Fort Clinch

Toward the end of last year Melanie and I visited Fort Clinch.  I had heard the name in every Folio Weekly Ad (“From Fort Clinch to the Matanzas Bay”) and was curious to see what it was all about.  One Saturday morning we realized we were going to be right by the place when we went to watch an ocean-based triathlon so we took the opportunity to check it out.

HISTORY
Located at the absolute northeasternmost corner of Florida, Fort Clinch was built to protect the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and the port of Fernandina, FL.  It is one of the best preserved examples of Third System Fortifications in existence.  That means it has a two-walled construction with an outer brick wall and an inner earth wall.

Named in honor of General Duncan Lamont Clinch, work began on Fort Clinch in 1847.  Construction progressed slowly and by 1860 only two of the bastions and one third of the brick wall was completed.  Improving weapons technology began to make brick fortifications like this one obsolete, but construction continued until 1867 when the fort was nearly finished.  Fort Clinch was used off and on by the military until 1945 even though the State of Florida bought it and its surrounding property in 1935 eventually turning the site into a state park.

REVIEW

It was a really hot mid morning when we arrived.  The first stop was the air conditioned gift shop where we purchased tickets.  They sell some snacks, drinks and Fort Clinch doodads just like you’d expect.

From there we walked a moderately lengthy path to the sallie port (entrance/exit tunnel) complete with drawbridge.

Once inside we met a couple of period actors that explained what life was like for men and women (cooks and laundry) working at the fort during the Civil War.

Top of Wall Looking in to Fort

Walking around to the various buildings we could look inside some and actually enter others.  Each was outfitted with its Civil War era trappings.

View out the Fort from the Top of the Wall

The view from on top of the wall showed exactly why this was such a great spot for a defensive fortification.

We couldn’t have spent more than an hour or two here and I don’t remember it being very expensive, although you pay to get into the park and then again to visit the fort.  Overall, Melanie and I enjoyed ourselves and if you live in the Jacksonville area, I’d recommend a visit.  The fort is well maintained and every place we went was quiet and clean.

Busy Campground. Typical Campsite. Ok for RV's. Crappy for Tents. No Shade!

The remainder of the surrounding property has some very nice looking (and nearly empty) beaches, some hiking trails and a pier to fish from.  We drove over to the RV camping area which had a surprising number of occupants for a non-holiday time of year.  As you can see from the picture, it would be a fairly miserable place for tent camping though.  There was absolutely no shade to be found at this campground.

Fort Clinch State Park

2601 Atlantic Ave

Fernandian Beach, FL

(904) 277-7272

http://www.floridastateparks.org/fortclinch/

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Mud Run Miscellaneous

[Part Three of a Three-Part Article on the Mud Run]

All good things come in threes:  scoops of ice cream, The Lord of the Rings, the main galaxy morphological classifications and articles telling you everything you need to know to prepare for the Mud Run.

In this catch-all article I’m collecting anything that didn’t fit neatly into the training or what to wear categories.  So let’s continue with answering your questions and then summarize everything in a nice little checklist.

I’ve collected my equipment.  Should I train with it or save it for race day?  It is worthwhile to run about 3 miles in your team uniform before the race.  There is a big difference in wearing cheap boots with long pants and running shorts with weightless comfy shoes.  I wouldn’t do this more than once if your equipment is on par with most.  I know my boots tend to hurt my feet.  The point of trying it all out is to make sure it doesn’t fall apart too easily, doesn’t cause blisters, etc.

If you really want to get a taste of potential problems before the race, when you do your test run, do it near a pool, river or at least a garden hose.  Get wet.  Do your pants fall off?  Better get a belt.  Do the pockets fill with water?  Might need to poke holes in them.

