Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Series of Tune-Ups: Stagecoach and Flagstaff Sky Running

This has been started many times. I attempt to write with regularity, but I struggle with the confidence to actually post anything. I feel as though my life lacks the impressive qualities that make for good reading, especially with regard to the hobby I've decided to spend my time and funds on over the past few years. Maybe it's just me growing into some sort of adulthood humility. I surely hope not. Writing is something I enjoy, and reading the stories of others is equally enjoyable. Sharing my stories is my way of contributing the the community.
I noticed turning leaves, meaning we've been in our new home long enough to see changes.

Life is ripe with newness. Flagstaff is a great place to call our new home, my academic program has been fulfilling, and running has been quite resplendent as fall descends onto Northern Arizona. Friendly faces in all of my new settings have been in abundance, and I'm quite thankful for it.

Running, as mentioned, has been more enjoyable as the cool weather comes around. Instead of worrying about being competitive (a waste of time considering the talent residing here), I've gotten a chance to get out on the trails a few days each week, and Kelsey and I have even been able to do some racing.

Stagecoach Ultra
The weather forecast was rather ominous all week, getting worse with each passing day. I was ready to run in slick mud and be cold all day. The thought of switching places with Kelsey and curling up in some dry clothes in the back of my Outback for nap, only to get out and run into the night to finish a collaborative 100 mile effort was thrilling. I'd felt cooped up long enough. A few hours a week of being away from town suffices only when a real getaway happens once in a while. I'm not sure which was more exciting to me: the challenge of a distance I haven't covered in a year (to the day- I raced the Hungerford Games 50 this weekend last year), or the restful time of lying in a sleeping bag or talking with other people who also, for some reason, like this hobby.

The full 100M/relay were cancelled because of the poor weather. We were consoled with the announcement that there would be a 50k the next morning. Not exactly what we were prepared for, but a respectable alternative. Ian Torrence, the RD, didn't have to plan another event for the very next day. He did anyway, and that's awesome. Considering that my longest run in a long time was 21 miles, a 50k was still going to be a hearty challenge

On the way home, the weather was starting to roll in. The summit of Mt. Elden was masked by a cloud.

The possibility of a full day's run was no more, but I couldn't sit inside and wait for tomorrow. I can't say whether it was clarity or just an abundance of pent-up taper nerves, but I realized that people die waiting for the next day. This was just a run up a mountain, a common occurrence for many outdoor enthusiasts. All experiences are wonderful when we realize how limited our time is here. It's a well-traveled trail in a fairly big town, but it was an experience that had an awakening effect on me.

Running up the peak felt quite effortless. That's not to say that my heart wasn't pounding and sweat wasn't flying off of my head. I just didn't mind at all. The struggle didn't feel uncomfortable. The weather was cool and the air felt moist when I breathed it in. The yellow of the Aspens and the cool, damp air reminded me of home and made me smile. I made it to the summit in 45 minutes, a personal best for me by about 4 minutes. The clouds were now surrounding me as I rounded the corners back down to the Sunset Trail to finish via the Heart trail. I can't believe how fantastic the views are from these rocky switchbacks. Just don't pick your head up to look while running or you'll end up on your face, as I've found. Whether barreling down a trail filled with jagged rocks or sitting on my ass to take in a view, doing it wholeheartedly works best for me.

The actual race worked out really well the following day. When planning the relay, we knew that the one who started the race would get the "best" part of the course, which contained the only large climbs and more mountainous terrain. With the consolation race, we were both able to get the part of the course we wanted to run. It was beautiful. Aspen trees were just beginning to turn, the weather was sunny and pleasant, and the course was in pretty good shape. 35 miles of actual running felt foreign by mile 22 or so because my longer outings for the last month or so have been more vertically oriented, substituting the rhythmic cadence of running with grunting up steep ascents and bombing back down. The last part of the course was a gradual descent over 13 miles of desert two-track. I should have been able to pick it up and cruise the last half marathon-ish and make for a huge negative split. My unconditioned legs had other plans as I plodded along to finish in just over 5 hours and make a 7th place spot. It went fairly smoothly with all things considered, and I didn't injure myself. I did chug a bunch of water and beer immediately after finishing and spray vomit all over a shrub, but that's my secret and I won't tell anyone. Kelsey, in typical fashion, earned a spot on the podium in 3rd place. Well, last minute finish lines in the middle of the desert that were just aid stations the day before don't have podiums, but if there was one, she'd have been on it.

I took no photos of the event. In spite of seeing photographers on the course, I haven't been notified of photos from this year. A google search reveals that a music festival with scantily-clad patriots shares the name, so there's a silver lining.

Flagstaff Sky Running Weekend
Stagecoach being a day later than planned lowered my recovery time to 6 days for the Flagstaff Skyrunning events. I knew that a full week was pushing my luck, so I "only" registered for the 39k on Saturday and the Vertical K on Sunday. I facetiously use the term "only" not to imply that a sub-marathon distance race is beneath me, but rather to show just how out of touch with reality I've been from not racing.

