Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weekly Recap Jan. 23-29

Sunday 1-23
12 - 1:22:12  My stomach felt uneasy all day after the food poisoning the day before.  I drank water all day, but did not eat until 3 pm.  I finally went out to run at 6 pm. Unfortunately, the snow melt had frozen and I was limited to running on the salted USI road loop.  I decided to run it until I got tired or felt sick.  Well, I grew tired from running and tired of running the loop after 8 circuits and a little more than 12 miles.  Good run after an illness.  Having pushed this run to Sunday will make this week big.

Tuesday 1-25
6 - :39:11  This would normally be a day of hard running, but I did not want to push it too hard since my body had not fully recovered from the illness.  I ran a loop around USI that I like.  I picked up the pace for two miles during the last half of this loop on the asphalt Greenway path that runs through the woods and fields.

Thursday 1-27
6 - :39:09  Very similar to Tuesday's run, just a few seconds faster.  Body slowly recovering from last weekend.  I long for the trails, but I am not willing to run in sloppy mud when I really want to have good leg turnover.

Saturday 1-29
24 - 3:04:48  I am in pain.  This day did not go as planned.  I wanted to go to LBL, but the heavy snow that fell there earlier in the week is melting into a quagmire that has forced officials to close some areas and the trails that pass through them.  USI has a quagmire with considerably less snow, so I stayed home for a redundantly boring mud run.  I had hoped to run the two-loop marathon course at LBL, so my goal was to muster enough resilience to accomplish that in our little woods.
No way.  Not even close.  The temperature did not drop below freezing on Friday night, so the remaining snow and ice was working all three shifts to saturate the clay.  The result was that super slippery layer of top mud that reeks havoc on a winding trail.  Though I ran my first 1.4-mile loop at 7:20 pace, my heart rate was near T zone.  Don't get me wrong.  I loved it, but with each lap the trail became more slimy and dangerous.  On the eighth lap I felt a burning pain on one of my mud covered ankles.  I also slid off of the trail twice and started feeling strain in my groin.  So I left the mud after 11.2 miles.
While changing into new socks and road shoes I realized that the mud in my right shoe had actually rubbed a dime-sized hole in my sock . . . and my ankle.  I washed it with what was left of my Cytomax and rubbed on some Glide.
I then set out to finish the run on the roads and asphalt trails.  That first mile on the USI campus was a strain.  I usually leave a trail run feeling better than I would have if I'd completed the same run on the roads.  Not this time.  My knees and groin were screaming from many slips on the trail. I settled into a rough feeling 7-minute pace for several miles of what has become my standard, hilly half marathon course over the last couple of years.
As often happens on these long runs, I had a bad patch with six miles to go when every body part below the neck was giving me hell.  That mile, of course, had one of the big climbs of the day.  It was at the top of that climb that the Garmin bleeped out my split in it's high-pitched laughter - 7:31.  I responded by running a series of short strides in an attempt to loosen the legs and get my pace back.  It worked well enough to allow me to run 4 more 7's.
I folded and nearly collapsed while climbing the last mile of the run.  Honestly, my lower body may have felt better at the end of the Silver Rush 50 last July.  With my sweetest voice, I promised my dead legs and aching glutes a thorough massage.  They ignored me and I, well, I laughed.  What could I do?
In summary, my first attempt at an ultra training day in 2011 turned into a survival test .  I came up short on miles and long on time.  The trails were not kind to me.  My legs were hurting and my ego was checked. So, it was a good day.

Weekly totals: 48 miles  (5:45)

I can get there from here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekly Recap Jan. 16-22

I've decided to start giving updates of my training.  Why?  Probably because a lot of people ask me what I am up to.  Also because the disclosure will help keep me focused on the preparation for the two 50-mile mountain runs planned for the summer.

Despite the trouble that imathlete had this past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be online (with this super fast Air!!) and was able to get into the San Juan Solstice 50 M run on June 18.  I am waiting for the Leadville crew to fix my problem on that site so that I can enter the Silver Rush 50 M again.  I have not made a decision about any other race this year.  There are many possibilities being thrown my way, including the a half in Marion IL in a few weeks, the Tom King Half in Nashville or the LBL 60 K on March 12, and the Leadville Marathon in July. Decisions, decisions . . .

