Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tunnel Hill 50 Report


It's been awhile since I last posted. That is mostly because my activity level has been low outside of those 70ish hours I've been devoting to school each week. I did rush away to the Smokies on two weekends, including Halloween when a snowstorm buried and closed the park. Both trips yielded more unique and memorable experiences.

In late August, after four months of intermittent training and constantly seeking relief from the nerve issue, I finally hoisted the white flag. During a six week period I did not run or ride. I even limited my daily walks. Honestly, nothing that any medical professional has done for me or asked me do in the last eighteen months has given me long-term relief. My left side muscles were weak and out of balance. I even had trouble typing or writing with my left hand.

I experimented with therapies that I read about until I was able to walk normal. Then I broke into a jog during a walk in the woods. October of 2014 was the month I learned to run again. It was when I regained a significant piece of me. Those of you who run because you love to run, those whose lives truly benefit from running, know exactly what I mean. I even completed runs of 13 and 15 miles; my longest ventures at sub-7 pace since April.

Five months of inactivity rewarded me with the lowest level of conditioning I've had during my adult life. Running was difficult. My efficiency was pathetic as my muscles seemed to resist the act of running. In fact, every "run" was slower than ever and yielded a tempo effort heart rate. I spent more time preparing for and recovering from my runs than I actually spent running.

Finally feeling healthy, and having confidence in decades of healthy and active living, I decided to run the Tunnel Hill 50. I had entered the event awhile back when I thought I was on the mend. I knew that I wouldn't be fit enough to run hard and that made the adventure a little more alluring. What runner in their right mind could resist a leisurely all day run along a postcard scenic old railroad corridor? The Tunnel Hill 50 and the concurrent 100 mile runs were held on the Tunnel Hill State Trail, a rail-to-trail in southwest Illinois. I discovered the THST in 2002 just after it opened. My first visit involved a memorable walk with my son, Tyler.

Race day turned out to be unseasonably cold due to a typhoon colliding with a cold air mass in Alaska. I was sure that this was a good omen. I love cold weather running! The temperature ranged from 25 to 36 degrees during my run. Perfect!

Smiling at eleven miles
My mission was to run every step. I knew my body would rebel at some point, that one or more muscles would start the progressively debilitating onset of rigor mortis. The only unknown was when this would happen. I planned to run comfortably with my Polar V800 registering 60-65% of max heart rate (just under 8 min/mile) until I my body said "NO!" I had not been able to run every step of my previous three fifty mile runs, but all of them had involved mountain ascents and altitudes of more than 10,000 feet. Still, I knew that running every step for fifty miles was going to be a monumental challenge.

Immediately after leaving the park in Vienna I found myself running alone between two groups. I ran to the southern terminus (13.3 mi) in peace as I pushed away real life concerns and focused on the details of nature's beauty. The fine gravel path dropped unnoticeably as it bisected nearly flat terrain. A thin curtain of leafless trees separated the trail from the frozen countryside that sparkled in the early morning sun.

The first aid station (5.5 mi) came quickly. I cruised through it, having opted to only fuel at the drop bag aid stations. At the 10.9 mi aid station I changed bottles and gloves. I had removed my UD vest and taken off an outer Polar shirt at mile seven (while running a 7:38 mile and without tripping :), but I forgot about the shirt and it stayed in the vest pouch until mile 40. Just before I reached the turnaround I started crossing paths with the dozen runners in front of me.

After the first U-turn I spent several miles crossing paths with the rest of the field of runners. Then I ran solo again, with the nearest runners far enough ahead of me that I only caught glimpses of them from time to time on the constantly winding trail. Unfortunately, I dropped my left glove in the aid station at 16.9 miles. Thus, I ran 22 miles into a headwind with a numb and red hand.

26.6 miles down!
As I neared Vienna again (26.6 mi) I noted that I reached 25 miles in just under 3:17 and 26.21 miles in 3:25:45. I still felt great when I entered Vienna, but my legs never came back to life after I left as my hip flexors began to tighten. This, combined with the fifteen miles of mild two percent incline and headwind, began to take their toll on my stride length. My last sub-8 mile was mile 30.

