Saturday, April 6, 2013

Weiser River 50K! Here I Come!

The Facebook announcement!
The other night I was poking around on Facebook and found a little promo going on through Shu's Idaho Running Company.  The promo required emailing the store and stating why I wanted to run the race.  They then had a drawing to pick the winners.  Lucky me, I get to go run 31 miles again!  April 27th, 2013.

The course should be fast, its flat and slightly downhill (following the river downstream on an old railroad grade).  Now, we'll see if my legs are up for it.  I'll feel good for the first 15, then its all up in the air.  On the 21st of March I was able to put together a great little run in Boise, running the first 8 miles of the Race to Robie course and back down in 2:04.  Right after this I had to take some time off.  This means I'm coming off a two week layoff with very little running going into this race.  I had some non-running related issues keeping me off the trails.  I feel good now, and was in great shape before the layoff, so I think I'll be able to sneak in a couple of good workouts on the trails next weekend, and put in some solid miles up until a few days before the race.  I think that I'm mentally less confident going into this than Wilson Creek.  With Wilson Creek, you knew you were going to be hiking it at some point.  This course doesn't provide the shelter of a rocky, steep, mountain climb, but it also means I will be off my feet in less than 5 hours (hopefully).  Overall, I'm using this race as a workout to get ready for some secret race plans coming up in June, so no 7 day taper, but definitely taking it easy race week.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Goat Heads

Some goat heads found in my running shoes after a recent run along Lake Lowell.
Thorns are a part of life in Idaho.  The most infamous thorn in our Southern Idaho Desert is the Tribulus terrestris, better known as the "Goat Head."  These little nasties have been known to stop bike tires in their tracks, even with Slime or other sealants protecting the inner tubes.  They can stab into the paws of pets, into bare feet, or puncture the supplemental cushion units in running shoes (let me introduce Nike No-More-Air Trainers; squish, squish, squish).  One of the nastiest aspects of these thorns is that they grow outward from a center root, as a blanket across the ground near roadways, sidewalks, or trails.  Once the thorn pierces the passerby, the seed is carried away until it breaks off, leaving the thorn impaled into the victim, allowing the plant to disperse into high traffic areas until the trail is a minefield of prickly enemies.  You don't even have to be on a trail to get one of these.  On more than one occasion  I've been cruising along on a smooth, clean piece of asphalt on my road bike and been the unsuspecting victim of these nasty buggers.

If you see this little nasty guy, get your weed spray and go crazy...
Photo: Forrest and Kim Starr
Goat-heads are mentioned in cycling circles around here in the same way Barack Obama is mentioned at the Republican National Convention.  That is to say, they are the scorn of the cyclist.  One of the worst things about getting a goat-head is that shortly after embedding itself in your tire the head breaks off, leaving behind the quarter inch thorn, nearly invisible to the untrained eye, so that after you pull over, fix the flat and resume the ride, the little devil will puncture again, leaving you with two flats in the span of about 100 yards.  The same thing happens when they get into your pet's paw, working their way deeper into the flesh pad, causing infection and excruciating pain.  

Pardon me while I get all philosophical for a moment...
Thorns come in all shapes and sizes in our lives.  (Yup, I went there.) We get stuck by thorns in all aspects of our lives, often when we least expect it, or at least can't see them coming.  We can be cruising along in life just fine and then we hear the deflating sound of the air slowly leaking out of our tires (hissss).  Sometimes we have what we need to deal with the interruption, other times, we are left powerless and have to get some help.  I've changed hundreds of flats over the years of working as a bike mechanic and as an avid rider, but even I have made the call or taken the long and lonely walk home after I've exhausted my supplies of spare tubes, CO2 cartridges, or patches.  I've had to throw away shoes that have been ruined, death by pincushion, only after spending my hard-earned money on them.  I've seen friends have their pets hobbled, left limping around by a hidden impalement.  Just like the goat-heads, thorns in life can do major harm, working deeper and deeper, or cause recurring "flats" after you think you have the problem fixed. Fortunately, in life and in endurance sports, there is always hope for the next day, the next ride, the next run, the next race, etc.  Personally, my relationship with Christ brings me hope.  For me, its the only flat-protection I can rely on.  I know that even if a puncture occurs, I'm not going to be left stranded, that the wound can be healed and that I can be restored and back on my way in no time.

