Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Giddy no More

Disclaimer: The above picture has very little to do with the subject of today’s post (at least she looks like she’s running fast). I received feedback from my Giddy School Girl post yesterday questioning my testosterone levels so I’m overcompensating.

Yesterday’s speed session went very well. We were privileged to be able to work out with the University High School Cross Country Team. The workout consisted of a one mile warm up, 8 - ¼ mile intervals, and a mile cool down.

We were instructed to run the intervals at our 5k pace which for me is about 7:30. I ran the first interval in 90 seconds flat, much faster than my 5k pace but it qualified me to run with “Group 1” for the rest of the session. I’m not sure if that was privilege or punishment. Doing the math I realized that was a 6:00 mile pace.

The coach did an awesome job but was relentless. After what seemed like mere moments of recovery she would call for each group to line up for another lap as we were still dry heaving from our last effort. She wielded the lanyard on her yellow stop watch over us like a whip to “encourage” us like galley slaves on a roman trireme. It worked.

By the time we finished the 6th interval I realized I had no idea how many we were running. Concerned, I sheepishly decided to give myself another minute of rest and waited to run the last two laps with Group 2.

My pace proved to be too fast and I lost a few seconds with each lap. I did manage to complete the first mile of intervals in about 6:20, not bad for this old geezer. By the end of the session I slowed to 1:50 per lap which is right on target with my actual 5k pace and probably where I should have started.

It was great to run with the high school kids too many of whom made running seem effortless, easily loping around the track while I was gasping for breath. Curse them for their youth.

This will become part of my weekly training and is a great opportunity afforded by WVR.

Anyway, back to the girl in the picture. Was anyone else’s first impression on seeing her a concern that she has a serious over striding issue?



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Giddy as a School Girl

After eight days, my running hiatus is finally over.  I completed a three mile run Monday and so far my shin feels good.  Now it’s back to some serious running.

Most of my training has consisted of simply putting in the miles with a few hills thrown in for variety.  I have really been slacking off when it comes to speed work.

Thanks to WVR, tonight I have a real speed workout planned, on a real track, under the supervision of a real coach. I’m as giddy as a school girl.  I’ll probably faint like one too, as it will likely still be near 90 degrees when we begin.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

5 Stages of Running Withdrawal

I accomplished a lot in the past 18 months. It’s been an exciting adventure and the next season of running is looking even better. Unfortunately training consistently for that long without a break has left me feeling a bit battered at times. Now that a nagging pain in my right shin has persisted for a month I figured it was finally time to rest. Marathon training starts back up again next month and I want to start out healthy.

I am currently on day four of my hiatus, the longest I have gone without running since February of 2010. In just that short amount of time I already discovered that quitting cold turkey results in withdrawal symptoms that put taper madness to shame. As it turns out, running is as physically addictive as heroine.

So I thought I would share my 5 Stages of Running Withdrawal.

1. Denial: Rest? Who needs rest? Not me. I can’t get injured, I’m invincible. This pain just means I need to switch shoes, or improve my form, or get a massage, or run trails instead of roads, stretch more, buy painkillers in bulk, get a foam roller, a stick, a brace, runner’s tape, stock up on that magic ointment they hide behind the counter in the Asian market, stroke my lucky rabbits foot, consult a witch doctor, surf through TV infomercials looking for miracle cures . . . .

2. Anger: I haven’t had a quality long run in a month and suddenly every phrase that exits my mouth is peppered with language so foul it would make a sailor blush. As a precaution, I started warning the highway patrol to clear the roads before I start my morning and evening commutes. There is also a sign posted outside my office door “Watch Out for Flying Equipment” as even the slightest malfunction is likely to be followed by a hysterical temper tantrum the likes of which would make two year olds stand and take notice.

3. Bargaining: I promised myself no running for at least a week. Oh, but WVR’s got that new track workout tonight, that really sounds like fun.  Maybe I’ll just go and see how I feel. And the Genuine Bistro run is tomorrow, I love that route (and the beer afterward), surely just a quick 5 mile run wouldn’t do any harm. I'll keep my pace over 10:00 minutes.  Well, maybe speed up just a bit for one mile, but no faster than 9:00, wait, its a coolest evening we've had in a while.  OK 2 miles at 8:30, no faster than that, I promise, unless I think I can catch up to the person ahead of me.  My alarm is set for 7:00 am, so why am I wide awake at 4:30? Since I’m up anyway, why don’t I just lace up my shoes and tell myself later it was a dream.

