Monday, December 28, 2009

FORUM: Coping With The Cold... How Do You Do?

So in my continuing effort to make this blog a little more informative and reader interactive, I'd like to post a little topic for discussion and to generate some ideas not only for my own use, but for everyone who contributes or reads.

So after a holiday weekend of gluttony and breaking training and diet, I arrived home last night
disappointed that I was going to break my promised training plan for the 50k on the fly experiment I conceptualized and to which I have committed. I had hoped I'd get the 20k run I needed to complete the 10k-20k-30k progression of long runs prior to a rest week and then the 50k while visiting family on the South Shore of Massachusetts, but that didn't happen, and a Sunday of chex mix, football, pizza, and Tuscany Soup, it wasn't looking good for the evening. After all the unloading of the material baubles friends and family showered on the kiddies this Christmas, I noticed it was nearly 8 p.m. - never a great time to take on a two hour run, but I made the split decision to ignore my queasy belly, the dropping temperatures, the fast advancing evening hours, and a general desire to eat cookies on the couch, and threw on the headlamp and my road shoes for some mileage in the cold and dark.

As I ran I could feel the air getting colder by the minute and I started catching patches of black ice. Besides the general ache of putting 13.25 miles in the tank on the roads, and the eventual nervous dash into the woods, a safe distance from the road and the surrounding houses - also fighting to get a pair of running tights down before the explosion... errr, expulsion..., I spent a great deal of the two hours wondering what other folks have found works for them in cold weather when it comes to gear.

I must say I have been VERY pleased with the pair of CW-X tights I recently purchased. They have kept my hip
flexor and IT Band issues in check for the most part, and seem to do a good job blocking the wind, retaining heat, and wicking moisture. Beyond the CW-X tights, I have basically done the best with what I have in my woredrobe when it comes to the cold weather. I have a pair of New Balance running pants that have kept me warm and comfy since 2002, and I have a pair of Nike lined warm up pants that work really well on colder days and nights when worn with a pair of simple spandex shorts. Not to brag, but these warm ups were part of the XC uniform I received my freshman year of college back in 1997!

Top base layers have been a bit more variable for me, and even today I have the propensity to just layer things like turtlenecks, long sleeve t-shirts, and sweatshirts on colder days. I know there are highly technical fabrics that wick away sweat and trap heat, but I don't have the time or the budget to go for a trial and error free for all (except for me) on stuff that might not work.

One exception has been with compression mock turtlenecks. I have a Reebok long sleeve compression top that works well as a base layer for keeping warm, but I hate the feeling of compression on my chest, especially during longer runs. It is easy enough for me to feel tired while on the run, I don't need my gear helping that process along!

So here's the question: What keeps you warm, dry, comfy over the long winter training runs in the colder climates of the world?

Base layers, socks, jackets, hats, gloves, etc. The forum is open!

P.S. - Any companies out there that want or need their gear put through the paces, I'd be happy to dedicate time and space on this blog to test and review your gear! Go to my profile and send me an email.

Happy Trails,
Rob

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finding Further (at least a little bit)...

Today was a moment of rest and reflection for me.

I got back to my normal good doobie routine of counting those calories as I consume, making sure everything I take in hasn't been processed or messed around with unless I was the one doing the messing around! This was a change from the weekend where my long run Saturday gave me carte blanche to eat anything in my way. Diet? What diet?

I was going to do some resistance training tonight, but I thought better of it, and resolved that the rest would be quite well deserved.

The reason for the reflection and rest was due in part to a decision I made Sunday evening. Of course, I was still euphoric about being able to run close to 30k on a whim with Breakheart Dan Saturday, especially after an Autumn of feeling left out of all the Ultra Marathon training and racing everyone was doing. Prior to Saturday my long runs were in the realm of 5 or 6 miles, and as far as time on feet was concerned I wasn't really even getting close to an hour. In fact, the couple of occasions I tried to start with an ultra training run of an hour, I was usually sore in the areas that my nagging injuries were emanating from, which was the large red flag I needed to back off. Beyond that, I had been spacing out training runs each week, pushing quality over quantity. No chance to build a base, just speed work one day, and the 'long' run on the weekend of 4 or 5 or 6 miles. Peanuts.

Obviously, coming home Saturday afternoon with 18.5 miles in the bag, and 3 1/2 hours on the feet was like a gigantic gold star. If I had seen one of those decorative one's people seem to be placing on their houses these days, I probably would have asked to stop so I could rip it off (or at least get a photo next to it!). :-)

As to be expected, Saturday I was sore for the rest of the day, and Sunday I woke up to a preview of what arthritis must be like. Though, as the day lingered on, and the blizzard dumped more snow outside, I started feeling less tight and sore, and more eager to get outside to use my neglected Kahtoolas or Yaktrax. The rational side was lobbying for the rest and recovery, but the animal and impulsive child inside of me was far too vocal in this internal dialogue. Finally, the fallout of being trapped inside an apartment with two small children, as well as having to listen to the obnoxious neighbors upstairs get upset because one's children are making noise during the middle of the day... yeah... I quickly threw on my gear and headed out into the winter wonderland.

Initially I thought I could only handle a mile or two because my legs were VERY sore once they were urged to move in a running fashion, but after about a mile of crunching through the snow I started to feel slightly better. It was after dark and the snow was swirling in the wind, causing a really cool effect in the beam of my headlamp. There was also virtually no traffic, save the stray plow, and I quickly accommodated any motor traffic by hopping off the side to give them the entire road. I had all my reflective gear on and was extremely visible, but one plow driver, who I am assuming was taking nips of something more than his coffee to stay warm, decided to pull up alongside of me and proceed to explain how much of a 'jack ass' I was for 'jogging'. I just looked at him and said, 'Are you serious?', and he sped off into a driveway, yelling out the window to remind me of my alleged donkey-like nature. This quickly inspired more time outside, and 2 miles became 4, which became 6.5!

I factored in walking breaks, but my mile pace was well below 10 mins./mile, which is amazing considering I was running a relaxed pace on snow covered roads, the day after my longest run since the beginning of May!

