Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway

It has been difficult finding an establishment offering wi-fi after I have returned to civilization.  Guess where I am!!  If you said "Panera" then you win a prize that will be decided upon after you fill out the required governmental paperwork. 

I have spent the last two days wearing myself out in the mountains of North Carolina.  Today I rest in and near Asheville.  I might ride this evening, but that will depend on time.

Monday started with a  drive out of Boone onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I parked the Rav at the Moses H. Cone visitor center, loaded up Bruiser, and went for a 52-mile, 2 hr 31 min ride along the BRP.  What an awesome experience!  It was a mostly sunny and extremely windy day.  The sun helped with the views off of the overlooks.  The wind made the high-speed descents somewhat challenging and adventurous.  Along the way I was able to talk to interesting people from all California, Vermont, Florida, Pennsylvania, and, of course, North Carolina.  Everyone was so nice, especially the Harley riders who seemed genuinely interested in Bruiser. 

Like the views and the people, the road itself was most impressive.  I took the time to learn about and photograph the Lynn Cove Viaduct.  What an engineering feat.  This 1243-ft section of roadway is made up of 153 sections that were made on site before being taken to the end of the existing roadway and fit/glued (yes, epoxy!) into place.  A viaduct is a road that is built with this method.  Each section of the Lynn Cove Viaduct is 35 ft wide and weighs in at about 100,000 pounds.  Only one section is actually rectangular due to the S-shape of the roadway around the rocky face of Grandfather Mountain.

I had intended to take a ride to the 5700-ft summit of Grandfather Mountain, but 85 mph wind gusts had closed the road for the day.  Did I say it was a windy day?

Ty Capone

Yes.  This is the trail.

No blood = no fun.


The climbs on the road, at 8-9% incline, hit the edge of my comfort zone since Bruiser has a 21-tooth largest cog on back.  That cog is good for a 12 mph ride with the cadence in the low 80's.  Once, when the incline went to 10-11% (Polar HRM tells me incline) I went searching for another cog - none in the shifter or on the wheel - daggumit! Grind, grind, grind.  The total ascending for the ride was just over 4100 ft.

The high speed descents alternated between thrilling and horrifying depending on what the wind was doing to me.  At 40-56 mph on a light bike, the wind literally owns a cyclist.  Once, just after I noticed I was cruising along at 47 mph, I caught a bug (a fly?) with my mouth.  Because the wind was blowing so hard, I could not spit it out.  After failing to eject the still-alive and fluttering bug three times I had the inevitable thought:  What would Bear Grylls do?  Bite, chew, and grimmace, of course.  Now I know why he makes those faces!  Some water helped to wash down this early snack.

I planned to complete a Green Knob to Mt. Mitchell traverse out\back on Monday, but a hard rain thirty minutes in stopped that trip.  Green Knob is incredibly steep.  At 25-30% incline, the rocky top portion of the seldom used trail was more scrambling than hiking.  Running there was out of the question.  I wisely chose to go back over those slippery rocks while my legs were fresh.

Tuesday started with a drive to the summit of Mt. Mitchell.  The mountain was completely enveloped in clouds while much of the surrounding mountains enjoyed mostly clear skies.  After that I drove back to the Green Knob trailhead on the BRP.  I decided on a light summit pack and hiking clothes because of the high chance for rain and cool temps on top of Mitchell.  The 12-lb pack had foul weather clothes, plenty of food, and a 64-oz bladder of water.

I wanted to test my legs without killing them so close to the races.  That meant that I had to control my 2700-ft "fall" down from Green Knob to the Black Mountains Campground.  It was tough and fun.  I couldn't help but wonder if the guy who blazed the trail even knew what a switchback was.  I definitely did not want to destroy my quads by descending too quickly.  I learned that lesson in CO.

Once in the campground I ate an overfilled PB&J sandwich and emptied the bladder as I ran to get more water.  Then I ran to the Mt. Mitchell trailhead where I hit the lap button on the watch.