4. Depression: Sob.

5. Acceptance: is a myth. I want to run.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Palm Bluff Conservation Area


Rumors of a new trail system near my home have been circulating around WVR for the past few weeks. Earlier in the week one of my ultra running mentors posted pictures of his run on those trails and I knew I had to check them out ASAP. Sunday evening I laced up my Merrell Trail Gloves and went looking for the Palm Bluff Conservation Area.

I was surprised by its proximity. It’s located off of Highway 415, just a few miles north of Osteen, less then 10 minutes from my front door. For those not familiar with central Florida, the area between the Atlantic coast development and the Orlando suburbs is a largely untouched wilderness. Some of it is marsh but much of it, like this conservation area, is beautiful pine and hardwood forest.

Palm Bluff has a network of hiking and horse trails and seems to be very popular for horseback riding. I was running fairly late in the evening Sunday, a little after 6:00, and the parking area was still full of horse trailers. I saw two groups of riders in my first half hour on the trail and then had the park to myself for the rest of the evening. I ran the red trail, a 6.1 mile loop accessed by a .5 mile trail blazed in white from the parking lot. This should have yielded a total distance of about 7 miles, emphasis on “should.”

The trails are a combination of jeep, horse and foot trails. The surface is mostly well packed earth but there were a few areas of deep sugary sand that were tedious to run through. I now treat these sections of trail like I would an incline. Trying to run through that sand is exhausting and slow and any forward progress achieved by running is thwarted by the need to stop and pour the sand from my shoes. Running through it is just not worth the energy expenditure so I often walk the worst sections.

With one possible exception, the trails are well marked. Trail blazes (red diamonds) are almost always within site of each other so getting lost would require either intent or inattention. Still, I somehow managed to find my way off the trail not once, but twice. The first time I turned right instead of left at an intersection that was not well represented on the trail map but clearly marked by trail blazes. Unfortunately I was running straight into the setting sun and had to keep my eyes diverted toward the ground so I did not immediately notice that the direction I chose was no longer blazed. The second time was a poorly blazed turn off of a jeep trail onto a smaller foot path. These turns are normally marked by a double blaze. This time I noticed the lack of new blazes almost immediately but when I turned around to look behind me I could still see a red diamond painted on a tree in the distance which led me to believe I was still on track. It turned out that last blaze also marked the turn. I continued on the wrong path and stubbornly refused to turn around even long after I was sure I was running in the wrong direction. When I reached a power line easement that runs through the center of the park I had to admit my error, curse my stubbornness, and retrace my steps.

That's a depth gauge in the middle of the stream bed.
The trail has two stream crossings, one via a bridge and the other a wet crossing. The stream is very low now because we are currently in a drought, but I suspect crossing this stream later in the summer will require a refreshing dip in the cypress tannin stained water.

One unique feature of the trail is an abandoned log cabin. I didn’t have time to really investigate because I was trying to beat the setting sun to the end of the trail. I snapped a few photos and peaked in the windows and could see that there were even some furnishings inside. To be honest, I was partially motivated to move on because I got spooked by site of the cabin in the dimming light which somehow managed to look both decrepit and occupied at the same time. The interior, beyond the immediate vicinity of the windows, was completely hidden in shadow which left the impression that someone, or something, was lurking inside staring back at you.

From the cabin I should have had about a two mile run to return to the parking lot. My second accidental detour off the trail made the distance a little farther. I picked up my pace significantly for the rest of the run concerned that there was not enough contrast between the red blazes and the tree trunks to make them easily visible in the dark. I made it safely back to the access trail and then finally to the parking lot just in the nick of time. It was 8:15 in the evening and according to my Garmin, my 7 mile run had turned in to nearly 9.5.  So how do I account for that extra 2.5 miles?  For the record, I don't get lost.  I wander.

Now THAT was fun!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Croom Fools Run 50k

I had an awesome experience at the Croom Fools Run 50k last month.

The race was located in the Croom Forest, a section of the Withlacoochee State Forest near Brooksville, FL. It was limited 250 runners competing in 15 mile, 50k and 50 mile races.

This was my first attempt at an ultra marathon and I could not have asked for a better race. The forest was beautiful, the race was well organized, the volunteers were awesome – now if they could have just done something about the heat.

The course is a 15 mile loop around the forest consisting of mostly single track hiking trails. 15 milers ran one loop, the 50k was two loops and the 50 milers started an hour early to complete three loops.

It was mostly flat or gently rolling hills with the exception of the last four miles of each loop which had one challenging hill after another. We were also forced to descend into several sinkholes for apparently no better reason than that they were there. I later learned that one of these was aptly named the “Pit of Despair” as it had a descent so steep it required handholds to navigate.

