Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Silliness...

A friend of mine passed this video along and I find it pretty stinking funny. NOT for the kiddies, so make sure you respect the PG-13 rating...

Note: FRAN is a cross fit workout consisting of three descending sets (21, 15, 9 reps) of Squats/Pull Ups. Pretty hard core and I have respect for anyone who can do it, but still... :-)

Otherwise pretty quiet weekend on the trails, I still hurt and training isn't going well, but I am going to attempt the Edaville Rail Trail 5 miler in a couple weeks, and might try to get out Breakheart this weekend while I am down in Saugus... that would be cool.

Happy Trails Everyone!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ravenswood Trail Race Report - Tempest on the Trail!

Back on the trails and it feels so nice! Going fast is nice, but negotiating rocks, roots, slippery plank bridges over swamps, mud, and other trail runners really is where it is at!

As advertised the weather was dreary:

(Once a marsh, now a bay due to high tides from the approaching storm)

but that didn't stop nearly 100 runners from coming out to the race.

Breakheart Dan swung on by the honeycomb hideout to pick me up for the race. As I climbed into the ride, still wiping the sleep from my eyes, Dan says, "Well, at least it isn't raining up here yet!" It was actually relatively dry on the trip over to Ravenswood Park in Gloucester, as we only had light rain until we reached the parking area. Even then the rain was light, but it was downright cold.

I chose to run with a Nike Dri-Fit skull cap hat, my totally awesome NMC Gardening-style Running Gloves, short sleeve Asics T-shirt, lycra long sleeve turtleneck base layer, RaceReady LD Sixer Shorts, Drymax Trail Socks, and Asics Trabuccos. At first I thought I might be going a little too thin with the clothes, but after many miles and many races I have this down as a sort of an unconscious science.

I decided against wearing the Vibram Five Fingers because I have a few sore spots on my feet, and with the trail promising to be super rugged with roots, rocks, and wet leaves, I decided to go with the trail shoes instead. I think I need a little more training with the Vibrams on rugged trails. I did miss the 'light on feet' feeling, but was happy to have the added protection on three or four really gnarly sections.

I was also glad to have my Drymax Socks. My toes were very warm and well protected, and they remain yet another piece of gear with which I am extremely happy.

We headed over to the start and I shed my sweatshirt. At the start the RD quickly said a few words and then sent us out into the wilds. The course is a neat collection of rolling hills with all types of terrain mentioned above. We began on some relatively tame, but narrow single track, which didn't provide much time or space for the faster people trapped in the middle or the back of the pack. After the initial stretch of single track, the race empties out onto a nice wide gravel carriage road and the group began to stretch out. Of course, as the legs started feeling good on the smoother surface, the course headed off into the woods yet again for some more single track. One of the unique elements of the course were three stretches of plank bridges across swamps. The bridges were all about 18 inches wide, so no passing happening here!

Beyond the terrain there were a couple nice panoramic views of Gloucester Harbor and the churning Atlantic, but I found I was much more interested in the trail than the view, and totally missed the vistas looking for trail markings and obstacles. I found the course to be fair; Fair in the sense that each runner really had to work hard to watch his or her footing with the gnarly single track full of rocks and roots and leaves, but the stints on the carriage roads and boardwalks provided a few nice respites from the white knuckle running.

The course is fairly close to the advertised distance, I had 4.33 miles, and the race application boasts a distance of 4.1. Here's a shot of the course via Google Earth:
Breakheart Dan ran a great race, even after running long yesterday in preparation for the Stone Cat 50 Miler. and it was great to see Bill Howard back on the trails after a little time away (but still able to kick my butt!). Beyond the regulars it was nice chatting it up with other folks before, during, and after the race. It may have been rainy, windy, and raw, but the same old warm trail community was there in force

My average mile pace was right where I hoped it would be, and it appears the speed work I have been doing has inspired a couple of the skills I had to stick around. I am hoping I'll start to heal a little faster, and will be able to build my base and get back to a long run. Either way, I think I have learned that in life we must constantly remind ourselves to be thankful for the things we have, and stay away from the poison of envy. Of course, I want to get faster and be back to the long training runs with my friends, but I have been able to race twice in the last two weeks. I am blessed.

