Friday, December 28, 2012

Euclidean Snow Run

In the wee hours of December 26th a winter storm, dubbed Euclid, blasted its way through Southern Indiana on its way from the Gulf to the Northeast. It bore copious quantities of moisture that came as rain, ice, and snow. Just to the east and south of us the storm produced high winds, lightning, and threats of tornados - typical spring weather. That was where the warmer air prevailed.

Having gone to bed on Christmas with a light breeze as the only evidence of Euclid's existence, we were awakened just before dawn by howling winds and thundersnow. Thundersnow is eery. We are conditioned to hear almost nothing during a snow storm because snow quietly, almost politely, piles up while disrupting sound waves from surrounding sources.

The thundersnow I've encountered seems like a muffled, long lasting version of regular thunder. It is similar to normal thunder in that it is the sound of lightning occurring due to friction during the violent upheaval of warm air by cold and more dense air that quickly wedges its way under the warm air.

Euclid moved in quickly, producing lots of lightning and 40+ mph wind gusts. That wind created whiteout conditions for a couple of hours while Euclid laid down 6-18 inches of snow.

I will resist delving into our municipality's inability to handle such a snowfall, except for mentioning that most roads were impassible (and probably still are!).
Map from my awesome new Polar RC3 GPS!
So, on the 26th and 27th I miraculously found my way to USI where I ran through the woods on the USI campus and at Burdette Park. (The map only shows Greenway running, because I want people in those houses along the edges of the forests to keep believing in Sasquatch:) Though those who know me well will not believe it, I can proudly pass on that I only fell once in the snow. Of course, I fell hard in the parking lot before my run on Christmas morning.

No one else was there, so the only footprints were mine and those of the fauna. I carried a camera on the second and third runs. What follows are some of the photos I took as I plodded along the Greenway and several single track trails. Though I have run there thousands of times during the last three decades, I can only remember a couple of events that were as adventurous, invigorating, and eye pleasing.  Enjoy!

Trackless Greenway . . .
. . . bunny tracked Greenway

Love the windblown look, Mother Nature!
I wonder if his tootsies were cold . . .
Hated when they built that damned dam, but it is growing on me.

Alone :)
Not alone.
This made the tootsies cold!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fall Fire in the Smokies

Here are a few of the photos from a short mid-October trip to the mountains of North Carolina to view Fall colors. Fall in the Great Smokies means tranquil frost lined mornings that melt into diversely brilliant Fall foliage and that unmistakable misty sky.

The timing of this trip meant that the best color displays were seen above four thousand feet. It was at those higher altitudes that rustling mixtures of yellow maple and poplar leaves, red maple and sourwood leaves, and rusty browns of oak and sycamore leaves combined to create a fire-like effect that changed dramatically in hue as the illuminating sun moved across the sky.

Seeing, feeling, smelling, and hearing those magnificent mountains in the Fall allows me to recall the many trips I took with my sons as they grew from toddlers to teens. Those valuable memories, each and every one, add to the alluring aesthetics of the Smokies. Enjoy!
First stop produced a slow run up Mt. Sterling.
Looking north toward Bristol, TN

"I'll take your picture," he said.
"You'll want people to know how much this run hurt," he laughed
"Hey, are you that physics teacher from Indiana?"
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Green Knob - overgrown overlook on the Knob

Don't these happen too fast?

Grandfather Mountain, NC
Sightseeing at 45 mph on a bike . . .

Monday, August 27, 2012

Spirit, Mind & Body Duathlon/Hammerfest

Just like last year I had logged two solid weeks of training in an attempt to convert myself from a mountain climbing ultra marathoner into a duathlete. There was, of course, no real conversion. My late spring and summer training over the last several years has merely allowed me to show up at events as diverse as mountain ultras and duathlons knowing that I would perform as well as my limited training would allow. That knowledge, based purely on my Polar heart rate files, has kept my pacing in check.

