Oscar® Predictions for 2012

February 24, 2013

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2012:

  • Picture: Argo
  • Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
  • Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
  • Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
  • Supporting actor: Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
  • Supporting actress: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
  • Original screenplay: Django Unchained
  • Adapted screenplay: Argo
  • Cinematography: Life of Pi
  • Editing: Argo
  • Animated feature: Wreck-It Ralph
  • Documentary feature: Searching for Sugar Man
  • Foreign language feature: Amour (Austria)
  • Production design: Anna Karenina
  • Costumes: Anna Karenina
  • Makeup: The Hobbit
  • Score: Life of Pi
  • Song: “Skyfall” from Skyfall
  • Sound mixing: Les Misérables
  • Sound editing: Skyfall
  • Visual effects: Life of Pi
  • Animated short: Paperman
  • Documentary short: Open Heart
  • Live action short: Curfew

For the first time in 17 years, I have not seen all of the Best Picture nominees before the ceremony, though I have seen seven of the nine. My primary sources were Awards Daily and GoldDerby.

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Play and The Island President

March 10, 2012

Play is a slow film. There is really no way to sugarcoat that. It also relies primarily on static camera shots. I checked my watch a few times. The strange thing is, despite all of those strikes against it, when the film ended it really seemed like it had kept my attention and meant something. It was definitely more than the sum of its parts.

One reason it kept my attention was a sense of dread. The main characters were all children (I suspect they were newcomers, since all but one of the main characters had the same first name as the actor), and there was a chance of something bad happening very frequently. And by the end I felt like I got a better sense of both bullying and of native/immigrant relations, so I’ll give it a strong  out of .

The Island President is a pretty depressing documentary. Oh, sure, there is gorgeous footage of the Maldives, which is a nation off the coast of India, consisting of 2000 islands surrounded by beautiful waters, reefs, and fish. We learn that the well-loved President (Mohamed Nasheed) survived being a political prisoner, becoming a world leader in the area of climate change. The focus of the movie seems to be the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, where Nasheed speaks eloquently about how climate change could completely wipe out his country (the average elevation is only 1.5 meters), and how even now it is having a major effect. But, and these are possibly minor spoilers, the outcome of the conference is far from what was hoped for, and the film’s epilogue is a major downer.

There was a short question and answer period with the director after the film (there may be spoilers here, if a documentary can have spoilers):

  • Update on the political situation:
    • Nasheed resigned on 2/7/2012, after a mutiny within the police and military
    • There is material on YouTube
    • Things have calmed down a bit since then
  • Nasheed was educated in England, which is not uncommon in his class
  • The islands stretch over a span similar to Florida, but with a total land mass less than Rhode Island
  • The director did not originally come to this material from an environmental angle, but more about the leader—this was way before the Arab Spring—Nasheed put the environment in more human terms
  • I think I heard that the film does have distribution

The film was preceded by an animated short called “Monarch,” which was fine but nothing special.

Both seen on 3/5/2012 at Cinequest.

Faust and Twittamentary

March 10, 2012

Faust is a Russian film by Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark), though it is mostly or entirely in German. I really don’t know how to describe it. After some establishing scenery shots (largely if not entirely CGI, but gorgeous nonetheless), the next shot is of a human penis, which is attached to a dead body being disassembled by Doctor Faust. The setting is medieval, with dirt, rats, and general filth. It pretty quickly becomes apparent that everyone is hungry, and in general you get a feeling of hopelessness.

Things get really weird. The other main character is a very strange old man. He is listed in the credits as the moneylender, but he is really (possible minor spoiler) the devil. Things get more and more surreal as the film proceeds. Some of it works, at least enough to keep me interested, but the whole didn’t quite measure up to the sum of the parts for me. I’ll give it  out of .

Twittamentary is a different film than I expected. It followed some stories (especially the homeless woman) through most of the film rather than being purely made up of short vignettes, and it didn’t cover the real Twitter celebrities, though they would be different today than when this was filmed (mostly 2009).

It was also a trip being encouraged to use our phones to tweet during the film, though I found I didn’t tweet every interesting point since it would take my attention away from the next story, and I’m glad that most movies do not encourage that. I didn’t learn all that much, but it was fun, and I would give it  out of . An earlier showing of the film at the festival was the North American premiere.

