Tuesday, May 26, 2009

3 weeks, 3 races

I basically uintentionally ran my third race in as many weeks this past Saturday. I say it was unintentional because the 5K I ran two weeks ago (while pushing the kids in the stroller) was the result of my wife signing me up for it. The 10K last week (while pushing the kids in the stroller) was a last minute decision. The third race was one I'd planned on and have been looking forward to for awhile. I already chronicled that event in detail a couple of posts ago. Here's how the rest of the week went:

Monday - Rest day from running, but I did play basketball at lunchtime and tweaked my back while attempting a steal. It was pretty sore for awhile, although I did go back into the game briefly (and moving much more slowly).

Tuesday - 8 miles. My back was still pretty sore and, honestly, when I first started the run I didn't think I was going to make it two blocks, much less 8 miles. But, the more I ran the more my back loosened up and it actually turned into a pretty decent run.

Wednesday - 7.1 miles with 6 strides. The back felt much better. It occurred to me that I haven't done strides since before Boston, so I remedied that.

Thursday - 9 with 3 @ half marathon pace. It also occurred to me that I haven't really run any miles since Boston at the pace I'm hoping to run the Deadwood-Mickelson half in, so I decided to try that pace out. It wasn't as "easy" as I had hoped it would be, but I got there.

Friday - 5 miles. Just an easy recovery run in preparation for Saturday's race.

Saturday - 3.7 miles. The Fat Tire Trail Challenge, which I described in a separate post. Also the first time I've ever had the opportunity to race on my birthday.

Sunday - 23 miles. I started this run with no distance in mind, but was shooting for a total time of 3.5 hours. Instead of hitting the trails again, I opted for some rural roads that are actually more similar to the Lean Horse ultra course. I also tried out my potential pacing strategy for Lean Horse, which is to run at an easy pace for 25 minutes and then walk for 5 minutes. I also walked any signifcant uphills, even if it was during my 25 minutes of running (after the uphill, I resumed running). This strategy seemed to work pretty well and I ended up running an average pace of 9:12, which is actually a full minute faster per mile than my goal pace for Lean Horse (10:12 miles would give me an 8.5 hour finish). Of course, my pace is sure to fade some if I run 27 more miles. I might consider shortening the run segment a little but maintaining the same ratio of running to walking (say 15 minutes run/3 minutes walk).

Total - 55.8 miles

The total mileage was a little lower than last week because I replaced one of the back to back long runs with the Fat Tire race, but that's alright. It was well worth it. Now, it's time to start seriously thinking about Deadwood-Mickelson. I'm hoping to get in a fairly decent week of training this week and then a quicky one week taper next week. Sub-1:30 or bust!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Birdwatching in Spearfish Canyon (this one's for you, Max)

I had last Friday off and it was a nice day so I decided to take the kids outside for some birdwatching and fishing. The fishing part of the trip was ultimately unsuccessful, but we did have some success locating our target for the birdwatching venture, the American dipper.

While they aren't all that flashy looking like some other birds, dippers are interesting in that they survive almost exclusively on bugs and sometimes very small fish that they catch from fast-moving, cool streams. In the Black Hills, dippers are currently limited almost exclusively to Spearfish Creek and its tributaries as other historical habitat has been rendered unsuitable by dams and other stream alterations that slow down and warm up streams. In fact, the Black Hills population of dippers is so rare and so removed from the next nearest population (in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming) that a petition was recently submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Black Hills dipper as a separate subspecies and to add it to the Threatened and Endangered species list. Genetic studies have recently been conducted that seem to confirm that the Black Hills dipper has become genetically distinct from other populations, but the initial finding from USFWS is still pending.

At work on Wednesday, I went on a field trip with some biologists from across the Black Hills National Forest to visit some of the dipper nesting sites in Spearfish Canyon and to discuss their status and potential recovery actions should they be listed (and just to get out of the office in general). For the most part, dippers are fairly tolerant of humans and you can get pretty close to their nests without totally freaking them out. One nest in particular offered a great view of the adults feeding the nestlings inside and I thought the kids would get a kick out of it, hence our return there on Friday.
Dippers prefer to build their nests directly over water. They will readily use man made nest boxes and, in fact, data on the Spearfish Canyon population shows that only 30% of the nesting pairs built their nests on natural surfaces. The nest I took the kids to was one of the natural ones. Dippers construct a sort of dome structure out of moss and grass with an opening facing the stream. Inside the dome they also construct a more "traditional" nest to lay their eggs in. The same pair will reuse the same dome from year to year, but always rebuilds the internal nest.