The only event I had planned on this trip was the ascent of Mt. Mitchell.  I wanted to test my climbing legs with it.  At 6684 ft it is the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.  The 5.7 mile trail climbs more than 3300 ft.  It has root and boulder obstacles, but most of the path was runnable.  I sweated heavily as I powered up it.  It took 1 hr and 29 minutes to reach the summit marker.  I am not sure if this time was good, but the effort was solid and the legs felt great at the top.  The descent took 1 hr 20 min.  Again, I wasn't bombing down it, but I normally go down a moutain much fast than I go up.  My guess is that I climbed well.

I did see some wildlife yesterday.  I encountered a black bear, a rattle snake, and a grouse.  The grouse, a chicken-like (taste like chicken?) bird that nests on the ground, blasted from beneath a log near the trail while I climbed back up Green.  It scared me the most.

The snake was barely a snake.  I nearly stepped on the 15-in long reptile.  It made a little noise and darted away through the grass fast enough to make me jog in pursuit.  It simply would not stop for a photo.

The bear was also small.  At perhaps 100 pounds, the bear was probably in its second year.  And it was thin.  It paused on the trail and swayed back and forth as it looked at me.  I froze and said nothing as it sniffed the air. (What would Bear do if he encountered a bear?  Must have missed that episode.)  I finally said "Hello" and it disappeared quickly and quietly into the forest.  I have hiked and run thousands of miles in the Appalachians and have only seen three other bears in the backcountry.  So, this was a thrill.  Too cool.

Well, I've got to take a tour of the Craggie Brewing Co.  Hope you ennjoyed the pics. Click on them and then click again to blow them up.  Canon Elf is an awesome camera.  More coming.  ST

Sunday, June 27, 2010

BS #8 - Just Another Sweatfest

Well, the 8th edition of the pre-Silver Rush BS sessions was carried out as planned, despite the merciless heat and humidity.  BS # 8 took place on Saturday morning and it completed my longest training week in the 11 week program.  Actually, it was the longest training week I can remember, ever!  I know that carries little value to the typical high-mileage athlete, but a guy's biggest week is his biggest week.  Right?

My previous training for CO running and climbing matched this last week only in that I ran about the same number of miles -80.  Cycling was not a factor in any of the previous CO programs because I had previously focused on the running - of hills.  Last week I also rode hilly courses four times for 144 (gross!) miles.

BS #8 started at 5:30 am after an evening at the Cheeseburger in Paradise.  I had spent the evening out with friends who will be meeting me in CO next month for the Silver Rush and some climbing.  We had great conversation and good beers while planning for CO and reminiscing.

One notable story that was retold Friday night was about an incident that took place six years ago while I was on a training ride.  While I was riding on a seldom-used farm road, on a spectacular summer morning, a red Mustang passed me with a roar as the driver stepped on the gas.  He not only brought the car within inches of my left shoulder, he cut over within inches of my front wheel.  To say I was pissed would be an understatement.  There was little time to react, though, because driver steered the right wheels off of the edge of the pavement.  He then over-steered back onto the road in front of me, crossed completely to the other side of the road, and then turned hard back toward my side of the road.  Ten foot deep ditches line each side of the road, so I sat up and waited for the show to play out.

The Mustang flew across the ditch on my side of the road, hit the far side of the ditch, and flipped twice through the air before landing upside down on the six-inch high corn.  I slowed as a huge dust cloud spread out like a nuclear mushroom cloud.  Amazingly, the guy came crawling and cursing from the open passenger door.  He looked over at me as he brushed himself off and I flipped him off.  I smiled upon realizing that I would come by a fifteen minutes later after I turned around on my out/back course.  Several emergency vehicles were already there when I returned to the scene.  I smiled at him as I rode next to the ambulance he stood behind.  He flipped me off.  Carma!

