Monday, December 29, 2008

A Very Ultra/Trail Running Christmas...

In the season and spirit of giving, I feel really blessed.

I certainly have a love/hate relationship with this time of the year as far as the holidays are concerned. I love spending time with family, catching up on what everyone has been doing since we last had a chance to gather, and generally enjoy being reminded of how important it is to have friends and family. I also love giving gifts; We don't have much, but we love having the means to give something to the people we love. I don't necessarily hate receiving gifts, but for a couple reasons I get uneasy. Probably too much to unpack and probably too personal, but basically I have a problem with 'stuff' and think part of the great deception of this life is the constant desire to accrue 'stuff'. Again, it's a weird philosophical issue for me, and I think there are needs that should be met, and am not about to say people shouldn't be allowed to have nice things, but I have seen how 'stuff' creates discrimination and causes unnecessary pain to others because they are ridiculed because they don't have the right shirt or the 'cheap' version of something.

Usually I spend the weeks before Christmas dodging questions about what I want or need, but with a limited budget, and a desire to continue trail running and my pursuit of running an ultra, I suggested people could support this through the giving of gear. I think my family was relieved to finally have ideas, and I really was blessed to receive what I like to think of as a trail runner's gift package.

I won't sit here and list the gear individually, but a few things that I got I have had the chance to use and gain a bit of an understanding of how they will beneficial. The greatest of these was a biofoam roller that has really helped the IT Band situation. Using it really has made a difference, and the only pain in my leg has been from, first running on tough snowy trails, and, second, falling hard and taking a root across the middle of my quad, but none of which seem to be IT related. I also got a couple Nathan Hand-held Quickdraw water bottles. I was really hoping to get a couple hand-helds in anticipation of the Spring and Summer trail season. handhelds aren't necessarily desirable on technical trail races, but thinking about Pineland Farms and Stone Cat, two ultras that seem to be events where one can get away with two handhelds, it is nice to have the option to carry two types of fluids in mass quantities. Carrying one of the Nathan Quickdraws on a technical trail has certainly been tested already, but more on that in the post to follow this one.

I hope everyone had a great holiday, and I wish everyone who spends the time with strides and keystrokes, sharing their experiences with life and the trails in this blogging forum, the best for 2009. I certainly look forward to the chance of meeting more of you on the trail next year!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slush (Ass-Porridge), 'Fast Running" and Chris Trapper

I know I should be doing other things right now, but it has already been a long week at the office, and when creativity or good ideas bubble up, one must follow!

Last night before I went to bed I looked out the window and saw the snow lightly drifting down from the sky, catching the ugly amber of the floodlights on the side of our apartment building, but still holding on to the inherent beauty of snowflake. When I got up this morning I was happy to see more snow outside, covering everything, and then in the hour between getting up, and getting out the door, a nice cold rain transformed the fluffy snow to heavy 'ass-porridge' slush... yes, I called the slush ass-porridge! I don't mind the winter months, in fact, I prefer them. In the winter you can put on another layer and get warm, in the summer one reaches a point where they are out of layers to take off, and then you are confined to the indoors or risk local law enforcement reminding you that there are certain regulations regarding public decency, but I digress. I guess I should be over it by now, I have lived in New England all of my life, and have stood in a puddle of slush more than a few times in my life, but happiness is certainly when the weather decides to just drop precipitation in either frozen or liquid form during the course of a storm. The only thing worse is ice, or a rain storm that is followed by a cold front that freezes the liquid before it has a chance to drain off of the roads. For the most part it is because I have had a couple occasions where I have slipped and fallen on the ice while training, which seems to always result in numerous days of recovery and lost fitness. I'd rather run in a foot and a half of powder snow with trainers on, than two inches of watery ass-porridge... anyway...

Thanks to the bipolar disorder that is New England weather, I took advantage of the warm temperatures Monday night and did some faster running. On the docket was 30 minutes, and my general plan was to push the pace only slightly, just to get my legs away from the acclimation of the slower ultra pace. Where the ultra pace is good for my general goals for 2009, I understand why so many ultra training plans insist on longer track repeats and tempo runs. The benefit is the development of one's Lactate Threshold, which will make it possible to run faster on the shorter road races, but it will also help to bring that "easy feeling" pace for ultras from 10 mins./mile down to perhaps 9:00 range.

In my college days I could really crank out a 5k training run at 5:10 - 5:20 per mile, which translated to running longer runs of 60-90 minutes more easily at 6:00-6:10 pace, which made 7:00 mile pace seem extremely slow and manageable. I certainly wasn't fast compared to other college runners, but my ability to endure longer runs at what now looks like a blazing pace was there. It is fairly basic, but I have found that by running fast, one gains the ability to improve times in shorter events, as well as in longer events, even ultras. Training to just run long and at a relaxed pace doesn't necessarily provide the ability to endure the type of hurt and strain that occurs during shorter races, Nor does it provide the milieu to improve basic speed. Although, I will say that long training runs where I went overboard and found myself absolutely cooked at 3 hours, and was still 30 minutes from home, and just had to suffer to finish the run, illuminated a different type of pain that has made me less of a wuss when it comes to shorter tempo runs.