There was a short Q&A with the director, Siok Siok Tan (a.k.a., @sioksiok) after the film (there may be spoilers here, if a documentary can have spoilers):

  • She originally hoped and expected to make a global film and to cover more Twitter celebrities, but she likes what it turned out to be
  • One story that didn’t make it was about an ex-con who wants to help keep young people out of prison
  • The road trip was in late 2009
  • The song guy was @ihatemornings, and the songs were all written in one hour
  • There was a possible story about a woman tweeting through childbirth, which might have counterbalanced the death story well

The film was preceded by a comedic short called “Zoltan: The Hungarian Gangster of Love,” which was pretty fun. I’ll give it  out of .

Both seen on 3/4/2012 at Cinequest.

King Curling and Stormland

March 4, 2012

King Curling is a Norwegian comedy. Team Paulsen, led by Truls Paulsen, is the winningest team in the sport. The sport is one where millimeters count, so his obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a benefit. Well, until he goes off the deep end and is committed to a mental institution. His wife is assigned as his guardian.

I won’t go into more of the plot. This is definitely a comedy, with more than its fair share of quirky characters. It’s quite fun, especially in the curling scenes with the over the top music. I’ll give it a strong  out of .

Stormland is an Icelandic drama. The main character is named Böddi, who is a teacher, would-be poet/author, and big fan of an Icelandic outlaw named Grettir. The film opens with him holding three people as hostages at gunpoint, and then flashes back to more normal times. He is way out of step with the locals, who are as materialistic as he is not.

I liked many moments in the film, but for whatever reason this one didn’t really connect with me. I’ll give it out of . The program says this was the North American premiere, but I think we were told this was actually the world premiere of the international version of the film.

Both seen on 3/3/2012 at Cinequest.

Sons of Norway

March 3, 2012

Sons of Norway is a Norwegian drama, but it starts out feeling more like a comedy. A couple of young boys dressed as punks, including safety pins as piercings (ouch!), throw a bottle that hits a man as he is giving a speech. Then it jumps back in time to before the young boys became punks. It’s the late 1970’s, and the parents of Nikolaj (one of the boys) are complete hippies. I loved the father’s argument that since we descended from apes, Christmas dinner should be centered on bananas. He even decorates the tree with bananas!

I don’t want to say too much more, except to emphasize how much the comedy and drama feelings are blended together, which can be challenging. It’s also a film I probably wouldn’t suggest seeing with people like parents, co-workers, a first date, etc. It worked for me, though I have a hard time putting my finger on the reason why. I’ll give it a low  out of .

I looked up the actors who played the parents, and the father was one of the two leads in Elling, one of my all-time favorite Norwegian films, and the Danish mother was a lead in Villa Paranoia, a film that I liked quite a bit several years ago at Cinequest.

Seen on 3/2/2012 at Cinequest.

Cinequest 22 opening night: The Lady

March 3, 2012

The Lady was the opening night film of Cinequest 22, screened in San Jose’s historic California Theater. Unlike opening night most years, things seemed to be operating smoothly, with the evening starting on time and no glitches in the sound system. Before the movie, the festival’s primary founder, Halfdan Hussey, spoke briefly. The other founder, Kathleen Powell, brought a group of Egyptian women up on stage, and I found out that George W. Bush may be a better ex-President than I would have guessed (the women are the inaugural class of his Women’s Initiative Fellows).

The film, directed by the unlikely Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her father was a very popular leader in Burma, but he was assassinated in 1947 when she was only two years old. She lived in various places and married an English writer named Michael Aris in 1972. She returned to Burma in 1988 to see her mother, who was dying. The film essentially starts at this point, covering her dedication to the Burmese people and to her husband.

Aung San Suu Kyi is played by Michelle Yeoh, and her husband is played by David Thewlis, both of whom are quite good here. I had heard of the Buddhist monk uprising in 2007, but had never heard about Aung San Suu Kyi before, so I was very glad to have seen the film. It seemed to drag a bit in the middle, but by the end I was very invested in all of the main people in the film. I’ll give it a strong out of .

Seen on 2/28/2012 at Cinequest.

Village Without Women

March 1, 2012

[I mostly wrote this a year ago but am only now posting it.]

