett Army 10-Miler team. I called the point-of-contact who told me to show up at 6 am in a few days. Ft. Hunter-Liggett did a rolling try-out. Over the course of two months if Ivan, the MWR guy running the show, had time you could run or submit a time. At the end of July he would pick the fastest times an notify folks.

I ran the course with LT Wade Phillips. The Ft. Hunter-Liggett time trial course had a slight uphill on the way out which made for a nice negative split on the way back. I ran a 63:07 and felt pretty good about my chances.

Army 10-Milers Past

This would not be my first trip to DC to run the Army 10-Miler. In Iraq I was fortunate to have met up with some other runners in my brigade who were in contact with the major in the division who was running the Ft. Campbell tryouts. Every Sunday they would transport runners from our brigade to the other side of Camp Victory to run around Saddam’s palaces and lakes. I made the team and shortly after we got back we all drove from Ft. Campbell to DC.

Camp Stryker Running Crew. 2 BCT / 101st Airborne Division\
I had a good enough time that the next year when I went to Ft. Leonard-Wood for the Engineer Captain’s Career Course I called up the MWR and get in contact with LTC Jackie Chan (yes, that was really her name) and trained with that team. We placed third in the Active Army mixed team category.

2007 Ft. Leonard-Wood Army 10-Miler Team
Every deployed post that I was at in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait put on some version of the race. It was free and always fun challenge over the usual 5k runs.

2014 Army 10-Miler in Camp Arifjan Kuwait

Transportation and Lodging

Army teams typically stay in the Crystal Gateway Marriott. It is stunningly convenient to get to the start. You could take the metro in the basement of the hotel but I got the impression that some years the Metro had not supported the race by opening early and that the years that it was open it was rather crowded. It is easier just to walk north along S Eads St. – it’s pleasant and a nice way to stretch out the legs prior to the race.

Getting to the start of a race with 25,000 doesn't get much easier
The other advantage of the Crystal Marriot or similarly located hotel, is that you are right next to the MountVernon Trail. This trails goes for miles and is free of road crossings. If you go north you are even blessed with nice views of the mall and its monuments.

Traveling into Reagan National Airport is the most convenient way to do the Army 10-Miler. There is an easy Metro that takes you one stop down to Crystal City (or into the city and other Metro lines). Dulles has public transit options but they involve a bus and transfers. There is enough to do in DC that there is no good reason to get a car.

Metro with the airport, hotel and race start. Doesn't get much more convenient


If you are active duty packet pick-up opens at 8:30. For the general public it opens at 10. While it might be tempting to sleep in, the line into the Armory explodes if you wait. At 9:30 we walked right into the building and had our packet and shirt in less than 10 minutes. When we left the line wrapped around the block and almost reached the metro stop.

Packet pick-up line around 11 am
The expo itself was nice enough and I found a good deal on some running shorts that I felt I was running low on (my wife throws away pairs long before my cutoff of being unable to tell which holes are for the legs).

Ft. Hunter-Liggett team at the Expo

 Race Day

We got to the race about an hour before the start. There were ample toilets (at least at more than a half-hour to the start). There was a nice section of the course that was closed to traffic but not part of the first mile that made for a good warm-up area.

I started near the middle of my wave. As with the New York City Marathon I should probably have muscled my way closer to the front. But the first split was still a little below my goal pace of six-minute miles (3:45 kilometers). I kept up a good shown until the halfway point when the rain, wind and temperatures began to get the best of me. I was somewhat relieved to learn later that it was not just me. After around 10 am the Army made the call to shorten the course andcall the event a fun run.

Pace at each kilometer
However, I did seem to weather the weather reasonably well. I passed a lot of folks in the second half of the race and even put in a strong split on kilometer 15. I crossed the finish in 1:01:47.

I waited around for LT Phillips (who I had run the time trial with many weeks ago). Our ringer, CPT Foster (who ran for a few of the All Army teams) had finished long before both of us. We found Ivan (aka coach) and my family who had come out. 

CPT Foster, Wade and I did a rather nice cool-down on the Mount Vernon Trail which was easily accessible from the northeast corner of the parking lot. We crossed a bridge and found ourselves on nice secluded section of the trail - a nice chance of pace from the crowded racing and warm-up.

We were fortunate to bring home the Army Reserve Mixed Team trophy (top four times with at least one male and female time)
Coach with our sweet trophy

Being a Tourist

I have been grateful each time for the opportunity to stay the afternoon after the race. There is so much to see around DC within an easy metro ride. The capital tour was a little challenging with two small kids but the mall was perfect.