I have to say that for the past few days I've been dealing with a major thorn.  Its hard not to be bitter, to feel hopeless, and have your outlook on the future skewed by the negative impacts of a small but significant set-back.  My wife helped me snap out of it, but truthfully, being positive about the future when the thorn is still deeply embedded is very difficult.  I had to be reminded of the hope that occurs through the healing of Christ in my life.  I also had to be reminded that even in the midst of the lonely walk home, carrying the bicycle in one hand and the carbon fiber super-shoes that make great pedaling platforms but very poor walking devices in the other hand, you're still out there, in the midst of life; and the choice exists to make something good out of that walk or to be scornful and bitter.  I've noticed a lot of things when forced to slow down because of a thorn that I would have missed otherwise.  In the midst of a set-back, look at in a positive way, if you can, ask Christ to help, and enjoy the moment for what it is, not what it could have been.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stories from the run...

Sometimes its hard to find the time to workout. Often for me, a time constraint gets me going much harder than I would otherwise; for example, running my fastest effort of the year for 5k the day after running my longest continuous run. My wife is my best training partner as she will give me time to go out and I'll try to squeeze as much out of that time as possible. I have had some of my best rides and runs ever after being given a time constraint that results in an disgruntled stare if I break in the door late. I wish I could say that I was always back on time, but that would be a gross overstatement. Once, when I was a fit and fast cyclist, I set out on a 50 mile ride which I blasted through and finished in 2.5 hours, solo. I was quite impressed with myself, until I realized that I was a half-hour late... sorry Michelle.

Last night, I had 25 minutes so I took off on what was to be a quick jog. The air was crisp and as I settled into the motion of running I felt a little pep in the legs; it was a good night to run fast. I picked up the pace after half a mile and mentally committed to the effort. The run from the day before began to show its effects as the sub-7 pace started to feel a bit labored, "too late to slow down now though, gotta go under 21:00 for 3 miles." Mile 1 ticked by and my Garmin beeped, revealing mile one to have taken 7:16. Running fast hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt. I passed houses where people sat inside, lights on, in the warmth of a comfy couch, staring at a glowing box, feeling much less alive than I was feeling at the moment.

Entering a dark area of my route, my headlamp lit up just enough to keep me from tripping. Mile two, 6:46, now that was more like it... As I turned the corner to head home, I was no longer running, but soaring from the joy of running fast through the night. My legs were churning around 6:20 pace now and I felt completely alive. "Too peppy" I thought, better keep it realistic. Mile three beeped on my watch, 6:43. With just a couple tenths of a mile left, I began reflecting on the week, it was a week of stress, and of joy. I felt humble to be as blessed as I was. Now I neared the end of the loop, slowing enough to notice a little white car approaching on my side of the road. Its windows were down and I knew what was coming; one teenager hung his head out from the backseat and let out a wimpy attempt at intimidation, "ahhhh!" he yelled. With 41 miles in my legs for the week, adrenaline in my veins, and the built up stress from my week looking for a place to escape, I yelled back with my loudest, most primal, straight-out-of-Braveheart shout, "AAHHHHH!!!!" It was as if the pressure of a week of grading, teaching, and disciplining was released. I smiled as the car continued rolling away and I heard a distinct "holy s---!" come from the car. Poor teenagers... they had no idea how the pure, releasing, joy of motion can breathe life into a tired man.

As I ease into a new week, I am mindful of how much a small moment of freedom in a life of obligations and responsibilities can rejuvenate the mind and body. Happy Presidents day everyone, get out there and feel alive today.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

More than just running... "Eat & Run"

As is usual for me during these cold, dark days and nights of winter in Idaho, I have been reading a couple of my favorite books that inspire me to get out a do what most people don't, brave the elements in the dark morning hours to log miles, rain, snow, ice, or fog not withstanding.  I started out re-reading the classic book for any ultrarunner; Dean Karnazes' "Ultramarathon Man."  This book provides a humorous and insightful look at the development of an ultrarunning cult icon, Dean Karnazes.  If you're a runner and haven't read it, pick it up and enjoy.  I've probably read it 3 or 4 times now.