We had a short hike up to where the nest was located on a cliff face directly above the stream. As soon as we approached the nest, I spotted one adult dipping in the stream for food and within five minutes the kids were able to watch the adult fly up to the nest, got to see three hungy beaks pop out, and watch the adult feed them before taking off to look for more. Caiden and Chloe were pretty impressed by this, but also got bored with it fairly quickly. I attempted to get a picture of the adult actually feeding the nestlings, but there were too damn fast, but I did get a shot of the nestlings begging for food.

So, all in all a good trip. No fish, but we did get to see a cool bird and, on the way to the nest, also saw this smooth green snake on the trail. It's definitely spring in South Dakota.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fat Tire Trail Challenge

Today was the inaugural running of the Fat Tire Trail Challenge in Rapid City, SD. This race is also the first in the inaugural Black Hills Trails Series that will span the next 7 months. No prizes are awarded at the individual races, but points are awarded (10 for 1st, 9 for 2nd, 8 for 3rd, etc.) and awards are presented the the top 3 overall males and females in the Open (under 40) and Masters (over 40) divisions at the end of the series (got all that??). I'm all over this because: A) I like competing and this NASCAR-style points system really floats my boat and B) I'm just now starting to get seriously into trail running and this is a great way to get some race experience. The Fat Tire race is part of a larger Fat Tire Festival going on all weekend in Rapid. Of course, most of the festival (actually, all of it besides this race) revolves around bicycling. The foot race was held on the same venue as some of the mountain biking events: M Hill.

Since the race started bright and early at 7 (we had to be off the hill by 8:30 at the latest because of the bike races), I had to leave home at 5:30 to give myself plenty of time to get to Rapid and get checked in. As I was driving, it seemed like the perfect morning for a race: low 50s and overcast. Well, about 20 miles outside of Rapid I hit rain showers and then just as I was entering town it really started pouring. And then, suddenly, it stopped. When I got to Founders Park, it was dry but I knew the rain was on its way. I was already preregistered, so all I had to do was check in, visit the portajohn and by that time it was starting to rain so I headed back to the refuge of my car to stay dry until race time. With about 5 minutes to go, I stepped outside. By that time it had rained for about 20 minutes or so and was starting to taper off, but it was pretty damn chilly outside. I was wearing a sleeveless t with a longsleeve shirt over it and decided to run in both instead of just the sleeveless as I had originally planned.

A grand total of 35-40 people lined up for the start and after some explanation of the course (none of which I really understood since I'd never been on the M Hill trails) we were off. The race started off on a paved bike path but before too long we were heading up a dirt (mud) service road and then onto single track trails. By the time we hit the service road and started working up the hill, I was sitting in 4th place, with the lady in 3rd place right in front of me. As we progressed up the single track, I was able to pass her and take over 3rd. By that time, the two guys in 1st and 2nd were already building a gap and I had little hope of catching them. Also by that time, I had what seemed like 10 pounds of mud adhered to each of my shoes. We'd hit a rocky stretch and it would all break loose and then just build back up the next time we hit dirt. For the first half of the race (it was 3.7 miles long) it was generally uphill. Once we topped the hill we ran along the ridgeline for a ways, which was flat to rolling and then it was back down. At some point I noticed that another guy had passed the girl who I had taken 3rd from and he was gaining on me. As we started to head downhill some, I saw the two leaders not far ahead of me and naively thought I was gaining on them. Turns out there was a loop in the course after which we crossed back across the trail and then headed downhill parallell to the trail we headed uphill on. So, they were actually even farther ahead of me than I thought. In any case, I held onto 3rd hoping that I could maintain that lead until we got off the trail and then I was confident I could use the road runner in me to outkick the guy who was gaining on me. Well, my gap didn't last long and before I knew it he was flying by me on a nasty downhill. I'm still too novice of trail runner to really hammer the downhills, especially on rocky single track, and it was even worse with the muddy conditions that had me sliding every time I tried to open up. But, I did manage to keep the now 3rd place guy in sight and when we finally got back on the paved bike path at the bottom of the hill I opened up my stride and starting reeling him in. With maybe a quarter of a mile to go, I caught up to him and just tucked in behind and waited to make my move. When I saw the finish line clock up ahead, I felt him start to surge a little, so I made my move then, matched his surge and passed him. He said "good job" as I passed (I had done the same when he passed me earlier, for the record) and I assumed that meant he was done. That assumption turned out to be correct; he didn't make another move and I finished a few seconds ahead of him in 31:52, 3rd overall and 2nd in the Men's Open division. Oh, and today is also my 31st birthday, so I ran a 31 minute race on my 31st birthday.