It sounds cliche and perhaps a little silly, but I think I uncovered one of those Ultra Running secrets out in the darkness, snow, and schnapps-induced insults. I learned that even in our perceived soreness and exhaustion we can find that pace or gait or state of mind that keeps us going that extra mile. You can know what it means, or understand the principle, but until you experience it on a visceral level you can't appreciate it enough to know how to implement it when it counts. Hell, I am not even sure if it just fortuitously appears under certain conditions, but I know on this night I felt like I could.

Above all, though, back when I started this blog I wrote about wanting to earn my stripes as a trail and ultra runner, and the most important thing I have learned is that you can only earn these by doing. You can read all the books and watch all the videos, but until you are summoned to face the fear and challenge in the moment, it hardly matters what you studied.

This is true of life as well, and far too often I have lived in the realm of assumptions, idleness, and 'what if'. So much so that I had an emotional breakdown over the perceived.

Personal, yes, but in hindsight a priceless learning experience.

There is only one way to find 'further', and that is through moving, experiencing, confronting, and living.

Happy Trails, Friends. Keep moving.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Breaking Boundaries in Bradley Palmer, or, 'Why Not?"

Don't call us 'Wyld Stallyons', but in the words of Ted 'Theodore' Logan, Breakheart Dan and I got together at Bradley Palmer State Park to partake in a most excellent adventure!

My training weeks have been typically made up of about half running and half resistance training since starting my new diet and training regimen. In fact my base of running training hasn't been impressive, and I have not done any runs longer than 8 miles or 1 hour since way back at the beginning of August, when I ran the Oxford Dam Trail Race. Following Oxford, I decided I needed to lick my wounds and try to heal some of the lingering injuries I incurred over the spring and early summer.

The first step to getting back has been to limit my mileage and start back slowly. Most of the late fall racing I have done has been shorter distance races, and have basically served as my long training runs. Then a couple weekends back at the Middlesex Fells I knew I'd be making the small hop from a long run of 6 miles to the 8 miles I'd cover during the race. The catch being that these 8 miles are over tough terrain and I expected my time on feet to reach close to two hours, which would be a challenge. Obviously I made it through the Fells in fairly good shape, simply having a little soreness the following couple of days, but nothing nearly as painful as it had been in August.

With the Fells being the end of my 2009 racing season, I wondered what might be next, and knew the GAC Fat Ass was perhaps a nice event to shoot for. Yes, the event is billed as a 50k, but this is one of the GAC races where you can come and have a good time with other trail running friends, old and new, and run the 10k loop through Bradley Palmer State Park as many times as you see fit. No pressure, no frills, just friends and fun on the trails.

Of course my mind has gone to the idea of running 50k on the day, but given my lack of training, and the short time before the race, I have been thinking really quite conservatively, and realistic (or so I thought). Then I read one of Sherpa John's recent posts about exploring Human Potential and pushing ourselves past that place that feels safe and 'realistic'. Then Larry Olsen suddenly passed away, and I now find myself in a position where I want to challenge myself and push myself past normal. I want to suck every last bit of life out of each day - through each endeavor. I don't want to be depressed or pessimistic. I want to live while I have the opportunity to live, and living for some people might not be running for 50 kilometers in the woods, but for me it is a physical and mental challenge that summons that internal reflection and connection with our raw souls. We arrive at that place where we are asked, 'Do you really think you only have this much?', and we are challenged to seek deeper into ourselves, finding more where we thought there was none.

In this spirit I came up with a simple training plan: increasing long runs to be able to run 50k on race day. So last week I ran one loop of the course, and this week I was scheduled to run two loops, next week run 30k, rest the following week, and then arrive at race day with thoughts of 50k. Though I haven't run over 10 miles since August, today's 20k seemed possible with an Ultra marathon pace.

Originally my plan was to practice my ultra run-walk strategy, but the temperatures hovering in the low 20's and the course layout seemed to inspire more running early on. Dan and I kept a moderate running pace and fit a few walking breaks in - not exactly on the schedule, in fact, I can't really say I know how close we were to running 2, walking 1, since it changed depending on the terrain, and I think we rarely did a 2-1 strategy, if at all. Having company during long training runs is a great distraction for so many reasons, and I was glad to do more running than walking because it showed how I am not as out of shape as I had anticipated I was.

We ran the first loop in about 1:08, which was a bit faster than the 1:10 to 1:20 per loop I had in mind, but besides a few aches, I felt good. We stopped and refilled water bottles, I chowed some PB&J, and we were back on the move.

Loop two was a lot of the same. Still freezing cold, still attached to no set walk break schedule, with the exception of some of the longer hills, and we just seemed to float along.

I will say, even though it was really, REALLY cold on the course, it seemed like once we got going the peace and quiet of the landscape and the stillness of the morning were really amazing. I honestly don't think I could have wanted to be anywhere else on earth... well, maybe a carbon copy of where we were with about 30 or 40 more degrees of heat!

Ate some more PB&J during the latter half of the loop and was expecting my body to rebel in the last mile or two, which would signal the internal yellow light that marks the preparation for the end of the long run. Then I started thinking... bad idea.

I knew Dan wanted to run 3 more miles beyond the 20k, and I was happy that I might be able to accomodate him. Also knowing that a blizzard was on the way, I was confident that forcing another 3 miles would only help, since I might not be able to run Christmas Eve morning for my third 'long run' on the course in preparation for the Fat Ass. Then I thought: 'you know, it has been a great day, and I don't feel too thrashed, in fact if forced to run a third loop, I probably could'. These are the thoughts that lead us past 'normal'!

As I was mulling this over, Dan says that he'd be cool calling it a day after finishing 20k and I laugh and tell him about being cool with another 3 miles. Then I joke about running a third 10k course loop.

Joke turns into reality and we are embarking on 10k loop #3. It didn't take long to start feeling every step a little more, and walking breaks seemingly got a little longer and less forced. The magic of starting a third loop is that you are commited and know that the only outcome is finishing that loop, no matter what it takes. I love that feeling. You hurt, but you know you have accepted the challenge and must tough it out. Tough it out we did, and finished the final loop with a 30k time under three and half hours, which is very, very impressive to me, since I haven't run that distance since running the GAC Six Hour back in May. It was a really great day for me (and I hope for Dan as well).

