Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mulling Things Over After a Month of 2015

The Sedona Half Marathon was the first race of 2015. The full 26.2 was cancelled due to the USFS dirt roads being impassable (or something). I found out the day before that I'd be running a half marathon instead of a full. I felt a slight sense of relief, and guilt for feeling it. I have a hearty fear for the road marathon, and I was hoping to face it and really gut out hilly road race so I could remember how to hurt. It was going to be a feet-first return to running in earnest so I could attempt to push the pace at ultras. It was out of my hands.

I left work Friday night and Kelsey and I went to a play. Something I appreciate about her is that she helps expose me to things I wouldn't normally expose myself to. I know a marginal amount of things about wine now. I put a napkin in my lap most of the time, not because I don't believe in my ability to keep food off of my pants, but because it's polite. I don't not like theater, but I don't take the time to go. She's helped me grow.

The performers were great, and the show was impressive. During the play, I marveled at the thought of a group of humans taking upon themselves to tell a story. To memorize an entire script and take the time to get it just right. It wasn't a school assignment, it was something they wanted to do with their time to express themselves. They weren't doing it for a grade or credit, but rather just because they wanted to perform for their community. I really had to ponder that for a moment to let it sink in. Nobody would know or care if these people decided to do something else with their time like drink beer or watch Netflix. There isn't anyone telling them that they're lives need to be different or creative. Have I repeated myself enough yet? Of course, I'm lame and related this back to myself and running.

elevation chart from the race website
Maybe it was because it was the eve of a race, but I thought about how these actors, choreographers, directors, stagehands, theater people didn't half-ass it. They totally whole-assed it and it was cool. I wanted to apply it to what I do. I think more about artists being totally immersed in their art because nobody remembers the artist who kind of sort of fucked around with art, and they sure as hell don't make much money for it. In my life, my "arts" are running and nursing. Nobody wants to be a half-hearted artist, no matter what their art is. The big struggle is to remember that although working for ten hours straight in a hospital for free while I pay a university out-of-state tuition for it really sucks, I'm practicing my art. Likewise, in spite of being an amateur runner who struggles with motivation, I'm not a fat kid in gym class (anymore). I've chosen these tasks to be mine. Perhaps choosing a profession that directly contributes to the comfort of others in times of distress will balance out the relatively selfish act of expending energy for the sake of running fast, or maybe it doesn't matter at all.

Even with the marathon being turned to a half, I was still nervous. I awoke every hour, wondering what time it was, hoping it was time to get up. I was happy to be a little nervous. It felt good to care. Kelsey and I hopped in the car and made it to Sedona with literally two and a half minutes remaining for her to sign up for the 10k. I dropped her off and found a parking spot, then jogged to the start to find her. In typical road race fashion, I anxiously and hurriedly got ready, then didn't know what to do with myself for the remaining minutes. The usual dance of nobody knowing what they're doing or where they're going is pretty much unavoidable.

The race itself was actually enjoyable. I held an even pace, took a couple gels, and didn't make any of the wonderful aid station volunteers look like they sat in the front row at Sea World when I snagged cups of water from them. I took off out of the corral a little fast because I started too far back. At mile 4, Ian Torrence casually strolled by to reinforce that point. Even splits and a conservative start seem to be the key when an out/back course is this hilly. 45:18 at the turnaround, 1:31 for the finish. A 12 second (ish) positive split makes me feel pretty good about the marathon attempt that never was, as do the fresh legs I feel the following day.

Kelsey knocked out a top ten finish in the 10k. She's quite a talented runner, and I hope this helps her realize that. She doesn't train in any fashion that doesn't fit her desires, and her running is improving because of it. We could all learn a thing or two from that.