Village Without Women is a documentary about a small village in southern Serbia, with, if I recall correctly, eight men and no women. Apparently the older women died and the younger ones all moved to the city. The focus is almost exclusively on three brothers who live together in a small dirt-floored home without running water and an outhouse with a door that is no longer attached by hinges. The main artwork decorating the walls is carefully trimmed clippings from Playboy magazine. It takes a substantial walk to get to the nearest paved road.

So the surprising thing is not that they are single, but that there is any chance that any of them might be able to get married. Their best shot is Albanian women, since that country has so few jobs that most of their men have gone abroad to work.

The film is interesting because it shows a place and a way of life that is completely foreign to me: maybe even as foreign as women are to these three brothers. I’ll give it a lower out of .

Seen on 3/13/2011 at Cinequest’s encore showing day.

The Nobel Prize Winner, Dreaming Nicaragua, The Liverpool Goalie, and Soul Surfer

March 1, 2012

[I mostly wrote this a year ago but am only now posting it.]

The Nobel Prize Winner is Dutch and in black and white. It’s labeled in the program as a comedy, though I would say it’s closer to being a drama with frequent humorous moments. The main two characters are writers. Joachim is a poor writer who asks, unsuccessfully, for a small advance from his publisher just before he finishes a novel he’s been working on for years. Meanwhile Fabian is a famous novelist with the same publisher and writers’ block, who is expected to finish a new book any day now. There are many other characters, and the connections between them eventually all become clear.

That this is a film about writers seems fitting because to me it all meshed together wonderfully, if not always (or even often) happily. I really liked it, and give it a strong  out of , putting it very close to my favorite film of the festival so far. An earlier showing at the festival was the North American premiere.

Dreaming Nicaragua is a documentary about Nicaragua, and specifically about teaching art to very poor kids, focusing on four in particular. The conditions are amazingly primitive, including one family that makes its living scavenging from a dump—the kids in that family say that the nice part is that the family works together all day long. One other girl dreams of being on TV, and is shown interviewing people, asking surprisingly good probing questions. The film was good for the content, but fairly pedestrian in structure, so I’ll give it a lower  out of .

The executive producer was at the screening to answer questions (there may be spoiler below, if a documentary can have spoilers):

  • The filmmakers met the art teacher along the way, if I heard correctly, meaning that angle was not premeditated.
  • What has caused the poverty? Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, behind only Haiti. It is similar to Costa Rica, but hasn’t developed the tourism industry.
  • Does the film have distribution? So far the only solid plan is to play at film festivals. The film won an award in France. It is showing in Geneva at a UN meeting. And they have had some offers from European TV.
  • The Fabretto Children’s Foundation has helped to create a pine basket cooperative that has since become self-sufficient.
  • This foundation is specific to Nicaragua. Fabretto brings lunch and additional teaching, since the official school day is only 4 hours long.

An earlier showing at the festival was the U.S. premiere. They do have Facebook and Twitter pages.

It was preceded by Margarita, a dialog-free animated short that at first seemed enchanting, but turned way too treacly at the end, so I cannot recommend it.

The Liverpool Goalie is a Norwegian comedy about a junior high school boy named Jo who is very smart, watched over by an uber-cautious mother (possibly because his father died in a bathtub fall), and is somewhat addicted to collecting football (soccer) trading cards. He is also somewhat obsessed with the new girl in class, Mari, who is as smart as he is but far less afraid of the world. The title refers to the one trading card that everyone is missing to complete their sets.

The film was extremely fun, and the sequences showing Jo imagining might go wrong are hilarious. I’ll give it out of .

Soul Surfer was the closing night film at Cinequest, though there was a day of encore showings of some films the next day. It is a dramatized version of the real life of Bethany Hamilton, who was a rising star of surfing when her left arm was bitten off by a shark when she was 13 years old. In the film she is played by AnnaSophia Robb, and her parents are played by Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid. At times it felt a little like a television movie with a bigger budget, because it’s a little corny and clichéd. But after seeing and listening to Bethany after the film, it may be that the Hamiltons are kind of corny in real life. Since the whole family lives to surf and is very religious means that makes a certain kind of sense.

In the end, the film worked quite well for me, and was still in my thoughts the next day. The surfing footage is incredible, giving me a better appreciation for the sport than I have ever had before. I would give it a lower out of . This might have been the world premiere, but I was never 100% sure of that.