So, I scored myself 9 points in the Men's Open series standings. Honestly, if the dude who won today (over 4 minutes ahead of me) runs the entire series, I have no prayer, especially considering I'll miss one of the races because it's the same day as the Missoula Marathon. In any case, it was a great time and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series, and more trail running in general, even more now.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More trails, another stroller PR

Last week I headed in the Hills for my first trail run and ran a 5K stroller PR. This week ended up being almost a mirror image, but with higher mileage and a 10K in place of the 5K:

Monday - Rest. We did a prescribed burn at work. It wasn't as big of a unit as last Wednesday's, so much less hiking involved, but still got a decent amount of time on my feet.

Tuesday - 8.3 miles.

Wednesday - 6 miles. Also played basketball at lunchtime.

Thursday - 8 miles with 3 at marathon pace. Still struggling with running fast...just can't seem to easily get into a good rhythm when I try to push the pace.

Friday - 13.1 miles. Didn't run a half marathon intentionally, that's just how far the loop I ran ended up being. It started sprinkling about 3 miles in and was raining pretty good by the time I finished. As soon as I got done, the rain stopped.

Saturday - 17 miles. Headed back into the Black Hills for another long trail run. This time, I went to the Old Baldy and Rimrock trails. I ran the Old Baldy loop first, including the spur to the summit and then headed over to Rimrock (these two trails, along with the Little Spearfish trail, are connected, giving you access to about 20 miles of trails from a single trailhead). I had hoped to be able to loop around the Rimrock lower loop, connect to the Little Spearfish loop and then back around to the Rimrock and Old Baldy trails, but I was halted when I reached a narrow canyon and totally lost the trail underneath snow up to my thighs. So, I had to double back and ended up not reaching the Little Spearfish portion. In any case, the goal was to get 3 hours on my feet, which I did.

Sunday - 6.2 miles. Kind of on a whim, I registered for the Wellspring Stampede 10K in Rapid City. Shannon had planned on running this for a long time and I was just going to go along and watch her run and then run the 1 mile kids race with Caiden. The race was originally scheduled for April 26th, just one week after Boston (hence me not planning on running it), but a snowstorm postponed it until this weekend. I figured that I was planning on running 5 miles anyway and it would be easier to fit that run in if I just did it during the race. But, that meant I would have to push the kids in the stroller again and it would end up being the longest I have ever pushed them, plus it would come less than 24 hours after running a tough 17 mile trail run. Common sense has never been a strength of mine, so I went ahead and registered. This race is infamous for "the hill", which occurs in the first mile and features a grade of 7% (according to MapMyRun). Yeah, pushing a stroller loaded with 80 lbs. of kids up that thing was not fun. Going down the other side was pretty fun though, although I worried that if I lost grip of the stroller I wouldn't be able to catch it again. My first mile pace going up was 8:38, the next mile going down was 7:02 and then I started to feel the effects of the long run. My pace slowly slipped to the 7:20s, then 7:30s, then 7:40s and by the final two miles I was barely keeping it under 8 minutes, even though we were running on a relatively flat bike path by that time. Through the last few miles, I exchanged position with a guy I know from the local racing scene 3 or 4 times. Finally, just before we re-entered Canyon Lake park for the final stretch, I passed him again and stayed ahead. As we looped around the park, there was one lady in front of me that was within striking distance. I felt like crap and wasn't so sure if I was going to keep my breakfast down or not. I remember thinking that I just didn't know if I felt like trying to outkick her, but finally my ego/competitive nature kicked in and I sped up. I think she noticed me coming, because she surged a little, so I had to surge back, which brought me alongside her. She surged again and I surged again and I could tell then that she was hurting even worse than me. I pulled ahead and finished a few seconds in front of her. She promptly pulled off to the side of the finishing chute and puked. I thought about it, but managed to keep it down. If you're out there, lady in black, good job! Oh, and I finished in 47:20 (unofficially), which I think was 28th overall. This race had almost 200 finishers last year, but I haven't seen this year's official results, so I'm not sure how many there were or where I finished in my age group.

