A look back, a look ahead

Happy 2011 to all! This blog has been quiet for quite some time, so it’s time to get the first words of the new year up.

2010 – In Review

Here are the raw numbers for last year:

  • Total running: 215 miles
  • Longest single run: 26 miles

Prior to last year, my longest single run was a 10k, so overall I’m happy with how the year worked out. I was able to slowly get back into running, ramp up my mileage, and eventually run in my first ultra. Although I did end up taking a DNF at mile 26, the training and lessons learned were valuable. In addition, February brought a 2-for-1 addition to my family with the arrival of twins. No shortage of things to do at home!

On the downside, I have been dealing with hamstring and tendon issues since fall of last year, in spite of taking eight weeks off. This has necessitated a lot of tinkering with form, strength training, stretching, foam rolling, etc. I have recently restarted my running, but am still battling to keep all my relevant bits loose and pain-free.

So, a busy year running and parenting (with a bit of work and play thrown into the mix)… what’s on deck for 2011?

2011 – Things to Come

First and foremost, I want to ramp up my mileage. I am planning a (successful) 50k in the  Spring/Summer and tentatively looking to do a 50 miler in the Fall. That’s quite a jump from last year and I absolutely want to avoid over-training and injuries. Given my issues last year I’ve gone back to the drawing board and decided to focus on some basics including strength training.

I’ve been fairly successful over the last couple months sticking with consistent “at home” strength training. I picked up a copy of You Are Your Own Gym just to get some additional ideas since I absolutely loathe going to a gym/health club. The workouts I do are generally 30 minutes or less but I’ve definitely noticed an improvement. I’m convinced maintaining a steady strength training regimen as I ramp up my mileage is a must.

As I start a new training cycle I’m also trying out a new approach to my workout planning. I still want to have my big picture, distance running goal, but I want to take the week to week planning in smaller chunks. I’m a planner by nature, however… since I don’t have years of experience under my belt I want to scale back significantly on trying to nail down details of running X amount of mileage in Y type of run every Z weeks. I know roughly where I need to be with my weekly and long run mileage, so I’m going to break my training into four week chunks. I’ll plan out the relevant strength training and mileage/pace ramp up for each section, then evaluate as I go.

Everything Else

In addition to the training, I plan to keep these occasional blog updates rolling. At the very least they help keep me honest about what I’m doing and how I’m progressing. I also have a couple more gear reviews in my “drafts” folder that need to be wrapped up. And now I’m off to prepare for my first actual race of 2011: a little 5k to start the year off right. Happy New Year!

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Of Tendons and Training Plans

I will skip the truisms about planning and how it often doesn’t work out. Suffice it to say, I made my training plans and am now in the process of making revisions.

At the beginning of October I ran 26 miles of the Gold Country 34 mile run. While this was a less-than-ideal DNF, I was not discouraged. I planned to ease back into running, build up my strength and speed a bit, then ramp up the distance again heading into 2011. Instead, I went for an easy 3 mile run and found my left foot was not happy about it. The attachment point for the peroneus tendons was inflamed and aching. Not wanting to be one of those runners who refuses to listen to their body, I took a couple weeks off. Then I did another easy 3 mile run. It was still aggravated.

So, now I find myself five weeks out from my race and still not running. I’m disappointed to say the least, but I’m still trying to stay positive. I’ve elected to focus instead on strength training; if my back-body is having issues I’ll just work to build it up as much as I can.  Thankfully we’re heading into Fall and Winter. The days are getting shorter and the mornings aren’t just chilly this week, they are downright cold. Mother Nature is trying to be encouraging as I stay indoors and count my push-ups.

Out of necessity I’ve adjusted my long distance plans. I’d originally hoped to build back up to another 50k attempt in late Winter/early Spring. With this setback though I’m tabling that idea and am determined to have a short-term focus on lower mileage with strength, speed, and injury prevention. Once I’m more comfortable with that base I will transition to a mileage ramp-up and be ready to face the longer distances once more. I will not be denied!