One final point, and I am not mentioning this to garner sympathy, but I also feel blessed that I am able to run on the trails because I feel like my eyesight has actually got worse over the last few months. I could see the obstacles in the trail today, but the foliage and the lack of sunlight really made life tough for me on some of the technical and steep descents. I wasn't quite able to focus on some of the contours of the rocks, and had to slow down (much to the chagrin of those close behind me) and take some sections a little slower than I'd have liked. I want this blog to be mostly about the trail and my running, but my visual challenges really come up on days like today.

I know you aren't supposed to name yourself when you run trails, but I feel like an appropriate trail name for me would be 'Radar'. We'll see if it catches. :-)

Happy Trails!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why I Love Trail Running: Rain or Shine REALLY means Rain or Shine!

I just got this and I found it so awesome I couldn't resist posting it to the blog.

As I have mentioned, tomorrow I'll be getting back on the real trails at the Ravenswood Trail Race in Gloucester, MA. This afternoon we all received an email from the RD:

"Are you ready!? While I'm hoping that tomorrow's forecast is as accurate
as today's, meteorologists are making it sound as though tomorrow's race
will be a memorable one.

First thing: Yes, the race is on rain or shine. It's a trail race people!
You're lucky we're not making you run through any streams or scale any
rock faces.

That said, we will be making some adjustments due to the weather.
Ordinarily we strive for a festive post-race atmosphere and try to keep
everyone hanging out for a while afterwards. Well, this year, in
recognition of what looks to be epic weather, we are going to make
everything move as quickly as possible."

-Jenn Brooks, Ravenswood R.D.

"Sunday will be wet and windy with a gusty NE wind. The rain will be heaviest early and then tapers to showers. Temperatures again are only in the mid 40's. High tides will occure around noon and we may once again have some minor coastal flooding.

Sustained northeast winds will increase to 25 to 35 mph early Sunday morning with gusts potentially to between 50 and 60 mph, especially during the daylight hours on Sunday."

I probably seems a little sadistic, but I am always rooting for snow, wind, or rain when it comes to a race. The more elements, the better as far as I am concerned. I race for the adventure. Having grown and lived most of my life along the coast, I have always had a deep respect for the weather, but I also have a passion.

This is going to be fun!

Happy Trails, Rob!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gear Review Update - Petzl Tikka Plus Headlamp, and a Couple Other Quick Bits

When I first post my review of the Petzl Tikka Plus Headlamp last year I never realized I'd get so much mileage out of it!

As I got ready to head out on a short run last night after putting the kids to bed, I grabbed the headlamp and remembered that I should probably try to change the batteries. The illumination with the old batteries was still sufficient for the dark back country roads around my neighborhood, but I realized that the old batteries I was using were the ORIGINAL batteries I had started with when I bought the Petzl.

So I popped in three new triple A batteries and it was... ahem... like night and day. I was getting good illumination with the older batteries, but the new ones provided GREAT illumination.

I also have come to realize that the Petzl has lived up to its expectations as far as durability is concerned. It has been dropped a few times, I have used it in rain, sleet and snow, and it has seen its fair share of my sweat. Nevertheless, it continues to perform much better than I'd expect from a piece of gear that I use quite frequently.

The moral to the story is probably to change the batteries a little more often than one year if you are logging a fair amount of time running at night, but I have to say that I continue to be very, very pleased with the practicality and durability of the headlamp.

Very happy tracks for this somewhat noctural trail runner!

Looking ahead to this weekend, I am excited for the Ravenswood Race, though I still feel massively undertrained. It'll just be nice to hit the trails for the first time since Oxford - yes, I did run Wayland last week, but let's be honest, it was XC, not true trails! - and meet up with some of the regulars on the trail circuit. I still haven't decided if I am going to test the Vibrams on the course, mainly because I am reading a lot about some of the arguments for and against barefoot running, and I am not sure I know what to think right now.

In any event, the forecast is for temps in the mid 40's and lots of rain, so it will be an awesome time in the slop!