Map and altitude data from Polar Flow for the V800
I didn't really recognize all of this during the run because the landscape north of Vienna was incredibly gorgeous and interesting. The trail cut through huge stone bluffs, passed numerous streams and lakes, and crossed several long wooden trestles. Unfortunately, my goal of running the entire distance had caused me to leave the camera behind.

Running through the famous tunnel was fun and a bit sketchy because it grew dark enough that I couldn't see the ground at my feet or even my hands in front of my face. I was high stepping because I didn't want to stumble.

Out of the darkness and into the pain
The jaw dropping landscape continued throughout the five mile out-and-back north of the tunnel. I was surprised when the volunteers at the turn around told me that I was in seventh place. Until that point I hadn't cared about placement. Finishing was a victory. This was a low key comeback run. The last half marathon, however, I was determined to hold that position, despite my ever-tightening legs.

At the mile 40.3 aid station I stopped for a couple of minutes to attend to my tight muscles, but I left ahead of Stephen Murphy. He was the guy in the bright orange shirt that I had seen in the distance ahead of me for more than two hours. I wondered if he had dropped out. I had caught him, so he had to be struggling as much or more than I was. The competitive Shane wanted to stay in front of him.

Passing back through the pitch black tunnel I worried about falling down. The legs were lifting so little that a shallow divot, small branch, or even a large leaf might have tripped me. I actually threw my arms up in a victory salute after I made it out safely. After that my focus, or lack thereof, caused me to flipflop from admiring the scenery to attempting to maintain enough form to win a hilariously slow speed race to the finish against Stephen.

Those last ten miles were tough! My pace slowed while my tight and tired body fought forward progress. To my surprise the only sharp pain I experienced was in both of my shoulders. Otherwise, my body just ached.  My breathing intensified until I was running nine minute miles at a tempo effort. Walking was out of the question. I threw in numerous short pick-ups and high knee lifts in an effort to maintain a smidgen of a stride. Somewhere during this stretch of postcard landscapes it occurred to me that I felt better than I had while running in the Duathlon Nationals earlier in this year.


I reached the finish line in Vienna in just under 7 hours and 12 minutes. They gave me the 7th place award, but from the results it appears that a couple of 100 milers quit at 50. Stephen soon crossed the line and we laughed about our epic little stiff-legged race. What a hoot!

 The rest of the day was as cloudy as the sky. I was thankful for all of the support that I had during and after the run. A large group of Evansville area runners were out there with me and several more were there to crew and pace.  Friends out of Indianapolis took most of the 50 mile positions ahead of me. All of those smiling familiar faces helped and inspired me. Some of them even finished their first hundred miler in the wee hours of the next morning after I'd slipped into a coma.

Yes, it is a real railroad tie!
Everyone seemed to feel exactly as I did. The Tunnel Hill 50/100 was an appealing event that was put on by a first class crowd. The race director, Steve Durbin, has long been known for putting on quality events. Meandering through varied and tranquil landscapes, the smooth trail surface offered an opportunity to move quickly, so PRs were abundant. (Mine lowered by over an hour, but it was my first 50 M run out of the mountains and below 10000 ft) I hope to return someday with adequate training miles in my legs to take full advantage of that speedy and scenic course.

These turkey vultures seem to sense my weakness.





Friday, August 22, 2014

YMCA Duathlon - Passing A Test

I visited the doctor again two weeks ago. The prognosis was positive, excitingly positive. I had just completed two non-stop runs lasting five kilometers, a task I had completed thousands of times over three decades but was unable to finish in recent months. The repeated failures to run came despite my carrying out all of the exercises that two PTs had asked me to perform. Admittedly, I had grown stronger and physiological weaknesses/flaws were largely corrected (from which I will certainly reap benefits for years), but I was unable to run and my condition had actually worsened to the point where it was uncomfortable to walk. And my last fortress, cycling, had become painful and awkward. The left side of my body had grown annoyingly weaker each day.

Amazingly, two sessions of precision neck twisting had me back in the saddle and back on the trail. If you Google chiropractic neurology you will find that there are a lot of people who do not believe in this practice. After two years of similar experiences with it I am a firm believer. I only wish I had been able to connect with the chiropractor at the beginning of the summer instead of the end.

