Monday, September 28, 2009

Back in the fray

This week marked my return to racing after my post-Lean Horse recovery period. It was a long, slow recovery and I was looking forward to stretching my legs again. My return to racing came at the Sundance Trail 10K in the Bearlodge Mtns. of Wyoming, which is the 4th race in the inaugural Black Hills Trail Series. I had run this race last year and been somewhat humbled by it, finishing in 55 minutes and change. The course is almost entirely single track and is an almost constant uphill for the first few miles before leveling off and then heading back downhill to the finish (it's not a pure out and back, but a "lollipop" with a loop at the end of an out and back). Anyway, more on this year's race later...

Monday - Rest, played basketball at lunchtime.

Tuesday - 10 miles.

Wednesday - 6.3 miles.

Thursday - 9 miles.

Friday - 6 miles. Took one dog out for 4 miles and the other for 2 (one is in much better shape/much skinnier than the other despite the fact that they get the exact same amount of food and exercise....they could be a case study on canine metabolism).

Saturday - Sundance (see below)

Sunday - 13.25 miles. The weather forecast called for high winds to move into the area on Sunday and I hoped that I would be able to get the run done in the morning before they hit. I didn't. Running uphill into a 20-30 mph wind isn't much fun, believe it or not. I managed to get a decent run in regardless, but the very second I stopped I suddenly felt every bit of effort I had put in at Sundance the day before. Good thing I didn't stop until I got back to the house.

Total - 50.75 miles

Okay, back to Sundance. I made the trip over to Wyoming solo because, unfortunately, my kids had a soccer game at 11:00 and the race started at 10:30, which means I had to miss their game to race. Of course, my son picked this game to have the best game of his short soccer career by pounding home 7 goals. He damn well better do that good again next week so I can see it :)! Anyhow, at least this year I knew what I was getting into with this course. Last year, I had no clue and pushed way too hard in the uphill section, eventually having to walk to recover. This year, I knew to play it safe early on and then try to push the pace on the return leg. Of course, pushing the pace on a single-track trail riddled with rocks, roots and stumps is a little different than pushing it on a road course.

As we lined up for the start, there were a handful of people I was fairly certain were faster than me, so I started behind them. The field of 53 actually spread out very quickly after the start and the single-track never really felt crowded at all. I quickly fell into the top 10 with a couple of people in striking distance ahead of me. Having run this last year, I knew that the worst section of trail was the hill affectionately known as "Bitch Pitch", which comes just past the 2 mile mark and is about 300 meters long and steeper than hell (which any runner will tell you is really steep). We hit the pitch and I passed a couple of guys I had been following since the start and then started power hiking like everyone else. Well, everyone except my co-worker Don, who is the only person I saw who actually ran the entire length of the pitch. Damn mountain goat. At the top, the course leaves single-track for the only time and follows a Forest Service road for a short stretch to the next section of trail. I was able to use my road legs on this stretch to catch back up to, but not quite pass, Don. But, as soon as we hit the single-track and resumed going up, Don pulled away. I was also following a local woman, Tanja, I've raced closely a few times previously. As the trail started its descent, it became apparent that I wasn't getting any closer to Don, but I was hanging with Tanja. As we ran downhill I focused on keeping up with her....well, that and not tripping over something and doing a swan dive headfirst into a tree. For awhile it seemed as though Tanja and I were pretty much alone, as Don had pulled well ahead and I hadn't noticed anyone within striking distance behind us for awhile. But then, with about a mile to go, we came around a switchback and I suddenly noticed that there were two guys closing the gap on me. By this time, Tanja had begun to pull away from me. I started pushing the pace to keep ahead of the my two pursuers and consequently started regaining ground on Tanja. By the time we reached the last quarter mile or so of trail, it seemed that I had lost them again, but Tanja had also lost me. It seemed as though I was pretty secure in whatever place I was in, so I kind of just put it on cruise control. Right before the finish, the trail crosses a road and then there's about 20 yards more trail to the finish line. It wasn't until this very final stretch that I suddenly realized that there was someone right behind me and gaining fast. I kicked the final 10 yards or so and just managed to finish ahead of two more local runners, Carlos and Gary, who had somehow managed to sneak up on me (no, I wasn't wearing an ipod, just totally zoned out in my own world).