The second book I picked up this winter was "No Shortcuts to the Top," by Ed Viesturs.  You can't help but be inspired by this guy and his account of tackling the world's 14 highest peaks all without bottled oxygen.  His approach to the inherently dangerous sport of mountaineering is one of calculated risk management and sheer determination.  His book inspires one to finish projects no matter how difficult with careful, determined, diligence.

Finally, I have just finished reading a new book by ultrarunning legend and true star athlete, Scott Jurek.  Jurek is known for a few things in ultrarunning, one of them being a seven-time champion of one of the most prestigious ultras, The Western States 100.  Another unique think Jurek is known for is his diet, which is fairly unique among the world's elite athletes, being a long-term vegan.  He turned vegan after experiencing increased benefits from slowly changing his diet from junk-food junkie to a full-on vegan.  At one point, he even shunned cooking for a while, eating only raw, plant based food.  He gave this up after a bit because it involved too much chewing...  hmmmm, that doesn't sound very appealing.  Jurek's book, "Eat & Run, My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness" was on my list of books to read and I finally got a hold of a copy from the local library that I proceeded to devour in about 4 days.  From an entertainment standpoint, he isn't nearly as humorous as Karnazes, and there is less inspirational hoopla than Viesturs, but there is some excellent knowledge to be gained by this book.  To me, it seemed as if Scott Jurek was writing this as much for self reflection as for the masses.  I can appreciate a book like this, and I'll probably read it again someday.  It does have the unique feature of many running tips and recipes that Jurek shares.  I may come back around to this book if I go further with the little experiment I'm about to try...

It was while reading Jurek's book that I realized the next step in my evolution into an endurance athlete might involve something else besides training more.  I am very busy being a husband, parent, teacher, and athlete, and although I may desire to run and ride much more than I do, I am limited by time and finances.  Its is true that getting faster or running longer requires a phenomenal amount of training, but it is also true that I can likely gain significant benefits from a better diet and rest regimen.  So here it is, my attempt and going it an experiment of sorts.

I haven't been drinking much soda, but its time to cancel it completely.  I also want to give up refined sugary sweets for the most part, excluding special occasions   But the biggest change may come from eating less meat and more variety of veggies and fruits.  I think I'm going to give a shot at stepping down the number of "legs" I'm eating on a regular basis.  Going from things with 4 legs (cows, pigs, etc.) to only things with 2 (chicken, turkey, etc.).  I'm not saying I will never eat beef again, in fact, I have some great taco soup featuring some ground beef waiting for tonight's dinner, but rather; I will be choosing the leaner option when its there and looking to eliminate excess from my diet.  Here's a shot of my first meal under this new commitment: spinach salad with black beans, fresh local sweet corn, raw carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, and italian dressing garnished with some sliced oranges.  I can say that it was really, really good!  My two little kiddos really liked it as well, chalk one up for dad today!

On a slightly different note, I'll be posting "Trail of the Week" features again as soon as some weather cooperates and I can get away to some new places.  Thanks for reading and happy trails!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Wilson Creek (Really) Frozen 50k 2013 Race Report

This past week has been a bit nerve wracking to wait anxiously for the 2nd running of the Wilson Creek Frozen 50k.  I'd been anxiously watching the weather, hoping for some kind of a break in the nasty inversion we've been dealing with in southwest Idaho.  With no end to the inversion happening, it was sure to be a very cold and tough race, with temperatures more normal for Canada than Idaho.  With the seriously cold temperatures hanging around for multiple weeks around here, I had plenty of time to test and retest my cold weather running gear, and come race day, I felt as ready as I could be to tackle the course at Wilson Creek.