That third appointment came two weeks after the first one. Much analyzing and snapping were carried out during the first two visits, but the third analysis led to very little snapping. The doctor told me that I was in relief and my body (nerve) had been mending incredibly quickly. With that he set the beast free. By seven o'clock the next evening some close people and a few Tin Man stouts had convinced me to enter the local duathlon the following morning to test the prognosis.

It was smothering muggy and overcast when I arrived at sunrise, but that was not a concern of mine. I simply wanted to finish uninjured. I had, after all, made it through the entire summer without incurring injury to any of the struggling left side muscles or their connective tissues. The plan was to run and ride well within myself. And there was no need to "place" as there had been at Du Nats. This was a low key event where I could focus on pushing without straining.

Luckily, the normally fast run went out comfortably. (Greg and Mike had other goals coming up.) That put me in the lead despite running two kilometers 45 seconds slower than I had in the past. I worried about dragging the left foot on the steep hills, but that did not happen. Yea!

A smooth, stretch-free transition allowed me to leave the park before any other duathlete or triathlete competing in the concurrent sprint triathlon. (I like racing them, too!) This, it turns out, was not all good. The sheriff manning the intersection at the park entrance did not see me or hear the fans clapping and shouting. He directed an SUV to turn onto the same road I was turning onto just as I made the turn at 28 mph. We both adjusted as we came within a foot of each other, but I emerged in one piece and with the lead!! Again, not a perfect place to be.

About a thousand meters later I encountered a rafter of 10-12 turkeys in the road. They chose to run down the street away from me - at first. Then they angled to my right. Then, when they were directly in front of me occupying most of both lanes, they began to run straight down the road. I soon caught up to them. That was when they decided to squawk and lift off. At least three of them slapped me with their frantically flapping wings. I hope the people in the SUV got a kick out of that. I sure did.

The rest of the rolling 15-mile ride went smoothly. I pressed hard enough on the pedals to stay about 25 seconds ahead of the guy who was chasing me. I've never liked looking back when racing, but I was on a mission to stay healthy and I've never liked being passed in races.

Though leaving the transition in the wrong (old) direction cost me 8-10 seconds, I managed to reach the road before the next competitor arrived. The legs were both a bit stiffer than usual for the start of a second run (lack of practice, ya think?). Soon after the two steep hills I could sense my pace increasing as my stride lengthened. Most importantly - my left foot was not dragging or skidding early.
It turned out to be a peaceful run in the park. And there were energetic kids stationed along the route to keep me smiling. Perfect!

My data analysis revealed that the early hills, the muggy conditions, and my lack of fitness drove my heart rate well into the tempo zone after only two minutes despite the fact that I felt comfortable. I also learned that I negative split each of the three out-and-back legs of the race. All three times were slower than I raced there before which resulted in an overall time that was 2-2.5 minutes slower. Believe me when I say that I was elated to be this close to my previous results after a tough non-running summer.

As usual, the Y Crew put on a great set of races. The venue at Scales lake is a good one and the volunteers are always vocal and helpful. My only complaint - I would prefer to run with my bike on something other than a gravel road after crossing the transition timing mat. Watching the Olympic distance triathletes finish much later in those muggy conditions made me glad that the du was short.

I quit taking trophies many years ago. Many of my friends know this and two of them felt a need to tease me for taking this one.


In truth, I was handed the trophy after I responded to my name being called over the loud speaker. I handed the lady my phone as I took the trophy. She took the photo above. Then I handed the trophy back. They will pull off the plate and reuse it or return it for most of their money. And I will have one less item to dust! ST

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A High Desert Drive


My Grand Canyon experience fortified my soul and enriched my sense of adventure. That may sound corny, but it is true. Physical challenges, when pursued amidst the mercurial beauty of nature, tend to mellow, refine, mould, and direct me. Those factors lead me, and many other people, to the road - to the trail. Each person is, of course, effected in ways and to degrees that are determined by his/her state when they arrive, but the effects are real and deserve recognition and reflection. For me, the journals I keep before and after serve the purpose of seeking the full value of the experiences. This blog is a small piece of that reflection that I am willing to share.