Day 1: 39k Sky Race
The 39k was hard. Really hard. I was having a rough go of it right from the start, but this course would be brutal on my best day. With an empty stomach and no warmup, I followed the lead group up Mt. Elden, and realized just how close to the redline I can be before I blow up. 15 minutes into a long day, I had blown up. A climb I've done with relative ease in previous attempts was a sweaty struggle on race day. So it goes.

Let the struggle begin. 3 miles out and  2500' into what will end up being a 5+ hour day. 
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed in how this race turned out, but I was fully expecting it to be difficult. When trying to decide between the ultra (55k) and the sky race (39k), I chose the shorter because I thought I'd have a better chance of racing it. Not "racing" in the sense that I'd be expecting a win, but something I could run with intensity. In that regard, I'd call it a success. I resisted the urge to use that mental and physical "cruise control" that simply gets me from A to B. For the most part, I was able to focus but never felt quite right. I surmise that the ability to focus and race is the difference between being trained and untrained for me. My body and mind are in an "economy mode" of sorts, similarly to a car with such an option. I can slip into a higher gear and get just about anywhere efficiently, but not quickly.

This course is incredible. I'd recommend it for anyone who loves a true challenge. It has some tremendously steep climbs and fast descents, great organization and top-notch direction from Aravaipa Running. My small amount of trail/ultra running success (top 3 finishes or wins) has been on flatter courses. Shit, the races I've won have been pavement  or dirt road/trail courses. Like many runners, I've been drawn to more than just distance, but also topography to challenge me. The humbling experiences of mountain racing have been some of the most fulfilling. This event rekindled a desire to break into the lead pack.


Of the photos that have appeared so far, this one succinctly captures the day. 
This race left me pretty depleted and sore. It was a good reminder that I need to eat and drink more while I push the pace. It surely sounds melodramatic for a 27 year-old to say, but I feel like an old man who has come out of retirement- rusty and out of shape. Whether it comes back or I stave off slowing down is yet to be seen.


Day 2: Vertical K
Feeling pretty beat up the following morning, I was terrified to start the Vertical K. I haven't felt nervousness like this from a race in years. I almost didn't go. A more pleasant option of taking the dog for a hike was presented. I had an out. The thought of actually failing to finish a 3 mile race was overtaking me. I had run most of the VK course the day before. The last few miles of the 39k were straight up the ski hill, going from 9400' to 11,600' in 1.3 miles or something like that. I was dehydrated, hypoglycemic, sunburned, and mentally drained. Doing it again the very next day had me wondering if it would be any fun at all. The only reason I decided to do it was because I was afraid. "You're afraid to run? what a wimp" is all I could think to myself. I had been searching for an opportunity to actually face a fear of failure. It used to be what intrigued me about the sport. Thanks to feeling completely out of my element, I had a chance to recapture that for the first time in a while.

I started out pretty trepidatiously, but fell into a groove pretty quickly. Running up steep grades is weird. I found a decent medium in which I couldn't speak, but could still keep moving. Pushing it too hard almost immediately caused a loss of momentum. I kept turning the legs and tried to keep smiling. It was working as I picked a couple people off and managed to smile. The harder I ran, the happier I felt. The pain from the day before was gone. In its place was a desire to keep going and keep jamming the legs up the hill. Maybe it was knowing that I wouldn't have to be out there for 5 more hours, or maybe I've just found a fun event that suits me, but chugging (not butt-chugging) up a steep grade to reach a peak is a feeling unlike any other.

7th place, trailing behind the front pack. Seems to be my spot.
I made it up in 1:05ish, thrilled to have actually made it considering the shape I was in at the bottom. The entire weekend was a cathartic experience in that I experienced the physical exhaustion that I hadn't felt in a long time. It helps me to reset and turn the volume down on trivial things like reasonable academic deadlines and a largely stress-free life. Kelsey being there for both finishes, in spite of a rough day at the Ultra, meant the world to me. Watching others run on when you've thrown in the towel for the day is just plain shitty. She was there, smiling at both finishes, even the one at the windy top of a cold mountain. Not only was she appreciated, she was needed.

The view from the chairlift ride. One of the coolest parts of the day.

Other jogging things

I've got no big racing plans on the immediate horizon, but I'm taking another whack at the Zane Grey 50miler this year. I'll have altitude, mountain trails, and maybe even some real training on my side this time around, so hopefully the weather cooperates and we'll be allowed to finish. For now, I attempt to get in shape so that I can get in shape.

Run, hike, or walk tall, folks.

Kelsey making her way up Humphrey's. Things are shaping up for a good TNF EC in San Francisco
The colors are certainly beautiful, but they pale in comparison to Michigan. 

Michigan's topography, on the other hand, is no Northern Arizona.
