What about right before the race?  Anything special then?  I’d recommend that you hit your longest run one to two weeks before the race.  Once you get into the week of the race, take it easy.  Moderate upper body and core stuff.  Limit your running to short easy runs of three to five miles.  Most importantly, don’t do any exercise two days before the run.  Be sure to eat well during this time.  No junk food.  Get plenty of sleep the night before the race.  The rule of thumb for running is that carb loading doesn’t do a lot if you aren’t running for at least an hour.  This course is tough to judge since you use your entire body and fast teams will finish in 45 minutes while mostly-walking teams will go for about 3 hours.  It probably wouldn’t hurt to eat something like a whole wheat spaghetti dinner the night before, but just don’t overdo it.  Avoid eating items high in fat or fiber that will sit in your stomach a long time.  Go to the event website and look at the results from last year.  The course may be significantly different than the previous year but it will give you an idea of where in your group of racers you might finish.

What about race day itself?  Have all of your gear fire-manned the day before so all you have to do on race day it put it on.  Get your timing chip on you boots and walk around.  This is your last minute check to make sure you have everything and it all works.  Leave your jewelry and anything else extraneous at home.  Get to the starting line an hour before you plan to run.  It is usually more of a madhouse than most of the Jax races so it will take some time to find the start.  Be sure to have eaten a couple of hours before you run.  Be sure to drink some water (maybe 8-12 oz) about 30 min before you run.  I don’t like to stretch before I run.  If you do, don’t forget that.  After the race I’ll do my stretching.  When it comes time to line up remember where your team might fall in the pack and be courteous and line up there.  Think you are faster than about half the teams?  Line up at the midpoint of the group not the front of the line.  Expecting to walk?  Start at the back.

What about finding my team before the race?  This is a real weak point of this event.  There is no central info center or check-in place.  People will be wandering around.  Your best bet is to meet up with your team off site and ride to the event together in one vehicle.  Be sure that everyone has a mobile phone with them the day of the event before you meet.  This way whoever is late can update everyone else.  Of course, don’t take your phones from the meet-up place to the run.

What about during the race?  You will find that even in the competitive division there is much less of a serious tone than other races.  Do your part to keep the event upbeat and fun.  Cheering for other teams is normal.  Assisting other teams on obstacles is always good.  I have been pleasantly surprised at how often one team following another will steady a cargo net, grab a rope swing, etc.

What kind of goals should I set for myself?  Consider setting two goals for yourself.  That way you have more chances to win and more potential positives to build on.  If this is your first organized event, commit to training on a regular basis and attempting the course on race day.

If you’ve done something like this in the past, maybe a 5k or played a sport before, perhaps your goal will be to complete the race and maybe to try and do it in a certain time.

Are you already physically fit?  Maybe you should have a time to beat and a place you are trying to finish.  For example, this last year we had a time to beat and we wanted to finish in the top ten.

What about pictures?  It is almost a guarantee something hilarious is going to happen while you run.  It would be nice to capture the moment.  Apparently there are official photographers for the event, but in the two times we’ve run, they’ve never photographed us so I wouldn’t rely on them.

Get a disposable waterproof camera, a waterproof clamshell for your point n’ shoot/mobile phone or have a friend photograph you.  I strongly recommend the last one.  They can photograph you before the start, at the start and then walk or run the course in reverse until they find your team.

Be sure to get before and after shots.  The Original Mud Run usually has a nice big banner/backdrop on the side of the finish line structure that works great for this purpose.

What about after the race?  If you think you placed in the top three, check with a race official.  Since they have heats going all day, they do awards throughout the day shortly after the third team finishes for each heat.  Don’t forget about your beer and food.  Stick around for a while and cheer people in to the finish.

Now I’m back home.  Do I just throw away these mud-infused clothes?  It is going to be a little work but your clothes are completely salvageable.  Here is my three step process:  1. Lay everything out on your driveway or parking lot and spray it with a full-blast hose.  Get all the chunks and piles out.  Take the insoles out of your boots before you spray them so you have access to all the nooks and crannies.  2.  Fill a big bucket with hot water and soak all that stuff.  I put Oxyclean in with ours.  Amazing how much more dirt comes off right?  3.  Assuming nothing feels gritty anymore, I put everything but the boots in the washing machine.  I wash them until they smell clean (they will never look completely clean again) and then dry them.  This may take two trips through the washing machine.  4.  I wash the boots separately from the clothes making sure that the insoles are separate from the boots.  Our dryer has a little shelf attachment so I can set the boots in there to dry without them tumbling.  I keep the heat on medium to try and prevent any of the boot glue from releasing.  When they are mostly dry I take them out to air dry the rest of the way.