I'd be remiss if I didn't thank my sponsor for the race. My employer, the Mattress Center of Flagstaff, sponsored my run and worked with my schedule so that I could participate in the event. Working there has been a great experience and helped me transition to a new town. The chance to represent a local business that has helped me in so many ways is a privilege. They've taught me a great deal about being successful with an altruistic drive to fill a need in the community. I won't get into a sales pitch about product or prices, but the only rule that's ever been impressed upon me while working there is to do the right thing. Putting people before profit has made the business successful.

Up next is the Antelope Canyon 50mile. In three weeks. Better get a long run in.

I'm starting to come to terms with the truth that I'm a dork.

For the next three weeks leading up to Antelope Canyon, I'll attempt a streak. I won't miss a day of running until the race, Even if it's an easy 30 minutes before bed. I'll still continue to swim and lift weights, but adding the challenge of doing a real run at least once a day will help get me used to a higher volume of motion.

That's all.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Back at it With a Motivating, Fear-Type Emotion: 2015 Prospects

I'm back at this jogging thing again, and 2015 shows some promise. I've hopped on this new (but not new) uphill skiing bandwagon. Maybe it's not new, but I care about it now, so it must not have existed before. School has certainly cut into mountain time since the break's end, but as usual, it will stabilize once I learn what I can get away with. Trips to the gym have been frequent. I'm unaware of my actual body composition, but tipping the scales at 160lbs is the norm these days. Thanks, second puberty.

Hiking with friends with a knack for capturing moments is nice.
Fitting some climbing skins to make Mike's old skis suitable for uphill travel. Also purchased these to keep using alpine bindings.

The only ski-worthy snow in the area is on the groomers at the Arizona Snowbowl. Beautiful views and some hard-earned vertical. 
Fatness aside, I've decided to face a running demon from a few years ago and run an actual road marathon. The last road marathon run in earnest was Grand Rapids in 2010. I was reasonably fit, but came down with some pretty gnarly stomach issues the day before in the form of what I assume was gas station hot dog-induced food poisoning. A 2:57 with 4 or 5 stops in the humid plastic toilets was all I could muster that day, and it hurt. My vision was stifled and I was dizzy upon finishing, and I was in and out of the bathroom constantly for days afterward. Let's hope a little more wisdom and a little less invasive bacteria will grace me next weekend at the Sedona Marathon. It's hilly, but should be a good opportunity to run hard, which is something I'm actively trying to seek out. Trying to avoid the trap of delaying effort, I'd like to not think about races after this one. Shrugging and saying "this is just a training run for the next race" takes away from the special moment that exists when we participate in an event. All races are training for the next race, just as all experiences in life make us who we are when we approach the next one. The pounding of the roads and the repetitive, constant pace is the antithesis of trail running from a physical standpoint, but the mental state of putting in constant effort in spite of discomfort has a pleasant feeling of universality. Track workouts with the Team Run Flagstaff group have helped increase the turnover and get me some time below race pace, as have a few tempo runs in the 20-100 minute range. Race day is upon me, so I'll do the best with what I've got.
The marathon is a distance I've revered more than others. I attribute this to it being more objectively measured than an ultra. With all of the variables like terrain, weather, nutrition, elevation gain/loss on trails, we're able to hide our relative performances from the masses. If you aren't on a particular trail ultra course on a particular day, saying whether a time is fast or slow involves an increased amount of bullshit. Road races are more standardized leave less to hide behind. For those of us that care, there are even qualifying times for races like Boston and New York to shoot for. Either way, runners know what a good marathon time is, and what isn't. Something about bearing myself for the world to see is intimidating, yet simultaneously liberating. I have an image or reputation as a runner, but I'm not really even that good. This will at least provide some semblance of accuracy in measure.
Not a likely PR course, but I'm still looking.
Since ultras fill up quickly (and expensively, in most cases) some forethought is required. I've been a little quiet about it because I can't seem to find a way to promote a brand on social media that isn't, well, slimy, but I'm excited to be an ambassador for Ultra Adventures, LLC this season. This involves me promoting and writing about my experiences at their races, as well as spreading the word in my community. Their emphasis on the community aspect of distance running and their zero-waste approach is something I unabashedly support. Since they are helping me afford to participate in my favorite pastime, I'm looking for ways to do my part and help them get the most of their investment in me. Here's a video preview of the Grand Circle Trail Series:

Clearly, these are some beautiful places to see on foot. I'll be doing at least two of their events this year, starting with the Antelope Canyon 50 miler on February 21. The others are up in the air as far as expenses and availability for travel go, but the Tushars 93k (maybe 100 mile?) looks so beautiful that I find myself fantasizing about it. The Grand Canyon race is another that is close to home and will be sure to provide a wonderful experience. I'm at the will of the nursing school and money gods for the time being, but time will tell and a man can dream. 

I haven't forgotten about Zane Grey, and feel a great deal of excitement about getting back on the Highline Trail again. These events should get me back into a racing groove and feeling ready to take the technical, undulating mountain trails.

With a few gaps yet to be filled in, I could potentially have a race of some sort each month. That allows for plenty of recovery of my legs, academic life, and bank account. I haven't posted since Thanksgiving, so the disjointed nature of this post leaves a little to be desired. More reflection might be good for me, so I'll try a little more of my old habit of mulling things over in an unnecessarily verbose way.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Promise on a Sunday for a Better Week

        How many times am I going to do this? I got caught in the end of the semester funk and prettymuch forgot about running. 15 miles last week, 13 this week. Impressive, innit? I wish I could diagram these awful funks that overtake me from time to time, because I think they are one of my biggest barriers to improvement. Then again, failing to show up for a clinical is worse, so I guess I can't be faulted for choosing one over the other if that's all my unfocused mind can handle at the moment. Triage might not be the right word, but it works.
        I realized today that I have an opportunity for something really special every day. I can, if I so choose, get up and race the sun to a beautiful spot, watch it rise for a moment, and head back down to start my day. How much more perfect of a start could a day have? To not do that at least a couple days per week is just...well, it's shameful. I've been fantasizing about running up a peak as the sun goes down, watching it sink down behind the horizon, flipping my headlamp on, and heading down to earth in the dark. It doesn't have to be a grand adventure reserved for epic magazine articles or books. It can be my every day. In Michigan, it could have been my every day. Beauty is all around us, and we get caught up in something else. I can't even explain or describe what that thing is, but days disappear. Some sort of misconception that extraordinary things can't just happen on a Wednesday afternoon. I, for some reason, have built a trap for my own mind. I've decided to work less so I can enjoy my time here. A good job will come with time. What do I do with this glorious abundance of time? Sometimes I can't even say. I can do better.
        My goal for this week is to prioritize tenacity. It's the small things that catch me and don't let go. My computer, my phone, or my lack of planning. A fulfilling life doesn't happen by accident (I suppose it could, but I'm almost done babbling. Stay with me). A voice in my head is telling me that I've been "just settling in" long enough. I've been in transition in one way or another for years now. I probably sound repetitive, and I hope this struggle with transient mindlessness can end in my favor someday, but for now I'll be thankful that I wake up as often as I do. Improvement from my current self is all I can hope for. Dress for the weather. Stay moving. Quit bitching. Live life with some vigor.
        How long did the motivation last? Here's the weekly log, starting with 11/24.
7 miles, 1.5hours +/- ~ 2500' : A short day of clinicals, prepping for assessments, and some reading nearly got the better of me. I drove almost the entire way to the Elden lookout trailhead on fumes, then realized I forgot my wallet. Back home, took Cohen out, and grabbed my wallet. Deciding not to mess with the traffic on Route 66, I went to the less steep route of Oldham Trail to the Elden Summit. I wanted to make it in time to watch the Sun sink down and run by headlamp on the way down. I barely made it, but had a great deal of fun shuffling alone up the trail. Though it's barely 3 miles to the Summit, I ran every step, including the loose/technical/steep sections. Maybe a little improvement is taking place afterall. A quiet, peaceful end to a pleasant day.