The aid stations were stocked with cold water, Heed, Mountain Dew and a smorgasbord of food options: oranges, bananas, cookies, chips, pretzels, and candy. I carried PB&J sandwiches in my pockets and ate two on the first loop, just nibbling on the aid station food along the way. On the second loop I decided to enjoy the offerings at the aid stations. The only thing I regretted sampling was a fist full of pretzels I tossed in my mouth all at once. They set up like concrete and I had a hard time swallowing them. I did suffer from a short bout of nausea after leaving the final aid station at about mile 26. I slowed down for a few minutes and fortunately it eventually passed.

I was surprised at how dissimilar this race was to my two prior marathons. The slower pace, fewer but much more elaborate aid stations, and a strategy that included some walking made this a much more enjoyable experience. In marathons I have always reached a point, usually around 22 miles where I just wished the race would end and finding the motivation to continue required a great deal of effort. I never reached that point in this race. I loved every minute of it.

The first loop was fairly crowded and it was usually difficult to pass due to the narrow trail. This was frustrating at times, especially during down hill sections when I like to open up my stride. I had to keep reminding myself to be patient because it was going to be a very long race. At mile 5, I looked at my watch calculated the distance left, and actually thought to myself - “Only a marathon to go. I can do that.”

I had one close call in the race at about mile 15 when I tripped hard on a root. I managed to stay on my feet but banged my toe pretty bad. In fact, I was afraid at the time that I broke it. Luckily I was only about a mile out from the half way point. Stumbling along for that mile I felt something moving around inside my shoe and convinced myself that it was my toenail. When I reached the aid station I took time to take off my shoes and examine my toe which thankfully still had the nail. It was throbbing but I decided I could still run and was determined to continue. The pain subsided after a few miles but I would occasionally get a painful reminder of the injury when I landed wrong on something hard.

While I was examining my toe at the start/finish aid station I glanced at the person sitting next to me, a 15 miler who was done running for the day and devouring a hamburger like it was his last meal.  He was holding it tightly in both hands slouched over it as if to protect it from being snatched out of his grip.  I looked longingly at that burger while I shook the sand out of my shoe and secretly wished a strong breeze would blow some of that sand onto it.  I don’t think he would have cared.

After dropping the 15 milers, the second loop was very solitary and I ran for miles at a time without seeing anyone. We always seemed to catch up to each other at the aid stations though and the camaraderie was very warm. At Aid Station 2, about mile 24, every runner had the same question on their lips when they arrived, even though we all already new the answer: "How much farther from here?" It was 7 miles. The reaction was always the same. “I can do that!” I saw this ritual repeated time and time again in the few minutes that I rested there. The volunteers were awesome and handled each question as if it were the first time they had heard it.

My race strategy for the race was pretty straight forward:

Start slow
Slow down to take in fluids every mile
Walk the inclines

I carried a 20 oz water bottle to stay hydrated between the aid stations which were spaced 3-5 miles apart. This worked well on the first loop, but by the end of the second, with temperatures in the mid-80’s I was quite dehydrated. I will definitely need to improve my hydration in a longer race.

With this strategy I was able to maintain an average pace of 10:45 for the first loop. On the second loop I lost a lot of time at aid stations and I also found that my definition of an incline changed significantly, I slowed down for anthills. My pace slowed to 13:39. Overall I averaged 12:08 per mile and finished the 31 miles in 6:16:51, right in the middle of the pack. I hoped that I would be able to finish under 12:00 per mile, but I’m still pleased with my time considering that this was my first effort and I could have easily made up the difference just by managing my aid station breaks better.

Instead of a medal, the finisher’s award was a coffee mug. I am a coffee addict, so I know this one will get a lot of use. The finishers party had an atmosphere like a family picnic. They offered burgers, hot dogs, pasta and all the junk food you could desire. It usually takes me a while to get my appetite back after a race. After an hour of trying to rehydrate I finally reached for the closest thing at hand – chocolate cake. It immediately perked me up and the grazing began in earnest.

I did take one gamble with the race. I decided to wear my new Merrell Trail Gloves for the entire race. I put 80 miles on them in training, but never more than 14 miles in a single run so I was not sure how well I would manage in them for a continuous 31 miles. As a precaution I had a spare pair stashed in my drop bag but didn’t need them. My gamble paid off and the Trail Gloves worked great. With the exception of my toe, I didn’t have any “bad” pain during the race, not even a blister. The only issue I had was with sand and debris finding its way into the shoes. I had to stop three times to shake them out. I think some lightweight gaiters may help solve this problem. I absolutely love these shoes.

I am hooked on trail running now and on ultras. I will definitely return to this race next year and attempt the 50 mile run.
These caveman feet served me well.