On race day morning, I met my friend Ben Blessing at the Nampa Rec Center and we rode down to the trail together in his X-Terra.  "Ultra Ben" has run 41 ultra marathons despite being only 28 years old; one year younger than myself. About halfway there we ran into some thick fog and the temperature dropped to -1 Fahrenheit.  Shortly after hitting the fog, Ben's vehicle started making an ear piercing noise that sounded like feedback from a speaker but only happened when we drove over 40 mph.  We finally got to the trails, ears ringing, and my toes were already getting really cold.

Check in was quick, and bunches of runners were waiting for the bathrooms.  The temps outside quickly pushed my toes over the edge into the painful freezing category, so I decided to forgo the potty and just stay inside the check in tent by the wood stove.  I made the right choice, because I made it through then entire race without having to stop for a pit stop.   Race directors Emily and Davina began herding the huddled bunches of freezing runners to the start line shortly before the 7 a.m. start time, and the mass of shivering bodies reluctantly filed towards the road where an informal starting line was setup.  A bunch of people already looked frozen, and my feet were getting really cold, though the rest of my body was just mildly chilled.  I had dressed to be warm, if not maybe too warm during the assault on the mountain.  I've ran enough through the winters to know that I run best when my body is warm and I tend to shut down when I get overly cold.

A few weeks prior, Ultra Ben and I had taken on the 20 mile loop of the course in very similar conditions.  I was a bit under dressed, more like most of the runners that now surrounded me at the starting line, and I had a very difficult time running on the long sustained climb of the Wilson Creek Road between miles 7.5 and 11.  To stay warm for the 7 hour race, I had a base layer from my former Hammer Nutrition "sponsored" days; a Hammer performance wicking t-shirt and Race-Ready Long Distance shorts.  The shorts sport some nice pockets for storing gels or my camera if things got too cold in my jacket pockets.  On top I ran with a Polarfleece cycling jersey that fit snug, but not tight and my old reliable Cannondale cycling jacket.  I choose both of these items because I knew they would perform well in the extreme cold and because they have plenty of pockets to put food and some extra necessities.  I used my Canari winter cycling/running pants that feature a windproof/water resistant front and lower calf area and a breathable yet cozy fabric on the back.  Perfect pants for the temperature and the snow we were going to be running through.  For my head I used a balaclava with a neoprene face mask built in and a Bula Polarfleece hat.  My hands had two pairs of lighter weight gloves, for extra warmth and versatility in case I needed to vent heat at the top of the mountain which was above the inversion and warmer than the valley where we would start and run the majority of the race.  I also threw on my fleece scarf that were the finisher awards from last year's race (complete with skulls!) to give me an extra barrier and options for heat venting as the race went on.  I used this coming off the back of Wilson Peak where it was too warm for the face mask anymore but cold enough to want something covering my neck and chin.

For my footwear in the cold, I simply went with my Brooks Cascadia 6 running shoes, Swiftwick Aspire socks, and Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters.  The gaiters were the bomb, keeping my ankles and feet somewhat warmer while allowing full range of motion and protection from the snow, ice, and grime that I would be running through.  Taking off the gloves to empty a shoe would have been a really big bummer in the cold.  The only downside to the gaiters was that I had to make sure my shoe was tied tight and right the first time, because once the gaiters were on, they are a bit tricky to get off, especially if one is on the verge of cramping in the later parts of the race.  I also had a pair of Yaktrax Pro traction devices for the race, but I decided that I would keep them in my drop bag and not mess with them for the big loop.  I suspected, accurately that I wouldn't need them until reaching the 10 mile loop where the trail was more packed down and icy.  I don't think I missed them at all on the big loop.  I had absolutely no foot issues at all (other than tired sore feet) during the race.  Not a single blister or anything.  I was absolutely thrilled with my footwear choices.

My goal was to minimize the amount of stuff I carried, so I left the Nathan HPL # 020 race vest in my drop bag and ran with only a 20 ounce handheld bottle.  I put my food and first aid kit in my back pockets of my fleece.  My camera went into my front handwarmer pocket so I could grab it quickly.  I noticed later that it was banging into my hip, albeit ever so slightly, but it was beginning to hurt by mile 16 so I moved to the back jersey pockets as well.  The fleece cycling jersey was perfect for going light and warm.  The Cannondale jacket also had a back pocket so I could temporarily store my bottle if I got tired of carrying it (only once) or it got frozen (multiple times).