7 miles, 1 hour track workout: Typically my longest day of class, I was on campus from 8-3:30. Still not even a full workday for most. I nearly bailed on the workout, but decided to head down for the sake of consistency. It's the only thing I've consistently done recently, and I feel great when I get done. 3 miles to the track, then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 minutes of "interval pace" (about 5:45-5:50/mile) with half rest in between. A small turnout for the workout, and the group doesn't "regroup" during fartlek runs, so I ran mostly alone. Having the coaches calling out splits every 200m and focusing on the person ahead of me helps keep me moving, so it's still a great way to give some variety in my usual trail shuffles. A foreign feeling is to not be completely depleted after a track session, though. I'm either doing it right, or doing it wrong. Maybe a road 5 or 10k is in order for the sake of assessment.
0 miles. .5 hours of cycling - I awoke in the morning and felt fine, only to immediately fall back asleep until it was time to get up for work. I'll have today be my rest day. Such a shame, however, because it was beautiful outside.
2 miles - Yep. two miles. Turkey Trot at Buffalo Park with a few strangers and some acquaintances. Though it was fun to mingle and get a quick tempo session in, my heart was elsewhere. In years past, my family attended a YMCA Function in Muskegon to raise canned goods for shelters nearby. As one may know from reading this blog in the past, we lost my cousin Mike on the eve of Thanksgiving 8 years ago, and my family started doing the Turkey Trot firstly to forget about being awake at dawn to hear of his death, and secondly to honor his memory. To not be there was painful, more so than I anticipated. Being one of the only family members to leave home has its difficulties. At least my niece was there to carry on a tradition, as evidenced by a photo message from my sister.
A heart-breakingly adorable reminder of what I'm missing at home.  
The run in Flagstaff was a "prediction run," meaning it was more about strategy than all-out competition, two things I equally suck at. I predicted 13 minutes for a gravel 2 miler with one decent hill, and shuffled in at 12:25. I attempted to set a figurative cruise control, but maybe hitting the track once a week has lowered that pace a little. Better to be pleasantly surprised, of course.
12 miles ~ 3hrs. +/- 3600'. A leisurely outing in unseasonably (I'm assuming) warm weather. Up Oldham to the Elden summit, down the Lookout trail to Fat Man's Loop, up the Heart Trail and back down via Oldham. I had been thinking of this route for quite a while, and had to take advantage of lots of daylight. I felt pretty light and easy-going for most of the run after my blood sugar evened out, consuming less than a liter of water and no gels. I loaded up on fries beforehand.
On the way to the actual Summit

My phone has a self-timer. How wonderful
After heading down the Lookout trail, I got a little turned around in the Sun. I wandered off the trail at the bottom of the basin and had to do a little scrambling to get back up to where I kind of sort of figured the trail was. 
        I realized that this is one of the longer sustained runs I've done in a while, and it felt pretty good. I'd like to get to to a point in which I can make a 20-30minute climb with no rest or walking, even if it's slow. The technical stuff it what slows me down to a crawl. Oh well. The time has to be put in if I expect to improve. 10,000 hours and all that Malcom Gladwell bidness. This loop is filled with some diverse beauty with its Aspens on one side, Ponderosa Pine on the other, and views of the city to the south with technicality and tough climbs all around. I couldn't really ask for more. 
An 8 hour shift right in the middle of the day tends to throw me a little off when I try to get a decent run in. Getting up early leaves little time for leisurely coffee drinking, and night runs are cold and lonely (and I'm going to get attacked by a monster I just know it), so my bicycle commute of 20 minutes with a 120' climb has to suffice sometimes. 
9 miles, 7 hours, +/- 3400'. A great hike with Kelsey, Sarah (whom I borrowed the photos from unless mentioned) and Eric on Humphreys Peak. Started at the trailhead and steadily made our way up. The wind was about as wild as I'd care to deal with above treeline, pushing 60mph or so in strong gusts. On my own, I may have quickly and stubbornly crawled the last 40-50' to the actual summit, but with a couple of newer hikers in the group, it was kind of stupid and unnecessary to keep going. I have foolish pride from time to time, but didn't see the need to suffer when it ceased to be fun. The best views can be seen without the actual summit anyway. The chance to do a genuine hike and not a walk in running gear was great. The slower, deliberate pace allowed for enjoyment of the scenery and an opportunity to take note of more detail of our surroundings. Though not a run, I still fell asleep early and felt that post-long run fatigue that 7 hours in the elements will produce. A great day and unique experience.