*Squish, Squish*


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back on the Trail... Sorta. (or) Vibram FiveFingers KSOs at the Wayland XC Festival

Today marked the first time in over two months that I have broken the serenity of a peaceful weekend morning to head out to a race. I really had no intentions of racing in the near future, mostly because I can count on both hands with a few fingers to spare how many times I have been out to train since deciding to shut it down after the Oxford Dam Trail Race in August. Most of those training sessions have also been more 'walk/run' campaigns more than actual training runs.

Mostly, I have been dealing with the ?abdominal strain?/stomach discomfort that has been bothering me even before the decision to cease racing in August. Trips to the doctor's office have produced the assurance that I don't have an infection or a hernia, but now I have to go see a specialist for more poking and prodding in areas I'd just assume be left alone!

With that said, I have been going through far too much stress at work, and have been sneaking in a couple short run/walks of a couple miles when I really need the release, and during one of these short excursions, I pushed myself a little bit and found I was able to cover 4 miles on the roads in my Vibrams at 8:30/mile pace using a 3 minute run, 1 minute walk strategy. I know, 8:30 isn't blazing, but the workout made me think that I probably could handle one or two short races this Fall, and, of course, the next day I was on the computer looking at the race calendar to see what was coming up!

Knowing the trail racing schedule, I knew Ravenswood Trail Race was coming up soon, and I knew it was only 4.1 miles, granted, it is a rugged 4.1 at that. I was also delighted to find that this weekend the Wayland (Massachusetts) High School XC team was holding their annual fund raiser race. I first thought maybe it was a bit premature to scratch the racing itch THIS weekend, but 5k on a HS XC course, during the bloom of the Fall Foliage was far too much to turn down.

I was also interested in continuing to test out the Vibrams, and admittedly, had really only been using them for short road runs, maybe once a week. I thought an XC race would be a great way to test their mettle in a racing situation. So there I stood, Vibrams strapped to the feet, number pinned to the tech shirt to try to conceal the fat belly of two months worth of 'God-knows-what', and a smile:
The fact is, I was fully prepared and beginning to embrace the idea that I might not be able to run a race this Fall, or for the foreseeable future due to the injury, so to be standing a few minutes before a race, no matter how fat or slow I felt, was an utter blessing to me. Honestly.

So the announcement came over the bull horn to report to the start line:

and I headed over, looking for fellow trail animals and chatting with some of the other back of the pack folks. Having no time goals or expectations was pure gold for the nervous system, and where I typically might be freaking out about all the big guns in the front of the pack, or rationalizing how I didn't deserve to be racing on account of how little I had been training, I was fairly zen looking at the deep blue sky, green grass, and potpourri of colors of leaves on the trees surrounding the group of runners. The RD came over and gave us the low down of the course, and sent us on our way.

Instantly, the Vibrams made me smile because they really made my strides feel effortless. I could initially feel that my form was not the best, and caught one or two heel strikes, which were enough to remind me to tidy up a little. As mentioned, I really had no goals for times, so when I came through the first kilometer in 4:30 and the first mile in 7:30, I knew I was probably going a little too fast. Regardless, I decided to go with it and run as smooth and relaxed as I could, picking off other runners at a reasonable clip.

My strategy with walking breaks was just to treat them as an 'as needed' resource, and all told, I only had two 30 second walking breaks during the 2nd mile, which was really great. Not so great was the last half mile where I felt like I was going to puke all over the Wayland HS track during the last 300 meters to the finish, but I managed to keep it down and actually nearly nipped a Greater Boston TC runner at the line. I finished the mildly challenging course in 24:48 (7:58 pace). Not to pour over the stats too much, but my first mile, and last 1.25 miles were continuous running, and under 7:45 pace, it was merely the middle mile of single track and hills, combined with those two walking breaks that slowed me down, which, considering the circumstances, sort of impressed me.

As I said above, the race was totally a blessing for me, and the ability to run an XC race during probably the best time of the year to be a New England Trail Runner is simply something of which I am so thankful. Pace and place really held no huge foothold in my thoughts, because, hey, I haven't been training.