At the start, Ultra Ben played the National Anthem on his trombone, even as the below zero temps tried to freeze his slide in place and Emily gave us some last minute instructions.  Anxious runners began growing impatient as Emily repeated the basics of not getting lost and making sure you grab the proof at the summit, but soon the shotgun was fired and the mass of ultra-fit crazies took off up the hill.  I was content to start very slow, but the cold was really getting to my feet, and I decided to run hard for about 5-8 minutes to just get the blood flowing.  I felt like I was running easy, but I knew I had started a bit fast so I eased up considerably at the first steep section near mile 2.  I power hiked the steep climb through the first canyon, and trotted across the flats that make up the 3rd mile of the course.

After a short descent down a snowy off-camber side hill, complete with a short glissade down into a ravine, I settled into my hiking mode as I began the first real testing section of the course.  From about mile 4 to mile 6 the course follows a tough jeep road up to a rough single-track descent.  I kept leapfrogging a couple of other runners, but ended up passing at least one of them while being passed by several of the slow starting, more experienced ultra runners for good.  I wondered if the people passing me were just running the 20 mile race or if I really started that fast?  The descent carries you through yet another canyon with the rugged and beautiful Wilson Butte on the left and views of Wilson Peak straight ahead.  I made good time through this section, feeling very much in control on the downhills even with lots of snow and some more off-camber sections.  I caught up with a few of the more timid descenders and came into the 7.5 mile aid station feeling happy and right on schedule with what I hoped to consume liquid and calorie wise.

Last year, the arrival at this aid station marked the beginning of the slog through endless mud and misery, this year, it was a little more pleasant.  The road surface was packed snow and frozen with good traction and little to slow you down.  I realized that I needed to run this section conservatively due to my relatively fast start, so I was content to let a few people pass me without much thought.  I didn't really gain much on anyone in front, and for the most part, I covered this ground efficiently but relatively quick.  I hit the 10 mile mark for the race in just under 2 hours, a pace I knew was a little fast given my estimated finish time of 7 hours.  The middle 15 miles of this race are the hardest.  They involve a trip to the summit of Wilson Peak, a nasty steep downhill with numerous steep uphill grunts before you drop (quite literally this year) right off the mountain proper and into the high desert plateau.  To finish off the middle section you climb up the Wilson Creek itself and up to the high point of the 10 mile loop.  If there is an "easy" section of this race it is the relatively mild downhill and almost transcendent run through the lower Reynold's Creek canyon.  This comes only after 23 miles of suffering so needless to say, the legs are shot by this point.

Back into the moment of the race, I continued maintaining a casual pace up to the summit of Wilson Peak near the 13 mile mark of the race.  Overjoyed to be on top and out of the inversion, I stayed on the summit for a few moments, taking some pictures and chatting with a couple racers as they came up and grabbed the requisite "proof" of taking the full out and back on the course.  Emily is always top secret about this, and this year she made us grab a little green army man out of a bag taped to the tower at the summit.  I searched the bag for one with a flame thrower, but couldn't find one quickly enough so I reluctantly took a standard infantry man and stuck him in my pocket for safe keeping.  Shortly after I arrived on top, Ben joined me on top and stopped just long enough to say hey and pose for a picture before taking off to smoke the second half of the course.  It was now time to take on the challenge of descending Wilson Peak, which is tough enough in ideal conditions, but brutal with a layer of snow and ice covering the rocks and erosion channels that line the trail like land mines.
(A good view of the inversion socking in the Treasure Valley)
(Closing in on the summit)
(The weather on top of Wilson can be extreme, this weather station was cemented to the ground...)
(Dennis Ahern running strong)

(Ultra Ben Blessing)
(Self portrait on the summit, I'm very happy...)