Monday, August 25, 2014

Unpacking

I’m attempting to resurrect a dead blog. It feels like calling an old friend that I haven’t spoken to in a long time, perhaps too long. Can I pick up where I left off? Is there too much to catch up on? Would it be too little, too late?
I spent the summer unplugged. Mostly unplugged, that is. I’d post the occasional picture on instagram, but I have approximately 4 followers. Kelsey and I lived at her mother’s place for the summer. My phone had terrible reception there, so an iPhone 5S was used as a primitive texting tool that required a desperate “Statue of Liberty” pose on the deck for optimum performance. Facebook was deactivated. A little rest from this type of ridiculi was in order. Now it's funny again.


Living on an inland lake in Michigan was great. Kelsey and I paddleboarded, swam, and enjoyed some life outside of the college town/city setting. We ran some hilly backcountry roads, but running certainly wasn’t the focus of the summer for me.  I've decided that water skiing is awesome and that I am always going to be better at less cool old school things than their modern counterparts(growing up on snow skis has made me a piss-poor wakeboarder). I worked in a loosely medical related field as a surgical instrument repair technician. Learning how to repair the tools that help medical professionals was a pretty gratifying job, although getting up at 4:45 each morning was less than ideal. 
On the rare occasion that I woke up early enough to enjoy my morning before work, I sipped coffee here.

The ridiculous life preserver adds an old school flair and chafe marks.
Getting in my car and driving away from friends and family felt downright mean. I couldn't ask for better family. We love and support each other and have a good sense of humor about it. My sister and brother-in-law are expecting another child at the end of the month, and I've gone and hopped in a Subaru filled with shit and headed west. We exchanged hugs and displayed some teary-eyed stoicism that we all understand. I thought I was only feeling guilt for leaving, and I realize that it's genuine sorrow for missing my family and friends.

Not to lose track of why I've come here to Flagstaff in the first place, I'm incredibly excited to start a Bachelors of Nursing program at Northern Arizona University. After more than my fair share of fumbling around, I think I've found a career path that fits. If I can get through a notoriously tough 5 semesters, my employment and life satisfaction is likely to see some improvement as long as I don't drown in student loan debt, in which case I will fake my own death and leave a link to a new blog. Though returning to Michigan is something I never thought I would want, I'm considering this one hell of an entertaining, educational, grueling 2.5 year vacation from the midwest. Returning to be based out of the Great Lakes State after this doesn't upset me one bit. Funny how things change. I'm excited to call such a wonderful town home for a while and continue to meet great people while Kelsey and I help each other through the march to higher education.

Because logging exercise seems to help continuation of exercise, here is this:

Monday
About 8 miles on the bike to run some errands, but that's it. I'd forgotten what it's like to live in such a hilly town. Even bicycle commuting is challenging. It's a humbling reminder of how far I've gotten from being in competitive shape. Knowing is comforting, however. I think that using my bike for transportation whenever possible will give a little extra work to the legs to supplement running. Outside of the physical, biking seems to be good for my mind. I'm mobile without the expense of burning fuel and can explore my new surroundings in a way that is time-efficient and doesn't stress me the fuck out like driving a car does.

Bike path near the house that seems to take me wherever I need to go.
Tuesday
12(?) miles - Left from the apartment to the McMillan Mesa trail, where I descended the opposide side to try to find a quick route to the USFS trails just outside of town. I found a way in, but I don't think it was incredibly direct. I left my GPS watch in a hotel in Amarillo, Texas, so I was just letting the iron in the blood of my slightly-larger-than-average nose be my guide. I set out for an hour's jog, and got lost in some cool trails. It was the first run in a long time that left me wanting more instead of wanting to be done. Though it would be a nice, neat statement to say that the mountains were pulling me along, I've come to love exploration in general. Mountains are cool, and I'll do my best to enjoy them while I'm here. I'm eager to get to a point where sustained climbing is possible, but trying to enjoy the process.

PM- About 30 minutes of gym time. The new apartment building has a small fitness center with weights, benches, a couple of cardio machines, and a cable crossover machine. Nothing fancy, just hitting all the groups twice and calling it a day. Trying to get back into shape isn't incredibly fun, but I seem to be getting good at making a little progress then starting all over again.

Wednesday
1 hour (8 miles or so). Without a GPS watch, I have no idea what my pace is or how far I've gone. Even my somewhat inaccurate Suunto gave me a general idea (more on that later). I was feeling really sluggish for the whole run, but shuffled up some decent hills. On last mile, I was cruising along, finally finding a comfortable stride, when my back suddenly seized. The Thoracic region simply locked up painfully with no warning or insidious onset. I stopped immediately and could barely walk. Fuck. Needless to say, I was disappointed in myself for whatever I'd done to cause such a malady. Excessive sitting, some stress, and generally being out of shape probably resulted in shitty form of some sort. I slowly walked home and laid on the floor a while.

Thursday
Unless you're gracious enough to call carrying a sofa and desk into my apartment and putting them together exercise, then I didn't exercise. The weird back injury didn't go away overnight, so I sat around and pouted about it all day.