As we all do at these times, I’m trying to find the silver lining in a cloud of mild injury. Here’s hoping I can remain focused and upbeat through the days ahead. The slow, slow days where I can only get where I’m going by…walking. :)

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Race Report: Gold Country 34 Mile

I ran in my first ultra (first anything-over-17-miles really) this Saturday, the Gold Country 34 Mile. This was my second time running in an UltraRunner.net event and they did a great job. Unfortunately my day ended with a DNF, but I enjoyed the event and am glad I ran it.

The Run

The race starts and finishes in Auburn at about 1400′. It drops 800′ over the first 4 miles down to the American River and No Hands Bridge. As a start goes it’s pleasant, but it weighs on your mind knowing that this nice downhill will mean a steady uphill for the final 4 miles of the race. This knowledge definitely came into play later in the race.

After crossing No Hands Bridge and chatting briefly with the helpful aid station worker I began the first of two 13 mile loops. The first obstacle is a brutal 1000′ climb over about a mile, affectionately known to the locals as “K2″. While it’s not quite Himalayan in size it can certainly feel like an epic climb. Knowing I would have not one, but two trips up this monster I just set a steady hiking pace to the top. After a short descent and another climb, albeit only 200′, I made it to the next aid station.

While I definitely felt the climb, the day was young and I was still feeling relatively strong as I left the aid station for a 5.5 mile section of the Olmstead Loop Trail. The sun was up by this point, but the temperature had not yet started to climb and the rolling, exposed grassland trail passed without incident.

Rolling into the next aid station at the town of Cool I hit the half-marathon mark feeling good. I was holding back a bit on the pace, afraid of blowing up early with my inexperience at the distance. I knew the majority of the next section was downhill and wasn’t too concerned about making it back to No Hands Bridge with a reasonable time. I got some ice from the helpful staff and filled up my pack, then hit the trail.

While it’s true that the “majority” of the next trail section was downhill there was still a short but steep climb that started to make me a little nervous about my legs on the second half of the course. I tried not to dwell on it and cruised the long downhill singletrack. I was still enjoying plenty of shade, but could feel the temperature starting to rise as I rolled into No Hands at about 10:15 am.

It’s at this point I should make specific mention of the weather. Northern California late September/early October can be all over the place in terms of weather, but the week preceding the race had seen record setting highs throughout the state. Thankfully the 100 degree weather had eased, but unfortunately the forecast for the race was still 90 degrees. For the first couple hours of the race the low sun had kept the temperature mild, but as the morning wore on it rapidly climbed.

The temperature ramp-up really kicked in as I was fighting my way up K2 for the second time. At this point my legs were also letting me know that, while they appreciated the distance training I’d done, they were not prepared for two laps up a hill this steep. I slogged onward and upward, but by the time I reached the top of the hill I had dropped to the ground and had to sit and recover. Up until this point I’d been in the middle of the pack, but as I sat I watched about a half-dozen other runners huff and puff their way by me. Wanting to use their effort as inspiration I got up and shuffled my way through the next mini-climb and on to the aid station.

Those 3-ish miles had taken quite a toll. Worse than that, they’d taken a long time. I’m pretty sure I was down on my blood sugar levels at this point too. Knowing I still had a lot of miles left, I decided to rest for a little longer at the aid station, eating and drinking and trying to get psyched up. I knew the next 5.5 mile section would be hot and I’d be tired, but if I could just keep moving I thought I’d be up for the task.

The unraveling that began with my second trip up K2 continued. I realized soon after leaving the aid station that I probably wasn’t going to be able to run up even the small hills at this point. I didn’t have any strict time goals, so this was a problem in a “race” sense. It was a problem for the conditions, however. As mentioned, this section of the course was exposed grassland. The occasional oak trees that happened to be near the trail provided scant shade. So…it was full sun, it was hot, and I was slow. This created a bad feedback loop. The slower I went, the more sun-baked I got, the more I had to stop at any little shade patch; rinse, repeat. Soon I was walking even on gentle downhills and starting to seriously think about what it would take to finish the race.