Anyway . . .yesterday's run was 30 miles.  It wasn't easy, but I forced myself to drink a gallon more water than last Sunday.  Knowing that I had limped home 12 pounds lighter in similarly muggy conditions on Sunday, I drank a gallon more with hopes that I would come home only about four pounds light.  And that happened.  And I felt great at the end of the run, despite the constant sloshing of water in my gut, as I covered the last three miles at sub-7 pace while averaging 7:16 for the entire run.  I ran up that hill at the end two times to make up for Sunday.  What a difference a few days and better nutrition can make.  Lesson learned.

A sub-2 hour 40 mile bike ride followed the run.  It was carried out on the same hilly loop I have used this year.  Believe me, I was elated to be climbing hills while seated near the end of that ride.  There might be hope for me yet!

While I am not sure that needing to consume nearly five gallons of water and a dozen salt tablets in one day is good for a human, I am certain that my overall fitness and strength is increasing. Increasing enough, hopefully, to help me reach the goals.

I am writing this from the Boone, NC Panera.  Tyler is safely tucked inside of the A&P camp at nearby Appalachian State University.  Me, I will be running, riding, and climbing my way around the area for the next five days while he cuts up critters and cadavers.  This should be fun for both of us!  ST

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BS #7 - The Indiana Sauna

The seventh week of concentrated work toward the July race goals went well - until the BS.  It turned out to be another 11+ hour training week that included dozens of climbs up Stru Hill, four solid and hilly rides, and a tempo-paced 17:27 5k on a hilly course.  It was also a week that included the hottest and most humid day thus far in 2010.  That day was Sunday, the chosen BS day.

The BS started with a relaxed 40-mile ride over a hilly course.  I decided to take it a bit easier than last week's first BS ride because of the predicted heat/humidity and the fact that I had completed a tempo run and ridden hard on Saturday,  I really enjoyed the BS ride due to the slower (20.8 mph) pace and the fact that the sun had not yet tried to boil the water in my brain. 

Of note, I came across a pair of Red-Tailed hawks feeding on a roadkill rabbit.  Hawks are becoming extremely common in southern Indiana. There is a pair nesting in an oak tree about 90 ft above my roof.  Hawks sit atop many of the poles that line the farm fields through which I ride, waiting to swoop down on small prey such as mice and rabbits.  The pair I came across was standing in the middle of a seldom-used county road.  Standing quite tall.  I'd say they were at least 20 inches tall.  Elegant, bold, and beautiful, they slowly turned full circles as I rode a couple of tight loops around them.  They quietly lifted off and began to glide in small circles about fifteen feet above their meal as I rode away.  Within seconds they were back on the ground sharing the tasks of watching and pecking.   Riding so close to them and looking them straight in the eyes was an event that I will long remember.  (Image below from Wikipedia looked most lite the birds I saw.)

By the time I started the run the air was already hot and extremely humid.  The sun was still low enough that I could hide in the shade most of the time, but the humidity caused even that cooler air to have a suffocating effect.  August seemed to have settled into mid-June. 

No problem.  I had drunk a lot of fluid and swallowed a couple of s-caps before the run.  I also had 10-oz flasks in each hand as I ran.  Throughout the first two hours I continually passed through places where I noted that I was comfortably holding a sub-7 pace.  I stopped for a short time after 90 minutes of running to drink water, refill the flasks, and swallow s-caps and gel.  I also hurriedly rung out my socks and insoles.  Once back into the run I continued to feel great.  The legs felt strong while climbing and the pulse continued  to linger in an "ultra" low region below my normal training rate.

Over time I have learned to train without focusing on the heart rate at any given moment, but I do check it during hard efforts and when running in heat because both of these types of efforts result in high rates that I want to manage well.  The low heart rate lasting almost two hours in that miserable heat and humidity indicated that I was becoming acclimated to the conditions.  It did not mean that I wasn't losing a lot of fluid and salt.  I was a virtual sprinkler, spewing salty liquid at an alarming rate in the near-90 degree temperature and 100 degree heat index.  I swallowed as much water as I could during the break because I knew from experience that I would not be able to drink as much as I was losing.  After two hours I wondered how long the good feelings would last.