On the technical side, I used my new CW-X Stabylx Insulator tights for the first time today, and I wonder if they are part of the reason I was able to go long. If anything, the support on the knees, IT bands, hip flexors, and lower abs they provide was just what I needed. I am sore, but I feel okay. I also feel like I did an excellent job staying hydrated over the duration of the run. I was taking in about 20 ounces of water and NUUN each hour, and I took a S-Cap around two hours when I suspected we might be able to run a third loop. Pee stayed light yellow, which was a great sight... did I mention us ultra folk are an odd bunch? I also feasted on a powerbar before the run, and gnoshed a few segments of PB&J during the run - all of which agreed with my tummy.

Besides the distance and the time, it was great running with someone else, and sharing in the challenge. Too often we spend idle miles on the trail, and I am truly thankful for every single run I get to share with one of my friends.

I must give big thanks to Breakheart Dan who most definitely helped me through the miles, and to Sherpa John Lacroix, who I have yet to meet, but his continual pursuit of pressing the limits and finding the true 'Human Potential' has been an inspiration. In that same vein, the other members of 'The Gang' inspire me over and over with their tireless pursuit of the new, amazing, and adventurous.

Thanks Guys and Gals, you keep me running!

Happy Trails.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ultra Dreaming, and Wrapping Up a Couple Weeks of the Great Diet Experiment

Winter in Bradley Palmer State Park can be both beautiful and a little foreboding - no wonder the Colonial residents preferred traveling by sea, instead of by the few, dark wooded roads, when headed to other area settlements back in the 17th century. In fact, the early Puritan settlers of Cape Ann were mortified by the dense forest that they found when they arrived. While the immense amount of timber would provide the raw material for the early shipbuilding industries in places like Salem and Boston, the Puritans were convinced that Satan was the chief resident and anyone who ventured too deep among the arbors was bound to lose their souls!

Fortunately I am getting familiar enough with the trails in the area that I am not nearly as spooked as I once was. In fact, running through Bradley Palmer is actually relatively soothing and scenic with all of the corridors of cleared land among the borders of tall trees, and then the Ipswich River flowing close by on the North end of the property.

I went Saturday with the idea of doing a little ultra training and route discovery. Gil's Athletic Club, or
GAC, as they are known by most everyone in the trail and ultra world, puts on a staple race of the winter time trail season. The G.A.C. Fat Ass 50k happens typically the first weekend after New Year's (January 9th, 2010 this year) and is set in Bradley Palmer. Runners basically have the option of running the 10k course one to five times, with the ultimate goal being to snag a January 50k. The course itself is rolling, and incorporates all types of terrain, from asphalt and packed gravel, all the way through to the rooty and rocky. With the idea that I'd be attending the GAC Fat Ass this year, and attempting to tap into my inner maniac, my goal was to get to know the course and run an easy 10k with my Ultra strategy.

When I arrived, it was cold and the sun was setting, which I know would have scared the knickers off of the
Puritans, and I noticed that some of the recent snow was still hanging around, which I knew would make for some interesting running:

(Frozen Swamp)

(Ah, nice and easy...)

(Crunch, Crunch, *sigh*)

(Find the trail, if you dare!)

(Hoping the devil isn't seeking his due, as the sun sinks lower!)

All in all, it was a decent run, but my ultra pacing and walking breaks flew out the window with all the navigation of the unfamiliar course. With that said, it isn't a hard course to follow and find on your own with a trail map, but I found the blanket of snow and some seemingly absent trail intersection markers made things a little more dicey than usual.

About 4.5 miles in I got turned around and off trail, and realized my ride would be waiting for me back at the parking lot soon, so I revved up the engine and headed for the access road, which provides a direct route back to the main lot from pretty much any end of the park. In actuality, I missed the last 1.5 miles of the course, but got almost 10k, as the last mile and a half run parallel to, and actually on (for a segment), the access road.

The abs are a little sore, but seem to be recovering much quicker from longer runs. Perhaps that is the progress I have been looking for?

Nonetheless, I will continue my 'Ultra Training on Short Notice' experiment next weekend when I look to find the rest of the course and then add another loop to see what 20k does to my nagging injuries. I am going to see if I can snag a pair of CWX Stabylx Tights and perhaps they will allow me to go a little further with less pain by stabilizing my ab and hip
flexor regions that have been so slow to heal over these last few months.

Great Diet Experiment

So week three has closed and it appears I am doing something right. I actually spent week two reading more about caloric intake and weight loss, and decided that I would try a more focused approach at monitoring the calories of the non-processed and natural foods I have been eating. I quickly found that my calorie intake is actually much less because some of foods I was eating that were processed and contained a little hydrogenated oil, but were still within the parameters of my old diets added more calories, but contributed no nutritional value, which has allowed me to cut more crap out, and focus on a couple higher calorie items, like nuts, that contain needed nutrients.

Of the four days I counted calories I was safely below my
allotted calories for the day every day, and surprisingly didn't seem ravenously hungry. Which makes me wonder if some of the processed foods we eat actually contain additives that mess with the body's chemicals important to the communication of hunger?

As far as exercise is concerned, week two and three both had 4 workouts. Week two I ran an interval workout that totaled 3.5 miles of short and fast repeats, and at the end of the week I raced at the Fells. I also did resistance training super set workouts on two other days. This past week I ran long at Bradley Palmer, and also did an interval workout with longer reps. Essentially I wanted to run a timed mile for reference, and following the mile I added three more repeats (400m, 800m, 400m). The workout accounted for about 4 miles total. In addition to the two running days, I did another two sessions of resistance training super sets. It was a bit of a tricky week because I didn't do anything for the first three days, and then worked out Wed., Thurs., Fri., and Sat., so I felt slightly fatigued and a little over worked Friday, but the slower pace Saturday allowed for some nice active recovery.

The weigh ins have gone from disappointing to very pleasing:

Week 1: 193, Week 2: 194.5, Week 3: 188.