Presenting the Life of a Maverick award to Bethany and the Emerging Maverick award to AnnaSophia was the founder of the Mavericks giant wave surf competition.

After the film there was an interview with Bethany and AnnaSophia, lead by Kathleen Powell, one of the founders of Cinequest (there may be spoilers below):

  • Bethany is very religious in her words, wearing a cross, etc.
  • She hopes to inspire others, keep surfing, etc.
  • She is more scared of not being able to surf than she is of sharks
  • The movie is a bit of a distraction to her training
  • AnnaSophia started acting at 9 years old
  • There was a poster of Bethany at the Denver airport, so AnnaSophia saw it on every trip
  • AnnaSophia is also religious
  • Bethany was actually way happier in the hospital in real life, but that didn’t seem realistic
  • AnnaSophia took a two hour surfing lesson three years ago, then started to train when she got the role
  • Bethany did all the stunt surfing for the second half of the film
  • The family dog in the film is Bethany’s dog
  • They wrote a book and then produced a documentary before this film
  • Bethany had seen AnnaSophia is in a few films before this
  • Filmed quite a bit on Oahu, so the Hamiltons moved there
  • The Hamiltons have been very involved in the film
  • Everyone involved in the film went surfing in their off time
  • Dennis Quaid was even surfing when he could be golfing (apparently that says something)
  • AnnaSophia: The more you know about the ocean, the less scary it is
  • It sounds like Bethany got a lot of help writing her book
  • Bethany is [or was when I wrote this] 21
  • What’s next? She likes to take it one day at a time, surfing, competing, inspiring, etc.
  • She wasn’t aware of Cinequest before

All seen on 3/12/2011 at Cinequest.

Oscar® Predictions for 2011

February 24, 2012

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2011:

  • Picture: The Artist
  • Director: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
  • Actor: Jean Dujardin for The Artist
  • Actress: Viola Davis for The Help
  • Supporting actor: Christopher Plummer for Beginners
  • Supporting actress: Octavia Spencer for The Help
  • Original screenplay: Midnight in Paris
  • Adapted screenplay: The Descendants
  • Cinematography: The Tree of Life
  • Editing: The Artist
  • Animated feature: Rango
  • Documentary feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  • Foreign language feature: A Separation (Iran)
  • Art direction: Hugo
  • Costumes: The Artist
  • Makeup: The Iron Lady
  • Score: The Artist
  • Song: “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets
  • Sound mixing: Hugo
  • Sound editing: Hugo
  • Visual effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Animated short: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
  • Documentary short: Saving Face
  • Live action short: Pentecost

My primary source is Awards Daily.

Grand Teton Races 100, September 4-5 2010

August 28, 2011

[I wrote an initial draft of this post shortly after the race, but I’m just now getting around to posting it.]

Since I took the Dreamchasers running camp last summer, I have thought about doing this race, but I had expected to do it at a later time. Then a variety of circumstances led me to sign up to do it this year. And then it was announced that this would be the last year for the 100-mile option (they’ll still have the shorter races), so I was really glad I would be able to do it.

The race takes place in Alta, WY, about 20 minutes from where my father grew up in Driggs, ID. He and his SO have a townhouse there, which was a great place to stay. They and my wife Connie graciously agreed to be my crew for the race, trading off until late morning on Sunday, when they were all there for me.

The scary part of this race to me, besides the usual respect that 100 miles is due, was the altitude. I live at about 2200′ and work essentially at sea level, so this course’s 6700′ to 9800′ altitude was a concern. Since I didn’t have enough vacation time to arrive much more than three days before the race, I ended up buying a device called AltoLab, a breathing apparatus that simulates lower oxygen levels. I did the initial 15-day cycle at home, breathing with it one hour per day, ending on the Monday (8/30) before the race. I had worked up a pessimistic prediction for the race that called for an average speed of about 3 mph, based on the actual splits from a 2009 runner (Lynne Hewett), whom I have never met but whose times seemed like they might fit me reasonably well. A normal brisk walking pace is 4 mph, but remember that this was a lot longer and hillier.