Finally, perhaps this should be reserved for the other blog, but I am in agreement with some of Sherpa John's ( comments about the power and importance of music. I absolutely love music and I wish my parents made an effort when I was growing up to expose me to some sort of music lessons or training so I could grant the wishes of some of my more lyrical poems that should most certainly be songs. One of my favorite singer/songwriter's truly has a talent and dedication to creatively crafting great music. The artist is Chris Trapper, and I highly recommend checking out some of his stuff. His MySpace page has 5 songs on the player, two are original Christmas songs, two are from his new CD (one of which is the title song from last year's movie 'August Rush'), and the fifth is an amazing Ballad he wrote and performed at the United Nations this Fall. He is one of those artists that should get more national attention and airplay, but he allegedly doesn't fit the archetype of mainstream pop music.



Sunday, December 14, 2008

Week Wrap-up...


This was one of those quietly satisfied weeks for me.

I only ran three days this week, but I would say that all three training runs were quality:

Su - 0
M - 0
Tu - 65 minutes (7.1m)
W - 2.7m (Tempo Run)
Th - 0
F - 0
Sa - 91 minutes (9.3m, Ultra Pace)

Total - 19.1m

The IT band is still a continual concern, and it inevitably is a limiting factor right now as far as jumping into any longer distance attempts. Aerobically and mentally I feel like I could attempt the GAC Fat Ass 50k in January, but the strain on the IT band is a concern. I am keeping options open at this point, but I'd rather be patient, train in health, and run a strong 50k at Pineland Farms.

The great news is that last night I went out and turned what was just going to be a 5 mile run into something more signficant. I went out at about dusk and headed off into the darkness and cold, and just set the cruise control. I have learned that being bundled up for cold weather running almost always translates to slower paces, so I have resolved to stay away from being compulsively critical of my pace and times during the winter.

Going down the road I was surprised by the lack of traffic for the hour. Got to the 2.5 turn and thought "IT band is not tight, and I want to explore a little". Over the interstate and past the on/off ramps I found the traffic and the yuppies coming home from Christmas shopping trips - almost all gave me the flip of the headlights - probably wondering what this fool with the head lamp is doing outside in 20 degree weather. I decided to head down a side road I had seen on other runs, but never actually explored. I took a peek at my watch halfway down this road and saw I had made it to 30 minutes out... (still feeling good, wondering if I should turn because I have commited to an hour run, which has been my "long" run so far since coming back from the injury, ah, what the hell, I am enjoying this!)

Cruised down a road with houses spaced out in the woods, all seemed to have ample amounts of Christmas lights. Who needs to drive around to look at the lights when you have a headlamp, reflective jacket and tights! Got to 45 minutes out and turned around. Going back up the road the full moon had just crested over the stands of naked trees and the moonlight flooded the quiet road. I shut off my headlamp and just cruised, taking in the abundantly clear sky with the moon and the stars - It is hard to feel cold when one is surrounded by such a scene!

The last ten to fifteen minutes of the run were a little bit of a concern because I could feel the soreness start to get progressively worse on the outside of the knee. I stopped and stretched to see if I could ease the pain a little, but it didn't seem to make a marked difference. Onward!

Generally, I approached the run as an ultra pacing training run. I did not anticipate going as far or as long as I did, but I stuck with the general principle for the duration of the run. The goal was to keep moving and just go at a pace that seemed effortless. Ideally I was thinking 9:30 to 10 per mile, so without really being a slave to mile splits I accomplished that.

Most of all, I simply felt blessed to be able to cover some distance and be out for an extended period of time. Sometimes the idea of training for hours as opposed to minutes is daunting and a bit of a point of anxiety for me - wondering if I have the time, or can even accomplish the goal of running far and/or long - but when the first step is taken and the adventure begins, the feeling of freedom and the ability to commune with the outdoors - even if it is a paved road - is like no other.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

About a Million Things to Say...

Since this weekend I have started and saved close to three new posts. They all may see the light of day, but I wanted to throw a few thoughts out there.

First, the last couple of days have been really positive for me. I have been really careful with my training based on the IT Band issues, a little because I didn't know it was the IT Band until last week, but also because I didn't want to overdue it and essentially do the one step forward, two steps back thing.

One of the things I have realized about the injury is that with the proper amount of stretching and preventative measures it is manageable and I could take on some of the longer training runs.

With this in mind I embarked on my first attempt at an hour-long run. I have been trying to slowly build back the long run, and this was the next step in the process. I was a little worried because on the 50 minute run last week I started to tighten up around 45 minutes. Other than the darkness it was a great run, and though I did have a little tightness at 35 minutes, I started to feel great at the end of the run and finished with 65 minutes, and felt like I was just getting the party started! I wanted to keep going and see how long I could maintain the groovy feelings, but it was getting late, and I needed to be home to see the kids off to bed.