Total - 58.6 miles

And the racing story doesn't end there. About a half an hour after I finished the 10K, Caiden lined up for the kids mile race. I alternately paced him/tried to keep up with him as he alternated pace throughout (he's really good at hammering the downhills and running fast when there are a lot of spectators watching but then gets easily distracted by ducks or playground equipment). At one point, I looked behind me to see how far behind he was following and couldn't see him at all. As I'm wondering where in the heck he went, I turned and looked forward and he had surged about 10 yards in front of me. I had to hit full stride just to catch up. He ran a 9:47, which I think is pretty damn good for a 5 year old with relatively short legs, but I don't really have anything to compare it to. He did get a really cool framed copy of the official race print as a prize. Shannon had a rougher day during her 10K, although she did run a 5K PR in the first half. The second half didn't go as well, but we still had a good time.

This week, more fun on the trails is in store, but this time there's a race involved. My third race in 3 weeks, as it turns out. No stroller this time, though. This Saturday (which is also my 31st birthday) is the Fat Tire Trail Challenge on M Hill in Rapid City. It's a 4 mile trail race on some new trails they've constructed recently. It's also the first race in the Black Hills Trail Series. I'm hoping that my recent trail training will help me to not run this trail race as stupidly as I've run some in the past (I have trouble shedding the road racer "I'm gonna drop the hammer from the start and see how long I can hold on" mentality). We shall see...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Into the woods and a stroller PR

I guess you could call this week diverse. I delved into trail running and ran a 5K. The trail run was fun, the 5K less so (but 5Ks are never fun while you are doing them....if they are, you aren't doing it fast enough).

Monday - Rest

Tuesday - 7 miles. I tried to speed up to tempo pace for a mile or two, but quickly came to the conclusion that my legs aren't quite ready for that. I managed something slightly slower than marathon pace for one mile and then took it easy.

Wednesday - 5 miles. First run in my brand spankin new, very red pair of Nike Lunar Trainers. Still not sure if they will become my go-to race shoe, but I am amazed by how cushioned AND light they are. Also, I spent all day at work on a prescribed burn, which involved a bunch of hiking over fairly rugged terrain (or at least as rugged as it gets in the Black Hills).

Thursday - Rest. Definitely feeling the burn (literally) from yesterday.

Friday - 11.4 miles. Felt good. Longest run since Boston, but not for long.

Saturday - 14.3 miles. As detailed in my last post, I did this on the Big Hill Trails. It's definitely going to be an adjustment for me to measure my long runs by time and not necessarily distance. This run took me 2.5 hours. Normally, I could cover at least 18 miles in that amount of time, but trail running is very different. I've gotta keep reminding myself that it's more about time on my feet than distance covered.

Sunday - 3.1 miles. Shannon and I ran the Run for Their Lives 5K in Spearfish. Since it was Mother's Day, I got stroller-pushing duty. I think I've only run one other race while pushing the kids in the stroller and that was a couple of years ago, so they've gained weight since then. I finished that race in 24:XX, so my goal here was to break my stroller PR. Mission accomplished. My legs actually felt really good after the trail run (apparently soft dirt and grass is more forgiving than asphalt and concrete). I took off at a pace that felt hard but wouldn't lead to me puking alongside the road while my kids watched. I (we, actually) ended up finishing in 22:10, good enough for 9th place overall (out of 70-some total runners). The kids had a blast. Halfway through I tried to talk em into letting me ride while they pushed, but they didn't fall for it. Kids these days...

