Alisal Fire

Burning over a section of the TE course. One hopes rains don’t equal slides or close Refugio on the Santa Ynez side. (One hopes there will be rains.) We’ll see.

Meanwhile, soot particles can be as small as 50 nanometers — some of the oily grime we clean after a fire is small enough to fit inside the pores of our skin. Or, more important for the next few weeks, to penetrate deeply into our lungs. Please wear your N95 if you’re out for prolonged periods, particularly if you run. Not perfect but better than an unprotected system.

Your perfect running form

I can’t tell you your perfect running form, as it cannot be fit into words.

We use ‘form’ as a noun — ‘your running form’ — unconsciously biasing ourselves to think it’s a thing, an ideal that we should try to approach. It’s not a noun, though.

Pace (think sprinting versus end-of-ultra shuffling), terrain, angle of ascent or descent, time of month for some of you, fatigue level, today’s weight, weather, shoes, clothing, how far you’ve already run, what you did yesterday, surface wetness or dryness, texture, slipperiness, hardness/softness; the reader can add her or his own variations for influences. When enthusiasts instruct on perfect running form, they’re perhaps thinking, ‘Your perfect form when running on a flat unpitted moderately elastic non-slippery non-canted surface with neither wind nor rain nor snow nor excessive heat or humidity, neither speeding up nor slowing down nor turning, with no ground-level impediments nor larger obstacles nor other people nor animals near, nor any tree branches you might bump your head into, and after warming up, but not fatigued, while moving at your mid-high sustainable-for-a-few-minutes pace.’ Click-bait for sure.

§ § §

Of course there are plenty of people who are certain they know what that ideal is, the universal truth of running, and will with complete sincerity tell you. The word ‘natural’ is likely to show up.

This is scientifically unsound: any argument from evolution (nature) is descriptive, not prescriptive; feet are densely innervated nonlinear nonequilibrium dynamical systems that we don’t understand. ‘We evolved to run barefoot’ doesn’t stand up to the evidence that our intermarriage cousins the Denisovans were living on the Tibetan Plateau at least 170 thousand years ago. Human (Denisovan or Neanderthal) tools dating to 300 thousand years have been found in Siberia. Homo sapiens were in Mongolia 45 thousand years ago. We’ve been wearing shoes for a lot of generations. (Noting as well that evolutionary pressure would be centered on standing, walking, squatting, and stabilizing our trunks for throwing far more than on running.) Yes, running is part of our evolutionary heritage. That does not mean constant running without walking is a dominant evolutionary determinant, any more than is dancing, another human universal.

§ § §

Running is a skill, like dancing, so while your ‘perfect’ running form is something you have to continually rediscover from inside, looking at expert practitioners to see whether there are consistent patterns can (possibly) be helpful.

Here is Zola Budd winning the World XC Championship in 1986, running barefoot. She is a heel striker. (The gear icon at the bottom right of the YouTube frame allows you to adjust playback speed; slowing it down makes it easier to see.)

Kip Keino—the most beautiful runner I have ever personally seen—winning the 1968 Olympic Gold in one of the most strategically brilliant races of those or any other Games. Also a heel-striker, even at that extreme-for-us speed.

Sifan Hassan, the dominant runner of 2019, is a midfoot striker.

You can pick any number of elite runners, athletes who have immense volumes of running in their bodies, and find every form imaginable. Please don’t cite the third-dumbest paper published in the modern era under the Harvard brand name. Watch World Champion Tim Cheruiyot.

§ § §

It seems to be human to want a One True Way. It’s heroin to our minds for things to be simple. So here’s the One True Way to Perfect Running Form: Don’t interfere. Let your feet do what they want. They’re virtuosos. Enjoy feeling them.

TE Entries

The Tough Enough relay and the ultra will happen on Saturday, 04 April, 2020, starting at 7:00 am (relay) and ‘earlier’ for the ultrarunners, beginning at Toro Canyon Park, near Carpinteria, and finishing at Nojoqui Falls on the far side of Solvang. Teams comprise five or if necessary fewer runners, each running two (or more) legs. Advice for first-time teams (or anyone who wants a reminder) is on the Course Description page. The entry form is here.

Swag is now fully distributed.

Teams
Aching Bad (Marc L.)
Biscuits and Gravy (Erin McC.)
Call AMR (IRTC, Michelle M.) (Three-person team)
C.A.R.E. 4Paws (Isabelle G.)
Fun Bus Returns! (Sara K.)
Get-er-run (Katrin E.)
Hurt and Sole (Erin McC.)
Currently hypocognitive (Sten E.)
JMBLS (IRTC, Bonnie G.)
Modelos Not Coronas (IRTC, Sal S.)
No folly of the beasts of the earth (Molly T.)
Resolute in the jaws of destiny (Tracey M.)
Social Distance Runners (Lisa D.) (current leaders on topical team names)
Still trying to think (IRTC, Kim R.)
The Bald and the Beautiful (IRTC, Joe B.)
Team relay? I thought you said free buffet? (Spencer A.)
(IRTC => Inside Track Running Club)

Ultra
Cooper Atkinson (glad to have you back!)
Rob DeCou
Rachel Entrekin
Martin Pattison
Mauricio Puerto (?)
Ian Seabury
Just Horrible Enough (IRTC, Karla & Billy)

TE19, TE20

Tough Enough gave $400 to Direct Relief International, which believes that while teaching a man (or woman) to herd sheep, shear, card, and weave wool may be great, if he or she is near death from cold just giving out a blanket is also great. (This is not their official motto.)