I am totally pumped to see a dip below 190 and weighed myself twice that day to make sure it wasn't due to water loss from the run. We will see how this week goes, but I am optimistic that this is working!

Happy Trails!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"For Those About To Rock" - Middlesex Fells Trail Race (Dec. Edition) - 8 Mile - RACE REPORT

"Stand up and be counted for what you are about to receive."

"Hail, hail to the good times, 'cause rock has the right of way. We ain't no Legend, we ain't no cause, we're just livin' for the day."

- from ACDC's "For Those About to Rock"

First, I would have posted this sooner, but the sudden passing of Larry Olsen really made me want to hold off on posting something that would bump the news down 'below the fold'. Nevertheless, I imagine Larry wants us all to keep running and living, so alas we move on, but will never forget.

Saturday, December 5th brought the last race of the Eastern New England Trail Race Series and, as the cliche goes, the series saved the best for last.

The Middlesex Fells is quite unsuspecting because it vaults up out of the earth mere miles outside of downtown Boston, and offers terrain that is great preparation for hiking and running in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for the city dweller or suburbanite. The most rugged of the trails in the Fells is the Skyline, roughly a 7.5 to 8 mile loop that has plenty of rolling hills, and rocky running, offering a couple of spectacular views of the city in the distance and, on a clear day, the Blue Hills to the south, which also have a Skyline Trail with a similar notorious reputation.

Race director 'Bogie D' has to limit the race field based on necessity and park regulations, but this race isn't for all trail runners. In fact, most of the time I am out on the Skyline I wonder what possessed me to want to run on such a trail. Outside of the terrain and smaller field, this race really deserves to be on the docket of ENETRS races, and with a season that features 24 events over close to 9 months of the year, runners clamoring for series points this late in the season have to earn every single last one.

The race is really a microcosm of the trail running community as a whole. In addition to the 8 mile, Bogie offers an Ultra Race on the same course, and those only up for one loop around the Skyline are privy to the wonder of seeing the Ultra runners negotiate the same terrain for 3 to 5 loops. It really is quite impressive, and it is one thing to want to run 40 miles, but it is completely different wanting to do it over this tricky terrain where the trail runner is forced to be ever vigilant or risk getting a face full of granite.

The 'Gang' was out in full force at the Fells, with Breakheart Dan, Trail Pixie, Streph, and myself running in the 8 mile. kZ, Trailgrrl, Cookie Monster, and Paully Barefeet were embarking on the ultra:
(The 8 mile crew)

I knew the race would be a challenge for me, since I haven't been able to really embark on any long runs of more than 5 or 6 miles since getting injured, and I looked at this race as a way to challenge myself, enjoy the trail with some friends, and generally get past my certain visual limitations and perceived lack of physical fitness. My goal was just to hang with someone during the race, and I caught up to Breakheart Dan within the first mile, but his feet were way too hot for me, and I let him go (more realistically I got dropped!). I ran alone for a while, and then after a wrong turn down another trail, and then some backtracking, I found my way back to the Skyline by catching sight of kZ, Trail Pixie, Streph and Cookie Monster. I stuck with them for as long as I could, and then after a couple snags I bid them adieu, dropping off the pace, hoping I might be able to catch back up later on.

The undulating terrain, with leaves and rocks is a little hard on my eyes, which slowed me down a little, but it is part of the race, and I still managed to hold on to 12 minute/mile pace for the first three miles, which was great news in my book, since I knew I would be over joyed with finishing the course in 1:30 to 1:40. Yes, 12 minute miles do seem really slow, but the Skyline is super technical, and having run the trail before I knew what I was getting myself into:
(The rocky road to....)

The fourth mile was a bit tougher, and when I reached the Stone Tower atop the hill that overlooks Boston, I stopped for a few quick shots:
(Overlooking Boston)

After posing with the city, I got back to the course and found one of the ultra runners cresting the hill and heading in my direction. I didn't know the name of this runner, but after 4.5 miles of being beaten by the same trail, runners get that sense of brotherhood through doing battle with the same beast. We teamed up for the technical stuff right after the Boston overlook, and generally chatted. I thought about breaking our conversation and putting a little more push in my effort, but I was having too much fun getting to know another great personality on the trails.

I hate to be the guy that rants about how running trail races is so much more different than running the roads, but where else can you substitute your own silly desires to run fast with basically getting to know a stranger? It just doesn't happen often enough in life, and we are generally conditioned to not talk to strangers as children, only to have it manifest in unhealthy ways in our adult lives.

Glen and I talked for the remainder of the race, only briefly breaking off when I decided to sprint the final flat section to the finish, but besides series points, and time with my old friends, I found a new face I now know on the trail, and no doubt will see and run with again.

I think I finished 33rd of 37 runners in the 8 mile, with an okay time of 1:53, but clearly the experience and the opportunity to get to know a fellow trail warrior for the second half of the race was truly my award.

Following the race, I joined Breakheart Dan and Trail Pixie, as they cheered on our ultra friends. It, again, was great to hang out with people at the aid station well after our race was over and share some good spirited conversation in less than tropical weather. Bogie always puts on the best races, and if you don't laugh when you are around him for more than 5 minutes you certainly have a problem!

If you are up for the challenge, I highly recommend this race, either in the Spring or the Fall, and Bogie also puts on the MorFun Wapack race later on in the Spring, which is not the be missed if you are into more rugged terrain and elevation gain.

So what is next for this trail runner? I really am not sure. Probably a good time to heal up and think about 2010, but I'll save the speculation for another post. Nonetheless, I think I am going to stay off of the racing circuit until next year rolls around!

Happy Trails!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Running Legend Larry Olsen has Passed Away

Dear Reader, please note that I have updated this post a couple times since hearing the sad news about Larry. For a man I knew only as an aquiantance, I have been on the verge of tears many times, and have spent most of the day thinking about Larry's life and legacy, and sending thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

Thank you for your consideration as this blog post evolves.
-Rob

MetroWest Daily Article
Running Times Article

Hi Everyone,

This may not be of circumstance to any of you, but a running legend has suddenly passed on.