Friday
A little frustrated to find my back still flared up, I took an Aleve and went to the Elden Trailhead. 2.5 miles up, 2.5 miles down. I really love this climb and descent. A fun mix of runnable buffed-out single track, technical/steep running, and some stair-like objects. A compact run of 2400' over 2.5 miles to the summit gets a good workout over a short distance.
The city down below. A decidedly common sight for the local trailgoers, but I'm new so I'm impressed.
I'm not much of a technical runner, or much of a runner in general, so my lungs hurt.
The top, near the lookout tower.
Next outing, I'd like to head this way. 
Saturday
9 miles - Humphrey's Peak with Kelsey. Standard route(not even sure if there's another) from the trailhead. A pretty tough climb not too far of a drive from the house. As nice as it is to have some solitude in the wilderness, one would be foolish to expect that on a Saturday afternoon. We were making our way up at a decent pace and seeing quite a few people making their way down. Seeing people looking genuinely happy to be where they were made my day. That sounds fake, but it's not. Civilized humans using their precious Saturday to get outside and challenge themselves while appreciating a unique feature of our planet is cool.




Sunday
I'm not sure exactly how long I was gone, how far I went, or even precisely which trails I took. Normally I like knowing, but this fit my mood rather well. Sometimes it's nice just to get lost in the woods with enough water and food to get by. My dad, in his infinite wisdom, would always reassure me when we were a little turned around on our trail riding adventures. "You're not lost until you run out of gas." This advice hasn't only translated to running, but also life, in a more profound way. A plan is undoubtedly valuable, but so is tenacity, wit, and flexibility. I try to remember this when I feel lost.









So, there it is.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Let's Just Call it a Taper or Something

Monday: No jogging in honor of Memorial Day. Awesome day on the lake with friends and veggie dogs and beer. Life was good on this day.

Tuesday: No jogging in honor of the anniversary of my birth. Life can change a lot in one year. As I get older, I'm learning to avoid words like never and always. It always gets better and it can always get worse. 26 was a good year.

Wednesday: Moving day. Just carrying stuff. No jogging.

Thursday: 9 miles. A bit of a strugglefest around Wall Lake. Held a decent pace(7:13/mile), but not without some stops to decide whether puke or not. Definitely an off day. After 5 miles of 6:30-40 pace, I had to fold 'em and chill out. I thought I'd use the hot, hilly roads to practice being uncomfortable, and uncomfortable is what it was. Stomach cramps; chafing of the, uh, crotchal region; getting sort of lost, which feels sort of how I feel now as I feebly attempt to use semicolons. Even the oatmeal can't help me.  Not a bad way to shake the rust off after a three day break.


Friday: Typical Friday excuse-o-rama.

Saturday:
AM: 6 miles with Kelsey and Kate at Yankee Springs. I really like this trail system and daydream about a long, self-supported point-to-point on the connected North Country Trail whenever I run there. The aim was for a long run, but Kelsey had been fighting a really nasty cold all week, so we bailed. Considering that we share close quarters, I pretty much plan on getting it too. Just in time for a double marathon. nice.

PM: 8 miles. Back at Yankee, with Evan and Ephraim this time. This was one of the most awful runs I've had in a long time. I felt like death 2 miles in. I felt as though I was cruising along (and we were, a little under 8 min pace with little effort), then I suddenly felt done. I couldn't keep my cadence up or my posture right. My best guess is dehydration and malnutrition. Whenever I change my surroundings (which has been relatively frequently over the last 2-3 years), I neglect to take care of fluids and food like I should. In two months, it will happen again, but hopefully for a little longer.

Anyway, a super shitty run to dash my confidence about the upcoming race. Shit happens. I've blown up and walked it in before.

Sunday:
No running (I see a commonality in these entries). A few miles of stand-up-paddleboarding and kayaking on the lake with Kelsey. She's definitely shared her cold with me.


23 miles. This is embarrassing, but only posting good periods is pretty douchey.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Couldn't Resist: Jog log 5/19-5/24/2014

I haven't written much since Zane Grey. I suppose the mundane day-to-day doesn't hold a candle to a trip to my future home for a truly wonderful weekend of outdoor experience, but I'm trying to get in the habit of logging exercise again. Not for the sake of boosting my ego(that I'll admit to at least), but to feel more connected to the practice. 

I haven't been doing much training since late April. Sporadically at best. I ran the Kalamazoo Marathon with Kelsey the weekend after Zane and have done a smattering of other typical jogs/workouts. This past week, however, was filled with motivation. Maybe it was the good weather, the laid-back feeling of Summer setting in, or the fact that Kelsey and I are both doing a race in a couple weeks. Because it's close and excellently managed, I'll try my hand at a double marathon at the Yankee Springs Trail Run. As much as I'd love to say that Zane Grey bolstered a great deal of confidence, it's just not true. I can't shake the feeling of being squishy and out of shape as I try to get into an honest rhythm of summer running. That feeling of being a little bit sore each morning, a little bit sunburned, and wanting to get out for a run on any surface at any pace is something I miss. I'll keep chasing the feeling. 