I managed to run well down the first pitch of the descent, but after hitting the first "up grunt" on the downhill I was quickly thrown into the pain cave.  I was going through my water fairly fast, and as soon as I got back into the inversion, the last few ounces in my bottle froze solid, rendering it useless.  I could see Ben descending off in the distance and I knew that I had to move along if I was going to keep myself from getting cold and dehydrated.  I think that the cold dry air was causing me to drink more than normal, which would explain why I went through so much fluid in 10 miles.  At one point I was fiddling with the frozen bottle and I stepped on a snow covered rock enough to roll my left ankle and drop me to the ground.  It wasn't really a fall, more of a drop as I momentarily thought the race for me was over.  Fortunately, I got up, and after a few hundred yards, worked the soreness out.  I never felt any more pain in the ankle during the rest of the race, so I guess I lucked out and dodged a bullet.  However, my water situation was getting worse, as I started to really feel thirsty and dry.  A few handfuls of very dry and icy snow helped a bit, but in reality, it did little more than wet my mouth.  I knew that I was sweating quite a bit, but wasn't really soaked because all the moisture being pushed out through my fleece mid-layer was freezing in contact with the shell of my jacket and turning to snow.  Every hour or so I'd pull my sleeves down over my hands and shake my arms to remove the ice from the arms of my jacket.  Getting off the mountain and to the 2nd aid station was my priority and I was elated when I finally got there.

Getting to the aid station and off the mountain was a big lift and the food and fluid I was able to take in really helped me get going again.  The high from being down the mountain quickly dissolved as I set off across the false flat that makes up the last 2 miles of the 20 mile loop and the final miles of the 10 mile loop and 50k course.  I passed several 10 mile racers during this section and ran strong down to the finish/aid station/drop bag location.  The Pulse Running and Fitness had a great aid station set up here ("Paradise") , and the owner of the Pulse, Holly, filled my bottles and offered some good encouragement.  I haven't bought a lot at her store, but I certainly will now.  I was grateful for her and her crew's assistance.  It wasn't until trolling the Facebook pages later on that I even noticed the whole gang at her station was sporting beach body costumes over their winter clothing.  Weird.  How do you not notice that?  Transitioning through this aid station took me slightly longer than the other stations did, as I wanted to grab a dry hat, neck gaiter, and my Yaktrax Pro's for the more packed and icy 10 mile loop.  Ironically, I pulled into this aid station in the exact time I did last year and took care of the clothing, fuel, liquid, and footwear needs in less than 5 minutes.  Last year I spent 10 or more minutes at this station, so I was happy to move relatively quickly through this major station.  Unlike the big 20 mile loop, this section would be entirely in the inversion, so it was going to be very cold the whole way.  The aid stations are closer together on this loop, so I was able to ditch some of my extra food and go as light as possible.

Leaving the finish area and starting the 10 mile loop is always tough and almost immediately after I left I hit a new low for the race.  You start right away with a 3/4 mile climb and you have to face the daunting task of climbing the trail through Wilson Creek itself before you get to the high point of the loop.  I was trailing a gal wearing an Air Force or Army Reserve jacket at this time and she kept me behind her for quite a while until I got myself together and started running again.  I trotted along, fighting a bit of cramping, until I gained the last major high point of the race and the second to last aid station called "Rocky Road."  I got hot water in my bottle and some Heed (awesome!) and started down the "Bingo!" trail, my personal favorite.  The thing about Emily and Davina's races are that if there is an easy route and a hard route, you can always count on taking the hard route.  However, to my surprise and delight, apparently the planned split off of trail w500 (Bingo!) onto w501 was too dangerous or not possible with all the snow, so we continued down the much smoother, although steeper, main trail.  My ankles rejoiced at this awesome news and I was grateful to enjoy my favorite trail in the Wilson area with my legs feeling ok and my energy coming up after getting some Heed and Hammer Gel's at the last station.  I came through the marathon mark of this course faster than last year, and was quite happy to get back to Stinson Station for the second and final time of the day.