So, final stats (unofficially): 53:32, 8th overall and 3rd in my AG (which didn't really matter since it turned out they only gave awards to the top 2 in each AG, which really sucks because they were cool handmade coffee mugs). But, I did win a door prize in the raffle, a hooded sweatshirt with the race logo on it. And, I think I might now be in first place in the men's under-40 division of the Black Hills Trail Series thanks to the previous 1st place guy not running this race, but I'll have to check out the updated series standings before I know for sure. Oh, and they had a great BBQ including ice cold Fat Tire at the finish. All in all, a good day on the trails.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting my legs back

To say running has been a struggle in the 4 weeks since Lean Horse would be an understatement. Some period of recovery is to be expected, but never after any of my 12 marathons or 2 50Ks have I experienced such an extended recovery period and such a feeling of pure fatigue and sluggishness when I ran. Frustration was starting to set in and, frankly, running just hasn't been all that much fun lately, and if it's not fun, then why do it? Fortunately, I seem to have turned the corner.

Monday - Rest. Played basketball at lunchtime.

Tuesday - 8.3 miles. One of the most miserable runs of my life, I think. I tried throwing some strides in to wake my legs up, but it just made them more tired.

Wednesday - 8.2 miles. A little better than Tuesday, but still slow.

Thursday - 5 miles. Really slow and I didn't really care. Just running because I felt like I should.

Friday - Rest. Physically, I didn't feel like I needed it, but mentally I just didn't want to face another miserable run. I did play basketball at lunchtime.

Saturday - 12 miles. Ran the Tinton trail, which starts at the base of Black Hills on the outskirts of Spearfish and goes up toward the Big Hill trailhead, over 6 miles one way. I obviously didn't go all the way to Big Hill since I turned around after 6 miles, but I was close. The net elevation gain going up is right around 1000 ft. and my total elevation gain was over 3000 ft. for the entire run thanks to some ups and downs in between. And I ran every damn step of it, no walking uphills like I had been doing during ultra training. Sure, some of the steepest, longest uphills were pretty slow, but I was still moving faster than a power hike. The thing is, it felt good, especially after I hit the top and got to run the 1000 ft. back downhill.

Sunday - 9.7 miles. Wasn't quite sure what to expect after running 12 trail miles the day before, but as soon as I started running, something just felt "right". It's a feeling I haven't had for a long time, but when I hit the first mile in 8:05 (the fastest mile I've run since Lean Horse), I knew this one was going to be different. After 4 long weeks of struggling to break 9:00 pace, my legs had finally come back. Apparently, they were lost in the Black Hills along the Tinton trail somewhere. Ended the run with a 7:54 avg. pace and most of that was effortless. Not my fastest run ever, but certainly one of the most refreshing, both mentally and physically.

Total - 43.2 miles

So, it's about damn time. I was starting to worry about my prospects at this coming Saturday's Sundance Trail 10K over in Wyoming. I ran this race last year and did it stupidly, still being relatively new to trail running. Even now, I'm far from an expert trail runner, but I at least know now that it's not wise to take off at road 10K pace on a trail and expect to maintain it. Regardless, up until this weekend I was unsure of the kind of effort I'd be able to put forth at Sundance. Now, I at least have some confidence that I can actually race this thing and vindicate my somewhat disappointing performance from last year.

Okay, now for the weekly football rant. Last week I had the perfect football weekend. I alluded to the fact that those are preciously rare and this weekend showed that. Friday night, Belle Fourche traveled all the way across the state to face the #1 team in South Dakota, West Central. The Broncs came out punching and scored on their first play from scrimmage on an 80 yard run and took a 14-3 lead into halftime. But, West Central showed why they've won 11 of the last 16 state championships and came back to win 23-14.

On Saturday afternoon, the Montana Grizzlies opened Big Sky Conference play with a home game against Portland St. (led by former NFL coach Jerry Glanville). A record crowd of 25,760 was on hand to watch the game and to watch PSU jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Uh-oh. But, the Griz regrouped and ended up outscoring the Vikings 49-3 the rest of the way for a 49-17 win.