I sit here on a Monday, contemplating a workout. Track? Tempo? Hills? The structured running that makes me feel fit certainly has its draw, but the warm weather has me thinking summer. Summer, for the past few years, has been more about adventurous things than workouts. Big, arbitrarily-selected loops around bodies of water; the town just over the ridge; scrambling to summits or painfully flat bike paths to nowhere permeate my sweaty, salty, over-the-top memories of summers past. I like the preparation and contemplation of going somewhere on foot, even if it's nowhere. Long outings on sore legs that finish in a different place than they started have me daydreaming at my work bench. Workouts and track runs just don't do it for me this time of year. Honestly, races don't either.

Short, painful runs must be done, however, because adventures are no fun if you aren't fit enough to finish them. I don't have time after work to run to the next town and back. Tagging a summit or two won't even be a possibility until August, and I can not be more excited about it. For now, I'll try to get and stay fit for the next thing to come my way.  Feeling pretty fat and out of shape these days.

Monday
Trail intervals: Anderson Arboretum trails. Usually a place for easy runs with Cohen and Kelsey, I thought I'd take advantage of small loops with semi-technical rolling hills. I have no way of really measuring the distance of this loop (My Suunto Ambit 2 is on its way), but it took 8:26-8:30 to run it, depending on the direction. A small, flat loop served as the rest loop at the start/finish of the big one. 4 loops at 8:30ish with an additional 9 minutes hard on the other trails. Pretty enjoyable workout as far as solo outings on minimal shuteye go. 8ish miles total.

Tuesday
Legs/crosstraining/didn't feel like running: I had little motivation to go out for a long run and I have no rec center access this summer, so I improvised. I put a combination of dumbbells and rocks in my old hiking backpack and walked to the stadium. Stairs and short, steep hill repeats. Slowly paced, but big lunging steps. 90 minutes on my feet total with plenty of up and down. Extremely effective? Probably not as much as a run so intense I puke out of everywhere, but getting outside and sweating always feels good.

Wednesday
A couple nice runs in the heat with Kelsey. First the Arb trails with Cohen, then some roads with Joe and the Urban Herd group. 11 miles for the day


Thursday
Easy 1:20 to Asylum Lake and back. Kind of a loud, hilly, construction-zoned jog to the land preserve, but worth the noise to run some singletrack and meadows as the sun went down. Stopped for a few minutes just to sit and do nothing. I do lots of nothing, but it was nice to do nothing outside in beautiful weather for a change. 10 miles? I don't know. Sounds fine.

Friday
Took a day off. Fridays are tough when I get up at 4am for work. I know, people do it all the time, but this is different. Those people are hard working or motivated or whatever.

Saturday
AM: 8ish miles with Kelsey at Fort Custer. Weather and trail conditions were as close to perfect as it gets. Comfortably warm and sunny with a nice breeze rolling in off of the lakes that the trail winds between. Now that I'm done being positive, I'll express some frustration over the inundation of trail cyclists (why are they called mountain bikers? This trail has 350' of gain/loss). To go a full minute without jumping off the trail was rare. The bad part about good weather, I suppose. Awesome morning anyway.

PM: 12 miles on the Kal-Haven Trail. I wanted to run fast on gravel, so I did a 1x10km of hard effort, a tempo 5k, and a harder 5k. Just over 6min pace for the 10k, 7:20 pace for the easier 5k, and 6:30 for the final 5k. This trail that I bemoan for being so flat actually has a slight east-to-west decline, giving me a handy excuse for slowing down.

Sunday
4 miles: Easy jog down to the track for some barefoot running on the infield. I was thinking that I should get back into weightlifting to get some strength back, but I have no access to a gym these days. Lo and behold, there was a stack of old trailer tires near the track. x-fit, bitch. I did some squats, lunges, triceps dips, pull-ups, and push ups. I was then thoroughly exhausted and shuffled home deliriously.

53 miles or so, plus miscellaneous other activities. Not bad.



Thursday, May 1, 2014

Zane Grey and Surrounding Events

I've barely posted anything noteworthy this year, mostly because I hadn't done much. This post is sort of personal, and long overdue. Not really a race report for those that seek information about the course or whatever. 

The trip I'd been looking forward to for half a year has finally come and gone. Not only did I survive, but I've come out with a new perspective on running, life, and myself. I hadn't had a really enlightening experience in while. This certainly qualifies, and ended up as one in a different way than expected.

As many of you know, I was more or less cajoled into registering for the Zane Grey 50 miler when Kelsey and I started seeing each other. She saw that Hal Koerner tweeted about registration opening up, and convinced me to sign up with the incentive that she'd go along to crew and pace. I've yet to turn down a jogging-related "wouldn't it be funny/stupid/awesome if you did this?" challenge, and I wasn't about to turn one down from a girl I admired. So, pretty much, it's Hal's fault.