Kid approved Washington DC tourism

I was grateful to the Army Reserves for the chance to run in DC again. My only regret was not getting to see more of my friends from the Kuwait Running Mafia. I’ll pick them up next time. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sleuthing new routes in Patapsco State Park

A while ago I wrote a blog about finding running routes when I travel. Since then I have given in and lined up my Garmin watch to Strava and Garmin Connect. Over the last year I have come to appreciate the benefits that both can provide in finding new routes along with other sources. My route sleuthing in Patapsco illustrated some of the advantages using this arsenal of resources.

Google Maps v. Garmin Connect v. Strava

After I first noticed the green space on Google Maps I looked up trail maps for Patapsco State Park online. The maps were great for getting the overall structure of the trail system and doing some basic route planning. But the disadvantages quickly became apparent when I started running. First the maps were made at a more general level of detail than I prefer. The maps only showed park roads and not rather convenient features like local roads and streams. The maps also did not show connector trails that were not completely within park boundaries.

Without Will Surles showing me this trail I never would have found this cool loop
For a while I had liked Garmin Connect for how it showed a heat map with my day's running route. The next two photos show how Garmin Connect showed trails that were not on Google maps. In the picture below Google Earth shows this trail in the Glen Artney Area just petering out at the Vineyard Hill Road. Note the area circled in red.

Red area showing a nice trail junction that is oddly missing in Google Earth
Garmin Connect turned out to be a little better. . . it at least shows a nice trail running along the power lines and connecting to some of the trails in the Hilton Area, but pay attention to the area highlighted in blue. . .

But the heat maps in Google connect show
Strava's maps seemed to have the most complete trails for Patapsco State Park. The areas highlighted in blue above is a nice trail that leads to the bridge over the Patapsco River and to a nice network of trails in the Orange Grove Area.

Finally, a reasonably complete and accurate representation of the trails

Bringing on the Heat

But what bugged me about Strava was that I thought the heat maps (which show where everyone rusn with more popular routes in boulder colors) required a premium membership. 

Well, nuts. . .

Then my friend showed me how to access this cool feature for free. . . you first:
1. Got to My Routes
2. Select "Create New Route"

3. Click on the Settings wheel and 
4. turn on Global Heatmaps

And Now for Some of My Favorites

The first part should be neat for everyone. This last part probably just if you find yourself in Baltimore with an itch for a trail run.


Patapsco State Park itself consists of three or four distincts and separate areas along the Patapsco River just west of Baltimore . I have come to really appreciate it as a great area to run when I do work in Baltimore. I primary focused on the Avalon area since it is closest to the airport hotels that I usually stay at. The trails are primarily single track dirt and surprisingly hilly minus the paved Grist Mill Trail. Most five to seven mile loops have about 800 – 1,000 total feet of elevation gain.

At first I accessed the main picnic / camping / parking area. This is the most central area and gives the best choice of all of the available trails. The main disadvantages of this area is that is has a fee (albeit a modest $3 or $4 – and waiver-able with a military ID) and, at least while I was there this past summer, did not open until 9 am (which was rather inconvenient for a morning runner like me).

See in browser

Fortunately, there are several other official trailheads on the periphery with room for six to a dozen vehicles.

Up and Down the River Loop

This loop has a nice mix of elevation gains and a challenging first half combined with an easy return along the paved Grist Mill Road. Options abound for ways to add miles.

East Avalon Map (Glen Artney Area)

This loop has options for running along some really beautiful streams and going under the railroad tracks via some neat stone bridges

West Avalon Map (Orange Grove Area)

This is a fun loop to do from one of the perimeter trailheads that gives a nice overview of the western half of the park.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Run, FIsh, Beer - The 2017 Lake Fork Flyathlon


I waited two years to do this race and it was worth it. I first learned about the flyathlon in 2015 when I read an article in 5280magazine about this new event that combined running, fishing and drinking beer. It was hard to believe it, but some genius had combined all three of my favorite things to do in my free time into one event. Unfortunately, it was too late to sign up for any of the events that year so instead I did one of the Sandbeech Lake training run listed in the website. The timing of the events did not work out in 2016, but finally in 2017 the stars aligned and I got to participate in the Lake Fork Flyathlon.

