Sunday, January 31, 2010

Big Miles, great trails, and new friends

A big mileage week, some new trails that redefine big hills, and a weekend party with some new runner friends at the LRRC. 50+ miles in the bank by the end of today.
Today a group of folks got together and ran a portion of the Buzzards A.C. Marathon Course. All I can say at the end of the day is wow! Fantastically hard, long climbs (the gas line power cut deserves special mention as it is particularly evil in so many ways!), sweet downhill that are mostly runnable, and some nice level fire road to do some actual running! The views from the ridge tops were superb despite the cold conditions, the sun shone all day long, and the conversation was excellent except when everyone was sucking air on the salmon trail leading up to the horseshoe trail.

Ran a good deal of the day with my running buddy Steve (the ultra machine) Goss who is two weeks out from his first ultra marathon. Considering that we ran 20 yesterday, and 16 today I think that he's in great shape for finishing Holiday Lake 50K++
Yesterday was the coldest day of 2010 so far, and naturally we picked that day to do 20 on the trails around Mt. Gretna. We both (Steve and I) started the run with a twisted butterfly wing around the Governor Dick tower and trails that surround it. After a brief stop back at the car (aid station) to top off bottles, eat, and get dry clothes we head off for the other half of the butterfly loop. 5 hours and 10 minutes later we end up back at the car tired and ready for some serious nutrtion and rehydration!

Home for a short time to shower and then I attended the LRRC yearly banquet. Being new to town, new to the club, and not a particularly outgoing person
when first meeting people I was a little unsure of how the evening would turn out. However from the moment I walked through the door everyone was so friendly, talkative, and generally embracing of a new comer! The beer was terrific, the food was really awesome, and the conversation and laughs flowed as fast as the beer. I look forward to many more parties with the LRCC folks.

Start of Sunday Run on the Buzzards A.C. Course.

Stream crossing at 20 degrees!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A view from the trail

In my last blog I wrote about the slow process of getting "there" from "here." It has been a slow, year long recovery for me to begin the steps back to physical strength and mental calmness. With a couple of extended mileage weeks under my shoes (and toes) I am catching glimpses of where I am heading. As my mileage increased over the last few weeks I began to notice a sharpened mental acuity and "in the moment" feeling that is such a welcome friend in the dead of winter. I also noticed that my body is responding better to the demands of longer mileage runs. What a wonderful feeling to get 8, 10, 12 miles into a run and have that serenity feeling come over there is NO other place you'd rather be than right there on the trail with your buddies- or in my case-buddies and Peg.

An old Ultra running joke...."what are you running from??" And that's just not it is it? For me it's trying to be right in the moment on the trail with the sun slowly setting or rising, the feeling of your breath-now moderated and even-slowly rising and falling with the curves and hills of the trail. To feel the dirt, rocks, mud, water, ice, and snow under your feet is a really magical experience if you focus on being where you are right in the moment. Not thinking about the ice cold beer waiting at the end of the run, or worrying about bills, or kids, or work, or.....aches and pains of your body. A wise UR said "pain is mandatory, suffering is optional."

What am I running from? Nothing. I'm running to the moment where I am totally one with the trail. Step by step feeling the wind and sweat. Step by step experiencing the pain and letting it be there. Step by step dancing your way down the dark path with your love, your friends, and your compatriots in the big game.

Step by step.

(photo taken October 3rd, 2008 at inaugural Grindstone 100. Mile 85 at sunset with a view west to the Piedmonts)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why we run

Why do we run long distances? Some blogs and books suggest that we are genetically hardwired to run long, ultra distances. (Of course most people aren't in touch with that part of their genetic code, and so haven't got the message.) Others say we are running away from something? A bad relationship, troubles at home, problems with the kids. Still others say that ultra runners are obsessive compulsive, and that ultra running fills that needs. And finally there are those who think that we're punishing ourselves physically for some reason.