I knew that the odds of me being financially, physically, and mentally able to make a 2000mile trip to a notoriously difficult 50 miler were long. I had no idea what life would be like 6 months from the night I sat up in bed, nervously tapping my credit card info into my phone. "Where the hell is Payson?" I asked myself after finalizing.
I'm not sure if life works in mysterious ways or if I'm just dumb
The next two semesters(That's how lifelong college students measure time) were some of the most memorable I've ever had, and not always in a positive way. My simple, cut-and-dry path to physical therapy school was blocked by one small detail: I'm terrible with numbers, and skipping over prerequisite math courses to get to PT school is easier said than done. This hampered my motivation, as did a ubiquitous notion that it just wasn't the career for me. Another life change. Scrap the plan. Think of a new one. My semester at GVSU was a bust, and my interests were far from the cow pasture campus of Allendale, Michigan.

The winter leading up to Zane was a tough one to train through. The weather was relentlessly cold as the "polar vortex" kept me inside with Netflix and ice cream. Along with the weather, it was one of the more challenging times in my life. Having minimal school obligations, no job, and feeling lost took its toll on me. If anyone ever finds themselves with excessive self esteem, I'd recommend being unemployed and crossing fingers for a temp job.

Spring sort of came with a few weeks to go before the race, and I finally dusted myself off to get training. A few 70 mile weeks, a lot of time in the weight room, and one flat 33 mile run. Good enough, right? On that singular long run, I gave myself a pretty good case of tendonitis of the Achilles'. Spending the next two weeks taping, icing, wrapping, and worrying about the race kept my mind off of the usual pre-race jitters and allowed for some rest.

The Race

The Zane Grey 50 is well-known for being one of the toughest(the RD claims it to be the toughest) 50 mile races in the country. I'm not alone when I say this intrigues and scares me. The promise of adventure is what draws people to ultrarunning. This is just a bit more of it. I stood there, ready to go, kind of wishing I had just stayed in bed and ate the Ben & Jerry's I left in the hotel freezer. Kelsey ran back to the car to get some shot blocks to stuff in the pockets of my untested new handheld bottles. I hadn't run in over a week, and had no idea if my Achilles' would ache in the very first steps of the race. I fiddled with my headlight. It was on upside down. My KT tape was already falling off. Time to go.

The first mile of the race is the usual conga line of people who don't know where they should be in the crowd. The rock-laden trail in the dark is tough without the addition of 130 people tripping over themselves. Thankfully, there is a a bit of flatness before the trail turns upward where we could even it out.

The first climb felt incredible and I settled into a groove pretty early on. Walking where I had to, jumping from rock to rock, running where I could. I knew I had a long day ahead, but was enjoying my first long, sustained, technical climb in quite a while. Other than being rockier, it reminded me of the local peaks in Boulder. I was treated to a sunrise I'll never forget as I crested the rim and turned my headlight off. The descent would carry me pretty much to the first AS(I think) It was technical and lined with sharp sagebrush, but it added to the weird, masochistic fun of running on rough terrain. Being on trails this technical made me glad I grew up on trails riding dirtbikes and snowmobiles. Letting your mind and eyes look 20-30 feet ahead of you while your body is over the terrain you saw a few seconds ago is the key to enjoying a run like this. I was having the time of my life, grinning all by myself.

I saw Kelsey at the next aid, and wanted to tell her how much fun I was having, that I loved our life, and that having her there meant the world to me. What I actually said was probably unintelligible nonsense. Time to start another climb.
Gracefully truffleshuffling into the first AS. 
The rhythm of this course just felt good. Feeling fresh enough to clear the rocks and logs in one jump made me glad I beat my legs up on the roads and in the gym. I felt like it was paying off. The rain started, and I welcomed it because my heat training was nonexistent. It couldn't have been over 45 degrees, and I felt hot, drinking two water bottles in 8 miles. I learned quickly not to touch any of the wooden erosion barriers with my feet as the slick surface would have me on my ass in no time. Jumping all the way over was the way to go. The second section of the course had less climbing and was a bit less technical, and gave me a good break before the hardest and longest part.

I jogged into the next AS, and there stood Kelsey with my rain jacket. I wasn't sure if I would even see her at this spot, and I was cold. She was a sight for sore eyes. I put  the rain jacket on and she stuffed handfuls of Swedish fish in the pockets. As we stood under the tent and I stuffed my mouth with everything in sight, hail started bouncing off the roof and making a hellacious noise that drowned out everything else. I looked at her and laughed, and she pulled my hood up over my head while, in her own way, telling me to get going. I obliged, and headed out into the best run I'd ever had.

