Sunday, March 29, 2009

Oh So Many Questions...

Over the course of my life I have received lots of advice on life.

"Don't take it too seriously"
"Always find yourself on the side of right"
"In all things be and do your best"
"Life is just one big nut-filled turd, and it stinks"
"God has a plan for your life, In all things honor him"

and so on and so forth.

This weekend was supposed to be where I got out on the trail for the first time in a race situation, but it didn't happen. Here I could go deep into a ramble on issues and my utter confusion with the purpose of life, and the resulting bitterness, but I won't. Perhaps it is to personal, or I just to don't want to bore people. We all have problems and mine aren't more or less severe.

Basically, I have a lot of questions...

With running, I am not sure what the hell I am doing or really training for...

I am not signed up for any races at this point, and I think I am just going to spend the next week or two just trying to figure out how to take life, purpose, family, running, and faith one step at a time because right now everything is a mess.

And so the journey continues...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Trail as Timeless Teacher: A Weekend Long Run on the Middlesex Fells Skyline Trail.

I found this quote, not sure who should be given credit for having said it: "Time is the cruelest teacher; first she gives the test, then teaches the lesson.”

Following my long run adventure at the Middlesex Fells Reservation this weekend on the Skyline Trail, I feel that 'time' could be aptly replaced with 'the trail' in the above quotation.

First, the basics. So Breakheart Dan thought it would be a good idea to get a group together this past Saturday to preview the course that most of us would be running the following weekend at the Middlesex Fells Trail Races. The course, the Skyline Trail, a trail that offers just about every type of terrain one might encounter in New England. In addition to that challenge of this hilly and rocky trail, there are some magnificent vistas of Boston and the surrounding area:


The Skyline is basically an 8 mile circuit around the Middlesex Fells Reservation, and the plan was to run a couple of loops. Though I am being careful to not do too much, too quickly as far as building a base, I though three hours and 16 miles of trail running would be a great way to test the system and see what I have in the tank. After all, I have been able to do a couple long runs of upwards of two hours, and I really want to see if my body might be up for an attempt at 50k at the end of May. Though I knew three hours would be a challenge, I was prepared to basically use a run-walk strategy that I plan on using for my first ultra.

I came prepared with my newly acquired Nathan HPL 20 hydration pack, a VERY good purchase as I'd discover on my "second" loop, a couple CLIF bars, a couple Power Gels, and a package of CLIF shot bloks, which I completely forgot I had until after I finished the morning of carnage.

Stretched out and acquianted with the others in our group for the day, we headed on down the trail. The morning was pleasantly milder than expected with the bright blue sky of a clear March Morning. Cool enough for long sleeves and a couple layers when one standing still, but quickly seemed like too much after about 15 minutes of running. Though I don't want this to be a full on gear review, the HPL 20 was excellent for carrying gear and foodstuffs over the duration of the run, especially in varying conditions. There are numerous pockets for gels and gloves or whatever you might need to store. Additionally there is more storage in the pack, with one zippered pocket for additional gels, bars, supplies, etc. I also found I could store a couple of things in the compartment with the fluid bladder.

The first couple miles of the trail tell no tales - the first rocky ascent is the basic warning. As you climb you hear a whisper: "Dear trail runner, do you like rocks? You do? Well this is just a taste of what I offer over the next 8 miles!" I figured I'd have to make a decision somewhere over the course of the three hours to back off on my pace and let the group go, since all were more fit and ready than I am at this point. I didn't think I'd be deciding this over the first two miles!

The trail undulates and is laden with small rocks, and flat eroded boulders, making ascents and descents extra challenging. The whole time I had the guitar intro. and big pounding drums of AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock" in my head...




The group was gracious enough to wait up for me on a few occasions, but thankfully they forged ahead on the second half of the loop. Yes, probably not smart running by oneself on a new and treacherous trail, but I also felt bad that I was holding people up.

I am not sure if having the ability to train on these types of trails on a more regular basis would make me more capable on rocky, technical trails, but I also had other factors slowing me down. The shadows and lack of foliage on the tree were casting shadows on the trail, that, combined with the extremely bright sunshine, made me very tentative when running some of the more technical sections. My eyes were not doing well, and it was to the point where sunglasses would have slightly helped in the brighter areas, but would have not helped with the sections with the shadows. I never like to use my eye condition as a crutch, but it was extremely difficult to choose a seemingly safe line down the rocky descents or across the sections with numerous small rocks coming up out of the soil. At first it was disconcerting, but I resolved that it was all part of my challenge. It's not like I am going to decide to not do something because of my vision. I never want to be in that place. The light blindness also was a factor in some sections, as the white blazes on the trees were faded, and I was basically searching through the dead leaves for evidence of where the trail went when I couldn't find the next blaze. The best part was that I was never anxious when alone. I never felt lost, and I was at peace, just enjoying a beautiful Spring morning.