The basics of the flyathlon are pretty straightforward: you run a trail to a mountain lake orstream and try to catch a fish. You get a few minutes deducted off your time for every inch of one of the fish you catch. Then you drink a Colorado beer.

But all the events are about raising money for the preservation of native trout habitat in Colorado and the trails that access them.


There were two folks at this year’s event who were making a documentary (not out yet but you can see their site here). At one point they asked what I did to train and I did not have a good answer other than to say it was all the things I do anyway. With some more time to think on it, there were a few things that, while I wouldn’t call them training, helped.

Even before I learned of the flyathlon I had thought it would be cool to try running to fishing spots and I did some experiments with the gear I would need. This helped me test out what gear I could get away with as well as what configuration would work well for running.

Then few times this year I have taken an hour lunch break and gone fishing on Boulder Creek. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the office. I keep my fishing gear in an REI backpack tucked under the desk. This helped me work through quickly getting the rod out and a fly on the water – because like in the flyathlon my time was limited.

One of my friends testing out the waters of Boulder Creek


The group campsite was the East Elk Creek Campground which was a surprisingly large group campsite. As promised in the emails and Google Maps, it was about 4.5 hours from Lafayette (after a quick stop to get some growlers at Odd 13). As compensation, Routes 285 and 50 are awfully pretty and about as pleasant as driving gets.

I rolled in around 6 pm and found a nice secluded spot across the creek from the main gathering area.

View from the tent
I then reheated some frozen tortilla soup that Alita made the day before. Frozen soups are one of the best car camping meals. They double as a freezer pack while your driver and make minimal dishes to clean.

Flyathlon tailgating
I then started meeting folks. There were four brothers / brother-in-laws from across the state who were gathered for a fellows family weekend. While we were chatting someone from the dirtbag diaries podcast came up and interviewed us (they incidentally did a great podcast about the new national monument up in Maine and the challenges around making that come to pass).

Eventually we all gathered around the campfire for beers and talk of fishing. I went to bed around 11 pm. There were still several folks up having a great time.

Main Event

The race started at 9 am and it was about a 45 minute drive from the East Elk Campground to the start at the Red Bridge Campground (on the other side of the Blue Mesa Reservoir). I got up around 6:30 and did my usual breakfast of oatmeal. I hitched a ride with the four brothers / brothers-in-law that I met the night before.

Race start at the Red Bridge Campground
At the start Todd, the race director, filled us in on the rules. The road paralleled the stream and you could stop and fish at any point on the way to or from the five-mile turn-around. This year the bonus was three minutes per inch of fish – up to 14 inches when you get five minutes off your time per inch (so three hours of running with a 10-inch trout would get recorded as a final time of 2 hours 30 minutes).

The race got off to its traditional start of “shot-gunning” a light American lager – i.e., the flyathlon founder’s daughters shot a can of PBR with some bb guns.

I took off at a healthy tempo pace of 6:30 miles and found myself rather alone. Based on the advice of the brothers and others I decided to fish early. The first checkpoint was around a mile. There were a few campgrounds immediately after the checkpoint. I kept going for another few hundred meters until I saw a nice set of about three drops. This looked good enough.

The night before I had rigged up a stonefly with a flashback pheasant tail dropper. I started nymphing the first drop and in about five minutes had what looked to be a 10 – 12 inch rainbow. But then it became apparent that I had placed the net on the wrong side of my pack. As I tried to reach around the fish got off. I allowed myself a few second of regret and moved onto the next pool.

After another ten minutes I hooked up with a nice 7 inch brown. I snapped my picture and gave it another five minutes to try for a bigger one. I then decided that I was on the board and it was time to use my speed. I gave my fly set-up to another lady who had also decided that this set of runs looked good and was fishing at the top where I had started.

At the turn-around I took a pull of the Law’s Whiskey (a Colorado native) and booked it on back. Other flyathletes asked if I had caught my fish (and you can just run – although you get a “crippling” penalty and what’s the point of that really?). It appeared I had a good chance of getting the fastest male but I knew that a 7 inch brown meant that I would have to finish well ahead of second place. So I kept pushing.

I finished up in an hour and thirty minutes. With my 7 inch fish that meant an adjusted time of 69 minutes. To celebrate finishing (and I guess truly make it a flyathlon) I grabbed an Uplsope IPA.

I watched the second finisher come in and then I went upstream (away from the race course) to do a bit more fishing. By that time though the sun was pretty high and bright in the sky and the wind was starting to pick up. I came back to the finish area after an hour and talked with the other finishers.