The first morning I was in the area was Wednesday (9/1), and Wednesday is my traditional day for the last short run before a Saturday ultra. The one part of the course I had zero experience with was the Rick’s Basin portion, which conveniently was exactly as long (5 miles) as I was looking to cover that day. Also conveniently the course was mostly flagged already, so I only covered about 1/2 a mile further than intended after one wrong turn. The weather was drizzly, and it was clearly snowing up at the top of Fred’s Mountain, where the race would be going. But the forecast was for warming through Saturday, so I was more concerned with possible heat than with snow.

Race director and ultra legend Lisa Smith-Batchen promised me that she would find a pacer for me, and she really came through with Amy, who had finished her first 100-miler at Leadville (at high altitudes in Colorado) two weeks prior to this race. Despite Amy’s relatively young age, her enthusiasm and extensive outdoor experience were perfect. We met her for the first time at dinner the Thursday night before the race, in her current Jackson, WY, hometown.

I got to bed fairly early Friday night, and got up when the 3:30 am alarm went off. I got ready (sunscreen, Body Glide, etc.), and my father drove me to the start. As it got close to the 6:00 am Saturday start time, Jay Batchen (co-race director with his wife Lisa) made sure the 16 of us got any last-minute questions answered, and started us right on time. There were 17 signed up, so one apparently did not start (DNS).

The course consists of four laps of a 25-mile course. Each lap has three sections, all of which come back to the start/finish at the Grand Targhee resort:

  • Section A is the most brutal, with a 2.8-mile 1800′ climb up Fred’s Mountain to the top of the main chairlift (where there is a full aid station), and back the same way.
  • Section B is a total of 14.4 miles in the Mill Creek area: 5.7 miles to the lower Ski Hill Road aid station (mostly down), 3.3 miles up Ski Hill Road itself to the Cold Springs aid station, and 5.4 miles back to the start/finish (more up than down). The 5.7 and 5.4 mile segments also had intermediate unattended water-only aid stations.
  • Section C is 5.0 miles around Rick’s Basin (the mellowest section of the course), with an intermediate unattended water-only aid station.

The race started. The first trip up Fred’s was pretty fun. I was fresh, the sun was coming up (we needed flashlights for 20 minutes or so), and there were people to talk to (mostly Al, from New York, and Katy, from Wyoming, both of whom I stayed pretty close to for about the first 11 miles). I counted ten people ahead of us (coming back while we were still going up). My first round-trip up Fred’s took about 1:18, which was about eight minutes faster than my plan.

The Mill Creek section didn’t seem too bad, though at one point I had to stop quickly since there was a moose standing directly on the trail. I knew Al and Katy were close behind, so I waited for them so that we had safety in numbers to shoo her (no antlers) off the trail. You don’t get moose in California, at least where I live!

Rick’s Basin was pretty easy too. One of the other runners from the running camp I did last year (Becky) was doing the 50-miler, and she passed me during this section at around 11:00 am on Saturday. Since they started at 7:00 am, she covered in 4 hours what took me 5 (she went on to be the women’s winner of the 50, and fourth place overall of 46 starters). Congratulations, Becky!

I got to the 25 mile point at 11:53 am Saturday, which was 23 minutes ahead of plan. At this point I actually thought this course might be easier—or at least not much harder—than the other 100-milers that I’ve done.

My second trip up Fred’s Mountain quickly put any thoughts of this being an easy course to rest, with the warmer temperatures adding to the challenge (though the day never got as hot as I expected it to from the forecasts). It felt much slower, though my plan was conservative enough that I actually picked up a little more time. After that, this second lap began to run pretty close to plan.

Race nutrition is important, and can be interesting. While boiled potatoes are my normal go-to food during the first 50 miles, they stopped looking good. I found I craved more protein, primarily the turkey and cheese wraps that most of the aid stations had. But the wraps were missing something. Just the evening before, Duncan Callahan (winner of the Leadville 100-miler that my pacer had just run) had waxed poetic about turkey, cheese, and avocado wraps during his pre-race presentation. It became hard to think about anything other than avocado, so at the Ski Hill Road aid station I asked Connie if she could get some. Before I even got to the next aid station she had found some. And it was good! [Connie’s interjection: I went to the Grand Targhee restaurant between hours, found a wait person, and said “My husband is running the hundred mile race and he’d like to get an avocado. Can I buy one? It’s really good nutrition for runners.” And, yay! They came through.]