Total - 40.8 miles

I was hoping for more miles, but the 5K and my misjudgement of trail pace resulted in slightly fewer than I had planned on. I'm hoping to get the mileage up some more in the coming weeks because I definitely think my legs are ready for it. The endurance is coming back pretty well. I definitely still have a ways to go before I get back my pre-Boston speed, but hopefully I'll get there before the Deadwood-Mickelson Half-marathon on June 7th. This is the point in marathon recovery where I generally start to get impatient. The soreness and aches and pains from the marathon are all gone, but my body still won't move as fast as I think it should. Patience is not a virtue of mine....

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Running the Big Hill trail

Today, I headed into the woods for my first real trail run. I've run a few trail races over the years, but have never done trail running as part of my regular routine. Since I'm ultra training now and I've got a bunch of trails nearby in the Black Hills, I figured it was high time to get started. So, I laced up my brand-spanking, shiny new trail shoes (Asics Trail Attack 4), my new Amphipod hydration belt and headed out. I also toted my camera along with me. Here are my pics from the trail:

The Big Hill Trailhead

An aspen stand along the trail. The aspen in the Hills haven't leaved out yet.

Heading up the C loop.

Blazer marking the trail. I only got lost once.

Up the C loop some more. The C loop had a lot of up.

View across Spearfish Canyon from the Overlook spur.

Still some snow in the high country.

Don't know what that thing is, but it looks like a phone booth from before there were phones.

There was a little bit of water on the trail too.

Another aspen stand on the A loop.

My trail shoes are virgins no more.

It was wet, it was muddy, it was snowy, it was hilly and I got sleeted on for the last mile. In other words, 2.5 hours of good clean fun.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another entry into the Running Shoe Hall of Fame

Sometime last year, I wrote a sort of obituary for a pair of Asics Nimbus shoes that had served me well but whose time had come to retire from running and join the ranks of the lawnmowing shoes. Well, this week an even more memorable pair of shoes came to the end of their running life.

On April 19, 2008 (one year and one day before I would run Boston, although I certainly didn't know that at the time), I wore a pair of yellow, white and silver Asics Stratus for the very first time. Well, that's not entirely correct. I already had one pair that I had been training in, but had bought an identical pair (color and everything) to race in. Although they were twins, it is the second pair that I will remember the most. On that date, I laced them up for the first time to run the Kevin Whirlwind Horse 10K, a tune-up race for the Colorado Marathon. Someone at the race commented that I was crazy for running in a pair of shoes for the very first time at a race, but I wasn't worried. And I didn't need to be. Those brand-spankin new Stratus (Stratuses?, Stratusi?) carried me to a 39:17 that day, a huge PR, my first sub-40 10K and good enough for 3rd place overall and 1st in my age group.

These Stratus quickly proved they weren't a one hit wonder. A couple of weeks later on May 4th, I laced them up again for the Colorado Marathon. Although that race didn't go as I had hoped, I did get a PR. On July 4th I wore them for the annual Roundup 10K, my hometown race here in Belle Fourche. Although I didn't break my 10K PR thanks to Roundup's hilly course, I did crush my course record from the year before. This pair of Stratus was building quite a resume.

And then came the day I will never forget. On July 12, 2008, I laced up my now-trusty Stratus yet again for the Missoula Marathon. Even as I stepped up to the start line (okay, not really right up against it, but somewhere in the pack not far behind it), I wasn't sure how fast I was planning on running that day. The cannon sounded, I took off and when I hit the first mile marker in 7:08 (I needed to average 7:17 pace to qualify for Boston) and felt like I was floating more so than running, it was game on. A little over 3 hours later, those Stratus carried me across the Higgins Street Bridge in downtown Missoula and on to Boston.

That may have been a good time for them to retire from racing, at the height of their career (unlike a certain former Packers and Jets quarterback). But, I decided to give them one more go, one last victory lap. Just six days after Missoula, I fool-hardily ran the 10.4 mile Heart of the Hills race. I didn't run it as fast as I know I could because of my marathon-weary legs, but the Stratus did carry me to one last PR/CR as I handily beat my time from my first Heart of the Hills race in 2006. That was the last time I would race in that pair of Stratus. By that time, they had accumulated well over 100 miles of racing and training and it was time to introduce a fresh pair of racing shoes. So, the trusty Stratus were moved into my regular training rotation and have remained there ever since.