Grand Finale

Back at camp the organizers paired me with the fastest female finisher against the flyathletes with the biggest and smallest fish in a cornhole competition. Sadly my cornhole skills were not on par with my running skills and the big and small fish team prevailed.

Then the big and small fishermen had a bb gun shoot-off for a custom built Sage fly rod. The guy who caught the smallest fish won handily. This fellow had brought his family all the way from Missouri for this event and so it was fun to see him take the “grand prize”.

The rest of the evening was the fine camaraderie that comes with all great fishing and camping trips. I was glad to have come and look forward to defending my title and maybe convincing a few friends that you don’t even have to run to have great time doing a flyathlon.

Run. Fish. Beer. Friends.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Carmel Marathon: Same race but with better beer

My first Carmel race
Photo credit: Sam Kan

Shadow Race

The Carmel Marathon really began two years ago for me. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the group that I ran with and helped to run in Kuwait was founded by a National Guard unit from Indianapolis (adjoining Carmel). During my time there the KRM put on a shadow race of the Carmel Marathon at our little base. About 40 of us ran a half-marathon and an 8k around the base. The race organizers sent us the shirts and medals from the run.

KRM friends running the dusty base roads in Kuwait
Photo credit: Sam Kan
Sometime in 2016 one of my fellow “dons” of the KRM reached out to the rest of the alumni and suggested that we run the real deal. I have always liked the idea of running races that I did shadow runs of while deployed and I had not yet done Indiana in my lifetime goal of running a marathon in each state. But really, it was a fun opportunity to hang out with some folks who added much levity and sanity to my last deployment.

Finishing the Kuwait edition of the 2015 Carmel Half-Marathon
Photo credit: Sam Kan
I should also mention that the organizers of the race, in particular, the one we worked with were excited about a group of shadow runners coming to do the real race. They gave us VIP bibs and had great chats with us before and after the race.


Training for the real Carmel Marathon was a much different animal than the shadow run – or any of my previous marathons. Since returning from the deployment my wife and I had another child. They are a joy, but. . . they make taking off for two to three-hour long runs a bit more challenging.

Eventually the chaos seems normal
Photo credit: My ever awesome wife
Our first son took fairly reliable epic (2 -3 hours naps) in the afternoon and so getting out on a Sunday afternoon for a long run had been a manageable event. In spite of our efforts to reason with our second child, he did not see our logic of why he should reliably nap at the same time as his brother. So while I managed one or two long runs on Sundays I had to find a more sustainable way.

My wife hit upon the solution of running into work. On Mondays and Tuesdays she worked about a five-minute walk from my office (which happened to have a pretty decent shower). So one Monday I bit the bullet and gave her my computer bag, lunch and a change of clothes to take in. Being the front range and the satellite communities of Boulder, I was able to find a route in that consisted entirely of paved and gravel paths and trails. There was a two-mile stretch of the Denver-Boulder bike path that at times had comically high winds, but it was otherwise a pretty pleasant route.

One long-run route from home to the office

Speedworks also required some tweaking. Previously I had done much of my harder running with the Boulder Track Club. But with my oldest needing to leave for pre-school at around 7:30 the club's 7 am start time became less attractive. Fortunately, our friend group in Lafayette is coming to consist more and more of other folks with young kids so when I asked a nearby friend if he wanted to do a speedwork at 6:30 he came back and said 6 would be even better. I could do that.

Returning to a new location

I arrived at Indianapolis on Friday evening. Since there was a group of us we got two rooms at an Airbnb house. It was a short 15-minute drive to downtown. The really nice thing about doing an Airbnb set-up was that we were able to use the kitchen to make our own awesome pre-race pasta meal. It was a much more relaxing way to do a pre-race dinner than going out to a restaurant.

This crowd fears no glueten
Photo credit: Shane
The Carmel Marathon is Indiana’s second biggest marathon (according to their website) but it is still fairly small compared to bigger city marathons. There were about 600 folks run marathon. When we arrived about an hour before the race parking could still be found within easy walking distance of the start and there were plenty of porta-potties.

All ready to go
Photo credit: Shane
Somehow I had ended up with an “elite” bid given my estimated time of 2:50:00 and so I toed up to the edge of the starting line. The weather was overcast with a 10 – 15 mph wind out of the northeast and the temperature in the mid to high 40’s – overall pretty reasonable weather.

