Category Archives: Sports and Events

Chinlon on the Chindwin

#7 of several posts from Burma and the Chindwin River.  

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About the only “sport” we saw being played along the Chindwin was Chinlon.  It can be played two ways, each using a woven bamboo ball about 7 inches in diameter.  The simpler form is a lot like hacky-sack — a single team stands in a circle and tries to keep the ball in the air, passing it around in sometimes elaborate ways.

The other form is sort of a hybrid of volleyball and soccer.  The basic play and court look like volleyball with a shorter net and that smallish bamboo ball.  Like soccer, you can’t use your hands: just your feet and your head.  But like volleyball, the ball can’t hit the ground:  it comes over the net from the opposing team at as fast as they’re able to deliver it.  It looks very difficult.

Also impressive:  Notice the guys in the picture just below — playing a very acrobatic game wearing those long skirt-like “longyis” that are the traditional attire of both men and women in Burma.

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In Bine village, the chinlon court sat right next to a pair of 500-year-old stupas.  You can see a group in the background playing the one-team hacky-sack version of the game.

 

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Leadville 100 Trail Run – A View from the Sidelines

As a spectator watching the 30-hour Leadville Trail 100 Run last weekend, I watched the 4 a.m. pre-dawn start on Saturday, put in a very long day along the course, got a nice dinner and a full night’s sleep, then woke up , had breakfast, and headed down to watch most of the runners cross the finish line mid-morning on Sunday.

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The Leadville Trail 100 Run starts in the dark, at 4 a.m. in downtown Leadville

About half of the 700 or so amazingly fit and marginally insane runners who crossed the start line at 4am last Saturday made it back to finish in downtown Leadville — after an almost unbelievable 100-mile trail run — before the 30-hour time cutoff.  One hundred miles.  On foot.  All of it between 9200 and 12,600 feet elevation, and doing more climbing than an ascent of Kilimanjaro.

Even for someone who’s done several “ultra” endurance events (on foot, bike, and otherwise, and including some in Leadville‘s thin air), the 100 mile mountain trail run is hard to get your head around.  Of the lucky half that do finish, the vast majority take over 24 hours — most watching two days’ sunrises during the same race.  They don’t sleep — they barely even stop moving.  I was eager to get some pictures of the event, but a major motive for my spontaneous trip to Colorado was to see if the Run was something I might conceivably do someday.  The verdict?  I’m not so sure.

A few miles into the race, before sunrise on the first morning, the racers start a trail that skirts the edge of Turquoise Lake, west of Leadville.  You can see the runners spread out for miles along the lakeshore, their headlamps and flashlights twinkling through the trees and outlining the edge of the lake with bluish light.

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A three-mile-long string of runners makes its way along the trail at the edge of Turquoise Lake during the first hours of the LT100 Trail Run.

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The signature features of the Leadville course are its two separate ascents of  12,600-foot-high Hope Pass — once in each direction at mile 45 and mile 55 of the run.  The aid station near the top was a great place to watch a few hours of the race mid-afternoon on Saturday.  It took well over two hours to hike up to the top, so there were hardly any other spectators and only a small squad of volunteers up there handing out water and food.  There were 20 llamas hanging out — they’d carried all the supplies up there because the trails up are too high, steep, narrow and rocky for any vehicles.  We watched the leaders coming back over the pass on the inbound leg, and watched most of the more mortal racers hiking up the mountain — still less than halfway through the race after nearly 12 hours.

The guy in the yellow shorts is Robert Krar — flying down the mountain after his second ascent of Hope Pass.  He went on to win the race that night with a time of just 16 hours and 9 minutes.

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We cheered for and chatted with dozens of runners, often the same faces several times in different locations.  Dramas unfolded, and faces became familiar.  Inevitably, we remembered them with descriptive nicknames.  There was British Guy.  Sandals.  Bathroom Guy.  Peeing Girl.  Elmo.  Duck Dynasty.  As we descended from Hope Pass, we found Air Force Dave still only halfway up on his first ascent at 4:15pm — the deadline to get over the pass.  We offered him some food and water and tried to buoy his spirits as he turned around and walked back downhill with us.    I saw him quietly remove his race number in a symbolic personal ceremony recognizing that his race had ended early with a “DNF” (Did Not Finish).   “Puker Guy” had a happier ending:  we first saw him in trouble at mile 43,  doubled over, nauseous and struggling, but happily we saw him crossing the finish line 57 miles (and about 17 hours) later, flanked by his celebrating friends and family.