Upon leaving the Grand Canyon I had a couple of personal missions to complete. Those objectives took me to Durango and then to Albuquerque. All along the way I traveled through some incredibly gorgeous scenery, met several uniquely interesting people, and physically tested myself a few times. The roads, in a round-about way, led me to such places as Lee's Ferry (AZ), Monument Valley (AZ), Mexican Hat (UT), Mesa Verde (CO), the Jemez Reservation (NM), and almost to Sandia Park (NM).

Oftentimes, I paused or blue-blazed along the route. I ate a leisurely meal while watching the shadows cast by dark clouds as they floated over Monument Valley. The cold gurgling Colorado River chilled the midday desert air for me as I sat on the bank and pondered the building of a dam as told by the desert anarchist, Ed Abbey. On the banks of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat I recalled a rejuvenating sunrise run I took after an hour's rest at a motel while crewing Ken Souza during the 2006 RAAM. I paused while sipping a yerba mate latte in Durango when the sound of the narrow gauge train whistle stirred memories of the many train rides I've shared with family.

At one point, while enjoying an Estival Cream Stout at Ska Brewing, I found myself discussing torture and murder with a local gentleman. Well, we started out talking about the organic tomatoes he had offered to another local. Talk of the joys and benefits of organic gardening quickly and horrifically veered into a list of ways to rid a garden of the menacing hornworm. Methods involved various blades, mallets, shovels, and even fingers.

I couldn't resist telling my new friend about the time my sons, ages three and five, watched as I feverishly plucked several hornworms from my tomato plants and threw them into the grass. The oldest, Brandon, asked me what I would do with them. "I'm going to stomp on them!" I replied. Without hesitation the boy jumped onto a thick five inch leaf eater. As if it had been guacamole squirted out of a stopped up bottle, the entire innards of the critter shot onto the chest of my youngest, Tyler. We all froze for a second. Then Tyler began to scream "Get it off of me! Get it off!" as he ran toward me. I "saved" him despite nearly choking from laughter.

It was on the Durango high school track that I managed to cover 3200 meters in 11:42. That attempt at a tempo paced altitude (6512 ft) 5K followed the big hike/jog in the Canyon which, because it had zero after effects, had offered some hope of my physical recovery. However, I was forced to lie down and stretch for about 30 seconds at about 3500 meters due to a sudden tightening of gluteal muscles. The muscular engagement differences between jogging and running is absolutely amazing. I researched and pondered that fact while I sipped one of the best mochas EVER at the Durango Coffee Co. OK. Perhaps I exaggerate, but it seemed perfect in that time.

My fourth visit to Mesa Verde gave me the opportunity to finally tour the Wetherill Mesa on a bike and to tour the Step House. I've now experienced all of the major features of MVNP. That bike ride was a long time coming!

While approaching Albuquerque from the north on HWY 550 I saw a forest fire for the first time this year. It was in the Jemez Mountains near Coyote, NM. It took several days for fire fighters to get the blaze under control. The dry weather fire hazard caused the closing of Sadia Park just east of Albuquerque. That, in turn, stopped me from completing the Sandia Challenge. I chose, instead, to ride climbing intervals up the lower slopes - turning around at the barricades and park rangers. I stopped to chat with the rangers and learned that one of them was an ultra runner. Both men were kind and congenial. In a quarter century of visiting state and national parks, I have yet to meet a ranger that I didn't like.

Shortly after that ride I enjoyed a tasty pizza and a long conversation with my uncle, Pete, who lives just southwest of Albuquerque. The pleasant visit ended with a tour of his home. I learned that we have similar interests in art. The road from Albuquerque (I-25) led me back to Boulder in an overnight drive that allowed me to reach an appointment with minutes to spare - even after a stop for an exceptionally voluminous and much needed mocha.

Below are some of the photos from this segment of my long summer journey. More to come. Enjoy and make your own travel plans!

Monument Valley









Vermilian Cliffs and Lee's Ferry



Historic Navajo Bridge


The old (left) and the new.


Mexican Hat Area




Throwback: Souza

Ken topping Wolf Creek Pass, CO . . .
. . . and back when he ruled duathlon
Jemez forest fire meets clouds
"All use" includes bikes on roads,
so I resorted to hill repeats
Brewery #150 had some unique glass
chillers built into the bar.
An urgent, single study break led to a bookstore visit.
New in IB Chemistry - The Nature of Science
“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” - Edward Abbey