Thursday, August 25, 2016

Athlete Interview: Shawn Crafford

An Irish Lephrechaun: Shawn Crafford
A couple of years ago via social media, aka Twitter in this case, I "met" Shawn Crafford. He is one of a group of runners that I interact with daily. We say hello, jibe each other, check on each other, and encourage one another. Shawn is also a fellow Runner's Tea ambassador, our Irish connection to those across the pond. Shawn recently had a great opportunity to run the Great Wall Marathon in China and so I caught up with him to talk about his running and this once in a lifetime event.

Brad Zinnecker/Trail Running Faith: Shawn, welcome Dude! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into running.

Shawn Crafford: Most of you know my running background but for those that don’t, I was introduced to running in my boarding school days when I was in high school. I was seriously obese and took up most of the sport’s on offer. Basketball, athletics, swimming, tennis, and even squash. It wasn’t until later in highschool that I took up cross-country and loved it because it was a great way to keep fit for rugby and all the other sports I played. My high school was also based in the town in South Africa where the Comrades Marathon starts or finishes every year and so I started helping with that which inspired me to one day run this iconic ultra marathon.
Brad: Wow! Shawn, Comrades is a pretty big deal! Earlier this year, you raced another pretty significant event: the Great Wall Marathon.  Tell us how you made the decision to run such an epic race?
The Great Wall of China
Shawn: The decision to run the marathon wasn’t made lightly. Funds were non existent last August, (2015). The race director offered to pay me a commission for each runner or walker I got to enter The Great Wall Marathon and that did allow me to renew my passport and pay something towards my visa. By that time, I had made my mind up to go to China but just didn’t know how I was going to get the funds together for flights and spending money. I eventually decided to suck in my pride and get a Go Fund Me account and within three hours of opening it a very good friend basically covered my flights...
Brad: That's so cool Shawn. As you got ready for the Great Wall Marathon, what challenges did you have in prepping for it and how did you overcome them?
Shawn: My biggest challenge was coming back from injury. Most runners have been through some sort of injury before at some point in their running career. I tore my right abductor in September, 2015, after doing way too much mileage. I would have probably healed a lot quicker if I had listened to the doctors and physio, but like the passionate over zealous runner that I am, I ignored them until I couldn’t run at all. I started from scratch again in February of this year with the help of a team from @Mpg_Coach, aka #myprogramgenerator. When I got to the race start, I was about 60% fit.
A view of a valley from the Great Wall of China.

Brad: What did your wife/kids/friends think about you running such an adventurous race way overseas!?!
Shawn: My wife couldn’t believe that I was going because things are tight at home. The kids were super excited for me because they knew how much effort I had put into getting myself over to China. I don’t think I have ever been so driven in all my days. There were days when I literally walked around like a zombie and once or twice I even didn’t go on social media.
Brad: GASP...REALLY??? :) I'm not sure that's allowed in this day and age is it? Anyway, when you landed in China, what was your first thought/impression?
The Olympic Stadium in Beijing.  Shawn is on the left in orange, Mark Pattendens is in the green.
Shawn: The first thing I noticed was the heat. We landed at 9am and had lost at least 6-7 hours of sleep. I really don’t sleep well on planes and I was really totally hyped up. The smog was brutal, even worse than described in the books I read before going to China. However, as you leave Beijing, it isn’t quite as bad, (though not a lot better).
Brad: Tell us about the course for the Great Wall marathon?  How much of it is on the Great Wall?  Elevation Change?  Number of stairs?  Terrain on the wall?  Height of the steps?  How many runners?  What was at the aid stations?  Give us the lowdown...

Shawn's Strava screenshot of the elevation change during his run in the Great Wall Marathon.
Shawn with the runner he helped on the Great Wall of China.
Shawn: As you can see from my Strava screenshot, the incline is crazy and the descent is really scary. In some spots it is a shear drop... I actually ended up helping a first time marathon runner and we only managed 14 kilometers in 4.5 hours. There were 60 people entered in the marathon but only 17 completed the full marathon distance. It was seriously challenging and very hot. To be honest , I would love to attempt it again but not for a few years! This marathon was not as well organised as it should’ve been because water stations were few and far between. If I hadn't had my Camelbak, I think we would have been a seriously dehydrated. It was also the first time that the marathon was held on this wall so it wasn’t well known and really dangerous in spots.
Brad: What did you enjoy and what would you do differently?
Shawn: I enjoyed the tour that was organised by Mark Pattendens (the amputee) tour guide. In addition to the marathon, we also travelled to the Forbidden City and got to see the Olympic Stadium. What an amazing piece of modern engineering. There was so much to see and just not enough time to see it all. I would definitely love to travel the length of China and do a lot more exploring. It is such a fascinating place.
Group of runners for the marathon.  Shawn is towards the back right, in blue.
Brad: What’s the number one moment you recall from the race?
Shawn: There were so many moments throughout the race and even after the race. During the race it was definitely all the struggles along with helping someone else who had never done a full marathon. Even though we didn’t complete it, it really felt like we had. Meeting Mark Pattendens in person was humbling and totally inspiring. If you are lucky enough to meet the man in person you will understand what I mean. I am very glad to call him a friend and I can’t wait to catch up with him again in the future.
Brad: What do you think is the connection between physical and spiritual endurance, especially for a race like the Great Wall marathon?