Will I ever get all of this dirt off/out of my body?  Believe it or not, it will be easier to clean your clothes.  Expect to have dirt in your ears and under your toenails even after you shower.  It is just one more funny thing to talk about with your teammates when you see them next.

Jason’s Mud Run Checklist
Training
1.  Running is the key to a fast time.
2.  Run hills or stairs.
3.  Upper body and core exercises will help but are secondary.

Equipment
1.  Head – if vision is good then nothing – if vision is bad then disposable contacts
2.  Chest – water shedding polyester technical T – Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc.
3.  Legs – long durable water shedding pants – 100% nylon hiking pants with mesh pockets – maybe a belt – REI Outlet, Gander Mountain, etc.
4.  Socks – non-cotton – slightly taller than boots – REI, Black Creek Outfitters, etc.
5.  Boots – over the ankle lightweight aggressive lug – Rack Room Shoes, Target, etc.
6.  Team Name and logo – screen print it – think about it before you go online to register
7.  Sunscreen – waterproof
8.  Plastic bag – garbage bag big enough and strong enough to hold your soaking wet gear
9.  Change of clothes – everything (underwear, socks, shoes, etc)
10.  Two crappy towels – one to dry off with – one to sit on for the ride home.
11.  Glasses and eye rinse stuff – after the race toss the contacts, rinse your eyes, wear your glasses

Other Tips

  1. Give your equipment a test run before the race.  Get it wet if you are hardcore.
  2. Have a training plan that allows you to rest two days before the race.
  3. Don’t eat high fat or fiber foods the night before the race.
  4. Have all of your equipment tested and laid out the night before the event.
  5. Look at results from the previous year to get an idea of where you might finish in your heat.
  6. Don’t eat once you are within an hour or two of your start time.
  7. Have your mobile phone with you until you meet your team.
  8. Meet your team at an off-site location and ride to the race together.
  9. Slob on your sunscreen.
  10. Get to the race an hour before the event.
  11. Drink some water about 30 minutes before you run.
  12. Line up according to where you think you’ll finish in your heat.
  13. Have a friend photograph you before, during and after the race.
  14. This is not a serious event.  Remain upbeat and have fun.
  15. Don’t be afraid to cheer for other teams and help them during the race.
  16. Drink beer and eat.
  17. Hose, soak and wash your clothes and boots.
  18. Tell war stories of the race and prepare for next year.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

How to Train for the Mud Run

I have run the MS Society Mud Run in both of its Jacksonville locations and this guide will be based on those experiences.  From what I’ve seen of other course layouts, it should also be useful for other courses around the country.

Can I make it?  Yes, you can.  People of all shapes and sizes have finished this race.  Because there are competitive and non-competitive heats, most people can complete the Mud Run.  If you are capable of walking seven miles and playing around on a kid’s playground, you can probably do it.  If this is all you can do, you will probably be very tired at the end of the race though.  Training will make race day much more enjoyable and safer.  People get hurt on the course every year.  Some injuries can be attributed to  accidents and goofing around but others occur when folks aren’t physically prepared.  Of course, before you start any type of exercise, you should see your doctor and talk with him or her about what you plan to do.

What is the most important thing I can add to my training for a fast time?  Run.  It is that simple.  While the obstacles get the spotlight, most of this race is running.  The obstacles are pretty quick so the difference between a fast obstacle time and a slow one is easily overcome with a faster running pace.  Because this is a roughly 10k race, I’d recommend getting your long runs up to at least seven miles by race day – nine miles would be even better.  If you want to contend for a top place finish, add in speed work and tempo runs.  If you are unfamiliar with setting a running schedule, a good basic place to start is this free online running schedule/calendar generator.  Click on the link and then select “Smart Coach” from the middle of the page.