There was some definite tightness following the run, as well as earlier in the day today, but I made sure I did IT Band stretches at every opportunity during the day. Yeah, I was the weirdo in the kitchenette at work stretching while my soup was warming up! The reward was that I felt good enough when I arrived home tonight to go out and run an easy 20 minutes. I figured I'd try because the forecast for tomorrow and Friday is a fairly uniform "extended crappy" - cold and sleet.

The air temperature felt downright balmy when I stepped out to start the run, and that alone put a charge in my stride. I haven't made an attempt at running fast since the injury because of the possibility of strain, but I went with the quicker pace for the heck of it. I actually felt great pushing the pace a little, and though I held to the 20 minute time limit, I ran negative splits the whole way: 7:50, 7:30, and the .7 of the 3rd mile was at 7:15 pace. Yes, not blazingly fast, but it was nice to see 7's, instead of the 8's and 9's I had been accustomed to on previous runs, on the minutes-per-mile read out on the Garmin summary. Easily the most satisfying 2.7 miles I have run in the last 2 months!

All this has made my brain start rolling over the idea of winging it and attempting to run the GAC Fat Ass 50k in January, since it is a 10k loop and I can bail if things start to deteriorate too much. Then there is the part of me that is rational and is thinking that the best action would be to make sure I can get healthy for sure and run my first Ultra at the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 50k... Oh the mind of a trail runner!

On the topic of 2009, my general thought is that I am going to stick to the trails and my two goal races are going to be:

Pineland Farms 50k - May 2009
Stone Cat 50 Miler - November 2009

In addition, I am hoping to run at least six of the Eastern New England Trail Running Series races. Merrimack River Trail 10 miler, Oxford Dam Race, and the August edition of Wapack are three I really, really want to do in 2009. The Blue Hills Skyline Trail Run in July is also a consideration, but that is an experience in itself :-).

I would like to perhaps find a way to run a road marathon, but the adventure of the trail and the challenge of doing an ultra makes a road marathon look sort of like a moot point in the grand scheme of things.

So here's to a brief snapshot of 2009!

Cheers everyone!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Snow!

Oh, let the madness begin here in New England...
(The white stuff blanketing the lane in Plymouth, MA)

Last year was a horrible winter for me and my attempt to train for my first half marathon. I was also unemployed, dealing with deep depression, and heavier than I am today, so I had a lot of other stuff going on, but the prevalence of ice on the roads and my eyesight issues, running at night or in any low light environment really made things tough.

Having a pair of decent hybrid shoes should make a difference, as I have learned from my trail running friends that snow and ice on the roads can be better managed with shoes that can handle mileage on the roads and the trails respectively.

I guess this is the test of living in New England - making adjustments and sacrifices to make sure that one can maintain fitness over the course of the winter, in order to be raring to go for the spring races.

It's too cold to run....
It's too icy to run....
It's too dark to run....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Injury Diagnosis - A Mere Two Months later!

The basic news:
- No ligament damage
- No cartilage damage
- No meniscal tear
- No excessive fluid on the injured area

So the big winner is a severely strained IT Band! Also, evidently my left hamstring is extremely tight, which is also a factor.

Yes, the pessimist wants to be mad because of the cash I dumped for co-pays, X-Rays, and the MRI, BUT I am definitely happy that it is nothing more serious that needs surgery and the corresponding time off and recovery period.

I guess this is what I get for rushing into my training runs for too many months and then not stretching after those runs. I have been trying to train around my family's schedule, which means that if I have an hour to run, I best get out the door so I can run for that entire hour. I guess now I'll have to start implementing family stretch times! :-)

On a lighter note, when the doctor was giving me the news about the IT Band and Hamstring stretching, he says "You know, Rob, you could probably get away with no stretching in college, but once we get older, 30's and 40's, the body really needs those stretches". I didn't say anything, but internally I was raging. I have a couple good months left in my 20's and I'd like to keep it that way! I can already hear some of my other friends on the trail ready to pounce, as I know there are a couple of you out there that are beyond this 'older' 30's and 40's, and I'd be happy to provide the number of the doctor I saw for your comments and criticism! :-)

Amid all of the appointments and such, I have been able to maintain a little bit of my training. Last night I ran a god-awful 50 minutes, the IT Band started tightening up the last 5 minutes, but I completed the run. Unfortunately the pace was in the 9:00/mile range, but when I started running I programmed my internal pacer to "Ultrarun", so mission accomplished, I guess.

So I guess I officially get to start thinking about my goals for 2009, more on that later though.
The overwhelming thought is whether or not to run the Road GP series this year, or to focus on trails and the Eastern NE Series, and an Ultra somewhere along the line? I must say at this point I'd rather be on the trails running with friends rather than toiling on the roads. The hilarious part of the whole situation is that if I choose trails over roads, my next major goals race would be the Hyannis Marathon at the end of February, as retribution for that other road marathon on the Cape I was not able to run. Roads or not, a February marathon would be a great Ultra training run! :-) See, the optimist is fighting back!