Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Slogging and sprinting

One of the benefits of being a government employee is that you are enlightened to the benefits of several holidays you normally wouldn't give a rat's ass about. Like Presidents Day, for example. It's one of those holidays that just seems like it's a federal holiday for the sake of having a holiday. I mean, unless you're in grade school and you get an extra lesson about Washington and Lincoln, does anyone really "celebrate" Presidents Day? I'm not complaining, by an means, as I'll take any excuse for a three day weekend I can get. And being the good government employee that I am, I will also find an excuse to take the previous Friday off and make it a four day weekend. Okay, so I didn't really have an excuse, but I do have annual leave, so a four day weekend it was.

The problem with taking Fridays off, though, is that my wife runs a home daycare and hanging out with a house full of small people bouncing off the walls isn't exactly relaxing. This is where being an ultrarunner comes in handy...you have a built in excuse to escape the house for 4-6 hours. So, Friday morning I was off to Sturgis with the intent of running 25-30 miles on the Centennial trail, depending on the snow situation. Based on my last run on the Centennial, a 24 miler on Super Bowl Sunday, I knew the trail was basically clear for the first 10 miles of the Black Hills 100 course and then the snow got progressively deeper as you delved further into the Hills. We'd had only a light snow and some fairly warm days since then, so I was hoping to be able to push through some deeper snow sections and make it a full 15 miles out and back. As expected, the snow cover was light and basically inconsequential for the first 11 miles or so. After that, as the trail starts ascending a big climb in a shaded drainage, the snow got more and more cumbersome until I was slogging along, post-holing up to my knees and beyond, at about 20:00 pace. I told myself I would stop when I got to 12.5 miles, giving me a nice round 25 for the day, but when I got to that point the snow thinned out considerably so I kept going. Of course, not much further on I was back to post-holing but by that time was getting near the top of the big climb. So, I told myself I would turn around at the top unless things improved again and when I topped out and looked ahead to see knee-deep drifts across the trail as far as I could see, I did just that. Ended up with 26.5 miles for the day in just under 5 hours of running.

With the goal of getting at least 40 miles in every weekend, I set out Saturday morning and bagged another 16 (on roads this time, since I didn't have time to hit trails as I had to be home to coach my son's basketball game at noon). The legs felt great early on and felt good up until about mile 13 before I started feeling the cumulative fatigue of the mileage. I wasn't totally wasted when I got done, I certainly could have run farther, especially if I hadn't been running at 8:00-8:15 pace for much of the way. While that's not a blazing fast pace, it is considerably faster than what I will ever run in an ultra.

So, what to do when Sunday rolls around and you've already gotten in your long runs for the weekend? Run a 5K, of course! My wife had already planned on running the Valentine's 5K in Rapid City on Sunday afternoon and somehow talked me into running too. I had zero expectations heading into it, but was pleasantly surprised by how unsore my legs felt that morning. Just before the race, I ran a couple of miles to warm up and the legs felt remarkably good. So, when the gun sounded I took off near the front, running in a small group (as in a group of 3) with two other guys, Jim and Kip, who are frequently just ahead of me at these local road races (I think I've beaten Kip once, and can't recall ever finishing ahead of Jim). I tucked in behind them early on, but eventually couldn't resist the urge to push ahead. Jim followed and we broke away from Kip for a bit (I think Kip actually dropped back to pace someone else for a little while). I could hear Jim right behind me right up to about the halfway point before he pulled ahead. At that point, I tucked in behind him and basically hung on for the ride. With about a quarter mile to go, it seemed like the pace was slowing a bit so I pushed forward, wondering if Jim was just setting me up for a big finishing move. Turns out he wasn't, as I was able to pull away and finish about 5 seconds ahead of him in 3rd place overall (the first two guys were way ahead of us). My time was 19:15, which would be a 5K PR except my Garmin measured the course at 3 miles exactly. Even accounting for Garmin error, I'm assuming the course was a little short. Still, a much stronger effort than I expected after 42 miles of weekend running. And now I've completed my semi-annual speedwork session.

All in all, not a bad weekend of running at all. Man, I love Presidents Day!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The greatest winter ever?

I know I'm flirting with disaster (in the form of a legendary blizzard) by posting this, but what the hell. Life's more fun if you live dangerously, right? So, here goes: this might be the greatest winter EVER.

Of course "greatest winter ever" means different things to different people. For example, if you're a skier or snowmobiler, then you probably think that this winter blows the big one. I've never skied and I'm not a fan of snowmobiling, so I'm of a different opinion. I judge the winter by two main factors: 1) how many times I have to resort to running on the indoor track because it's too dangerously cold to run outside and 2) how accessible the trails are. This winter is scoring high in both categories. I've run on an indoor track exactly one time, and that was an afternoon 4 miler a few weeks ago that I very well could have run outside (it was like 4 degrees, I've run in much colder), but I had a brain fart that morning and failed to properly pack my running gear for the conditions. For the 2nd category, I don't have any stats to back this up, but I'm fairly certain I've gotten in many more trail miles in the first month plus of this year than I have in the previous couple of winters. And not just short 5 or 6 milers covering the entire extent of runable trail, but bonafide long runs.

This weekend was a perfect example of this winter's awesomeness. On Saturday, my son had a basketball game at 9 AM, so I slept in, coached the game and then geared up and ran the 16 miles from our house to Walmart in Spearfish, where I met the family for a ride home. By "gear up" I mean that I put on shorts and a t-shirt. It was in the mid 40s with just the slightest breeze. On Sunday morning, I drove down to Sturgis for a run on the Centennial trail. Although I had to bundle up a little bit for the start (it was 20 degrees when I struck out), it warmed up significantly and was in the upper 40s by the time I finished, just over 4 hours and 24 miles later. I did encounter some snow on the trail about 10 miles in, but it was fairly well settled and frozen, allowing me to run on top of it instead of punching through. For the most part, the trail was totally clear and dry. And I had the whole thing to myself...I encountered exactly one other human (and her dog) during my run, at about mile 22.5.

Of course, as I write this it's grey outside and there's a light dusting of snow, but the forecast is calling for highs of 42 and 46 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. That crazy damn groundhog in Pennsylvania says we've got 6 more weeks of winter coming. If that means 6 more weeks of the winter we've already had, then I say bring it on!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Geez, what's with all the numbers as post titles? Get original, why dontcha?

Okay, so 176.2 is the number of miles worth of racing I've registered for in the last week. That tally includes the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon, the Quad Rock 50 and the Bighorn 100. I won't bother to tally up the $$$ amount for all of those combined.

Just one more "big" race left to register for (that I know of); the Missoula Marathon in July. But Missoula's early registration doesn't end until May and there is little danger of it filling up, so that one can wait awhile.