I say we run to feel the warm sunshine on our face after the sun has come up over a particularly beautiful ridge line. I say we run to be with friends who love nature as much as we do, who love camaraderie, jokes, and long intimate trail conversations. We are people who are in touch with being alive-all the way alive. We love the buzz that we get when we're five, six, ten hours into a race and suddenly feel like we could run another five, six, or ten hours more. The sweet endorphin rush is better than any drug or liquor. (O.K., maybe there are a few beers that come close to the endorphin rush.....)

Today I spent the better part of the day with a great group of UR people. Unlike most initial meetings of people who don't know each other there was a comfortableness right from the get go, as we climbed up to the ridge line on the AT. The miles flew by with sweet views, good running, and fine conversation that flowed in a natural, fun way. Soon we reached the half way point of our run, refueled, and headed back. Conversations ranged from the base (you know what I mean if you run ultras) to the esoteric (what is an oenophile?) Again the miles melted away as the sun shone down on our mini-ultra on the AT, and all too soon we were back at the trail head sharing a frosty post race beverage. Part two consisted of a very fine set of micro brews at the Appalachian Brewing Company with some good grub and more good laughs.

Is there a better way to spend the day? I really can't think of one. It was great to meet the folks in the LRRC, Harry, Steve, Beth, and several others whose voice I would recognize instantly but couldn't put a name with. (That's what happens when you're staring at the trail trying (unsuccessfully) not to fall!)

Here's to many more miles and smiles together.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Barefoot Running in January?

After my disastrous first attempt at running in Vibram five finger shoes a few weeks ago I decided to give it another try this evening. After a good week of running and putting some miles in the bank I thought it was time to start training in earnest with the VFF's. I started with a good warm up (in shoes) on my way to the track, and then did a slow mile at the track as added warmup. After two miles I pulled off the shoes and slipped into the VFF's and ran a half mile before taking off the vibrams and running totally barefoot for another two laps. Unlike my earlier attempt I took special care tonight to run with a gentle "natural" gait. I didn't get too far forward on the balls of my feet, and also didn't land too hard on the heel. When I slipped off the VFF's and went to a totally barefoot run it was a really unique feel. I expect my feet to be cold, but they were surprisingly warm for running on a cold track surface. I found that if I took lots of little steps-as opposed to long strides-I covered the same distance and it felt great too.

The key to barefoot running is pacing yourself in the training, careful foot placement and strike, and attention to form.

More posts to come as as the (gentle) barefoot training continues.

Monday, January 18, 2010

From There to Here to There

Ultra running legend David Horton says "you're only as good as your last race or run." My oh my am I in big trouble. Hit the trails today on a January thaw with Peg and Steve (an up and coming fastie UR) The trail was mild, the weather was mild, and the first 10 mile or so flew by as we chattered about this and that. Then....the long break from any significant grabbed me by the legs and the gut and said "Whoa! You shouldn't be out here doing this mileage today!" The legs felt like lead sticks, I'm carrying too many Christmas cookies on my waist and butt, and my stomach-which is usually made of cast iron- decided to rebel just as we finished the run.

Rewind to January of '09. I was well trained, 15 pounds lighter, and had a solid base of miles in the bank going into Holiday Lake 50K. Fast forward through the next several, crazy months of job searching, buying a house, moving, starting a new job, renovating a house, trying to stay sane and...well you get the picture.

So from There to Here hasn't been especially pretty. From Here to There will be challenging to be sure. Especially considering the race schedule and my current fitness. But, today is a new day. I'm generally healthy, mostly sane, and certainly motivated to finish my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal.)