Sunday 1-16
6 - 42 min. Easy stroll over relatively flat terrain in the snow around USI after the hilly threshold miles of the Snowflake race the day before.   Still feeling a lot of pain in the right leg and arm due to the fall on the ice last week.

Tuesday 1-18
6 - 40 min. Ran three miles of this at 6:10 pace in the snow to get the HR up near T zone.  Great run.  I love running in the snow.  Right knee still not 100%, but has normal range of motion.

Thursday 1-20
4 - 28 min. Another easy run in the snow and in the dark.  This running on trails in the snow after dark is  fun, but I know I am slowing down to minimize the risk after falling last week.

Saturday 1-22
Planned 18 miles, but I came down with some serious stomach problems at midnight.  Bug?  Food poisoning?  I'm not sure, but it kept me in front of a toilet for over 20 hours.  No fun and no run!

Week Total:  16 miles (1:50)

Simply not enough for 50 mile race preparation, even by my standards.  I've got to stay healthy so I can really push the envelope on the long run.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Indiana Dunes State Park - ZOY Remembered

This is a photo essay resulting from a recent trip to Indiana Dunes State Park near Chesterton, IN on the shore of Lake Michigan.  I lived in Hobart, IN during the Summer and Fall of 1987.  During that time I often rode my bike from Hobart to either the Dunes or farther east to South Bend in order to wave at Touchdown Jesus. Because I fell in love with the Dunes during my short stay I have returned to them many times.  Seven of those visits were to race in the 6.5 mile ZOY RUN.  The run followed a circuitous rout that followed first behind, then on top of, then up and down, in front of, and once again behind the dune ridge.  Indiana Dunes SP is a spectacular and unique collection of forested freshwater sand dunes that should be high on any person's "must visit" list.

Soon after returning from the Winter Solace in the Smoky Mountains  I drove my son, Brandon, back to Columbia College in Chicago. From there I drove east to the Dunes with the intention of running the course of the defunct (banned!) ZOY RUN and otherwise hiking and exploring the park.  It proved to be a grand run filled with reminiscing that was clarified by the fact that the temperature was hovering around 20 F while the wind gusted wildly.  Check out the data and mapping of the run as recorded with a Garmin 410 HRM.

The following pictures are in order as I ran casually around the ZOY RUN course on frozen sand.  Can you spot the devious monster?

As usual, click twice to greatly enlarge these pictures.

The "up ramp" at the Furnessville Blowout after 1.8 miles behind the ridge. (Ouch, tilted horizon!)
Looking back in a section of grass-lined trench trail.  Sections like this made it extremely difficult to pass in the ZOY.

Once again behind the ridge after the Beach House Blowout.
The first major climb is up Mt. Jackson.  Due to a change in slope, this shot only shows a little more than half of the climb.
Summit fever?
The second climb is Mt. Holden.
The third summit, Mt. Tom, is reached by a long series of wooden stairs.  Zoom in to see where they end in this picture and begin in the next picture.

Second section of stairs leading to the summit of Mt. Tom.
Tah dah!
Heading to the beach after a crazy descent of Mt. Tom.
Who let that guy out?!
The Dunes Creek crosses the beach to empty into Lake Michigan.  I once misjudged the drop distance, which changes, and ended up going down in the creek when the temperature was in the teens.  Most of the water on my clothes quickly froze to give me an awesome ice creature look for the last mile of the race.
This boardwalk is actually near the Wilson Shelter where the ZOY RUN started.   Goodbye for now old friend . . . 

Winter Solace

The shorter days of winter tend to cause a lot of despair here in the Ohio Valley.  Those shortened days are likely to be overcast.  Add in daylight savings, wind, arctic air masses, and precipitation and you have a formula for depression.  That is what many people have told me over the years.  Soon after we fall back into daylight savings people start complaining about the now and pining away for the Spring.  NOT ME!
I love everything about winter, especially when it comes to being outdoors in wintry conditions.  During the summer you can take off most of your clothes and still suffer in the out-of-doors heat and humidity, but during the winter you simply have to put on whatever is required to keep you comfortable.  If you have been following this blog, you know that I drank as much as I could last summer and still lost 10-15 pounds of fluid on my attempts to train for activities in CO.  Lately, I've been enjoying my training after simply throwing back a glass of water before each training event.  And I do not have equilibrium problems or headaches and nausea for the remainder of the day.  I will take cool or cold air any day, even if it is capped off by ominous looking clouds.