Breakheart Dan was kind enough to wait for me at certain tricky trail intersections and probably saved my bacon a number of times. As we ran the last 1/2 mile together I felt seemingly good for the first eight miles, and started thinking about lap two.

Here's Breakheart Dan dominating one of the technical downhills:


We refueled, ate some lovely baked goods provided by Trail Pixie, as well as other 'pot luck' foods provided by members of the group, and headed out.

As the first eight mile loop was almost a two hour affair for me, a told the gang I'd hang on for a half hour or so, and then head back the way I came, and would chill while they did their thing on the second loop. I was feeling good for the first mile and a half, and then I started falling apart. I was taking in fluid like crazy, I fell once, and just about the time I decided to turn and head back, my quads started cramping. The last half-hour was mostly a speed hike for me, and just after the 3 hour barrier, my hamstring started pinching where I had my IT Band compression strap around my leg. The IT also started to slightly bother me, but the cramps in my quads were far more painful.

I never once felt down in that last half hour, but I started rolling over the idea of 50k and whether that was going to happen if I was having issues at 3 hours. For the most part I was just really happy to be outside, muddy, covered in sweat, bloody, and just slightly broken. To some degree it sucks, and cramping quads are never fun, but it also can be relatively euphoric.

Here are the 16 milers coming back in:


This was certainly a run where I bit off more than I probably should have, but it was an experience that was valuable, challenging and cathartic in a way. The course is challenging, and next weekend I am going to really have to step it up. I think running the course will serve me well, but I definitely see the possibility of finishing dead last among the other eight mile runners. Which is fine, but I know the rocks and shadows will still be there next week. I am excited to get back out there, though. The Skyline is a beautiful trail, and for the sheer training and butt-kicking value, it is worth a lap or two.

The lessons learned this weekend were plentiful. One, I am starting to come out of my winter of injury induced hibernation, and as long as I don't spend too much time logging miles on the roads, I'll be okay. Two, often times the challenge is not about competing with others, but with testing one's limits. And three, the act of running over a technical trail and following blazes requires so much more of a runner. I already have learn this last lesson, but running a new trail always brings out the inner trail animal and survivalist. No water stops or porta-potties, no bands playing every mile. There are only the supplies one can carry, a sense of adventure, and a connection with the natural world. It wasn't like the last 25 miles of a 100 mile run, but that last 30 minutes, negotiating the terrian, mentally and physically ragged, I felt that primal and organic will to finish what I had started at all costs. It is the place that quashes all of those inner commentaries on the minor things of life. It feels like some sort of purification. It really is the essence of why I have taken to trail running.

In total, I think I covered close to 13 miles and was on my feet for about 3 1/2 hours. Statistically it was not a great run, but right now quads are definitely lecturing me on the value of climb and descent. Garmin says 3841 ft. accumulated ascent and 3828 accumulated descent, if that means anything. I am not convinced enough to send my application in for Pineland Farms, I am going to attempt another 3 hour and, hopefully, 4 hour run at ultra pace and work on hydration and caloric intake and then decide. Until then, Fells 8 miler next weekend, and then a couple of 10 miler trail races tentatively on the schedule.

Until next time, Happy Trails.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Endurance Runs on a Whim?

So as I read through a few recent blog entries from Sherpa John from Human Potential and gIANt from Trail Monster Running, concerning their recent winter ultra running adventures, I was left with the question, "How exactly do these guys do it?".

Obvious there is a lot of toughness and mental fortitude involved in making an attempt at a long jaunt through snow, slush, and ice, as in any ultra in any season, but I continue to wrestle with the thought or question of "when is one ready?".

I recently re-read a chapter from Breakaway Books "Running Through The Wall", specifically the chapter where an ultra runner recalls her first experience training for and running the infamous Holiday Lake 50k++ in Virginia. Part of her story recalls the fact that she had been training and did her final long training run, a three to four hour run, a week prior to the race. Obviously this strategy goes against the traditional training plan philosophy of build and taper. I also look at athletes like gIANt and Sherpa John that seemingly don't have formal training plans, and when it comes to ultras they will give it a whirl.