During the segment from Cold Springs to Grand Targhee (miles 39.6 to 45.0) in the late afternoon on Saturday, it occurred to me that 1) my stated priorities were that enjoying the experience was more important than my actual time, 2) I was very likely to finish under the 36-hour cutoff (6:00 pm Sunday), and in any case a few minutes would be very unlikely to be the difference in that outcome, and 3) it was Connie’s and my 11th wedding anniversary that day. So I hatched a slightly crazy plan. When I got back to Grand Targhee I told Connie that I was going to take a few minutes, and I flagged down a waiter at the restaurant adjacent to the aid station. My hope was that for the $15 I had on me I could buy a glass of Champagne, a glass of something similar but non-alcoholic, and we could toast our anniversary before continuing the race. This turned out not to be easy, since they didn’t have Champagne by the glass. But the wine list indicated they had a half bottle for $12, so I still had hope. But after two different waiters looked for it, a third confirmed that they definitely did not have it. I ended up settling for soda water in two plastic cups. Oh, well, it’s the thought that counts, right? And Connie and I linked elbows and toasted eleven years. Sweet!

In the last section of the second lap (miles 45.0 to 50.0), the leaders (Duncan Callahan and Andy Jones-Wilkins) lapped me, meaning they were 25 miles ahead of me after about 13 hours.

I arrived at the 50.0 mile point at 7:33 pm, only 11 minutes ahead of plan, feeling generally good but knowing that the steeper uphills were continuing to get harder. Amy (my pacer) was ready to go, so it was time for my third trek up Fred’s. My plan was really pessimistic, so again I picked up time despite moving really slowly. The Fred’s aid station was really cold, as the sun had just gone down, but the people volunteering there were in good spirits, even when the space heater lit the insulated pants of one of them on fire (it was quickly put out, with no injuries except to the pants, which were patched with camouflage-colored duct tape).

I got to the 64.6 mile point (Cold Springs aid station) at 12:51 am Sunday, 43 minutes ahead of my plan, which was probably the best yet. In the next segment (miles 64.6 to 70.0) we were told that some people had seen a moose, and sure enough we did see one (another cow, based on the lack of antlers), maybe 20 yards off the trail. It was probably wondering why there were strange people running through in the dark, since it was probably close to 2:00 am. I wonder what other wildlife was there that we didn’t see? This is one reason why having a pacer is good at night, especially one with as much wildlife experience as Amy has (in the past she has seen a mountain lion at very short range, a wolverine, etc.).

It was probably also in this section that I first started to lean to my right. By the end of the third lap (mile 75.0 at 5:01 am Sunday, 26 minutes ahead of plan and 23 hours into the race), the lean was obvious to me and even more obvious to anyone who looked at me. Having heard a similar story from another coach, my theory was that my core muscles had reached their limit, and just couldn’t keep me upright any more.

It was time for my fourth trip up Fred’s, but thankfully the last. The leaning was making my back hurt, so maybe two-thirds of the way up I took my first pain relievers of the race (acetaminophen). The sun rose during the segment (in fact both sunrises and the one sunset all happened during the Fred’s segment—weird). I lost time, despite my plan calling for doing this climb and descent at an average of 29:30/mile pace, about two mph.

At the Grand Targhee aid station (mile 80.6 at 8:00 am Sunday—still 15 minutes ahead of plan), a doctor offered to take a look at my back, so I sat down for the first time during the race. She asked questions and poked around a bit. Nowhere she poked hurt due to the poking, and she agreed with my self-diagnosis: That this would not be a long-term injury (my number one priority—the only one more important than finishing), and that the worst case scenario was back spasms which could be temporarily debilitating.

The section down to the Ski Hill Road aid station (mile 86.3) was where I first started to wonder if I would finish or not. The pain increased, I could rarely run even downhill, and I didn’t seem to be able to even walk continuously. I needed to stop frequently and bend over forward to stretch out my lower back. Many people doing the marathon (which started at 7:00 am Sunday) told me I was an inspiration or their hero as they passed, which made no sense to me at the time. In retrospect, if I was really leaning something like 45° to the right as I have since been told, then I can understand it a little better.

When I finally got to the Ski Hill Road aid station (mile 86.3 at 10:48 am Sunday), I used the word “intolerable” when describing the pain to Connie. She thought I was getting ready to quit, but what I really meant is that the pain was too strong to ignore or run through. At this point I realized that I had 13.7 miles to go with a maximum remaining time of just over seven hours, and the required 30:00/mile pace would not be a slam dunk in my current condition. I needed to keep moving as best as I could.