The hood of my synthetic Columbia Peak2Peak Jacket(Columbia sent it for review 3 years ago and I still love it) amplified the sound of the hail hitting me. The absence of hair on my legs(so the tape would stick, is my excuse) amplified the stinging. I felt like I was running to get out of a storm, but I was actually running right into one. I kept running up the unending hill, and the mud kept getting deeper. I made it up to the rim, and started running an actual running gait. I contemplated the importance of challenge in our lives, and realized that something else was just as important- being in one's element. I was on an exposed ridgeline in a hailstorm, running a boulder-covered trail with frozen skin and tiny shorts over my ass. I couldn't see very far in front of me when the wind picked up. Ice pulled on the hair of my face as I smiled to myself.  All was right with my world for the first time in a while. The howling wind and driving hail extinguished my own negativity. Sometimes I can't stop talking myself down in my head, but not then. I felt like I deserved to be where I was. It's hard to love the world when you've got no love for yourself, and for some reason I found some up there.
Coming in for the "finish." I loved this run. 
The race was called off by management at mile 33 or so at the Fish Hatchery AS. The flooding of the creeks, coupled with the unseasonably cold weather, presented some real danger for participants and staff. I felt great, right down to my puffy ankle, but had nothing to prove. I respected the decision of race management, and would hate to see anyone die because of some egotistical ultrarunners(myself included) who demand the full course. I was 17th overall, but I guess that's unimportant since we were all "just about to start pushing it." Having Kelsey as a pacer to push me for the final miles would have been ideal, but I wanted to hop in the car with her and go check out more of our new home.
Without her crewing, I'd have been half-naked, hungry, and frozen. 
In Other News

Though we didn't know it when we started planning this trip, it had far more purpose than a remote race in the Tonto National Forest. It was perfectly timed for some exploring, seeing the city of Flagstaff, exploring the campus at NAU, and doing some apartment hunting. In August, it will be our home. Kelsey and I will be attending Northern Arizona University in the fall. I can't express how excited and grateful I am for this opportunity, and for it working out the way it did.

What's a trip to Arizona without a visit to the Grand Canyon? I only ran for 6.5 hours, so I wasn't too beat up and we wanted to run in warm weather. It's been said over and over, but it needs to be seen in person to appreciate. I think this run rivaled the Zane Grey experience in many ways and surpassed it in others. Amazing sights, sunshine, that cool jelly-legged post race feeling, and an easy run on a trail the likes of which I've never seen. We had nothing to do and nowhere to go for a day, and we were here. I'm thankful for everything and everyone that led me here.

Look. It's me. In person. Appreciating it.
Photo Credit: Kelsey Gray
Another Kelsey iPhone photo.

Photo courtesy: wise old man


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is Trail Running Becoming Too Commercialized?

The question of the month. Kind of vague. Trail running, or trail racing? Does "commercialized" mean "mainstream" in this context? I'll answer it the way I answer most questions, which involves a long-winded thought, fraught with indecision.

"What brand of shoes do you wear?"

"How do you like that hydration pack?"

"Do compression socks work?"

"Did you hear that Kilian is the 'Adventurer of the Year?'"

"I heard Tahoe went to a lottery this year."

The topics up for discussion in the world of trail running seem to be limitless. A sport that boasts simplicity and a nature-oriented mindset is being consumed by commercialism and taken over by the elite capitalist class.

Corporate money-grubbing is clearly ruining MY sport.


...isn't it?

Of course it is. It's everywhere you look. Our beloved sport is little more than a market for the world's elite to peddle their goods to those who will pay for them.  It's just getting way too commercial. We used to be a bunch of running hobos(who could, like, afford plane tickets and entry fees and stuff). What went wrong?

more commercial corporate stuff.
Companies and their advertising dollars are bastardizing our hobby. Their blatant hijacking of my trail-running bliss has me thinking about switching to a pastime that hasn't been pillaged by greed.

Look at this crap. Sell-outs.


If you haven't stopped reading this yet, you're probably picking up what I'm laying down. Money and commercialism are part of the sport, but participation in that part is more optional than we realize. As long as the ads stay in the magazines and off of the trails, I don't care. In this writer's(I use that term loosely) opinion, the sport of trail running is going the way of triathlon. Buy more crap. Get faster. qualify for that spot in that race so your co-workers will be impressed on Monday. Spend money on what the pros get for free. Beg and pray for spots in coveted, overrated races. To be candid, I think it can be fun. I like feeling important once in a while. A little pageantry never hurt anyone. I like cool gear and big races. If you've never, ever done a large event with photographers and finish line swag, then judge away. If you have, then you know what I mean. This is by no means the sole reason for my running, but if it's yours, I truly wish you the best. Jay-Z says it best: "what you eat don't make me sh*t."

It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to fret over "our" sport going a direction we don't like. We don't have to govern everything. Let the hipsters get the eye-rolls when they say they were trail running before it was cool. Think of what you want your runs to mean to you. Make it happen.

I randomly chose some pictures for this post from a file I lazily named, "running pics." Just arbitrary shots from the crappy point-and-shoot camera I seldom remember to bring along, these images are what I think of at work or school while fantasizing about a weekend on the trails. They're fairly average views of popular running regions. Out on the trail, commercialism plays a small role. Our gear gets us where we want to go safely, and that's all. Money doesn't matter out there.

From here, I can't tell if trail running has gotten too commercialized.