Mt. Sterling with an active summit snowstorm (iphone pic)
 For many years I have made a habit of traveling to the Great Smoky Mountain NP between Christmas and New Years.  I am drawn to this place I like to refer to as my playground because of the biodiversity, the absolute beauty, and the physical challenges.  I've traveled there with family and friends, but this year I went alone.  I was not going to be denied an opportunity to experience that park immediately after a heavy snowstorm.

High on my list of winter trips into the Smokies is a climb up Mt. Sterling because it can be accessed in even most suffocating winter conditions.  I have climbed the mountain using several different approaches.  On most occasions I have backpacked in from Cosby Campground via Walnut Bottoms.  This year, with a lot of fresh snow on the ground, I wanted to challenge myself.  So I chose to run up the 6.2-mile Baxter Creek trail.  What a fitting distance for a runner!

Baxter Creek Trail climbs from an elevation of 1,750 ft at the trailhead up to 5,820 ft at the summit.  That elevation gain makes the climb similar to many of the 14ers in CO.  The obvious difference being the availability of oxygen!  It turned out that my effort called upon that oxygen.

The narrow road leading from I-40 to the Big Creek ranger station had been driven on by locals up until it turned into a one lane mountain road in the park.  It was hard for me to not look at all of the wind-blown snow stuck to the sides of trees and piled high on the creek that followed the road.  My excitement and anticipation of the climb spiked as I navigated that narrow road.

I parked in 6-8 inches of snow at the ranger station because the road up to Big Creek campground is closed in winter.  A car with son, father, and grandfather pulled in just before I left.  They were going to backpack to the campground, spend the night, then climb the mountain the next day.  I smiled knowingly as the grandfather described their intentions.  They seemed prepared for a for a magical bonding trip.

Using Kestrel 3500 NV weather meter, I recorded the conditions.  Temperature 19 F.  Wind 9-11 mph.  Wind chill 9 F.  My eyes told me it was sunny.  I was dressed in a heavy Duofold shirt and tights while a gortex parka was tied around my waist.  I also wore a sock hat, liner gloves, mittens, and Oakleys.  On my feet was a pair of La Sportiva Crosslites and ultra-thin socks.  I used La Sportiva Skylites in the Silver Rush 50 last summer, so I knew the Crosslites would serve the purpose.  I wondered if I needed microspikes, but in the end I don't think they would have provided much of an advantage over the big lugged Crosslites. I wore a Nathan 1.5 vest filled with water and loaded with a couple of gels, my phone, and my camera.  I also carried a pair of trekking poles.  The run was recorded on the new Garmin 410 HRM I got from Ultimate Fit.
Ready to go, minus the feet - oh, how I hate that!
After a 0.8-mile run up the gravel road to the trailhead I stopped to adjust my shoe laces, take pictures, and drink.  The goal was to drink as much of my water as possible before it froze.

Baxter Creek Trail
There were no footprints in the fresh snow on the bridge over Big Creek at the start of the trail.  I would be alone until I reached the top.  Though the trail climbed slowly at first, my heart rate quickly climbed above 150 bpm - a HR that I achieve at about 6:30 on the road.  As expected, it would be a hard effort.  I wasn't racing, though, so I planned to stop along the way for sight-seeing and picture taking.

What an awesome climb!  It was a totally new experience on a familiar trail.  The trail begins to climb steeply as it enters the deep and narrow Baxter Creek watershed.  The depth of the snow slowly increased as the elevation increased.  Above me, the sun was shining brightly through the giant leafless forest in the early afternoon.  More than once I had to scale or vault over snow-covered trees that had fallen across the trail.  It was truly a playground.