I literally just received an email from the President of my old club, the Tri-Valley Front Runners, based in Central Massachusetts, passing along some very sad news.

New England Running Legend Larry Olsen has apparently passed away. Larry was 63. I didn't get a chance to really know Larry as a member of the club, but he consistently posted times well under USATF national age group standards for most distances, just recently running 1:03:43 at the Yankee Homecoming 10 Miler, as well as just a couple weeks ago placing 24th at the Thanksgiving Day 'Whitin 5 Miler' in a time of 30:53.

Larry was the United States Track and Field Masters National Runner of the Year five times, including 1987 (40-44), 1992 (45-49), 1997 (50-54), 2002 (55-59), and 2007 (60-64). On a local level Larry was an 8-time USATF-NE Road Grand Prix Series Master's Champion.

Larry's reputation is legendary among the road running club scene, and he is already sorely missed. In addition, Larry was a dedicated coach for the Hopedale High School Girls Cross Country team, and almost everything I have read since originally posting this article speaks to the content of his character as a person, just as much as the lifetime of high performance as a runner.

Here is Sherry Brown's email:

Hi All,

I am sitting here, trying to compose this message to all of you, but for once in my life, I am at a complete loss for words. So, I just need to blurt it out.

With a very sad heart and through many tears, I need to inform you that we, the Tri-Valley Frontrunners and the entire running community, have lost a legend today. Our very own Larry "Legend" Olsen passed away today....doing what he loves most, running.

I wish I had details to share, but I don't. I am sorry to be the one to share this information with you but I prefer you find out this devastating information through me, rather than through the grapevine somewhere.

At this point in time, I do not know if Larry's family has had the opportunity to make any final arrangements. When I know something, I promise to forward any information on to the club membership.

Please say a prayer for Larry's family; a brother, Aaron in Norfolk and as sister (name?) in North Hampton.

Sincerely,

Sherry L Brown
Tri-Valley Frontrunners Club President

Friday, December 4, 2009

Last Week, Lighting up Lynn Woods, and Foreboding Fells

So I was thinking about posting to the blog and had close to three separate thoughts, which I was considering posting three separate articles, but I want to try to encapsulate three times the fun and (hopefully) thought provoking writing in one package. Think of the last sentence as a very brief forward...


Last Week of Training...

Typically I am not a huge fan of the weekly training update posts because I don't feel like I really do anything all that special and I really don't find reporting my training to be personally motivating. I find it interesting to read what other people are doing to get fitter and faster, but in my recent past of winging without any real goal races on the horizon, reporting my training progression really isn't necessary.

The only variation to the above is my desire to drop more weight over the next few weeks and attempt to incorporate more fast running to try to improve some of my basic fitness.

Four years ago I was 235 pounds and unable to run a 5k. This past year I have had a few injury issues and been on and off with my training, but have managed to stay in the 190's. I am happy to be living at a decent weight again, but there is still a part of me that longs for my speed demon days where I was in the low 150's. Sure 10 years of age has probably set my metabolism back a little bit, but at 30 years old I still have a fighting chance to work hard and drop another 25-30 pounds.

It really isn't a body image thing, but a simple principle of carrying less over the many, many miles. Last time I checked, running 26.2, 50, or 100 miles is much easier when you aren't carrying a toddler on your back. :-)

With this in mind, I have decided to work with my nagging running injuries and decrease the mileage, while increasing the quality and frequency of my workouts. Instead of running 4 days of easy mileage, which is what I can handle right now, I am going to train 5 to 6 days a week, rotating interval workouts, resistance training, and some distance running. In addition, I am reviewing my diet and eliminating as much processed food as I possibly can. I am not going raw or paleo or any of the other lifestyle model diets, but I am putting into action one of my observed theories.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think, as a culture we have gravitated too far away from the basic building blocks of nutrition, and even some of the stuff advertised as being good for us is still processed and chock full of sugars, syrups, and preservatives. In fact, studying nutrition and ultra running has really put into focus that what we put in our bodies all has to go somewhere, and is reacted upon by our natural processes. Those additives thrown in to preserve the food make it into our bodies and our natural processes try to do something with them, but really have no formula. At least when we throw in extra vitamins and minerals that our body can't use, we have a system that tells other body systems that we are all full of those vitamins and either stores or excretes. The problem is, when we introduce elements into our system that aren't on the guest list, chaos ensues.

Diatribe aside, I am working on dropping the weight through diet and varying my exercise routine. Hopefully increasing my metabolism and ability to burn calories above what I have been able to accomplish through running. So hopefully by getting away from running I'll be able to become a better runner... ironic, I know.

So how did I do this week? I was able to take a crazy holiday week and productively ran 1 interval workout, did 2 resistance training sessions, and did some basic trail running once, covering 6 miles. I weighed in at 193 to end Week One of my latest experiment.

Lights in Lynn Woods...

Having already been in Saugus for the holidays, Breakheart Dan and I found some time to get away from family post-Turkey to feast some trails in the Lynn Woods Reservation. I was a little worried that my half-broken body wouldn't be able to handle a run with Dan, as he likes to go long, and I am really not even in the realm of faking my way through a Marathon if I really had to. Fortunately, Dan was thinking about an hour of slow stuff, and to make the deal more enticing, he decided that we grab the headlamps and make it a night run.

So it was off to Lynn Woods! This reservation is a little unique because it is located between one of the less attractive cities in Massachusetts - Lynn (As the rhyme goes 'Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin') and the famed Route 1. You wouldn't think there would be a place for trail runners and mountain bikers to stretch their legs in the vicinity, but Lynn Woods provides a nice escape.

(Breakheart Dan leading the way)

We encountered a few interesting characters among the shadows - one of which being what we thought was another trail runner, but turned out to be an interesting chap jogging and shadow boxing. Nonetheless, it was great training and adventuring with someone for a change and we ended up climbing to the top of Steel Tower Hill for a great view of the Boston Skyline:

It was cool and quite windy, but fairly classic for New England in the Fall. I had been thinking of many Edgar Allen Poe poems, and thankfully we didn't hear the immortal 'Nevermore!" among the gravelly foot steps. We did find a tree that was rather Gothic, though:

Foreboding Fells...