Then came hell.  At about 2:20 I felt a sudden increase in the temperature and I started to get a headache.  The legs no longer felt powerful while climbing.  Sweat continued to flow out of every square inch of my body's surface at an alarming rate.  My legs moved slower and my stride shortened. I looked at the watch at 2:38 and knew that a 3+ hour run was not likely because I wasn't willing to go experience several days of the bad legs that result from running while dehydrated.  It was too close to the races. 

The run turned into a jog as I came within a mile of the car.  Then the headache worsened and I began to feel dizzy.  I ran on.  I felt that some suffering and strain in the heat was essential to the training process for both Muncie and Leadville since both races have taken place during scorching hot weather in the past. 

Within a half-mile of the car and with only a steady climb through an open field I hit a new low.  The climb in the hot sun had an immediate and debilitating effect.  I stopped to throw up, but nothing came out.  Just then an old friend came by.  He had no idea what I was experiencing, but watching him bend over and heave made me believe he was hovering somewhere near me in the struggle.  He said that he would have to walk home after 80 minutes instead of finishing out his planned 90 minute run.  When I noticed that he was walking like he was drunk I attempted to straighten both my back and my stride.  I saw two other people walking during their long (11-13 mile) runs.  A few of us happened to stop together at a watering pump to soak our heads and drink from cupped hands under the spigot. It was that kind of day.  That 55 degree ground water felt so good!

Comical.  That is how I would describe my movements as I unlocked the vehicle and started pouring down all of the fluid and nutrition I had prepared.  First my right hand and forearm cramped.  Then the left thumb locked up.  Next came the right toes.  Then the left quad.  Then the abs - wth?? - my abs have never cramped.  I couldn't turn a key, lift a bottle, twist a cap, squeeze a bottle, or lift a leg without causing a lock-up.  Each cramp hurt like hell, but I had to laugh because I kept thinking about how I would look from another person's perspective.  You know, that person who would see the wickedly unnatural contortions and grimaces without experiencing the excruciating pain.  Wanting to believe that would be a funny sight, I had no choice but to laugh.

This went on for 40 minutes before I got up the nerve to attempt the drive home.  I really had no choice because I needed more salt and water and calories.  Once at home I stepped on the scale and learned that, though I had consumed more than 1.5 gal (about 13 pounds) of fluid, I weighed 12 pounds less than I had when I woke up.  That's right, I had sweated out 25 pounds of fluid.  I couldn't believe it, so I stepped off of the scale and then stepped back on. . . wow!

Random muscles continued to cramp as I ate and drank.  I laid down and waited for the next body part to lock up.  I swung back and forth between the grimaces and smiles.  Some Father's Day.  I had to laugh.  When I am in Colorado I am often warned to look out for dehydration.  When I am in Colorado I do NOT experience the kind of weight/fluid loss that I do in Indiana.  Even my toughest and longest days on the 14ers and in the ultras have not resulted in the kind of fluid loss I experience while preparing to go to Colorado. 

So, I only covered 40 miles on the bike and 23 on foot in a little under 5 hours.  It was not the BS I had hoped for.  I must be satisfied with the fact that it was a good heat acclimation day.  I also pushed through a lot of mental and physical discomfort - good prep for July's long events.  And I did get to "save" a large box turtle that was attempting to cross a quarter-mile wide newly asphalted parking lot!

I did decide that I would fore go Muncie if the weather is similarly inhospitable.  I'd rather have a good day in Leadville than suffer there because I pushed it in the Indiana sauna.

Since it is already Tuesday evening as I write this, I can report that I had a great day of training today after two ten-hour sleeps.  The weather was supposed to be worse than Sunday, but some cloud cover kept the sun from assaulting me while I put in put in more than an hour of solid running and two hours of cycling.  The run included several kilometers of the same 5:30 pace work I have been logging lately.  The ride included many seated, high-intensity climbs. 

