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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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