Shawn: In every run I have done in the past there has always been a connection made between the two. The Great Wall Marathon was no different except for the very physically demanding stairs that never ended and the sheer drops! One thing that I was very spiritual was the history of the wall. This very wall we were running on had once been manned by many soldiers and some of those soldiers would have lost their lives in battle or possibly fallen to their death. History ooze’s from the Great Wall.
Brad:  Thank you Shawn for sharing your story with us.  I'm glad to call you my friend and that you were able to go.  Pretty neat that people from all over the world could come together and get you over there for this once in a lifetime event.  You represented us well. The willingness to help another runner when it might impact your own result is always an act of selflessness.  Keep up the good work!  

Thanks for reading about Shawn's adventures and enjoy these final pics below from China!!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Product Review: XX2i Australia 1 Matte Black w/Polarized Grey Lenses

The XX2i Australia 1 Glasses w/the padded insert and interchangeable arm strap system.

Disclaimer:  I received a pair of XX2i USA 1 White Gloss Blue Flash Lens as part of being a BibRave Pro.  Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador) and check out to review, find, and write race reviews!

As I noted in my review of the XX2i USA 1 glasses, I have pretty much stuck to one sunglass company most of my adult life.  But, I have mostly been wearing my XX2i's solely for the last several months.  So, I jumped at the opportunity to try another pair, this time the Australia 1 glasses. At first, I was a bit confused with all the stuff that comes with these glasses, but after reading the product description on the website and taking some time with the glasses. they totally make sense now.  I could have definitely used them when I did an adventure race back several years ago.  In fact, these glasses scream multi-sport to me, especially off-road multi-sport with varied terrain and/or weather conditions.

The basic glasses.
Sideview, basic specs.

The basic glasses are very light weight and grip snugly to your head.  My wife didn't like the little hole in the center when she saw them on me, but that hole serves a purpose which I will come back to in a moment.  The only other thing I noticed was that since they do fit snugly, I had the right lens fog up just the tiniest bit when I wore them a few times, mostly because I think my eyebrow was sweating in the recent heat wave we've been having!!!

Notice the glasses have the interchangeable strap arm attached and the padded insert shown separately.

Now, about that hole.  There is a padded insert for protection against the elements that connects through that hole.  While it probably could be somewhat helpful with that, where I am guessing it would really rock would be during more aggressive mountain biking or horseback riding where having the padding would be protection against the glasses hurting your face from being on too tight especially when you hit that odd bump.  Combined with the strap arm system, you've got a secure, almost goggle like set of glasses strapped to your head for tougher elements or sports.

The Australia 1's with the strap arm system but minus the padded insert.

This time with the padded insert.
The arms come off near the temple with a simple push of a button.  And then they or the strap arm system simply click in like a seat-belt and reattach.

That's the button you push to switch the arm systems around on the Australia 1's.

Notice how easy it is to simply click it in the glasses near the temple.
For those with corrective lenses, the Australia 1's are also fully Rx-able.  The have glare cutting technology and a lifetime guarantee.  You also get a hard and soft case, with the soft case doubling as a lens cloth. 

Cases, stickers, and neck wrap around too!
These are a great pair of glasses and right now XX2i is offering a coupon code through BibRave for 50% off.  Use code XX2iRocks and go to  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

2016 Racing Season: Ontario Summit Trail Races 1/2 Marathon, June 11, 2016, Naples, NY

Pint glass to all finishers, the coaster for the marathoners.  Photo courtesy of Anne.

My new friends Ben and Lauren picked me up around 8 AM at my parents, (where I had been staying as I looked for work and a house for our family), on Saturday, June 11, 2016, to head down to Naples, NY, for the Ontario Summit Trail Races.  Lauren had a big fundraising event the next day for her work, so she was going to cheer us on while Ben and I both ran the half marathon.  Several other people we knew from the group were also there, either running the marathon, the half, or spectating like Lauren.  

One of the first things Ben and I both noticed as we checked in was that CB Craft Brewers was there and would be filling our pint glasses for free after the race, but you could also buy a growler, (which Ben promptly did!), and get it filled as well, for FREE!

The second thing it was hard not to notice was all the worms...everywhere...covering the surfaces of the rocks, the ground, handing on threads from the inch worms...can't remember if we ever found out the type, but you could not avoid them...including during the race...more on that later...

Our friends Anne and Shari, that I had traveled with to the Thom Bugliosi Races about a month earlier, had started an hour and a half before us and were running their first full marathon, 2 loops of our course.  We weren't sure how they were doing, but were hoping maybe we'd see them somehow out on the course.  Meanwhile, after warming up a bit and getting ready, our start time of 10 AM soon came, and after a few announcements, we were off.