Course change for 2020: more dirt! Leg 2 will start and end at the same handoff points, but instead of E Mountain Drive and Gibraltar Roads, we’ll take West Cold Spring trail. Same fabulous gravitational pull, but worse footing! The trail emerges onto Gibraltar at the ‘180’ that’s been the handoff since the first running in 1986. The meeting point won’t change but the path between points will.

TE19

We are deeply fortunate to be able to this.

Ultra: Ian Seabury was first full ultra finisher in 11:12; Scott Young ran 12:57 for second. Billy and Karla, running alternating legs, ran 9:38. That means each ran 32-33 miles in under 4:50, on what few would describe as a fast course.

The relay fell out as:

  1. Just Here for the Views, 8:45
  2. Not Medical Doctors, 9:01
  3. Rapid Thigh Movement, 9:03
  4. What’s My Leg Again?, 9:16
  5. Our Moms Think So, 9:35
  6. Competitive Bipedal Locomotion Enthusiasts, 9:48
  7. Old Souls plus One, 10:07
  8. Four Lasses and a Lad, 10:10
  9. Beer Run (or Beerrun), 10:17
  10. The Machines and the Sexy Boy, 10:22
  11. It’s OK to Walk, 10:45
  12. The Return of the Pink Ladies, 10:46
  13. Delusions of Toughness, 11:22
  14. We’re On Our Last Legs, 11:23
  15. Sub-24, 12:36

Will Tough Enough be back next year? Yes.

Addenda: The course has roughly 9345′ total climb, 9140′ total drop, for 18,485′ of elevation change. Numbers based on USGS data, via OnTheGoMap.

TE 2018

Tough Enough encompasses time, distance, and elevation change, riparian, meadow, oak forest, and mountain-top ecosystems, fire-scarred, flooded, and lush terrain, temperature ranges, and this year visibility varying from twenty feet to twenty miles. Thinking of all the things that have to be going right in our lives to be able to do this, it is extraordinary.

2018 Results

1 Weaver et al., 8:49
2 Who’s Running This Leg? 9:15
3 Are You Ruff Enough? 9:17
4 Austin Panthers 9:17
5 Pain Cave 9:28
6 Blister Sisters 9:32 (first all-woman)
7 A Bunch of Randos 9:45
8 Just Horrible Enough (ITRC) 9:46
9 The Galz 9:59
10 Otto Normalverbrauchers 10:07
11 Safety 3rd 10:15
12 Oh Truck, Where Art Thou? (ITRC) 10:21 (Wittiest name, hon. mention)
13 Kick Some Ash (ITRC) 10:56 (Wittiest name)
14 Happy Feet (ITRC) 11:09
15 Greg’s Groms 11:13
16 Four Girls and a Boy (ITRC) 11:19
17 Crossfit Oxnard 11:37

Karla and Billy of Just Horrible Enough were ‘distributed ultra’ runners, their alternating legs meaning each ran more than a marathon’s distance, and as a team impressively quickly. Ian Seabury was the sole full-length ultra entrant; he showed the common sense for which ultra runners are widely admired by dropping at the Gun Club with a potentially serious foot issue. Ian of course showed no sign of having run more than 50K when chatting with people at the finish.

Modest year for our annual contribution to Direct Relief International (though the event was in the black): $150.

Tough Enough 2017

This is why California is known world-wide for its natural beauty. Within California, Santa Barbara is particularly dramatic. What fortune to be able to run, to immerse unreservedly!

Ian S.led the ultrarunners, finishing in about eleven and a half hours, then looking fresh and filled wiht energy after the run. Scott Y. was at 13 1/2, remarkable for his training, Steve VanD at 14:38, and Mauricio and Luis, wearing brilliant headlamps, were epic in 16:32. Ian, by the way, got the course at 64.7 miles.

The teams were led by Nasty Women and Bad Hombres (7:58). Conejo Valley made a claim that they were the slowest team ever, finishing around 14 1/2 hours. Could be they’re the new number 1-inverse. In between, the She-Ra’s were first women-only team (3d overall), and in some order, Team Leaky Cheek, Operation Ivy,Take Warning, Dude Dillon Panthers, Lady Dillon Panthers, Pink Panthers, Greg’s Groms, Woody’s Wabbits, Always Bet on Black, Breaking Wind, Nightlife, I’m with Stupid, Pimp My Stride, and RIP Fun Bus.

Alert readers may note some vagueness regarding finish times. Somnolent readers might note it, too. The race director wrote the final ultra runners’ times on the results sheet, put the clipboard on top of the car, talked with Luis and Mauricio for a few minutes, and drove home. On arrival, the clipboard was no longer on top of the car.

We’re sending $1,245 to Direct Relief this year.

Three more notes:
o Many thanks to the redoubtable Kim Reale who organized the six teams from Inside Track.
o Do not judge the entry fees of other races based on TE. Most races have far more in expenses than we do (port-a-johns, Highway Patrol, big municipal fees, and so on). If you’re curious about the breakout of income and expenses, write me, happy to share.
o A sincere thank-you to everyone who had a good time!