Stinson Station sits at the base of the Wilson Peak mountain and right before you drop into the Reynolds Creek Canyon for the most scenic and easy part of the entire course.  My legs were really wanting to cramp up by this point, and I had a tough time pulling my Yaktrax off so get through the rocky, dry, and tricky drop into the canyon.  I eventually got them off, but it cost me a minute or more of time that was spent dealing with the slightly cramping muscles.  I knew now that I was on my limit and any quick or sudden moves would bring forward progress to a halt in the clamping pain of full on leg lock.  Fortunately, that full out leg cramp never came, and I was able to trot slowly through the canyon and out without incident.  It was now just 3 relatively easy miles to the finish and I had plenty of time to make it if I wanted to hit my unofficial goal time of under 7 hours.  On this last stretch, I soooo wanted to be done, but I couldn't manage to run faster than about 12 min/mi for more than a half mile at a time before I had to drop to a power hike.  Even hiking the entire 3 miles would get me under 7 so I just hiked as fast as I could for a mile and then jogged the last mile to the finish.  The sight of the finish after nearly 7 hours of intense effort was almost overwhelming, and I almost got a bit teary eyed after crossing the line in 6 hours, 58 minutes and change.   My Ipod, which had been playing away the whole race, providing distraction from the pain cave switched to the song "Every Little Thing Counts" by Janus Stark.  It was a fitting end to day.  I savored the moment for a minute with a few pictures and a trip to the food tent and it was off to home.  It took the entire day for me to get to the point where I felt almost like moving, but ultimately I came away from the race with no damage done other than the expected soreness and a small dose of hypothermia :)  The sense of accomplishment I felt after finishing my second ultra on a tough course in crazy conditions is hard to describe.  Topping it off was the fact that I only had about 5 weeks of focused training in my legs when I took this on.  I know that it's not ideal preparation, but I was happy that I didn't have to dedicate my life to the race for 6 months to get across the finish line.  I don't know what race or event lies off in the distance for my next adventure, and that is a great feeling right now.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

If its worth doing, its worth overdoing...

I have an affinity to challenge myself.  I think most people do really; in fact, I think that without challenges in life it would be incredibly boring and tedious.  Most people like to challenge themselves with a reasonable goal, work hard for a period of time, and then succeed due to weeks of hard work and dedication. 

It would be nice if I were able to do this without finding myself in situations such as the one I'm facing this week.  Saturday, I'll be taking on the 2nd annual Wilson Creek Frozen 50K in the Owyhees of Southwest Idaho.  The race is put on by a couple of mildly psycho chicks named Emily and Davina who think its a good idea to run in the mountains in January.  I actually find them quite pleasant and friendly people, despite their obvious joy they gain from torturing poor unsuspecting runners with crazy trail conditions.  This is not the first time I've done this either... I managed to finish a marathon mountain bike race at Galena Lodge in 2009 on 3 weeks of training.  5 and 1/2 hours and 43 miles with 6000+ feet of elevation later I finished the Galena Mountain Bike Marathon for the second time.  I then laid in the freezing cold mountain creek and wondered what the heck I was thinking...

Last winter, the WCF50K went off right after a unusual winter warming period.  A week of rain pounded the mountain with precipitation, and 40 degree temperatures kept the trails from drying out at all.  The result, copious amounts of peanut butter textured mud that basically turned a pleasant 31 mile gallop into a sufferfest from the first climb.  I dragged my sorry butt through that race and immediately wanted to do another.  Well, as many of you know, I have a couple small kiddos that required my attention and 2012 went by without another single event being entered.  Sure I rode and ran more than the average joe, in fact, I just missed 2000 miles of distance as recorded by my Garmin
(I'm sure I actually hit 2000 miles but I didn't use the Garmin every time I rode my bike or ran a bit).

Finally, around the second week of December, I decided that I was going to sign up for the 50K again out at Wilson and see how I did.  I managed to take my weekly mileage up to the mid 30's pretty easily and hit 54 miles during a 6 day period after Christmas.  I've been training pretty hard, but nothing like last year.  The bright side, no nagging injuries from weeks of training.  The down side, we're looking at the complete opposite of last year's conditions for this year's race.  Very cold, snow covered, and maybe even some smog from an inversion to top it off.  Regardless, I'm very excited to test myself again on one of my favorite trails and with some of the best race directors around.  As I think about what I'm about to do, I am reminded of one of the things that I tell my 9th graders from time to time: "if it were easy, it wouldn't be worth doing."  On that note, "if its worth doing, its worth overdoing right?" (Tori Belleci from Mythbusters).  Here's to overdoing it.  Happy tapering all you Wilson Creek trail runners. 