Rugged trail
At one point the trail crossed Baxter Creek.  There I knew I wanted to keep my shoes dry on the ascent.  I stopped to find a path across the snow-covered stones.   But several of the stones did not have snow on them.  Strange.  I looked all around me on both sides of the stream.  No footprints approached from any direction.  Close inspection revealed that the footprints belonged to a bear who had walked up the stream.  Hmmmm.  I gingerly hopped from stone and crossed the stream keenly aware of the fact that a black bear had been in the watershed within the previous couple of hours.
The bear did not go upstream . . .
As I ran up toward the high end of the watershed I came to a set of tracks in the 10-inch deep snow.  They were big!  I placed a mitten next to one and shot a picture.  Then I placed my hand down into the same print.  The bear's paw had been slightly larger than my hand.  Hmmmm.  I found myself hoping that the fishing expedition had been successful as I ran along.

Soon after crossing the significantly narrowed creek near the top of the watershed I came upon another set of tracks.  It was easy to look down and see that these tracks had come from where I was earlier.  They crossed the trail and climbed up a steep pile of boulders.  Above me, perhaps forty feet up, I saw the head of the bear as it peered down at me.  It was a BIG bear that appeared HUGE with a winter coat of fur.  That bear was not at all interested in me.  It slowly backed up and disappeared into the rocks.  I turned around and ran out of the watershed as quick as I could, but I was consciously aware that the bear could have easily continued over the ridge to where the trail had ventured.

Frozen tunnel of leaves
Such thoughts probably helped to elevate my HR.  When I glanced down I saw 176 bpm.  That is over 90% of my maximum HR!  So, I stopped to take a few pictures of the tightly rolled rhododendron leaves.  The Cherokee and early settlers learned to predict the temperature based on how tightly those leaves were rolled.  My Kestrel told me that it was 9 F with a wind speed of 17 mph giving a wind chill of -9 F.  Needless to say, I quickly became chilled and had to start running again.

I call it running because I was going hard.  My stride was not at all long and my pace none too fast on the steep trail that was covered by a foot of snow.  My HR, however, was the same as if I were running a half marathon - roughly 170 bpm.  Sunlight still sparkled off of the snow that clung to the sides and tops of everything.  The winter storm that had passed hours before might have been powerful and dreadful, but it had left a sparkling winter wonderland.

A thousand feet above . . .
By the time I had reached 4,500 ft I could see the clouds enveloping the ridge above me.  I stopped for a final drink and a gel.  The tube on the Nathan was, of course, frozen.  I unscrewed the lid and drank the cold water that had not yet frozen because of the sloshing motion.  The scene at this point was amazingly intoxicating, serene, and, well, white.  I took pictures with the iphone and the camera while standing in knee-deep snow.  What beauty!


The Kestrel read  a temp of 3 F, clocked the wind at 21-24 mph, and declared the wind chill to be -17 to -21 F.  It was as dangerous as it was beautiful.  I quickly put the gadgets away and "hurried" along.  I was moving at a snail's pace in the deep snow with the cold wind freezing the sweat on my eyebrows and nose.

Before long, at about 5,000 ft, I found myself in the cloud.  And snow was whirling around in the wind.  It wasn't snowing hard enough to cause a white-out, but it was snowing hard enough that I was instantly covered in the white stuff from head to toe.  Ever conscious of the danger, I kept my effort high.  The Garmin data indicated that my HR stayed above 170 high on the mountain and that it had reached 183 bpm or 97% of my maximum.  That hard work kept me warm.

Until I stopped moving at the summit.  I ran under the old tower and pulled my parka shell on before the wind and blowing snow completely froze me.  Honestly, that was the shortest and least fun of my eleven summits of Mt. Sterling.  The blowing snow kept visibility to about twenty feet while also forcing me to keep my camera safely in its case.  Past summit stays included a climb of the tower and a meal.  The blizzard conditions forced me to retreat after only about ten minutes.

The run back down the mountain was a blast.  I managed to keep my feet dry while flying across the stream both times, but I caught a toe on a tree I was attempting to hurdle.  That snag resulted in a spectacular spinning crash into the thick cushion of snow - and a lot of laughter.

Those feet are actually quite warm.
I reached the RAV in good condition.  The seven mile climb had taken 1:36 and the descent 1:06.  Despite the lower HR on the descent, I averaged 161 bpm for the whole climb.  It was comparable to a marathon race effort. I treated it as such by driving to Asheville, NC where I ate an entire BBQ chicken veggie pizza and drank two pints of beer at the Asheville Brewing Co.  I then walked up the street and had a couple more brews at Jack of the Wood.  I was still hungry, so I then ate a bunch of fruit I had brought with me.