Interestingly enough, I had more fully recovered from the Bighorn 100 than I thought possible. This led to faster workouts and hopes of going faster in the hilly 2K/15Mi/5K YMCA duathlon than I had last year. So, naturally, I expected to race faster. Enter the unexpected.

After chasing friends Mike and Greg through the first roller coaster 2K run (6:57), I entered transition comfortable and relaxed. Then I missed my pedal while mounting. When I did mount I saw Greg about 100 meters up the road. It took me about a mile to catch up and pass him.

Soon after that I became aware of the whooshing sound coming from my back wheel. The brake was rubbing - hard. Dang. I stopped pedaling and reached back to open it up. Greg passed me while I was fiddling with the brake.

Long story short - that happened three times. I would pass Greg, then try to move the brake, and then be passed again by Greg. We were never more than 100 meters apart during the bike leg. It was frustrating for me and, I am sure, quite annoying to Greg. I apologized during and after the race. Greg, one of the nicest people I've ever met, seemed unfazed. We averaged just under 24 mph on that rolling 15 mile bike leg.

I entered T2 with the temperature rising and with a couple seconds lead, but Greg exited first. I really believe that he just stuffs his running shoes into his cycling shoes. He is that fast in transition!

Leaving T2 several seconds behind Greg I told myself to run hard enough to win. I kept saying that. Even when my heart rate climbed well above 90% on the big hill I kept repeating that mantra. Everything hurt. Sharp pains pierced my stomach with every stride. Honestly, I haven't enjoyed that type of intense effort in quite some time. It was almost like a drug. The more I hurt the more I pushed my pace.

In the end, I was about a half a minute faster than last year. It was because I ran that last run about forty seconds faster (18:16). And that was the difference in the race. Greg is a formidable duathlete. He wins most of the races he enters within several hours drive. Furthermore, he is improving all the time. On that day he forced me to an output, into a level of pain, that I have not experienced since the 2009 du worlds. I look forward to racing him again soon.

Two days after the YMCA duathlon I raced in the August Hammerfest which I had entered months earlier. Knowing full well that my limited training volume does not support such a quick turn-around, I started cautiously with a light breeze at my back. This was not the insanely hard all or nothing Ricky Bobby style of racing that I normally employ.

I maintained a fairly consistent average of 26.4 mph until the closing three miles when supply and demand reached the critical point.

I demanded that the legs provide the power, but they had simply run out of energy supplies. While several riders said that they had their highest speeds on that last downwind leg, Faith and I ground our way across the line with an average of only 25.75 mph. Hopefully, the power facilities will be back to full output when the September Hammerfest takes place in a few weeks.

For those of you who visit this blog often, there is a big change coming. Google has informed me that I cannot post any more pictures unless I start paying rent. So, I have been considering my options while delaying the posting of this race report. If you have any suggestions, feel free to contact me.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Du It High Race Report

On July 15 Kristy and I competed in the Du It High Duathlon in Leadville, CO.  I had been aware of the event for a few years, and was actually in town on race day in the past, but that was because I was participating in the Silver Rush 50 Mile Run in the Mosquito Range east of Leadville. Without the SR50 on my schedule this year, I jumped at the chance to compete in the highest duathlon in the country (the world?). It was, as expected, a lung searing suffer fest.

This run/bike/run was billed as a 5K/20K/5K duathlon, but my Polar RCX5 measured it at about 5.6K/20.3K/5.2K. The runs were not the same length because we had to run by and then back into a parking lot on the first run, but not on the second. If you know me, and my history of measuring courses, then you know why I mentioned the course length. I don't care how long they are really, but I think that race directors should make an effort to measure them correctly and  to state the actual distances when promoting the races.

Like a local ultra course
I would like to have known up front that I was going to run a few minutes extra on that first run, which was almost completely on gravel and rough double track dirt. Then my foolish self would NOT have gone out nearly as hard. Those last few minutes of oxygen deprivation, which caused most of the field to walk, nearly took me off of my feet. Honestly, I would love to have video footage of my first transition.