"This is one of those 'What the Hell am I doing Moments?'" (Jamie Hyneman)

(Summit Checkpoint on Wilson Peak during the 2012 WCF50K)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trail of the Week: Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge

Lot's of food, family, and fun times potty training my daughter has kept me away through the holidays for the regular trail of the week feature, but I think that its time to get it rolling again, especially since most of the Treasure Valley is experiencing a snow day today, including myself.  I already had two cups of coffee in the system when I got word of the day off, so posting a trail review seemed like the perfect thing to do. 

This week I'm reviewing the local blip of nature we have in the Nampa area, Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge and its small but scenic section of trails.  The Deer Flat Refuge (DFR) is one of the most popular places for Nampa trail runners to get their dirt fix during the week when they are unable to get to the more challenging trails in Boise or the Owyhees.  The DFR is actually part of a large plot of land that includes much of the area around Lake Lowell in Nampa and some islands in the Snake River. 

To get to the DFR, simply drive west out of Nampa on Lake Lowell Avenue from 12th Avenue and take a right turn on either Midway, Middleton, or Midland road.  Turn left on the next available road which is Roosevelt and take it to the top of the hill, you know the big one.  At the top of Roosevelt Hill, you will see a sign to your left that will take you down to the actual DFR visitor's center and nature trails.  Another great option is to park at the end of the dam and run across the dam to the trails to add a bit of length.  I often run from my house to the trail to make a nice little 10-12 mile loop out of it. 

Deer Flat's visitor center is a great place to take your kids for a short visit to check out their exhibit and use the viewing glasses facing south towards the lake.  They have made it very small children friendly by putting a coloring station, puzzles, and other activities out for kids to use.  They also have a restroom, and a room full of stuffed critters from the area.  The parking lot near the boat ramp also has an outhouse that is a bit dreary but usable.  It is a great place to make a pit stop if you're anything like me and have had to stop more than once to "fertilize" the flora out on the run. 

The trails themselves at the DFR are not anything that will likely inspire prose or move you deeply, however, you do get a pretty awesome view of the surrounding area, the lake, the Owyhees, and Nampa itself.  It is also very common to see bald eagles out there (almost every time I go) so if you are dying to see an eagle, this is the place to do it.

From the parking area, you will find a short little piece of singletrack that takes you over to the nature trail proper.  This trail takes a short jaunt along the lake near a wildlife viewing hut and an osprey nest before ending on the service road that runs through the majority of the DFR.  This is a gravel road that has some good hills to run up and loops back around to the parking area along the lake, becoming relatively flat for a mile or so.  There are a few little side trails that have been made, but due to a history of the DFR staff not looking so kindly on runners I won't direct you on to those.  If you want to find them yourself, you can't really get lost out there, so have at it.  Just stay inside marked boundaries and you'll be fine. 

The best place to look for eagles is on the backside of the service road loop.  There you will notice some nesting platforms that are used by the eagles during nesting season.  They will often be hanging out in the trees near here, watching for fish, rabbits, or whatever. 

I spend so much time there, I had trouble figuring out which pictures to share on the blog, so I just brought out some old ones from past blog posts along with a few new shots to show a bit of the variety of experiences I've had out there.

 Finally, I put a screen grab from Google Earth for you, just in case you haven't yet been convinced that you can find your way out there.  Its not the Sawtooths, or even as cool as the Boise Foothills, but it is a small taste of trails in the midst of a city that really doesn't have much else in terms of true "nature" to experience.  The best part about the DFR is that it is so close to home.  I live less than 3 miles from these trails and can visit them any time I want.  Boise or even the Owyhees can't claim that, so it is this area that I call home for most of my trail running.