Here are some more tips for first-time runners:
1.  Enter the for-fun division instead of the trophy division.
2.  Expect to wait at obstacles (because a lot more people do the for-fun division).
3.  You will probably not be running the entire time so don’t worry if you can’t run a 10k before the race.  If you want to enjoy the race, plan on being able to run at least three miles or be ok with walking much of the course.  For these reasons, when you train you should consider focusing on running more often instead of running longer.
4.  You might consider a run/walk training program like Jeff Galloway’s.  You’ll be able to run with a group of people at your same level of fitness this way too.

I’m already a runner.  What else can I do?  Run hills.  I got this tip from a team that finished 3rd one year and it is the single best piece of advice I’ve gotten on training for this event.  They are tough to find in Jacksonville, but be creative.  You can run bridges or stairs (stadiums, buildings, parking garages, etc.).  As a substitute, you could climb a Stairmaster or use a treadmill set on its steepest incline.  I don’t believe either of these options is as good as bridges or stairs though.  They get your heart rate up quickly and build many of the non-running muscles you’ll be using on several of the obstacles too.  If you lay out your course right, you can even simulate the actual event by having stretches of flat runs peppered with stairs to get your body used to the bursts of exertion mixed in with continuous running.

What about upper body training?  This really is very secondary.  It is a huge help to do pull-ups because you will be required to lift yourself over various obstacles.  If you are running in a non-competitive heat, you’ll have three tries at an obstacle then you move on.  If you can’t do an obstacle, you can still finish the course.  If you are running competitively, you will be disqualified if you can’t finish an obstacle so having some upper body strength is necessary.

Yeah, but what about upper body if I want a fast time?  This past year we added in a bunch of body weight exercises and it really seemed to help us.  We could recover from the obstacles quicker and, because they were easier for us, we had a more fun time during the race too.  Here are some of our favorites (click on the bold name for a link with detailed info on each):

Pull-ups  As mentioned above, many of the obstacles require you to lift yourself over something.  These are touted by many as the best overall upper body exercise you can do.  If I was only going to do one upper body exercise for the Mud Run, this would be it.  If you don’t have a gym membership, I recommend this cheap-o piece of equipment.  It is what Melanie and I use and it really works.

Chin-ups  Just like pull-ups but your palms face toward you when you grip the bar.  These are a little easier and work your biceps more.

Dips Work those triceps and chest.  These are good for pushing yourself up onto platforms during the race.  We just use a couple of sawhorses.  This allows us to space them so they are in tight to our bodies and keep ourselves as upright as possible so we focus more on our triceps than chest.

Push-ups For chest, arms and shoulders.  You’ll spend a little bit of time on a couple of obstacles crawling on your hands and knees or shimmying underneath stuff.  Using the Iron Gym on the floor to do push-ups really saves our wrists.  You could substitute a couple of octagonal or square dumbbells placed on the floor for wrist-saving hand grips.

You’ve talked about legs and upper body.  What about the stuff that connects them?  Core exercises are a great idea.  A stronger core makes everything else easier (including running) and helps you avoid injury.  It is amazing how much faster I could run once I started doing core exercises.  Just as in the case of the upper body stuff, there are lots of things you can be doing, but here are my favorite core exercises:

Crunches  Works your abs.  In my case, because I put my hands beside instead of behind my head, it also strengthens my neck.

Lifted-Leg Crunches  A college soccer buddy showed me these.  You’d think they would work the same muscles as crunches, but try ‘em and feel the difference.  Maybe it is the same muscle groups but they are definitely harder.  Just do the same crunch exercise with your legs mostly straight and lifted off the ground.

Twisty Leg Kicky Thingy of Death (Bicycle Crunches) The toughest by far and probably the best for you.  The link takes you to a video of three core exercises and bicycle crunches are one of them.  I love them.  I hate them.  Melanie enjoys listening to me struggle through them.