Finding Kristy was not a problem, since I had parked her near the transition exit. When I reached her, however, I stepped straight up to the transition crossbar and leaned heavily on it with both hands. My eyes were not focusing well and they seemed to "switch channels" by blacking out as I looked around. After a few moments I gathered myself enough (?) to grab Kristy and walk away.

Then I noticed the ladies at the transition exit eying me suspiciously. Aha! I rolled Kristy back to my transition spot and proceeded to change into cycling shoes and grab my helmet. I found myself wondering if my head was clear enough to go rocketing down the slope out of town. Once on the bike, I thought about how peaceful I would have been jogging along the trails if I had entered the SR50 that morning. The adrenaline rush from steering Kristy around that crazy course suppressed those thoughts.

Some of the roads had deep cracks spaced about twenty feet apart. I had ridden the roads around Leadville many times, so I knew exactly what to expect on the bike course. I had even taken a map when I registered and driven over the course so that I would know how far I would go before I made the first turn and how far up Sugarloaf Mountain I would find the turn-around.

Bumpity, bumpity, bump. I rode in aero as often as I could, but the cracks made that position ridiculously dangerous on a few sections of roadway. Only on the west side of the railroad tracks, on the climbing approach to Turquoise Lake did the road smooth out enough to settle into an aero tuck.

It was a cool, sunny morning, so I enjoyed the ride a lot. Like all of the reservoir lakes I encountered in western states this summer, the water level in Turquoise Lake was well below normal due to the minimal snowfall last winter. The bike course went across the dam and then up along the paved road leading back to Mayqueen Campground. Duathletes and sprint triathletes turned around well before Mayqueen, but not before a section of road that was torn up by a landslide a few years back. That one hundred meter section of road was still gravel. Orange cones separated the "lanes" through the gravel.

Though I had passed a number of cyclists from the triathlons during my ride, I was hoping to cross the gravel alone on the return down the mountain. There would be no such luck. As I rounded the bend in the road leading into the gravel, I encountered a cyclist who was moving much slower. She made a last moment decision to cross over from the edge of the road to the center just as I reached her. I was already there in order to pass her.

Moving further across the center of the road I could see that another cyclist had entered the gravel in that lane, so I quickly swerved to pass the lady in the only place I could, on the right. I yelled to let her know I was there. And, wouldn't you know it, she cut sharply in front of me. I steered Kristy off of the road and through the fist to football sized rocks strewn about. How I made it out of that, I do not know.

I completed the shorter second run in about the same time as I had circumnavigated the longer first run. And it hurt just as much. I had run ultramarathons, cycled, and climbed all through the Colorado mountains, but I had never pushed myself as hard as I did on those two runs. It was a wonder that my lungs did not break ribs in their frantic search for oxygen. Oh sure, a sensible person would have slowed down. I have rarely been accused of being sensible, and I am now certain that the moniker will never apply to me when I am racing a bike, especially at altitude.

So, I finished the Du It High Duathlon walking as if I had been drinking shots for the previous eighty two minutes and mumbling incoherently about how spectacular the views were. It was a blast and I hope to do it again someday.

Due to the wave starts, it is always hard to tell where you are when you are in multisport events. It turns out that I finished ahead of the small field of duathletes that day. At the awards ceremony several of the duathlon competitors were upset due to the seemingly random placement of the guy awarded second place. He had gone off of the bike course and they made up a bike time for him that put him second place. None of us had ever seen that done before. Off course had always meant DQ'd. It is unfortunate that the situation was handled in a way that upset several people. Otherwise, it was a great event. I especially liked the swag, which included a Melanzana beanie and socks.

And the hardware became a rare keeper for me.