Amy was a little sleepy and needed a nap, so she asked if Connie could walk the next 3.3 miles up Ski Hill Road with me. Since the even surface of the pavement caused somewhat less lower back pain than trails did (less stabilization was required from my non-existent core muscles), I pushed this segment a little, to try to get a little cushion for the final two segments.

Connie wants to say something here:

Mike’s being modest. The 3.3 miles I went with him up Ski Hill Road were agonizing. Mike stopped every hundred or two hundred yards and bent over to stretch his back and make painful throat noises. We kept thinking the aid station was around the next bend or the next or the next and being disappointed. I found myself trying to figure out how much longer he’d have to endure this, and wondering how best to support him. I decided that, since it didn’t look like physical damage, and there were only a dozen miles left (half a marathon, but a pittance for ultra runners), it was up to him. But I did encourage him to swear, since the Mythbusters say it really does help when you’re in pain.

At the Cold Springs aid station (mile 89.6 at 12:11 pm) I sat for a few minutes since sitting at the previous two stops seemed to help my back. When I was ready to go, I actually took off fairly quickly for maybe 100 yards or so, when I found myself getting out of breath more than I would expect even at this stage of a 100-miler. I wheezed a bit on many exhales, and the back pain became just one of two issues to worry about, especially since this segment was second only to Fred’s in the amount and steepness of climbing. Thanks so much to Amy for her patience, especially in this excruciatingly slow segment (roughly three hours to cover 5.4 miles).

At the final aid station stop (mile 95.0 at 3:22 pm), Connie looked me in the eye and could see that I wasn’t fully present. So she got my attention and said “You need to pull yourself together. You have 2.5 hours to finish the last five miles.” I had been sitting for eight minutes, so my back felt better, and I got up and started moving again.

These miles had less climbing than the previous segment, and I also hoped that “smelling the barn” would get me moving slightly faster. It was decided that my father would pace this final segment, which was cool since he started running marathons in his mid-40’s and thus was one of my inspirations to do the same. All the way through I was watching the distance covered (now on my third GPS of the race) vs. the time remaining, and managed to stay ahead of where I needed to be. Cutting a few minutes off my finishing time was not worth pushing through any more pain, though, so when I was passed by Katy (from early in the race), it was not a big deal. Any finish before the 6:00 pm deadline would be a victory.

Eventually I did get to the final short descent to the finish. Unlike the short sprints I finished my previous two 100-milers with, this was an ugly Quasimodo-like jog/shuffle. Whatever. I was done in 35:50:01, I sat down, someone put a blanket over my legs, and someone found me a beer. I got my medal and my belt buckle (buckles are traditional for 100-milers, but my other two 100-milers did not give them out, so the buckle was a big incentive in my mind for most of the afternoon).

Connie says:

I want to give you the flavor for this: My guy is nearing the finish line, covered with dust and dried sweat, leaning at about 1:30 and he still ran at the end. Then he gets his medal, belt buckle, and a hug from Lisa, and he sits, covered in a blanket, wearing his dorky-sunblocking hat, drinking a beer, still leaning to the side, surrounded by a swirl of support people and other racers, looking really spent but just about glowing with the achievement of it all. And he beat the cutoff time and got his belt buckle. OK, there might have been a few tears.

This was definitely the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. I expected my first 100-miler to be, but I concluded afterwords that The Death Ride (a very hard bicycle ride, in 1997) was harder. My second 100-miler was easier than the first.

This one was a whole different experience after the first 25 miles, and especially for the last 30. I had a chance to find out what I would do under serious adversity. Of course the bulk of that adversity was of my own making, since I have known for some time that I need to do core work more than once or twice a week. I will definitely step that up before the H.U.R.T 100 in January.

These are the lap times for the four 25-mile loops:

  • 5:52:50
  • 7:40:40
  • 9:27:41
  • 12:48:50

Lastly, my huge thanks to all of my crew (Connie, my father, and Margie), my pacer (Amy), the race directors/coaches (Lisa Smith-Batchen and Jay Batchen), and all of the volunteers. I couldn’t have done it without you.