The Vibrams were awesome on the various surfaces. There was quite a bit of grass field, but the second mile is almost exclusively on wooded single track with roots, rocks, and undulating terrain. Obviously, with a little less protection I was a little more vigilant about foot strikes, but I never had to slow down in spite of the terrain, and actually felt far more nimble and in control going down some of the gnarly descents on the single track. My calves are a little sore from using the Vibrams. I think this is partially the newness of the running style and form that one is encouraged to maintain by the act of barefoot running. It really in new, and demands more from the legs. They really keep you... pun warning... on your midfoot and toes, and, if you are like me, and start to get lazy during the latter half of a race with form, you get an instant reminder with the first couple heel strikes.

When I think about it, Vibrams are really close to waffle-style XC spikes, in that they have the flat bottom of very little cushioning. With the Fivefingers one basically has the Vibram rubber sole between the terrain and their foot. Though it appears the sole protects less than the waffle XC shoes, having worn Nike Zoom Country's through my college XC career, I'd say the protection is the basically the same. The Vibrams just seem to have a more natural fit, and don't crush the toes, like my Zoom's often did!

The bottom line is that I am pleased with my 'barefooting' experiment so far, and feel like I am making some progress in the VERY limited amount of time I have had to test run and test walk. I am learning and am excited to see how they will help when my fitness level is at a far different place.

I am seriously thinking about taking the Vibrams to a much more rugged course at the Ravenswood Trail Race next weekend to continue the experiment... we'll see.

Speaking of Ravenswood, I have signed up, and feel like I should be okay to take on the challenge. If anything, it'll be in the woods and away from the speed demons, so if run/walk law has to be instituted it'll be far less embarassing! I am also excited to hang with a few of my trail friends, whom I have missed very much, but am glad to see they are staying healthy for their continued Ultra Running endeavors later on this Fall.

Until next weekend, Happy thoughts, happy feet, and happy trails!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Aid Stations of Life...

So here I sit on an idle Monday evening, sick to some degree, something just not feeling right in my body. A little freaked out because I am awaiting some test results from my doctor. Long story, but I saw my Doctor Friday, just to make sure I don't have anything really wrong with my lower abdomen, and after the obligatory 'pee in the cup' test, I saw my Doctor's eyes pop out of his head when he did the initial stick test of the sample and said, "Well I am really not sure what that means, looks like I have to send this to the lab". Okay, probably an over share for you, the infrequent reader, but it basically has ruined my weekend, and made me think about a lot of things that I really don't want to be thinking about at this age of my life.

One positive from this ordeal is thinking about my life in general, and realizing that one should never tell themselves that they can't do something, or negatively dismiss anything because they feel like they are too old or too young, or really anything.

I feel like this is a point in my life where I am sitting at an aid station on the journey of life. Thinking about what has transpired in the past, not really knowing the lay of the land on the next section of the course, but realizing that this is the time to take stock, re-equip myself with the right gear and attitude, and keep on moving. If the course isn't what I expect it to be, I'll take a page out of any trail runner's book (at least those worth their salt tabs) and ADAPT.

I really hate my job because it has no intrinsic value, and I am basically a cog in a corporate machine, something I swore I'd never become. I really like the idea of getting into social work and/or psychology, specifically working with people and families in hospice and hospital settings dealing with disease or end of life situations. It is tough work, but I am the type of person that would be fine with a small pay check (I mean, I have that right now!) if I was making a real difference in the lives of others.

So I have started the journey, not sure how I can parlay an English degree into a spot in a Psychology graduate program, but even if it takes 10 years, I know the time, effort and sacrifice will be worth it. Especially when 10 years of the current flavor really will only get me to a place where I might be a slightly bigger cog in the corporate machine.

In the mean time I will learn and volunteer in the places where I one day want to be employed and hopefully through the experience will figure it out somehow.

I have been trying to run amid the lower ab stuff, only asking of my body what it can give. I have done a couple 'Gallowalking' runs, more walking than running, but activity nonetheless, and I remained dilligent with my barefooting, running/walking 2.25 miles in the Vibrams last night with much delight.

Hoping to be back on the trails soon, but for now I am going to sit in the folding chair somewhere on the trail of life, reflecting and planning. I laugh at people who say, relax, it is a marathon, not a sprint, but for me, life really is an ultra, and no two miles seem to ever look or feel the same!

Happy trails!