Ken Chlouber, the founder of the Leadville Race Series, famously tells every 100-mile racer, You are better than you think you are; you can do more than you think you can!  I don’t think that’s true for everyone — certainly some folks aren’t even as good as they think they are or can’t actually do what they think they can.  Most people are afraid to ever find out; Leadville is one of the places you go to do that.  Somehow, every racer can and should be both proud and humbled, no matter how their race ends.  Win or lose, finish or fail, these were the folks who weren’t afraid learn whether Ken was right — about them.

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#674 Trevor Teeselink (center) was the “Last Ass Over the Pass” — the last finisher to reach the finish — just four minutes ahead of the 30 hour deadline.

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Two new friends I met and ran with some this summer in Leadville were among the 100-mile finishers.  Somehow I saw Stephanie Lefferts (in green and white) over and over during the race — both directions at Turquoise Lake, at Hope Pass and at the finish.  Her boyfriend Mike Ambrose was so fast (he finished in the top 20 despite a nasty fall that almost ended his race) I barely saw him during the race and missed his midnight finish.  After a nap and shower, he was back at the finish line to celebrate with Stephanie and her dad at 9:25 a.m. Sunday morning.  Congrats to them both.

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Leadville Silver Rush 50 Trail Run

I wasn’t really surprised to learn that running 50 miles in a day is hard.  Especially if it’s on rocky, high-mountain trails.  

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My Mom and Dad came up from Oklahoma to watch and cheer — and to hold me up for a minute after the finish!   (Thanks to Mike Short for most of these pictures!)

A dirty little secret about the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Trail Run is that it isn’t really 50 miles – it’s more like 47.  Maybe they’re counting the fact that there was a vertical mile and a half of climb (7,400 ft) and the same amount of descent.  Most of the race was on  “jeep” or fire-service roads, and most of it was between 11,000 and 12,000 feet in elevation – up where the air gets really thin and trees can’t survive on the mountainsides.  That amount of climb is the rough equivalent of climbing up and down a 12-storey building during each mile – or of scaling the Empire State Building six times during the race.

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The race starts at the bottom of the local ski slope and heads right straight up.

The absolute highlight of the race was my support “crew.”  At least 20 times over the fifty-mile course I was greeted by a group of my friends and family – sometimes as many as nine of them, all of whom had somehow found their way to Leadville that weekend and spent their day cheering and helping me.  Mike Short was my personal photographer (taking most of the pictures on this page).  My top supporters for the last 48 years (my Mom and Dad) chased me on their ATV.  Bjorn Hegelman (there with wife Jodie) was my biggest (literally) supporter (see photo below if you don’t get this joke).  Dr. Don Wilsey (a friend I met during my Bolivia experience) drove over from Colorado Springs.

Shane and Michele Merz and Scott Humphries were my roving pit crew — chasing me on ATVs with Gatorade and food and going above and beyond my imaginings even for SuperFans.  When I caught sight of them up the trail (or heard their cowbells through the woods), I could yell, “I need sunscreen, baby wipes, and crackers!”  No problem.  “Chapstick, and bug spray!?”  Here you go.  “Diet coke and cookies?”  Coming right up.  They were so great it was absurd.  I might – MIGHT – have been able to finish without all that support, but it surely wouldn’t have been as happy, fast, or fun.

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My support crew at 5:30a.m.! (Not shown: Mike Short, who took most of these pictures).

Spending a summer in Leadville demonstrates a persistent fact of life:  no matter what you do — there’s always somebody doing twice as well,  going twice as far, twice as fast, twice as tough or as often . . . something.  Several hundred great mountain bikers do the fifty-mile race, only to have hundreds of runners cover exactly the same course the next day without the benefit of a bicycle.  Celebrate your fifty-mile run and you’ll still be consigned to a backseat behind the folks who’ll run a HUNDRED miles here over even-tougher terrain in August.  Seriously.  Running “just” the 50 mile race gets only modest respect in Leadville.

Before last weekend, I’d never run more than 26.2 miles in a day, so committing to run 50 – especially in Leadville — was a big leap.  I was emboldened by the fact that I’ve done several events in the past that took 11 to 13 hours each (Ironman triathlons and 100-mile mountain bike races).  I’d done an Ironman triathlon just a month before, so I thought I could get away with minimal extra training.  My theories mostly panned out fine, with the possible exception that I didn’t fully realize how hard a rocky Rocky Mountain mountain trail can be on your feet and ankles.