The question, again, is "is trail running becoming too commercialized?" Maybe it is. More importantly, maybe we are. Instead of worrying about what shoe companies, race management, and corporate sponsors have to say about trail running, we have to ask ourselves what it means to us. It means more to me than the new models of trail shoes that are coming out or which races have the biggest prize(not that a slacker like me needs to concern himself with that).  Nature offers us a way to disconnect ourselves from the synthetic stresses of life that our bodies still haven't adapted to yet. For me, friendships have been forged, scars have been earned, and stories have been made to be told too many times. It can be as commercial as it wants. All I have to do is turn off my computer and find a trailhead. Let races be a chance to mingle and push yourself. Let your training runs be time with people you like in a place you like. It's your sport, not theirs. Enjoy it, have a sense of stewardship, and love the trails.

Advertise all you'd like. I've got everything I need.
(pacing Kelsey Gray, TNF EC 50 mile, 2013)


I'm submitting this blog, so...here's this.





Sunday, April 6, 2014

Week Ending 4/6

Monday
6 miles. Typical post long run hobble. Nothing in particular hurt, but I felt blah as I took a 4.5 mile route to the SRC. Upon entering the weight room, I saw it was packed. I couldn't even see any weights or benches in the sea of people. I've gotten pretty good at controlling panic attacks in crowds, but I saw no need to go in. I did the next best thing and jogged to Pita Pit.

Tuesday
6 miles. Dammit. I'm fatigued. I guess it's what I wanted this week, to actually feel like I've been training. Getting a "big" week off to a slow start is frustrating, but nothing new. A couple miles to the football statdium, and 15 minutes of robust repeats of the bleachers. They are called bleachers because they are typically uncovered, and therefore susceptible to fading from the Sun. Look at that. You may have just learned something from me. 

The feeling I had on this run was reminiscent of days when I felt like crap all the time. Warm ups and cool downs used to feel long and laborious, making my joints ache and muscles twinge. I just went along with it, thinking it was all part of the process of getting better and depussifying myself. It very well may have been, but I've grown acustomed to feeling good on runs. Since I'm performing nearly as well as I used to when I was consumed by running, it makes me curious. Did I develop a base that I'm still drawing from, or have I learned to train smarter? If life has taught me anything, it's a combination of both. The subtle nuances we pick up on every second of every day make us better in tiny increments. I get a little smarter every day, but I must get equally lazier to balance it out.

Wednesday
5 miles: Easy jog to the gym, where I did 20 minutes of incline running and then lifting. Again, crowds.

Thursday
Another day of being inexplicably tired and lazy.

Friday
4 miles home from Gazelle carrying my sweet swag bag for the Kal Haven Trail Run. I'm excited to run a flat 34 miler tomorrow. I'm excited. I'm excited... Fuck.

I need a long run to feel confident for Zane Grey. It's in no way a similar course or experience, but it will serve a specific purpose. Kelsey and I want to run the course in about 5 hours. Whether flat, mountainous, hot or cold, it's a (relatively, compared to a sub-marathon race) lower intensity beating for a long duration. It's boring. I'm sure to chafe and get blisters. It will hurt and seem pointless while I try to talk myself into being in a good mood. A gel can bring you back from a shuffle or make you puke all over the trail. A mile will seem like three, and I'll swear we passed that sign already. In a way, it's a definitive ultramarathon. I've done some beautiful races in great company, but running 50 miles is just plain boring sometimes. We do it for the thrilling moments among the mundane. To get from A to B. If a kinesthetic experience can be enjoyed on a "rail trail."   If you need breathtaking views and well-known trails you read about on irunfar, you're faking it.

A flat, nontechnical trail to train for "the toughest 50 miler in the US?" not ideal. Why are hills and technical terrain great for training? The variety prevents injury and reduces impact(among other benefits, but I'm trying to talk positively to myself if you don't mind). We are looking to stress our bodies to force adaptation, then why not pound away?

4 more miles after dinner on the Arboretum Trail. Sort of a tempo effort with mostly sub-7minute miles.

Saturday
33.5 miles: Kal Haven Trail Ultra with Kelsey. We hated it. Okay, in many ways, I did hate it, but it was cool. I don't really admit to being a mountain snob, or even a trail snob, but a flat trail that is essentially straight and level from beginning to end is borderline masochistic. Though decidedly boring and repetitively injurious, I got what I wanted from the run. I spent 5.5ish hours on my feet(far longer than any of my training runs of late), I got a little refresher of what ultras feel like, and I spent some time outside. Kelsey hammered out her first long run in approximately six months and took 2nd place in the Women's race. I love running with her, so if there's anyone that can make a purgatory-like running experience enjoyable, it's her.

In more frustrating news, I write this with a swollen, bruised cankle. I'm assuming the rubbing of the heel collar of my shoe over the time on the course is what did the damage. Time for some damage control in the form of NSAIDs, ice, rest, and wishful thinking. I'm confident that it won't have a lasting effect, but it's frustrating nonetheless.

Saturday
Hobbling about. No jogging. Everything feels completely recovered, other than the achilles. Increased swelling and bruising. The good thing is that it seems to be an acute injury and not a chronic one. One of the warmest, most beautiful spring days yet, and I've sidelined for the first time in a while. I went up North to visit my family and enjoy some Sun before going back to the grind.

58.5 miles in total. Meh.