Side Planks  Everyone thinks about the front muscles of the core when they work out.  Don’t forget all those other ones that wrap your waist and make up your “internal weight belt.”

Back Extensions  Strengthen your lower back.  We don’t do them exactly as shown in this video but they cover a lot of good info so I included it.  We keep our hands at the side of our head and just lift our upper body.  I’m not sure my midsection could take lifting my legs and my back at the same time.  :/

Anything else?  There are obstacles that require balance.  You could practice crossing a balance beam quickly or set up a rope bridge and practice that.  If you have a park with a playground nearby, they might have something you could use – preferably at a time when kids aren’t there so you can avoid funny looks from the parents.

Great, but how do I put it all together into one routine?  Well, if you are a fit person who already runs a lot, I’d plan on doing upper body and core M, W, F and running T, Th, S.  This gives you at least a day of rest in between each type of workout.  Remember, you don’t get stronger when you exercise.  You get stronger while you rest after exercise.

If you are new to running, I’d focus on that.  Once you get to the point that you can run three miles without extreme effort, you could start mixing in core and upper body where your schedule allows.  Don’t forget to run hills and/or stairs.  If this is going to be your first organized race, don’t plan on setting any records (or training like you plan to).  Focus mostly on the running prep and enter with the intention of having fun.

Look for an article about what to wear for the Mud Run and another article with some miscellaneous tips in the coming weeks.  You can also sign up for email, Twitter or Facebook notification on the right-hand side of the screen.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

2011 MS Society Jacksonville Mud Run Recap and Pictures

If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you know that Melanie, I and a few other friends ran in Mud Run last year.  We had such a good time that we almost immediately began making plans for the next one.

Fast forward to 2011.  The response to the pictures and stories from last year led us to create two teams this year.  Because the Mud Run changed the categories, we opted for a five-man competitive team and a five-woman competitive team.

Once we arrived at the course, we found out that the categories weren’t the only things that had changed.   In fact, just about every aspect of the race this year was improved:  better parking, better start/finish area, better course, better spectator consideration, better food and better organization.

They still need to work on orientation/check-in.  We wandered around for a while before we figured out where to go.  The equestrian center is a large piece of property that can easily swallow several thousand people in its wooded bowels.  This year they had changing tents (no more hunkering down behind your car after the race) but they were located halfway between anywhere useful.  If they really want the community to get behind this event they need to do even more to make it spectator friendly.  I would suggest a short dry spectator trail to get them to the key points of interest along the course.  I’d also give them a map.  Finally, they need better results reporting.  At any other race I’ve ever participated in you get the results almost in real time.  As of the time of this posting, I still don’t have our official time or a listing of the top finishers.

That is the end of my belly aching.  Everything else was really great.  We even got free Bubba Burgers at the end of the run.  Yum!

As for the race itself, it was comparable to last year but wasn’t as hot out of the water, not as cold in the water, the sticky mud was much shallower and the course was a little easier.  My trusty $13 boots came through the race just fine again (although I’m noticing a small amount of upper and sole separation on the right one).  Unfortunately, running in those things hurts my feet.  I noticed the next day that my feet were a little swollen and the bottoms hurt a little.  I also got  shin splints on my right leg.  I think both of these are directly related to the lack of padding in my boots.  I’ll heal up just fine I’m sure and it is a small price to pay to have this much fun.

On a side note about the boots, we were not allowed to duct tape our boots closed as we said we would last year (see 2010 post).  It turned out to be a non-issue.  There wasn’t gravel in the water or mud pits so none of us ended up getting junk stuck inside our boots this year.

We will not be doing the Donna Breast Cancer Marathon next year so that means we’ll be able to dedicate time to training specifically for this race.  The advice I got last year is still good for this year:  run stairs.  I think that is the best thing you can do to get ready for this event.

I can hardly wait for next year.

The following pictures are copyright Sam Moore (Thank you so much for doing this!) and are used here with the artist’s permission.  This is not the entire course but gives a good overall impression.