As I ever-so-slowly made my way to Cool (trying not to think about how pleasantly incongruent the name sounded) I considered the final 8 miles that would be ahead of me. I knew the first 4 miles had that rough uphill, but after a recharge at the aid station I knew the downhill could be managed, albeit much slower than my first lap. This would put me back at No Hands Bridge, staring at a 4 mile climb back to the finish. The first 2-ish miles of this would have no shade and all of it would be done in the peak of the day’s heat. I did some realistic math based on my lackluster pace and knew I was looking at another 3+ hours on the trail after I left Cool.

When I finally reached Cool I had come to terms with the fact that being out for another 3 hours was simply not a good idea. The staff at the aid station directed me to a hose, so I immediately doused myself with water and sat down. They were properly encouraging and wanted me to succeed, reminding me about the downhill section ahead. The hose and the shade almost conspired to make me think it might not be that bad, but I did the math again and decided that my day was done. Another runner, out on the trail in spite of a bad cold, had also called it a day at that point so I was able to get a ride back to the start with her. She and her significant other turned out to be more experienced runners so we chatted about the day’s run and I got some good recommendations on other ultras to try. A great end to a rough day.

Lessons Learned

The obvious lesson here is “train harder”. Specifically, more hill training would have been a huge help. Really I knew this even before starting. I had incorporated some hill training in my long runs but not as much as I would have liked.

The other obvious lesson is heat conditioning. I knew the heat would be rough and was hoping that October would not be quite so warm. In fact, in a cruel twist from Mother Nature the temperature dropped by 10 degrees the next day. So it goes with weather; as a runner I just need to be prepared for anything.

This was my longest stint running and a good chance to evaluate my food and fluid intake. I think I did pretty well on fluid and electrolytes overall. In the past this has felt like more of a problem. I can also say the ice in my water made a big difference. Cold water goes down nicely when the heat is turned up. While I’m happy with fluids, I feel like I didn’t keep up with my nutrition as well as I could have. I got behind a bit in the first half of the race, and once I was slogging up K2 the second time I couldn’t think about calories. I made a good call taking a longer break and working on food at the next aid station, but by that point I was playing catch-up.

The most important lesson to consider is the mental game. I spent a lot of time trying to ascertain whether I was dropping because it was a good decision or whether I was dropping because I was hot and tired and wanted to be done. I definitely think there was some mental “weakness” to the decision, but not enough that I’m beating myself up about it. I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish, but I’m happy with what I did accomplish. So, lessons (hopefully) learned, I’ll take what happened and start preparing for next time.

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10 days and counting

So I’m into the final countdown to my first ultra. Only 10 days left until the Gold Country 34 mile. Do I feel ready? More or less.

In preparation for the big push next Saturday I’ve started tapering. Probably too lightly, really, but my biggest concern is getting my legs feeling loose and all minor stress and strain on my calves and achilles mellowed out. I wouldn’t mind being a bit stronger, but at this point I just want to feel good on race day.

I’m confident in my ability to finish the race, which for a first ultra is probably all I should worry about. Ideally I’d be faster than I am, but I’m trying to be realistic. I’ve been able to ramp up my mileage over the last few months, but I haven’t been able to devote time to increasing speed along with it. So…I’m just going to have to deal with the fact that I’ll be out there for longer than I’d like and be walking/jogging at a nice mellow pace.

I’m trying to focus on the short term right now, but it’s hard not to look beyond to the rest of the fall season. Number one and two on my list for post-race will be working on speed and hills. Assuming my legs don’t fall off after my race of course. For now though I’ll just try to have a solid taper, stay healthy, and think about crossing the finish line next Saturday.