Photo: Kelsey

Photo: Kelsey again

Totals: ~37 miles and 16 hours on my feet, and a couple hours on the bike. 3 outings in real trails, a track workout, and a timed 2 mile. I'll call it a success in spite of a relatively low number. Thus concludes a week of outdoor stuff. Next week will likely yield less since finals week and work are crammed into 4 days to accommodate for travel to San Francisco to support Kelsey at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile. Less running, but still exciting.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Views Change, Even When Running in a Circle

Another month has gone by. More things change and Flagstaff continues to slowly turn itself into my home.

       It occurred to me that I'm living in a place that has an abundance of grandiose views and favorable weather. I can run to any of my favorite peaks or ridges for a reminder of how I've climbed and how small I am. I've come to use those points as my only destinations on runs, as if a flat loop in the woods lacks something that makes it worthwhile. As the seasons change, I'm reminded of hunting trips with my dad. The densest of woods were our usual destinations in the swamps of Northern Michigan. Instead of sitting on a rocky peak and looking out over miles and miles of land, I would sit in a swamp and peer through brush, bare limbs of deciduous trees, and pine needles. I had all day to look around, but obstructed vision. It forced me to look inward and at my immediate surroundings. I became intimate with what was nearby and what was within me as light snow and rain fell on me. I was proud of how much snow and ice could accumulate on my head and legs, for it meant that I held still long enough for it to pile up.
        On the running front, my focus has slightly shifted. I'm not especially proud of my contrarian nature all the time, but living a stone's throw away from amazing trails has somehow sent me to the track. I've joined Team Run Flagstaff, a large local running club. Mostly for access to a group to share track workouts with, I've been pleased to get the chance to run fast on a rubber circle once a week. With all of the natural wonder so close to my apartment, why bother running at the track? I think the allure for me is the sense of balance. I love getting out into the mountains and interacting with the environment around me, especially when Kelsey and I go together. The longer we're out there, the better. I get lost in hours of quiet movement, listening to singing birds and whistling pine and creeking limbs and the sound of rocks moving beneath my feet, once I tune out the sound of my hydration pack sloshing.
        The track offers something different. It offers a chance to tune out everything else and look inward to myself. No worrying about where to place my feet or whether I've pushed it too hard to get up the next climb. I'm not distracted by my surroundings because they disappear for however long the interval is. I gaze about 20 feet in front of me and go, feeling my heart beat in my ears and my lungs burn in my chest. Many of my fellow runners have no desire to be on the track or road because they love trails so much. They've said that they don't run to feel like a hamster on a wheel, and I certainly understand. Perhaps I just like different kinds of conflict to engage in. Trails help me feel like I fit into nature somehow, like I have a place in the world. The track helps me feel like I know myself. Whatever. It's just running.
        With all this said, I'm looking to cultivate some sort of leg speed to prepare for the Zane Grey 50. The Phoenix Marathon is late February, and that's 8 weeks before Zane Grey. Run a fast marathon, rest a little, then peak again, hopefully finding another slower, stronger gear to double the distance and dance over some rocks. It's probably not the best plan, but it gives me a short-term goal to get me through winter.
        Like pictures?

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


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:

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.
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.

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.

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.

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. 
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.

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.