Sunday is of course NFL day and I was really hoping the Seahawks could pull out a win in San Francisco to take an early lead in the NFC West. The game was close in the first half, but Matt Hasselbeck went down with a rib injury right before halftime and it was all downhill from there. Giving up TD runs of 79 and 80 yards to Frank Gore didn't help either and the Hawks went from contenders to pretenders with a 23-10 loss. At least my fantasy team squeaked out a win (thanks to Adrian Peterson and Ben Roethlisberger).

This week, Belle is on the road again at Lead-Deadwood, a game they should win easily (the 50 point mercy rule is a distinct possibility). Montana travels to Northern Arizona, which should be another Griz W. Seattle hosts Chicago. I don't know about this one. If Hasselbeck plays (which they are saying he probably will), then they have a shot at home. If not, it might be another long Sunday.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Running, football and soccer (oh my)

We are just beginning the BEST time of year. Fall is just beginning, the weather is perfect for running, football season has started and so has my kids' soccer season. Running could be going better right now, but football and soccer are off to a good start, so I guess I can't complain.

Monday - Rest. Took the kids for a Labor Day hike in the Black Hills.

Tuesday - 6.5 miles. Now, I would expect after a day of rest, without even any basketball, that I would be able to run a fairly comfortable 6.5 miles. I would be wrong. My legs just do not have any energy on these early morning runs since Lean Horse.

Wednesday - 6 miles and basketball at lunchtime. More of the same. Better than Tuesday, but still more of a struggle than it should be.

Thursday - 4 miles. Yet more of the same. I had planned on doing 5 or 6 but after the first two miles my legs were pissing me off, so I just turned around and headed home. We did a prescribed burn at work in the afternoon, which involved a lot of hiking and my legs felt totally fine then. They just don't want to run.

Friday - Rest. I had the day off and honestly meant to go for a 5 or 6 mile run and actually had all of my running stuff on and was ready to go until my wife informed me that outside water faucet was spraying water everywhere. After replacing the O-ring (the extent of my plumbing repair abilities) didn't work, I called the plumber and had him replace the whole damn thing. Between that, going to eat lunch at school with my son, taking our cat Gracie to the vet and then going to pick my son up from school, the day just snuck away on me and when I did finally have time to run, I just flat out did not feel like it. So I didn't.

Saturday - 7 miles. The day started off with Caiden's and Chloe's first soccer game of the season. They are on the same team (the only way Chloe would agree to play). Caiden is already a U-6 veteran, this being his 3rd season, but Chloe is a rookie since she just turned old enough. The game was a mud bowl since it rained all night before the 8 AM start, but the kids didn't really care. Caiden would play soccer in just about anything. Chloe probably has a limit, but she didn't mind the wet conditions. Their team ended up losing 7-4, but Caiden did tally two goals. Chloe isn't nearly as aggressive on the soccer field as Caid is, but she did get a couple of kicks in and, more importantly, had fun. I went for my run after the game and for once I was able to pick up the pace some and it actually felt fairly comfortable. Ended up running the 7 miles in just under an hour for an 8:28 pace, my fastest since Lean Horse.

Sunday - 10.1 miles. Ever since Lean Horse, I've been itching to get out into the Hills and do some trail running to prepare for the last three races of the Black Hills Trail Series. But, frankly, my legs just have not felt like they could withstand a trail run. Well, I finally decided to give it a shot this weekend and woke up bright and early on a Sunday morning to drive to the Old Baldy trailhead. Old Baldy is a 6+ mile loop, plus a spur trail that goes out and back to the summit of Old Baldy Mtn. I ran the loop plus the spur plus a little extra of the loop to get in a full 10 miles. Some of the uphill grades started taking a toll toward the end, but overall it went well.

Total - 34.6 miles. I was hoping for more (40 at least), but it wasn't meant to be. Maybe this week.

Okay, if you don't give a damn about football, feel free to check out now. The weekend I've been waiting for for almost a year finally arrived: NFL Kickoff Weekend. But, first, there were high school and college games on Friday and Saturday to take in.

On Friday night, the Belle Fourche Broncs hosted Hot Springs in their first conference game of the season. Belle jumped out to a 21-0 lead and it looked like a blowout was about to ensue. But, Hot Springs capitalized on some Bronc miscues and made a game out of it. The Broncs ended up holding on for a 31-28 win in what could have easily been a 50-0 blowout. They'd better figure out how to play a full game the way they played the first quarter of this one real soon because this week they travel to West Central, who is ranked #1 in the state and has won 11 out of the last 16 state championships (two of them over Belle).