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Review: Brooks Cascadia 5

So this review is well overdue, especially given how easy it will be to write. I moved to the Brooks Cascadia 5 from a previous pair of Cascadia 4s which I loved. You can take a look at that review since much of it applies here. Brooks kept the midsole and outsole unchanged and made a few tweaks to the uppers and the result is another trail shoe my feet are very happy with.

Fit

After a couple runs to settle everything in, I found the fit of the Cascadia 5 to be nearly identical to the 4. The toe box has plenty of room for my medium width feet, there is moderate arch support, and the heel does an excellent job keeping my somewhat narrow heels locked into position. Most importantly for me when it comes to fit, I don’t notice the shoes while I’m running. Even after being on my feet for four or five hours my first thought after my run isn’t “Thank goodness, I get to take my shoes off!” If they can keep my feet comfy for hours on end they’ve done their job.

Feel

Like the 4, the Cascadia 5 is a neutral shoe with moderate cushioning. They are not a minimalist shoe but they still give me good feel for the trail and a stable platform. The rockplate is unchanged from the previous year, giving good protection from rocky trails and adding to the shoe’s overall comfort.

Performance

One of the improvements Brooks made in this upgrade was to increase the ventilation and drainage of the uppers. I did not test the 4s much in this capacity but I can say the Cascadia 5 works very well as a summer shoe. I have run in the heat and then desperately submerged myself in a nearby creek to cool down and the shoes performed admirably. I have not had any hotspots or blisters even in these conditions.

The outsole of the 5 remains the same as the 4, providing plenty of traction on dirt and rock singletrack.

Looks

While my number one criteria isn’t appearance, it doesn’t hurt to have something interesting looking on your feet for a change. For this generation of Cascadia, Brooks added a green variation (“Wasabi”) as well as a more traditional black. While it certainly doesn’t coordinate with any of my running apparel, I have to say I’m happy cruising down the trail in my speedy green shoes.

Summary

I log all my running miles on only a couple pairs of shoes. Since I don’t run in the most extreme of terrain and weather conditions I need a solid, all-around shoe. First the Cascadia 4 and now the Cascadia 5 fit that bill perfectly. I can say that I will happily wear this shoe until it’s time for a replacement and then order up another pair.

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Injuries, rest days, and the beginning of the final push

The last couple weeks have been a bit of a rollercoaster. Not a full-blown, on-the-edge-of-your-seat-screaming-as-you-plummet rollercoaster, but something with a bit of ups and downs at least.

After my Lassen Park run I had another normal training week and capped it off with a 20 mile long run. This was both my longest training run and my longest run to date, so it felt good to log the miles. I was waaay too slow, but that’s been the story with my long runs of late so I’m letting it go for now. I’m happy to be ramping up the mileage; I’ll just have to deal with speed as best I can. Side note: This was originally going to be the weekend I raced the half-marathon distance at the Wildest Run in the West but that event ended up being canceled.

My training schedule had another mileage build-up week scheduled for the week of 16 August, so I headed out bright and early Tuesday morning for my pre-work run. The days are getting shorter and my longer morning runs are now back to starting in the dark. Not a problem since I have my Petzl Myo RXP…but there’s more to running in the dark than just a headlamp. I wasn’t keeping as close an eye on my footing as I probably should have, caught a rock with my toe, and went down.

My actual leg injury was fairly cosmetic. I got some nice knee/shin abrasion on my left leg which looked atrocious but wasn’t much of an issue. My knee was a tad bruised, but nothing noteworthy. The only real problem ended up being my…finger. When I broke my fall with my hands I managed to jam my ring finger into a tree stump or rock or the like. I was glad it wasn’t worse (multiple fingers, broken wrist, etc.) and more importantly I’m glad I decided to take off my wedding ring as soon as the injury occurred. It swelled up like a little purple sausage soon after and I may have been in trouble if the ring was still in place.