This past Tuesday, I laced them up to run in for the last time. It was a an easy 7 mile loop, much slower and shorter than some of the runs this shoe completed in their glory days. Upon returning to the house, this pair of Stratus had reached their 500 mile limit. Their running career is officially over. That doesn't mean, of course, that they'll be seeing the trash can any time soon. Hell, I've considered having the damn things bronzed. But, they have run their last mile.

The big question when a big time stud athlete retires is: who will replace him? Well, there are a few candidates. I ran Boston in the Stratus' successor, the Stratus 2.1. They ran a respectable race in Boston, but the magic of the old Stratus wasn't there and I'm not sure if I'll race in them again. Unfortunately, the Stratus line is being discontinued by Asics altogether and being replaced by the Pulse (which sounds suspiciously like the Stratus with a new name, or at least I can hope). I've also experimented with the Asics Speedstar, which is light and fast but not enough shoe to support my football player frame for a full marathon. Just this week, I introduced the Nike Lunar Trainer to the lineup. The verdict is still out on that one (I've only run 5 easy miles in them), but my first impression is that they are impossibly well cushioned for how light they are. Really, though, the entire question is moot because it is likely that no one pair of shoes will ever have a career like those Stratus.

Rest in peace, Stratus. It's been a good run (literally).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Getting back in the swing

My first week post-Boston was pretty rough....probably the roughest marathon recovery I've had because of the abuse my quads took. Happily, the second week went much better and it's getting to the point where I actually feel like a runner again.

Monday - Rest. It was a scheduled rest day and a necessary one since my quads are still not happy with life.

Tuesday - 5 miles. This was the big test. Would my quads cooperate, or would I be forced into additional, unplanned rest days? Well, they cooperated. It was slow and there was definitely a lot of stiffness, but it wasn't painful.

Wednesday - 5 miles. Feeling a little better.

Thursday - No run, but I did take the pack test at work. In order to be certified to fight wildland fires or participate in prescribed burns, we are required to pass the pack test annually, which consists of walking 3 miles carrying 45 pounds in under 45 minutes. I had initially planned on taking it as easy as possible and cruising in just under 45 min., but after we started a co-worker took off a good clip and built a big lead on me. My competitive nature took over at halfway and I decided to see if I could reel her in. I did catch up, but didn't pass and finished about 5 seconds back in 39:16. So much for taking it easy.

Friday - 8.3 miles. My hips and ankles were really sore from the pack test, but they didn't bother me too much while running. I also played basketball for the first time since December or January. My hips and ankles didn't appreciate that so much.

Saturday - 6.5 miles. Again, hips and ankles are sore but feel fine while running.

Sunday - 10 miles. My longest run and my fastest paced run since Boston. I purposefully ran a hilly loop just to see how it would go and it ended up going as well as could be expected at this point. By the end, my legs were getting tired, so the endurance definitely isn't all the way back, but the pace is picking up and the stiffness is virtually gone.

Total - 34.8 miles

This coming week is an exciting one, if you're a runner geek like me. First, I scored two awesome shoe deals online last week, so I've got a pair of Nike Lunar Trainers and a pair of Asics Trail Attacks (my first ever trail shoe) that will be arriving this week. Second, I plan on using my Friday off to head into the Black Hills for a long trail run. It's pretty pathetic that I've lived here for three years and have done virtually all of my training on pavement or gravel roads when there are hundreds of miles of trails within 30-45 minutes of my house. I'm using Lean Horse and the Black Hills Trail Series as excuses to finally get out and explore some of those trails. I'm also running a 5K on Mother's Day. I say "running" instead of "racing" because I'll be pushing the kids (a total of about 80 pounds) in the jogging stroller and it will come after back-to-back longish runs on Friday and Saturday. So, yeah, basically I'm doing it for the t-shirt and pancake breakfast (and because my wife already signed me up).