I am still smiling as I think about that last BS.  And I am smiling about the fact that a week from now I will be running up Mt. Mitchell and cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway.   I am also smiling as I think about the fact that I will be exploring Crested Butte, CO three weeks from now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

BS #6 The Fly Must Die!

What a wonderful and mysterious trail life leads us over.  I have seen and done so much since the school year ended.  The traveling and training and planning of more traveling has kept me plenty busy, but not too busy to catch up with some old friends over lunch a couple of times.  The last 24 hours have been consumed by tending to my son who is once again ill and in the hospital.  I am typing this from his hospital room where we have just learned that the abscess on his left tonsil is responding to the IV antibiotic.  We'll be here for another 24 hours as the drug flows.  Then we will make the decision about whether or not to remove the tonsils.

The weather seems to have touched many lives across the country in recent days.  With the deaths in Arkansas and severe flooding in other areas, I could not allow myself to complain about our suffocating heat and humidity.  Nor will I complain about the fact that I've developed a sinus infection that has turned my right nostril into a high-flow faucet.  I will, however, bitch and moan about the carnivorous horse-flies that tried to make a meal out of me.  Below is a LIFE SIZE photo of the monster.

The only other time in my life when I can remember being so relentlessly harassed by biting insects was when backpacking in Denali National Park in 1997.  Then it was the Alaskan "state bird" giant mosquitoes that completely enveloped me every time I paused to eat, drink, or scratch my arse.  Plenty of clothing and an army surplus head-net kept that blood thirsty mob at bay.  Yesterday, clad in only sopping wet running shorts, a mesh hat, and running shoes, I must have appeared to be a mammalian buffet to every fly who flew near me.  I was bitten more than a dozen times by various types of flies, including four painful bites by the mandible-equipped female 1.5-inch horse-flies.  That's right, the blood suckers were girls!  The toothless boys eat pollen and nectar.

The four who bit me all died.  That was the sole purpose of having a hat on in a dense forest at dawn.  Swat and stomp - PETA be damned!

The BS was quite similar to last week.  I started with the 32-mile bike ride over a hilly (1500' vert) loop again, but I kept a higher tempo than last week.  Controlling the cadence and HR, I rolled through the course at 22.5 mph while sweating off 8 lbs of fluid and salt.  The legs felt great the whole time.

Next was the run.  I carried a gallon of water from the car to the bottom of Stru Hill before proceeding onto the roads for a 9-mile/1-hr "warm-up."  Though that part was uneventful, I did arrive back at the car with shoes that appeared to have just stepped out of a river.  That was far too much sweating for June.  Wielding a backpack containing the day's calories, I ran back to the bottom of the hill. 

A few isolated thunderstorms on Friday had completely changed Stru Hill.  Much of the fine gravel had washed to the bottom where the depth gave it the consistency of a river beach.  Passage without testing the ankle in the myriad of new erosion ditches was impossible.  I only turned the still-healing ankle once - while removing a large branch from the beach before I started. 

I climbed the hill 30 times, taking two short nutrition/fluid breaks after the 10th and 20th ascents.  Though I consumed almost a gallon of water and a quart of sports drink, I still became dehydrated to the point of a HR spike with 6 climbs remaining.  Finishing those last few climbs in a state of robotic delusion was good practice for the upcoming goals.

Upon returning home I stepped on the scale and learned that I weighed 10 lbs less than when the day started.  So a drank some chocolate milk, orange juice, and water.  Then I drank some more chocolate milk because - well, because it tasted soooo good!  I also swallowed several s-caps. 

The BS ended with a 34-mile easy ride over a  loop very similar to the one I rode earlier.  Amazingly, I suffered another horse-fly bite while cruised downhill at almost 35 mph.