In all our KRM glory
The course started off running through some beautiful neighborhoods. Carmel reminded me of Boulder in that it was wealthy and active as evidenced by the beautiful houses and miles of nice paths. The marathon ran several of its miles off-road along these nice paved paths.

Minor Issues

The course was well marked although I did have some minor complaints. Twice the marathon course departed from the half-marathon course only to rejoin it later. In most small marathons that I have run this would not be an issue because during the second half of the race the person ahead of me was usually out-of-sight and the next person was often minutes behind me. However, around mile 15 I still found myself passing folks who had gone ahead of me a few miles back and being passed by folks who I thought I had put away. Rejoining with the half-marathoners sometimes made it harder to keep track of the competition.

How pleasant to see you again
The other minor compliant I had was that a few short road sections were not completely closed to traffic. There were the usual cases where only one lane was marked off with cones for runners and the other lanes were open – this I was used to. But there were a couple of times when I was running my tangent across what I assumed was a lane entirely for runners when a car came up behind me. The drivers that I saw went slowly and were polite – but were surprising none-the-less.

However the things done well more than made up for these minor issues. The course was well marked, the water stops sufficient and the volunteers friendly.

The plan and the course

Based on my long runs and speedworks I thought I could run close to a 2:50. Choosing a goal pace feels like placing a wager. Too conservative and you finish feeling like you didn’t leave it all on the course. Too fast and the last third of the race can be absolutely miserable. I still think I have a low 2:40 marathon in me; but, my track workouts had indicated that it was probably buried below some kids, sleep and beer.

My plan was to take 3 gels – one at each quarter (roughly 10k) of the 42.2 km distance. Unfortunately, at the 10th kilometer I learned that the two gels I had placed in my back pocket had slipped out (and hopefully went to good use by some other deserving runners). I had one gel in the front pouch of my shorts and decided to save it for the half-marathon marker. Someone told me there was gel along the course by my marathon-brain did not notice it. I instead took a few more Powe-ades at the water stops.

A 2:50 marathon works out to 4:02 kilometers. I prefer kilometers because they go by faster and give you faster feedback if you’re going too fast or slow. About two-thirds of my kilometers were within four seconds (roughly one percent) of my goal pace.

Splits by kilometer
The running coach Mike Faneli told runners “to divide a race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” My interpretation of this advice was for the first 30k to kept a close eye of my GPS watch. I set it up to take automatic splits at the kilometer marks. I keep in on a screen that shows the time of the current lap, the lap distance and the lap pace. Constant monitoring let me keep a close watch on my pace and quickly corrected going too fast or getting into a lull. There is something that feels a little artificial and less “natural” about this approach – but I like the results.

But at 30k I stopped looking as closely at my watch and did a status check. My legs felt a little tired but still with some pluck in them. So I opened up my pace and started picking folks off. I may have gone all in a little early as some of these folks or other behind me passed me back but overall on the pass vs. passed count (one of my high school coach’s metrics) I only ended up down by two. I came into the final turn and crossed the finish in 2:50:30. My half-marathon split had been 1:25:11 putting my two halves within 10 seconds of each other.

Bringing it home
Photo credit: Sam Kan
My two other friends had done the half and by the time I came back with my gear were waiting in the VIP areas sipping beers and watching the finishers. I joined them as we waited for the last of party. She crossed in the early afternoon and we celebrated a job well done. The race organizer, who had been some great to us, even allowed one of us to put on her finisher’s medal.

Bringing home the team
Photo credit: Dave V
Afterwards we went out and celebrated a good job and tell near-war stories of running in Kuwait. We checked out Upland Brewing in Carmel. They had a good selection of hearty pub food and a surprising number of vegetarian options. I also enjoyed that a lot of their beers were around the five percent range – after Colorado where few self-respecting IPAs are below seven it was nice to be able to try a sampler and let the legs recover.

Fruits of our labor
Photo credit; Shane
And we let ourselves have a good desert a few doors down at the Quirky Feather Confections.

Closing thoughts

While the race went rather well and according to plan, I did learn a good lesson about testing my gear. My long runs had missed the devious escapism of my gel packets because I usually kept these in my water bottle belt. I have long lamented the lack of “hand-warmer” pockets in running shorts but will try to find another pair that at least has a zipper for the rear pocket.

On the other hand, doing my long runs into work and my speedworks early prepared me rather well without cutting too much into family time. My friend’s choice of an Airbnb and cooking dinner in a kitchen the night before also is something I’ll try to repeat.

17 States down, 33 (and DC) to go