So last weekend, as I was on a two-hour training run through the woods and over the ice and the snow, I was thinking about how crappy my winter training has been with the IT Band issues. Conventional wisdom would suggest I am not fit enough for a two hour training run, but I had an itch to get out and go long, and resolved to simply get out on the trail. My thinking was to run easily for as long as I could, walk the tougher sections, and basically run for time instead of distance. In the end, it went really well and I got about 125 minutes.

This brought me back to thinking about the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 50k, and how, if I am able to build off of this long run, I could probably show up on Memorial Day weekend and give it a go. Yes, it wouldn't be the 'right' approach to training for a 50k, but I think with the right motivation it could be possible. People have said, why not just sign up for the 25k, but I have my eyes fixed on completing the 50k. I think I'd be a little more cautious about my lack of training if I were thinking of the 50 miler.

Obviously one does not prepare to run 100 miles in 24 hours by completing the run, but there is a great amount of preparation that goes into it, just as some marathon training programs cap long run training at a 20 mile run - leaving the rest of the race to guts and heart.

So here is the question:
What are your thoughts about running a marathon, ultra event, etc, without the 'proper' amount of training? Obviously the answers will be varied, but I am just curious what you might think?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Weekly Wrap - End of February and a short-term Goal.

Tempus Fugit.
For those of us that never had to take Latin at any point in our scholastic careers, the phrase can be translated to mean "Time flees", or "Time Flies". I came across this phrase studying the Italian poet Virgil back in college, and Virgil uses the phrase in one of his poems to lament the nature of time being irreplacable and we should consider those things that consume the hours and minutes of our lives and decide if we should be doing something more worthwhile.

Don't worry, I am not going to launch into a diatribe about the hours spent training, in fact, if pushed, I'd be more apt to say that the time I spend out on the roads and the trails is worthwhile for numerous reasons.
Instead, I think of this phrase as I sit here and write. The calendar across the room pronounces this is the first day of March. For me, this is opening day for the trail running season. The first races of the season are still multiple weeks away, but this week should be when the training should be arriving in a place where one can gather a little bit of an idea of what the competitive could look like.
Obviously, this is not a hard and fast rule. I have trail running friends that are training for Miwok at the beginning of May, so they are knee deep in their training. Other friends have already competed this year, and have been doing so throughout the winter. While the USATF 50k Championships are today, and some famous names from the trail and ultra scene have descended upon Camusett Park in New York to do battle for the 50k crown.

But for an average joe like me, March 1st seems like the place where the preparation for this spring and summer should begin. This is especially true when I have spend the greater share of the last 4 months trying to come back to some basic fitness after getting hurt in October. Here are some of the basics for this week, using Monday-Sunday:
Monday - 0
Tuesday - 3.2 @ 27:07 (8:26 pace)
Wednesday - 0
Thursday - 0
Friday - 2.6 @ 21:00 (7:57 pace)
Saturday - 2.6 @ 20:45 (7:56 pace)
Sunday - 7.3 @ 65:00 (8:41 pace)
Total - 15.7 miles
The week had a little bit of everything. Today I ran an hour on the roads, which were covered in about an inch and a half of snow, with the sleeve on my IT Band. My muscles are sore, but the knee seems to be okay for now. We will see how it feels when I wake up tomorrow. One great note is that 8:41 pace is great considering I added a three minute walk break at 45 minutes during the run. Friday and Saturday were my first couple of training runs with the new shoes and the IT Band compression sleeve the Physical Therapist provided. The combonation of both seem to be helping, but weeks of consistent training and increased mileage will be the true test.
This has certainly been an interesting week weather wise. I was elated to get out Friday in the increasing daylight and the temp hovering in the middle 50's. First time I got to don the shorts and a T-shirt in months. Then today I ran in wind, snow, and 25 degree temps - back to the cold weather gear. Tonight and tomorrow we are looking at foot and a half of snow, so the Kahtoolas will be needed if I venture out on the trails next week.

Finally, it appears that the Merrimack River Trail 10 miler will be happening the second weekend of April. That gives me about six weeks to achieve the fitness to toe the line for my first trail adventure of the year. I'd ideally like to have a 2 hour long trail run or two under my belt by the Merrimack Race, but considering my current fitness and slowly building mileage, Merrimack is a safe goal. Pineland ultimately might not be in the cards this year. At least not the 50k, maybe the 25k.
So the objectives:
- Lose 5-10 pounds before Merrimack.
- Increase mileage/time on feet, monitoring ITB situation.
- Perhaps add one day with a few faster repeats.
- Run Merrimack in 1:30.

Until next time!
Happy Snow Covered Trails!