"I have always delighted in the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning." - Joseph Priestly, the inventor of air

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hardrock 100: Chapman Aid Station

All year I have been looking forward to the Hardrock 100 Mile Run. Not because I was entered in it. I wasn't. My desire to witness this event stemmed directly from having watched it in 2011 from its Ouray midpoint and from the finish line in Silvterton. I was drawn in because of the amount of suffering that I witnessed. More specifically, I was fascinated and awed by the ability of the Hardrock entrants to persevere, to continue with their relentless forward progress in those unforgiving, rugged mountains amidst numerous high energy storm systems.

Even the top ten runners, renowned and respected long distance mountain running machines, with strained eyes and unsteady gaits announcing their fatigue, entered Ouray looking as if they had already covered a full 100 miles. Watching the leaders struggle, my mind lodged on the notion that these people were only about halfway to the goal. There were several more high mountain passes to ascend and, worse yet, descend in the dark.

Then it occurred to me that most of the runners in the field were many miles and multiple mountain passes behind these leaders. They would suffer longer. They would endure more of the storms that were tormenting the San Juan Mountains. Many of them would still be on the picturesque, brutal course a day later when the sun would set on the race for the second time. For a variety of personal reasons, that are worthy of research, these people were putting themselves through an incredibly hard to grasp physical and mental nightmare. This, I appreciated and, in fact, loved.

So, when a turn of events allowed me to be in southwest Colorado again this summer, I made certain to put myself on the course. Through my friend, Chris, I was able to meet a group of people at the Bighorn 100 in June who, acknowledging the mental status of mountain ultra runners, called themselves Idiots. One of those Idiots, Kari, was in charge of the Chapman aid station at the HR100. She welcomed my offer to help out.

Because Chapman was only about 19 miles into the HR100 course on this clockwise year (the course is reverses every year), the runners were still in high spirits and not yet worn down by the mountains when they passed through. I did not see a single broken down runner until the next morning when I watched the winner finish.

More than two dozen volunteers showed up at Chapman to take care of the runners' needs. Many of us spent the night in Chapman Gulch in order to produce a functioning aid station by the expected 9:45 am arrival of the lead runners. What follows is a light hearted photo essay of how the aid station, known as the Bacon Station, was built and worked.

Interacting with the runners made this a memorable and moving experience. Working and playing with the other volunteers created a festive atmosphere that, I hope, enriched and energized the runners' experiences.

Basit adds Artistic Flair to his long list of skills.
Random shot of San Juan Mountains - perty, huh?!
Kari and I setting up the drop bag tent.
I did help. Honest!!
Basit seems on the verge of discovering which
side of the tables goes up.
The runners zigzagged up that slope to
the low point on that ridge after they left us.
It is called Oscar's Pass and it is more than
3000 feet above the Bacon Station.
Then I needed a nap.
With most of the Bacon Station crew assembled, Kari
goes over our responsibilities. Kari has done this
before and leads like an Aid Station Sensei.
 The sun is up and these tents are about to be emptied.
We meet again over breakfast. Kari delegates duties to
the crew and preaches on efficiency. The crowd of
of ultra runners understands her words. 
We are open for business!
Ning, aka the Bacon Master, is makin'
Bacon almost as fast as Basit devours it!
All of that jabbering on the walkie tuckered
me out. 
My buddy Corey, who finished 29th(!!!),
rolled into the Bacon Station with an
infectious smile.
Chris, now a three time HR100 finisher, takes
over my nap chair, but only to snack on the bacon.
Alan, one of the Vi Endurance founders,
also samples the bacon on his way
to his first HR100 finish.
Hal and second place finisher, Joe Grant, discuss
their close race shortly after Joe kisses the rock.
Third place finisher, Dakota Jones, eyes
the Hardrock he is about to kiss. He says
he is out for next year. Many of us are
hoping to get in.
Darcy Africa embraces her daughter
after winning the 2012 HR100

"Everybody needs beauty . . . places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike." - John Muir