Saturday night I parked myself in front of the computer and watched very a poor quality video webcast of the Montana Grizzlies game at UC-Davis. It was hands down one of the ugliest games of football I have ever seen the Griz play. After falling behind 10-0 late in the 2nd half, they were finally able to get things in gear and scored 17 unanswered points to win. A win is a win, but if they play like that again, they probably won't win many more. This week, the Griz open Big Sky conference play at home against Portland St., who is coached by former Falcons and Oilers coach Jerry Glanville.

And then Sunday finally arrived. Even better than the first Sunday of the NFL season was the prospect that I could have the ever elusive perfect football weekend, with the Broncs, Griz and Seahawks all winning. The prospects for this happening seemed good considering the Seahawks opened their season at home against the hapless Rams. I was not disappointed as the Hawks overcame some early mistakes to clobber the Rams 28-0. This sets up an early season showdown next week against the division rival 49ers, who knocked off the Cardinals (aka One Hit Wonders) in week 1.

So, the fall is off to a good start, and it hasn't even officially started yet.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Slowly but surely

Recovering from races has never been my strong suit. Recovery takes patience, something I lack. I expect that my legs will feel sore for two or three days after a hard race, but after that my patience wears thin. Once I start running again, I expect to be able to run at the same paces I was running before the race. More often than not, this isn't the case. Inevitably 2 or 3 weeks of frustration ensue during which I'm convinced that I'll never again be able to run as fast as I once could. I'm in the midst of that frustration period right now.

Monday - Rest. Played basketball at lunchtime. It's occurred to me that these 2 or 3 day a week basketball sessions aren't helping my recovery because they're just putting extra wear and tear on my already tired legs, but I don't really care. It's fun and something I look forward to, so I'm gonna keep doing it. And, actually, my legs have felt pretty good during basketball....better than they often have during running.

Tuesday - 5 miles. This was horrible. Hands down one of the hardest runs I've done all year and definitely one of the slowest too. For whatever reason, my legs just didn't want to move. I made them anyway, but it was a slow slog the entire way.

Wednesday - 5.3 miles and basketball in the afternoon. Much, much better than yesterday. In fact, this was my fastest paced run (so far) since Lean Horse.

Thursday - 5.1 miles. Not nearly as bad as Tuesday, but not as good as Wednesday.

Friday - Rest, basketball at lunchtime.

Saturday - 6.5 miles. The pace is definitely improving.

Sunday - 10.2 miles. First double digit run since Lean Horse and it felt good. A little slower than Saturday's pace, but not too bad.

Total - 32.1 miles

So, although there were a couple of rough days in there, overall things are moving forward and I'm starting to get my legs back under me. Not as quickly as I'd prefer, but I'll take what I can get (as if I have a choice).

Okay, now on to football. This was the first big weekend of the year with high school and college schedules getting started up. Belle Fourche's first game was Friday night against Douglas, WY, the defending Wyoming state champions. It was pretty obvious that Douglas returned some talent from that state title team. Although Belle kept it close for most of the game, Douglas eventually put them away 26-10. The good news for Belle is that, really, the game doesn't mean anything as far as conference standings go and it's good prep for them since they face the top two ranked teams in South Dakota later this season. The Montana Grizzlies opened their season on a brighter note, whupping up on Western State (from Gunnison, CO) 38-0. This game was the equivalent of Florida playing Charleston Southern this weekend....a powerhouse at one level matched against a massive underdog from a lower level. It actually should've been more lopsided than that, but the Griz made some dumb mental errors in the first half and only led 10-0 at halftime before getting it in gear in the second half. This weekend Belle is at home against Hot Springs in a game they should win and Montana is on the road at UC-Davis, which will be a much tougher test than Western St. And then, on Sunday, is the day I've been waiting for since February. Well, actually since the Seahawks playoff hopes flew out the window sometime in October last year, it's been even longer than that. The Hawks open their season at home against St. Louis. This is the best part of the NFL season....the time when everyone can actually hope that the Super Bowl is a possibility.