Let's get it on!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Injury parte deux

It seems I never learn. A week ago Tuesday I ran in VFF's, and of course went too long and too hard, AND ran in them incorrectly. As a result I had a pretty good calf pull that was sore for a good number of days. So I thought after five days or so of no running that everything was good. (Even thought I could still feel the pain!) So Peg, me and and Steve went for a rather tame jaunt on the trails in county park.... Bad idea. A couple of miles in the calf seized up AGAIN, and rather than bag it I just kept hammering away-hoping against hope that the pain would magically disappear. No magic happened, we made it back to the car after seven or so miles, and I had real difficulty moving the calf muscle. So now it's been four MORE days, and I'm contemplating going to Virginia for the MMT/MLK back to back runs. However....if the pain doesn't let up by Thursday I'm going to can it and stay here in PA and do something small on the trails around here. I'd really like to do the MLK runs but it's just not worth it to really injure myself a month before Holiday Lakes and take myself out the the Beast series before I even get started.

Sheez, you'd think that I'd learn. Motto: Trail runners are stubborn AND slow learners.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Barefoot running Uh oh!

My excitement for barefoot running may have been a bit premature! I went out for my first short run in the VFF's tonight planning for a three miler at an extremely slow pace. I had studied up on the technique required for the "shoe", and literally tippy toed my way through the first mile or so when my right calf muscle seized up and I was stopped dead in m tracks. I walked a bit, but the pain was still there so reluctantly headed for home in a a gimpy trot that took most of the pressure off of the right leg. Mind you, I was still wearing the VFF's so reverting to my normal heavy heel-strike way of running was out of the question. After another half mile or so I felt like my left calf was in danger of seizing up so I walked it home in the cold.

As I sit here nursing my wounds with a martini in hand, I suspect that I was running too far forward on the ball of my foot, and not allowing any help from the heel. I'll get the hand of this....eventually. For now it looks like I'll take a few days off and let my left calf return to normal.

Next up.....29 miles on the Massanutten trails Saturday, January 16th, and then 27 more on Jamuary 17th! Let's hope I recover between now and then.......

Run gently out there!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Born to Run" book review

A friend (Thanks Shelby) sent me a link about a book he thought I would be interested in. The book "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall is-in a word-magnificent! Now most running stories or books about running/ultrarunning are brutally boring. David Horton's Book "A Quest for Adventure" is so-so, and Pam Reed's book "The Extra Mile" is downright bad. (Hey, it's my blog right?)

So what makes this book different. For starters it not just about the runners or the race. Mcdougall takes us on a journey of exploration and adventure in the Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) part of Mexico, and introduces us to the Tumahara Indians who live there. For them running is not simply a sport but a way of life. They make their own shoes out of cast off tires treads and leather thongs, run farther-and faster- than most competitive ultra studs (A turamahara indian WON the Leadville 100 in 1994...wearing sandals....and he was 55 years old!)
and their diet doesn't consist of anything fancy. In fact they drink a fair amount of beer before they run. Go figure!

The book is part running science, part anthropology, part history lesson, and mostly just a well written story that pulls you along right to the end of the book. Even if you've never run a step you'll enjoy this book, but if you do run it might just change the way you think about running and training.
For a great look at the Turamahara, the Copper Canyon ultra, and the spectacular scenery of central Mexico check this out.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

BHAG list posted!

2010 race list is posted! I guess this means that I have to follow through right?? Putting it out to the world is my way of saying that there's no turning back now. This race calendar is audacious, bodacious, exciting and-especially for the last race of the year- scary as hell! Setting goals, getting a focus, following through on your dreams is what this list is all about. Can I do it? I think so.... NO, I know I can. Planning, persistence, patience, and pacing are all key components of this BHAG. (Big Hairy AUDACIOUS goal)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ring in the new year!

Ten or so miles on the horseshoe trail today. It was bitter (for PA) cold with a wind chill that just wouldn't quit. I was so not motivated, but once I got there-so often the case-I got into the swing of things and had a perfectly marvelous run. Although the "trail" isn't really a trail-more of an improved fire road-it meandered nicely through the wilds of South central PA. A possible? bear sighting made the day worthwhile and logging ten miles didn't hoit none either. I'm still focused on the BHAG so January is a critical training month. Bring it on!