To add to the week’s excitement my son also started kindergarten the same day I threw myself at the ground. I decided with everything going on I was going to make an executive decision and declare that week a low-mileage rest week. It ended up being very low mileage, but I did do a nice, hilly 8 or 9 miles on the weekend so I wasn’t a complete slacker.

So, from 20 miles, to injuries and rest, and now into the first of three ramp-up training weeks. It’s Thursday so my mid-week morning runs are done (yay!) and I’ve got a 20+ mile long run planned for the weekend. I’ll keep that up for another couple weeks, then transition into a taper before my 34 mile Gold Country Run. Only 37 days to go…it’s getting close!

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Lassen Park run and training update: 2-8 August

This week’s training ended up with a couple big bright spots: 1) No injuries and 2) A trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park where I got my long run in.

  • Total: 27.2 miles
  • Long run: 15.2 miles
  • Time until the Gold Country Run: 54 days

My mid-week runs were fairly uneventful, although the days are slowly getting shorter and “first thing in the morning” is now starting to include a dash of dark/twilight. Not exactly shocking since I’m aware of how the seasons work but it’s still a mental adjustment.

My long run made for a very long Saturday but was well worth it. I drove up to the southeast entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park so I could get my miles in while cruising through Lassen’s beautiful, and varied, scenery. Living in Northern California I’ve visited the park many times, in both summer and winter, but I haven’t been in a number of years and was eager to return. Most visitors enter the park at the southwest entrance; there a paved road runs all the way through the park including a parking area at the base of 10,462′ Mount Lassen itself. Most, though not all, of my visits to the park have been in this area so for this trip I decided to branch out.

I’d visited the southeast area of the park a couple times in the past, hiking to the top of Mount Harkness and around Juniper Lake, as well as exploring some of the lakes in the park’s central region. I had not, however, ventured as far as the northeastern area of the park which is home to some amazing lava flows and formations. So I plotted out a course that would take me out and back in around the 16-18 mile range.

Juniper Lake

Looking south across Juniper Lake towards Mount Harkness

Starting out in the Juniper Lake basin meant a 200′ climb up out of the basin to a nearby ridge to start my run. Combined with the jump to ~7000′ elevation my lungs were less than happy. Thankfully this short climb was immediately followed by a drop down from ridge into a meadow heading towards Snag Lake. Of course, nothing ruins a good decent like knowing that you’re doing and out-and-back run.

Snag Lake is, on one end, just another forested mountain lake. That is, until you look to the northern edge of the lake and see the lava “wall”.

Snag Lake

Looking north across Snag Lake

It’s not that impressive from a distance, but once you get a little closer you can start to get the “wow, that’s a lot of rock” vibe a little better.

Snag Lake Headwall

The lava flow that forms Snag Lake's northern edge

Not coincidentally, this is also where the terrain takes a bit of a turn. The first several miles of the route were forested hillside/meadow/lakeside of the variety that’s common throughout the mountains here; normal rock, dirt and mud singletrack. But once I transitioned to the edge of the lava flow the trail transitioned as well. Now instead of trail running it was more like a coarse-sand beach run. Of course, most beaches don’t look like this:

Trail to Cinder Cone

On the edge of the Fantastic Lava Beds

This portion of the trail loops around the lava flow (the well-named Fantastic Lava Beds) up to the base of Cinder Cone. So, after a bit of “beach” running I then started the 800′ scree climb to the top of the volcano responsible for the geological excitement in this corner of the park. This was way too slow, in part because I was tired and it was a tough climb, and in part because I had never been to the area before and wanted to stop and soak it in.

Painted Dunes and Fantastic Lava Beds

Looking down Cinder Cone at the Painted Dunes and Fantastic Lava Beds

The altitude, terrain, and elevation change all conspired to work me pretty thoroughly so after admiring the view and getting some gel down I turned around and made the return leg of my trip.

All in all a great day to be out, and a wonderful chance to see a new area!

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