 I’m never going to be among the fastest at an event like this.  I finished in 11 hours and 30 minutes — far behind the winners, in about the middle third of runners.  In fact, given my slow-but-steady pace, I hesitate to call it a “run.”  Still, often there’s a good chance I’m among those having the most fun.  On crazy, long events like this, my reflex when I see friends or family is usually to raise my hands over my head in a celebratory pose, to whoop and smile and run just a little bit faster.  I’m smiling in almost every picture.  In the setting of a fifty-mile run, I can’t pretend it was easy, but I really did have as much fun as it looks like I did.

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Already above the tree line, with a long ways to go, this was one of four separate climbs up to 12,000 ft. (This is one of just a couple of pictures I took myself with a tiny camera I carried on part of the trip.)

SCUBA Dive the Great Barrier Reef: Check!

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Scott Humphries Down Under

Even though I spent almost two weeks on the banks of the Coral Sea in Cairns, Australia — the primary port for access to the Great Barrier Reef —  crappy weather and busy schedules (for other priorities) meant I did just one day of SCUBA diving.  I’d spent much more time than that getting READY (and learning how) to SCUBA dive in preparation of the trip.  At least I got to dive with a couple of good buddies (Shane Merz and Scott Humphries).  SCUBA diving the Great Barrier Reef seems to be on almost everyone’s “bucket list,” so I couldn’t leave Cairns without doing it.

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Sub-sea Shane Merz

I actually don’t like or use the term “bucket list,” as the rather morbid perspective is about kicking the bucket and racing the clock before you croak.  I’ve got more lists than you can imagine of things I’m hoping to see and do in my life, but the focus isn’t on my impending demise.  They’re just a lifetime “to-do” list.

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As they’re quick to tell you down here, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (I’ve only seen three!).  It’s a World Heritage Site (I’ve seen maybe 30 of the 1,ooo or so sites!), and allegedly it’s visible from space.  As for checking it off a bucket list, it’s hard to know when you can really do that:  It’s 1500 miles long (and is actually a network of hundreds of smaller reefs), so I figure I’ve seen about .0001% of it.  I think that counts; I’m checking it off the list.

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As I described recently in my post about SCUBA School in Belize, I have an underwater housing for my tiny Canon S100 pocket camera.  It’s not a big, professional underwater setup, but it works okay in shallow water with decent light.  The cloudy skies here made it marginal.  I noticed there were several shops in Cairns where you could easily rent an underwater digital camera as good or better than what I brought, so if you SCUBA, there’s no excuse for not bringing a camera.

 

Ironman Cairns (Australia): Swim / Bike / Rain!

I was a little busy, so the photo credits here go to others (Stacy Humphries and the photo service FinisherPix).  

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My Australian/Texan buddy, Scott Humphries, crossing the finish line at Ironman Cairns Australia, toting a Texas Lone Star flag.

One of my best friends is Australian.  You’d never know it, though.  He moved to Texas in his youth and has no hint of an accent.  Even so – and because of those Aussie roots — Scott had my and Shane Merz’s full proxy when it came time to select which Australian Ironman site we would do this year.  He picked Cairns, a small city on Australia’s northeast Queensland coast and a primary gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.  As race day approached and the weather forecasts continued to say “Rain” every day, the phrase “Who picked this?” became a regular refrain.

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That’s me, crossing the same finish line – quite a bit later. At least the rain had let up a little by the time I finished!

If you read this blog regularly, you may remember that my friends and I have set a goal – a “quest” — to do an Ironman Triathlon (swim 2.4 miles; bike 112 miles; then run 26 miles) on every continentAustralia was our fourth, and fortunately there was less trauma (i.e., no hospitalization required) compared to our European leg.  Though Cairns had promised to be sunny and tropical, on race day Down Under there was never a moment that it was not raining.  The ocean swim was rough enough to make me a little seasick (and the Ironman ‘crowd’ was rough enough to give me a black eye in the first ten minutes of the swim).  But we all finished just fine; in fact, the other guys each had personal bests.

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Me, Scott Humphries, and Shane Merz — minute before the swim start of Ironman Cairns Australia.

We’d debated for months exactly how to pronounce “Cairns.”  When you hear the local Aussies say it, the name sounds like those metal containers for soup (“cans”).  So arguably the “r” is silent – but not really.  They think they ARE prounouncing the “r.”  Australians describe a malt-based lager as “bee-uh” and an automobile as a “cah”, and in the same way, Cairns sounds like “Cans.”  But just as a visitor to Boston should not adopt an affected New England accent to discuss the clam “chow-dah” he ate in “Hah-vud” Square, neither should an American in Cairns pretend to pronounce the place “Cans” like the locals do.  So it’s Cairns – with an R.

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Shane Merz — crossing the line to become a FIVE-time Ironman!

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This is me — somewhere close to the end of the bike course.