I think I might have seen Ben once or twice in the opening miles as the trails circled around in the woods, but after that, he was gone.  Though he didn't really have much, if anything, for hydration with him, he was doing well.  

Ben coming into the first aid station.  Photo courtesy of Lauren.

Meanwhile, I was tacked onto a group going through the trees probably a bit faster than I should have been, but okay for right would NOT stay that way.

Coming into the first aid station at the back of a group.
Looking to top of my hydration.  Both photos by Lauren.

As I continued along my way, I was harassed before the midway point by what I call Greenheads or others would know as horseflies.  Their bite is a wee bit painful, and they are annoying to boot as they fly around your head looking for a place to land.  They are not easy to kill having a firm exoskeleton.  Fortunately, this only lasted for a mile of less, just in time for my next issue.

I had eaten too much at breakfast, and now it was struggling to "not" settle.  In addition, the week before, I had been so sick over the weekend that I had to postpone a flight from Iowa back to New York for a day.  As I came into the second aid station around the middle of the race, and right before the major, several mile long climb, I was looking for a bathroom.  There wasn't one, just the woods. That's great if you just have to get rid of some excess hydration...that was not what I I started climbing...and scanning...for a place to scurry off into the woods...finally after a little bit, I headed off into the brush...faced back towards the course and hoped I had the right angle so as not to dirty my shorts...let's just say I was glad I had brought some TP with me!!!  Since some races are pack it in and pack it out in terms of trash, or get disqualified, I was also glad that I had put that TP into a little resealable baggy I could then later throw away at the aid station 3...the one that never seemed to arrive.

Elevation chart for the OSTR, courtesy of

Relieved of my stomach issues, I now faced a climb that seemed to slowly elevate and roll for around 3 miles while I also ran out of hydration and was already bearing down on dehydration due to the diarrhea.  The weird thing about the course this day, was that the trail seemed dry but the air seemed humid.  Normally I would have thought that a 24 oz water bottle could get me through between aid stations, but with everything going on in my body, I found myself bumming a sip of water off another runner as I struggled and worsened, asking another for some, but he only had a pack and was down too I think.  I was trying to partition my few ounces left each 1/2 mile or so.  Finally towards the top of one stretch, I found a spectator and after asking if he had any water, he gave me almost all of his own water bottle.  Along with a salt pill, I used this to revive myself some, saving a portion of it to spread out and get me to the next aid station.  Meanwhile the worms...they were everywhere...they were all over the backs of the runners ahead of you...they dangled on lines from the'd bat them out of the way only for them to swing back like Tarzan and cling to your clothes.  They tried to sneak into places like your was so tempting to want to flick them off your fellow runner, and I was constantly picking them off of myself...

Meanwhile, somewhere up ahead, most likely close to the finish, or perhaps getting his growler filled, Ben, though he had also had some struggles, raced to a 2nd place finish in his age group, 22nd out of 151 finishers.  Somewhere else on course, Anne and Shari were struggling to hold onto their first marathon finish, having made the time cut to start the second loop.  They were hanging towards the back, but helping each other out as they pushed along the trails.

Ben with his growler, posing for his future wife Lauren, while waiting for me to finish!  

As I got closer to the finish, I passed one of our TrailsRoc runners, relaxed and sitting in his camp chair by the side of a road crossing, cheering on runners.  I had been warned, that as you get close to the finish of the race, there's this cruel trick, where you actually cross a path that looks right to the finish, but you go a different direction.  That's where I saw Ben and Lauren the first time, and thinking I just had to run a small bump of a knoll and turn back around, I found I had been tricked. The course went way out on a 1/2 mile(?) loop before swinging around and then coming back to the path to the finish where I saw Ben and Lauren again and headed for home.  That was one of the worst race days I have ever had and on a course I would rank in the top 10 hardest I have done across the U.S.  I finished 114th.

After I relaxed for a few moments, I got into line for the fresh made burritos from Mesa Grande Taqueria.  Wow!  They were big and they were great!  I can almost taste them now while I drink my morning coffee!  So good! So fresh!  Yum!  Perfectly paired with the local brews of CB Craft Brewers.  While I had been in line for the burritos, they did awards and Ben got his second place award along with a brand new BUFF!  

We hoped to see Anne and Shari, but they never came, as the course was not a fast one.  Having determined that we had finally gotten all the worms out of our clothes and out of their car, Ben, Lauren, and myself headed back towards home.

But...Anne and Shari finished.  Their first full marathon happened on a course that according to my watch was actually around 13.3 miles per lap, and one of the toughest out there.  Though they finished last, they finished as friends, hand in hand. Race organizers gave Shari the time over Anne, since there was still an award up for grabs and they are both in the same age group!  Guess they should have sprinted it out!!!  Anyway, as you can see in the pics below that Anne sent me, they were immensely happy.  Only 30 people finished the full marathon! 

As a postscript, while at work last night, I found a picture of Anne and Shari after the completion of their first 50K yesterday!  Congrats to my two friends, but remember, technically, your first ultra was at OSTR where you didn't just run a marathon, but probably 26.6+ miles of tough terrain...with worms...

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