This weekend the Fall edition of the Fells Trail Race is happening, which will be the last race in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series. I am a little concerned that my injuries will flair up during the race, as it was most likely the constant climbing, descending, and uneven terrain that got me hurt in the first place. The Fells Trail Race is essentially all of the above. It has a little less drastic of an elevation profile compared to the Skyline Trail Race at the Blue Hills Reservation in July, but the terrain is just as rocky and rooty, with the added feature of the trail under the cover of fallen Autumn leaves.


Nevertheless, I am developing more of a desire to run these more technical races because they provide a heightened degree of difficulty and one wrong step can be quite costly. In addition to the 8 mile race, the Fells also features an Ultra Marathon option for those that love treacherous terrain in large doses! Trail Peeps kZ, Streph, Trailgrrl, Garry Harrington, Paul Lahham and Steve Latour will be enjoying the ultra.


Happy Trails!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nutrition Thoughts, and Running is Bad for You?? What??

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a Physical Therapist and Board Certified Nutritionist as part of a series of talks that my company sponsors and offers to employees. The gist of the talk was mostly on myths of diet, exercise, nutrition and weight loss.

I seem to be doing a lot of research on this based on my interest in the practicality of knowing a little more about nutrition to help stay properly fueled during longer endurance races. I also feel like my personal weight loss has sort of plateaued and I am trying to diagnose why and where I can improve. I won't delve too deeply into this, but one thing struck me last night when I was trying to decide what to have for dinner: We are flooded with all types of food in the United States, yet we are starving ourselves. Not starving in the traditional sense, but starving for basic, unprocessed foods. Not even to the degree of adopting a raw diet, but looking at the labels of most of the stuff I had at my fingertips, I was hard pressed to find anything that didn't have some form of hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup, which, even before I started to become a student of nutrition, knew were bad news. Surprisingly, Breakfast cereals - as simple as they seem - are really quite horrible. Even touted 'heart smart' Cheerios don't really get a pass - maybe compared to Lucky Charms - but I digress.

The other rather synchronistic element is that I have been working on a project the last couple of months reviewing major companies and it is no surprise that Kraft Foods is among one of the largest companies in the U.S. Sure, they employ a lot of people, but they are also one of the major offenders of the processed food push, and let face it, they are not going to give up billions in revenue because they are making people fat and unhealthy.

The bottom line is that I realize that the best diet is no diet, and simplicity is key. Fruits, veggies, good kinds of fats - these are all that are really necessary to live well. Forget major the fads, just making good choices is the key, at least from a very basic level, way before personal choices or beliefs.

The second element in this seminar that made me think was the promotion and supporting research for resistance and interval training. The speaker would not come out and totally dismiss the benefits of running - because it does provide a valuable form of exercise - but from a basic 'results' perspective, it appears resistance and interval training are superior to running.

Where I saw the logic, I also saw a major flaw in the perspective. First, yes, from a weight loss perspective one must be careful with walking and running. If one is carrying too much of a load when they walk or run the body will not respond well. Additionally, if one has bad running form, on top of carrying more of a load, they will break down far quicker. When I was a runner in college I had some biomechanical issues for sure, but I was also 150 pounds and didn't have nearly as many injuries because I wasn't carrying the weight I carry now. I can't find a formula online to calculate the added pressure/force extra weight adds to joints, but if you think about carrying 25 pounds of bricks on your back, versus carrying 5 pounds, you get the idea.

Resistance and Interval training might get me to a better place as a runner, but these cannot replace some of the added benefits of running, especially endurance running.

First, I really enjoy running. When I am healthy and fit, I find it so liberating to be cruising down a trail in relative silence and peace, save my soft footsteps, the whirl and crack of the wind through tree branches, and the ambient noise of the local wildlife. You can not find this in gym where people are grunting and the soundtrack is always some cheesy, pseudo-hard band like Drowning Pool or Stained blasting through cheap speakers.

I also believe the challenge of running 20 miles or completing a run on a technical trail really provides a more tangible accomplishment. Of course, like any exercise or workout, the accomplishment really only has intrinsic meaning or value to the community that abides by the standard (try explaining to a co-worker how you ran the Presidential Traverse over the weekend, and see what kind of reaction you get).

I also feel like the interpersonal and spiritual connection that can be made on the run is unique to the sport, especially in trail running. I have found that some of the best friendships are forged on those countless miles on trail training runs. Typically there is no arrogance or judgement when it comes to a group run. Additionally, no matter what faith or believe system one might have there seems to be a shared sense of heightened connection. All of my experiences in the gym seem to run contrary to these.

Above all, I totally believe that camaraderie and accomplishment are community based and both can be found in just about any element of our individual lives - exercise, career or otherwise. I know that the speaker's comments about running are based on scientific research, but it also made me consider why I run in the first place. If it is just to stay healthy, then there are obviously other routes that take far less time and are probably more beneficial to my body. Of course, the path of wellness and accomplishment I am on right now seem to provide the benefit of mountain tops, beautiful forests, and seashores, among so many other landscapes and vistas.

So running probably isn't the most efficient workout program out there, but it is certainly one that seems to work for me, and I guess that is all that matters!

Happy Trails.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bogging Around in Carver - Edaville Rail Race Report

Edaville was an interesting race from the standpoint that I grew up in the next town over from where Edaville is located, and I have always had this thing about running a race in an amusement park. I think I am one of the few people that goes to Six Flags (NJ or MA) or Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire and thinks about how it would be just great to run a race past the rides, attractions, and food stands. Edaville was a microcosm of that dream, as I have often been riding the train that takes passengers around the property, mostly during the winter months, for the famed Christmas Train Ride. During the ride we'd cross dirt roads and I'd dream about running these roads, mostly around the surrounding cranberry bogs, in a race one day.