I am excited about the fact that I was able to finish this long training day in horrible weather conditions without bonking, despite a heat index near or over 100 degrees for most of the run and all of the second ride.  My efficiency and strength are both coming around while my heat acclimation passed a tough test.  The combined workouts included more than 6000' vert, covered 90+ miles, and lasted almost 6 hrs.  It was a good day, despite the fact that I had to drink another two gallons of fluid to get my weight and vertigo back in line.

The heat wave is expected to last all week.  Oh, boy!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BS #5 Stru Hill

The 5th BS actually happened today. I moved it due to other commitments and the fact that I wasted so much time at a 5K that the weather became unbearable. In short, it would have been stupid to attempt a multi-hour workout high winds and heat and humidity. What a great decision.

Today was beautiful. Still very windy, but the wind came from the north instead of the south. Thus, it was a cooler air mass and the temperature was 20 degrees lower. After testing the ankle, which I turned again running yesterday, I starting running up and down Stru Hill.

Stru Hill is on the USI campus. It winds 86 feet upward through a forest over a distance of nearly a quarter mile. Stru is what remains of an old farm road that led from a low field to a high field. The D2 school has twice hosted the cross country national championships on campus using this big hill. It was groomed before each event, with moderate smoothing and a fine chip white gravel. Each time that grooming eroded away during the first rain.

I actually wanted to start climbing Stru last week, but the ankle turn and the current highly eroded condition of the road kept me from venturing over there. Large #6 white rocks are exposed over the entire route, especially in the many s
all ditches that criss cross the trail. I've suffered several minor ankle turns on those rocks over the years, so I knew I had to be exceedingly careful today.

Well, I was careful and still turned that weak left ankle once. It wasn't a bad roll. A little rubbing and I continued on to finish climb 6 of 16.

What a great run. Despite no breakfast and no water during the 17.5-mile, 2 hr run I never tired. Six times I pushed hard up the hill and each hard run was faster than the last. Great run on the best hill I have to prepare for mountain running. The total climbing for the day was almost 2000 feet. I'll need many more days like this to adequately prepare for the Silver Rush 50.

After a quick meal and a change of clothes I climbed on the new Kestrel and rode a 32 mile hilly loop. I then rode the same loop again on Bruiser. Both rides involved much suffering due to the high winds and hills. I bonked with five miles to go on the second loop. Final training goal accomplished.

The primary goal of this BS was to log some time going up and down. The total vertical for the day was over 4500 feet. I know this is not sufficient for Silver Rush training, but it is a great start.

Tomorrow I rest on a charter bus as a accompany 22 high school seniors to West Virginia for a rafting trip on the New River. Right now I must pack a bag.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May's Numbers

Looking over the log it is easy to see that May was a transition month. Three long runs covered at least 21 miles while five rides went for more than 40. With the help of three BS's, the average training day grew to more than 2.5 hrs. Each week also contained speed/power sessions in both sports. These are huge numbers for me.

Running: 135 miles @ 6:50 mpm ave. and 142 HR ave. - long run topped out at 26.2 on May 30(62% BS!)
Cycling: 575 miles (Edited)@ 21 mph ave. and 132 HR ave. - long ride topped out at 60.5 on May 30 (46% BS)

I am most excited about the fact that the BS reached 6+ hours in May. That will grow to 8+ hours if the plan does not alter. Furthermore, the total run miles will (must) increase. How much? I don't know. In 2008 I hit 800 miles in 10 wks, running 3-4 times per week, in preparation for Pbville - with just a handful of rides. I am curious to know how much mileage I can handle and whether or not the cycling will be beneficial to the Silver Rush 50. I've read a few articles about ultra guys who claim a steady cycling load helped them achieve their goals while minimizing injury. I sure hope it helps me, because the Muncie preparation requires a lot of pedaling. Sixty-two percent of May's training time was devoted to cycling and that will only fall to about 50% if the plan is carried out as written.

Now, where are those hills? Gotta climb some hills!