Asheville Brewing Company
The next day I ran up Mt. LeConte on Rainbow Falls Trail.  That climb was not nearly as memorable as the Mt. Sterling climb because of the large number of day hikers coming out of Gatlinburg and because the melting snow quickly froze my feet.  Large clumps of snow continuously fell from the trees as temperatures around Sugarlands and Gatlinburg climbed into the 30's while the sun shined brightly.  The warming sun convinced me to return home instead of attempting a run on the AT the next day.  That was fine with me, because I knew that another trip was just days away.

Uhhh, no thanks!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Minutes to Memories

Is time constant?  Depends on your relativistic perspective.  It certainly moves along at an uncaring, fixed rate during the life span of a human.  I listen to John Mellencamp's music regularly.  He refers to the concept of time often in his music.  In Minutes to Memories he preaches:

Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories
Life sweeps away the dreams that we have planned
You are young and you are the future
Suck it up and tough it out and do the best you can

"Your life is now" and "Human wheels spin round and round while the clock keeps the pace" are the ring tones and alarms on my phone. Yes, I make certain that the concept of time is never far from my focus.

Though I would not consider myself obsessed with or conflicted by the matter, seldom does a day pass that I do not reflect on the fact that my life is passing by in every moment.  Whether I am asleep or awake, whether I am running fast or reading peacefully in my favorite rocker, or whether I am writing a test or a story, my time on Earth is passing.  I decided long ago to attempt to fill my time with life's experiences.

Some of life's experiences, like showering, laundry, and taking out the trash (recyclables), are at once mundane and preferred.  Sleeping.  Well, I've covered that one before - such a waste of precious time, but also most necessary.  I tend to rush through or cut short these life-eaters. Time spent with family and friends is very important to me, but I've chosen to keep most of that side of life out of this blog.

Honestly, I even tend to rush through normal runs or rides because I see those efforts as moving toward goals.  Don't get me wrong.  I enjoy the relaxation and fulfillment I gain from most of my run/ride efforts, but I also view those events as health maintenance and goal preparation.  The goals include living a long life, participating in big races, and propelling myself throughout the world.  Accomplishing all of those goals will continue to allow me to have the peak experiences and meet the fantastic people I write about in this blog.

While the last eighteen life-altering months have been filled with awesome experiences, I hope to pack this year with even more big moments.  It is early, but I am planning to attend some big and tough races. In March I will either race in the LBL 60K or the Tom King Half on March 12 - depending on how much fast running I can fit in during the next six weeks.  I enjoyed both races in the past and I am pained by the fact that they are on the same day.

I would love to race the Du Nats in Tucson in late April, but the nerve in my shoulder is not yet healed enough to allow me to ride.  A short ride just before Christmas resulted in excruciating pain and numbness in my right arm.  I miss my bike.  Du Nats is on the back burner for now.

On Saturday January 15 I will attempt to enter the San Juan Solstice 50.  This event follows a ridge route that allows almost constant viewing of some of the most beautiful land in the US.  The San Juan range contains most of the 14ers I have yet to climb, so the race would serve as a scouting expedition for the summer climbs!

I also intend to run the Leadville Silver Rush 50 again with a goal of lowering my time.  That means I plan to actually train for the event this year.  Last year's training consisted of ten weeks at 32 miles per week.  That mileage was twice my normal output, but probably half of what I should be have logged.  The training plan for this year calls for twice as many ultra runs as last year. And if you've been keeping up with this blog you know that half of the ultra runs were cut short by excessive heat.

I am also considering another run at the Leadville Marathon.  That effort would come between the two 50's, so I'll have to have a lot of confidence in my or legs or a complete loss of faculty to go through with the crazy notion.

NOTE:  I will soon complete a blog detailing a couple of awesome trips I had over the recent holiday break.  It will include some sweet pictures.  I have not been able to post it because my malfunctioning computer would not allow me to work with photos.

In the meantime, I'll have to make sure I keep an eye on the clock and and my mind on my the goals.