My dream was almost delayed because we had trouble dealing with the roads and weather to get down to Carver, and I hoped out of the car at 9:30 for a 10:00 start... yikes. Having felt weak from a week of fighting some sort of respiratory cold, I didn't have too many expectations, so getting there late wasn't as bad, since a warm up wasn't really in the card due to the pseudo-bronchitis and the terrible weather.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida made the race a windy and soggy mess, which, of course, made me much more of a happy camper, because this is the South Shore of MA in November, which should only have two settings: Blue sky and brilliant foliage, and Nor'Easter Nastiness. Hmm... sounds like some sort of seasonal flavor or scent - Yankee Candle can contact me if they so desire.

So after the RD figured out how to set off the bull horn siren (it took a moment or two) we were sent off:

The course itself was 5 miles of dirt roads with a couple really, REALLY short hills. The mud and puddles seemed to neutralize the absolute flatness of the course, and it is scary to think what kind of times this course could produce when the real hard core roadies show up for a little off road fun!

I basically settled in with no real goals in mind. Based on my training and sickness I was thinking Mid to low 40's for a finish time, with a realistic goal of 42:30. I wanted to challenge breaking 8:00/mile pace, but wasn't sure if my body would cooperated, plus my training hasn't been all that consistent to warrant that, or so I thought.

The first mile was a typical shakeout and shuffle of runners, I tried to find a seam where I could think about my form and just running easy. We reached the mile split in 7:46, which piqued my interest, but I knew any gains would most certainly be consumed in the latter miles. The pace felt good, though, and I moved up comfortably passing runners. At about 1 1/2 miles I met another trail runner from Greater Framingham RC, who happened to be Jeff Hattem, a name I knew from various ENETRS events, and we chatted about Rich Busa and couple other things, and we hit the two mile split at 16 minutes flat. Having felt like I slowed down to chat I was a little inspired that I was still on 8 pace. I told Jeff I was going to pick up the pace and see if I could gain a little time, and off I went!

The third mile was more laborious and less friendly, as I seemed to be doing an Indian Run with the same group of runners, but something must have been clicking, as I arrived at 3 miles in 23:32. The fourth mile I was waiting for that lactic acid death knell in my quads, but stayed mentally tough, getting to mile 4 as the volunteer was calling out "31!". Befuddled that all I had to do was run a 9 for the last mile, I just tried to hold on as best I could and not wimp out for any short walking breaks. This was tough when we were sent into the teeth of the gusting Northeasterly wind, but an old tip from my college XC coach years ago resounded in my head. It is interesting how when I encounter different 'tough' elements in training or a race, those old, seemingly insignificant lessons we gain in some random workout years earlier seem to stick.

My form was sufficiently in the toilet, see photographic evidence below, and I could hear the RD at the finish cheering us in. That's the crappy part about having low vision, knowing where the finish line is can be essentially to gauging what you can and cannot expend on a finishing kick, and I had hoped the flatness of the course would result in a clear sight line to the finish.

It was hillarious, though, as I came to the finish, a woman I passed yelled at me, and in my finishing delirium I slowed to acknowledge her. She wanted to know all about my Vibram FiveFinger KSOs, and how they handled the course, and I politely answered and excused myself to cover the last 250 yards of the race:

My official finishing time: 39:11! I was pumped. Yes, it was a flat course, and amid to other personal PRs I have from my younger days, 39:11 for 5 miles would be considered a horrendous training run where I had projectile vomit for half the run and had to stop 4 or 5 miles. In fact, back in college, my 'easy' training pace was 6:30 a mile for run 5 to 10 miles... oh how fortunes change!

Nevertheless, in my new world of midpacking and trying to lose weight and increase fitness to gain an iota of those old feats, this was unexpected and very sweet. In fact, my Garmin had the course being over 5 miles, and my 5 mile split per the Garmin was 38:38.

The post race festivities were great with lots of opportunity to mingle and chat with other runners. Lots of food and drink, and some live music.

Overall Nate Cristofori was the winner in 28:20, with NETT's Dave Hannon grabbing the second spot, and Jon Chesto of South Boston coming in third. Jill Strathdee of South Weymouth was the Women's winner in a time of 34:16, outpacing Eleanor Brennan-Hall, the women's runner up by nearly two minutes.

The race was not without some of the regulars on the trail circuit. As mentioned above, Dave Hannon and Jeff Hattem were in attendance, as well as Paul Young, Art Magni, and Linda Solomon. Marshall Randolph and John Burke were also there, adding to their overall dominance in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series.

I just continue to chug along on the journey:

One note on the Vibrams. I really believe that they helped me run faster. The lightweight, as well as the light foot placement really helped me stay vigilant about good form and staying on my toes. It really is the same effect that one gets from wearing track spikes or Cross Country flats. The only downside was that the seam between the fabric upper and rubber sole really does not forgive the rawness of one's foot when they get wet. Sure, the traction remains great on the feet, but the insides of my feet that contacted the seams got cut up pretty bad. Even with a pair of Injinji toe socks, I am afraid that this would have been the case, and I just would have had bloody socks.

Ultimately, I think I will still experiment with the Vibrams, but I might go back to an idea of finding a lighter responsive trail shoe to get a little more protection, but also have the benefits of a lighter, simpler ride. Any suggestions?

Until the next adventure, Happy Trails!

Friday, November 13, 2009

PREVIEW: Edaville Rail Run... More Running in Nor'Easter Fun.

So here's to hoping the RD of the Edaville Rail Race is as hardy and fun-loving as the RD for Ravenswood. The day before Ravenswood we were all told it was happening, come hell or high water, or both. But that was for a REAL trail race, on a REAL trail running course, attracting mostly the diehards of the trail community.


Edaville is arranged by the Colonial Road Runners, a great local club here in Massachusetts, and they regularly offer 'roadie friendly' trail races. I enjoy these events because they are inclusive of both the trail and road folks, but occasionally some of the bad habits of the roads bleed over into the normally festival like atmosphere of a true trail race. This being said, I expect it will be a good time, and the rollicking joy of trail runners eager to ply their trade in the wind and weather will cancel out the bitching of delicate road types. :-)


As things would have it, this race will be one of the last remaining opportunities to score some points in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series. With Edaville, Lil Rhody Runaround, and Middlesex Fells being the tentative last three races on the ENETRS calendar. For up to date standings and results, please visit: http://www.easternnewenglandtrailraceseries.org/


After a week of respiratory sickness and a really bad cold, I am not expecting anything too fancy. Plus my first purposeful ultra training run last night just proved that my lower abdominals are still in sad shape, and I need to scale back, and build. Bummer.

The course itself is a single 5 mile loop of pavement and dirt roads. Proper Vibram country I imagine, so I am thinking of barefooting for the race. Having been to the Edaville location a few times in my life, I know it will be a very open course, with little cover from the elements, which should also make for some very interesting experiences! It won't be a quarter as challenging as I know to expect when I attempt to complete the Skyline circuit in a few weeks at the Middlesex Fells, but it will be off-road.


Mostly I run Saturday as a tribute to all of the Veterans out there. A friend of mine, retired from serving as an Army Ranger, gave me a bandana when we moved back east, telling me it was a tradition among his unit to pass along a bandana when someone was headed home. I have been reluctant to wear the bandana because I feel sorry that I haven't been able to serve my country like the last three generations of men in my family, on account of my eye condition, but after all that has transpired these last few months - a fellow Plymouthean dying in Afghanistan, my cousin prepping to head over to Afghanistan, and a general feeling that America is forgetting about the Men and Women that serve this country, I realize that sometimes showing support is a little way to serve.


Happy Trails!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Getting Spooky in Saugus at the Breakheart Reservation!



This weekend I decided it was time to head out and do some 'serious' trail running, and as opportunity has a keen sense of rearing its head around the corner every now and again, I was fortunate that the family was headed south to visit 'Nana' and do some trick or treating. Since Nana lives in Saugus and I was really looking for some great trails, it was not hard to ask the wife if there was any way she could drop me off in the woods for a little R&R. I know, us trail running types are an odd bunch!

I was also fairly interested in what I could do on some more technical trails with the Vibram FiveFingers, and since I really only wore the Vibrams in my other run of the week - a night time mile time trial on the roads, where my Garmin blinked out - GRRRR, I didn't think the 'barefooting' would be a problem.



So Vibrams snuggly on toes I headed out to the trail that Breakheart Dan and I had regularly started on the 2 or 3 times we have met for a jaunt on his stomping grounds.

Initially, I started on the Lodge Trail, which links with the Saugus River Trail, and found that the comfy pine-needle covered trail quickly transitioned to a little more rooty and rocky terrain. I headed over the Saugus River Bridge toward Camp Nihan, but the lack of marked trails and multitude of cut paths really inspired me to get back over the river and on to the Saugus River Trail.

One thing I both like and dislike about the Saugus River Trail is the terrain. It can be a labyrinth of twisty, turny pine-needle goodness, or it can be a nasty collection of narrow single track with lots of roots and rocks, and especially along the river bank it is along a slope, making an already tricky section that much more difficult. With that said, I don't look at difficult terrain as a detraction, it is just another part of the adventure of running on trails!

Away from the Saugus River Trail I headed over to Pearce Lake, looking very seasonal with the Autumn colors:


After taking some time to take a couple pictures I headed off toward Eagle Rock, which was actually one of the trails I was really looking forward to running.

Finding the trailhead, I was given one last chance to back out, but the vista beckoned...

(decisions, decisions...)


(Up, up, and away!)


(Bird's Eye View)

I stood atop Eagle Rock for a while, just looking at the panoramic view of the landscape in transition from Summer vitality to Winter dormancy. It really is one of the greatest times to be a New England Runner. Coming down off of Eagle Rock I was really amazed by the increased level of traction that the Vibrams were providing. Where my trail shoes leave me a little tentative on rocky descents, the lack of shoe and near Spider Man like grip on the rocks were really a bonus!

I realized I was getting short on time, as I promised the wife I'd only be about an hour, and on Halloween you should never make two kids wait to get all dressed up for a night of taking candy from strangers!

Per past runs with Breakheart Dan, I followed the Pearce Lake trail, but quickly realized the folly of my choice of escape route. The Pearce Lake Trail is actually very technical and my 'run' quickly turned into a speed hike along the shores of the Lake. I also tweeted my arch on a few too many roots and serious bruised the bottom of my right foot.

Eventually I made it back out of the trails and on to the paved path for cyclists, road runners, and elderly women :-), and decided it was the quickest way back to the parking lot. As I cruised over the path, seemingly toward the parking lot, I spied the 'Ridge Link Trail', which sounded vaguely familiar from runs with Dan, so I took it. Wrong Answer! More solid rock and irritation of an already tender right foot! The irritation inspired a sudden desire to work on my road running skills and I headed back out on the road.

The good news is that if I had continued on the Ridge Link Trail I actually would have been headed in the wrong direction altogether. The bad news is that when I emerged on the paved path, instead of going South, I headed North on the road. I didn't realize this until I found myself at the north gate of the Reservation in Wakefield.

I quickly consulted the trail map and decided that I could have in much worse shape if I was making bad decisions on actual trails, but the good thing about Breakheart is that if you stick the road, it basically loops you back to where you started. Unfortunately, I was looking at the possibility of an angry wife and two kids because here I was at the other side of the park, in an entirely different town, and just a shade off of an hour on my Garmin!

I eventually made it back to the Saugus entrance, but paid my pennance by intermittently stepping on acorns fallen from the trees shedding foliage, which wouldn't have been so bad if I had something a little more substantial guarding my bruised arch. I had hoped this would have been the smooth ride home, but alas it was just plain nuts!



I must admit my adventure in Breakheart was totally worth the bumps and the bruises. Breakheart really is a hidden jewel of the network of open spaces and hiking trails in Eastern Massachusetts. It offers all types of terrain, and is definitely an option if you want to work on some technical trail running.

The Vibrams did a decent job on the rocks, preserving traction much more than I have with my trail shoes, and the barefoot feeling is great when a sure step or quick step is needed to get over or around an obstacle. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of protection when you do catch a root or protruding rock. The experiment continues, but today was a day I would have appreciated a rock plate!

I overheard a rep from Inov8 talking about a more responsive trail shoe, which might be a nice happy medium for me on the trails, but with funds being low, I'll just have to go with the gear I have!