Sunday, January 29, 2012

Barefoot Experiment: Week 1

I've long struggled with foot related issues due to overpronation which has led to a host of injuries over the years.  Since it appears that I will need to be running gently due to an IT-band related injury from my 1st ultra marathon, I've decided that now is the time I will start trying out this whole barefoot thing; let's just call it an experiment.  I know that it will take many weeks of steady and slow progress so I'm officially committed for the long haul.  The goal of this program is not to be able to run barefoot, but to be able to choose the shoes that I want to run in, not be limited by shoes that are for overpronators specifically.  There just are not a lot of good choices of footwear for competitive trail runners who overpronate, so if I can change my shoe needs through this experiment it will be awesome!
Immediately after my 5 minutes of running on the sidewalk.

Week 1 (1/23/12-1/29/12):
Ran on Wednesday and Thursday in Asics 2150's and green superfeet insoles, Trail run on Saturday in Brooks Cascadia 2 with green superfeet.  One barefoot run on Sunday for a total of 5 minutes.  I've read its better to start off on pavement so you can get some good feedback from your feet.  I used the sidewalk in my subdivision which is relatively free of rocks and debris so I could avoid any punctures from goatheads or small rocks.  As a bonus, it allows me to get a "run" in while my kids are napping.  The high school kid I ran by looked at me kind of weird, but hey, I probably looked pretty silly out there in running pants and no shoes...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rest Week?

One week after accomplishing my goal of surviving the Wilson Creek Frozen 50K, I had to opportunity to head out to the trails for a couple hours.  Not ever passing up on an opportunity to be out there, I decided to head out to Wilson Creek again for a little recovery jog/hike on the 10 mile loop of the 50K course.  Since the race is over, I felt free to explore the trails in whatever way I wanted, not sticking to the "course" and just going where I felt.  I decided that I would head over to the Reynolds canyon again but instead of taking the course, I went up the big rocky hill right off the parking area and then took trail 300 over to the canyon, going basically on the 10 mile "course" but in the reverse direction.  It was a really awesome day.  On the way out there I had to stop for a photo of the hulking Wilson Peak as seen off of Highway 45 as you drop down to the Snake River.

Following my little trip through the Reynolds canyon I went over to trail 500/501 and took 501 up to the top of the ridge where the trail intersects with Wilson Creek road.  From there, I wasn't sure exactly which direction I was going to head, but upon arriving I decided to drop down to Wilson Creek on trail 160 and then onto the twisty trail 100.  One week after the race, the trail was still a little bit roughed up, but there will likely be a quick turnaround for the trails as they are primarly sand and often get washed out by runoff coming down from the Wilson Creek watershed. 

All in all, it turned out to be a pretty nice day out.  My legs feel great except for a nagging pain in my left hip flexor (thanks to 10 lb mud brick shoes last weekend) and my left knee is sore from a tight IT-band issue.  I'll have to take a nap instead of a run tomorrow and ease into next week with some self-therapy on the foam roller and the "stick."  Maybe a few days on the bike would be a good thing.  The primary goal for the next month is to get back to 100% as quickly as possible so that I can slowly build up to a solid block of training going into June.   

Here are a few shots of today's outing... I hope that you find them enjoyable and inspiring in some way.  As always, feel free to leave comments below.  That makes the blog thing a little more fun for me.

The round figure of Wilson Peak lurking near the center, oh the carnage last weekend.  Temps were hovering just below freezing with lots of sun and light winds.  Its amazing what 1 week does for you... Notice the small coyote, or is that a stray dog?

I've wanted to tackle that little rock mound for a while, I just never got around to it.  Today I went straight up that bad boy to begin the run.  Its a nice little rock scramble to get on the tip-top; amazing view though.

Lots of wide open high desert out here.

This is the wonderful little Reynolds Creek that carved out the magnificent little canyon everyone seems to be enjoying.  It is truly a little gem out here in the Owyhees.

Another beautiful shot of the creek.  I just wanted to sit here for a while but unfortunately I was on borrowed time and had to keep moving.  I did hang out long enough to retie my shoes and absorb a little bit of the moment.

I had to do at least 1 self timer shot.  This is the little climb out from the Canyon on Trail 510.
One of the purposes of this little trip was to test out these retro Brooks Cascadia 2's that I got from a friend.  He never really wore them so they are basically new.  Not my favorite shoes, but not horrible either.  They are good shoes for a casual day on the trails such as today.  Can't miss them with that color combo either.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ten reason's to run an ultra

This week I've been reflecting a bit on my first 50K race, the Wilson Creek Frozen 50K, and with the extra time I have due to not running (too sore) I have come to realize a few things... first I'll go into that, and later you can read my top ten reasons to run an ultra marathon.

First off, if the weather calls for rain, wind, sleet, and you are running to the summit of a mountain, take a jacket for Peat's sake.

Next, running in the mud is not fun.  Changing shoes will give you a chance to run in dry shoes for about 5 minutes, and then you'll encounter more mud than before so just leave your dirty shoes on.  Save yourself the hassel of cleaning two pairs of shoes.

Third, you can keep moving forward even when you're sliding backwards down a hill as long as you can reach the sagebrush at the top of the incline.

Fourth, don't bother worrying about the time... thinking about how long you've run and how much longer you have yet to go is a bit overwhelming at mile 12, especially when its taken you 3 or more hours to go 12 miles.  Ouch.

Fifth, when your Garmin flashes low battery just minutes from the finish, you will find another gear and speed up just to prevent your precious data from being incomplete.  Next time I'll just have to run faster so I don't run out of battery juice.

Last, if you think staying up to watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon will be easier if you make up a silly list of reasons to run an ultra you're wrong.  By now my body is so trained to get up early that staying up late is next to impossible.  I'm writing this after falling asleep at the computer for 3 hours only to wake up at 2:30 a.m. and realize I've missed the show, bummer.

Alright, now as long as I'm reflecting on this past weekend, I thought I'd explore why one may want to run an ultra marathon.  This in no way is a complete list, as there are many other reasons one may want to try and tackle an ultra.  Anyway, enjoy these very serious reasons to run "stupid far" (a quote from one of my high school students I teach).
  1. Running is good for you, running a lot must be very good for you.
  2. Running is fun, except for when its not, then it becomes fun when you're done.
  3. You can smile at the office when your coworkers talk about being sore from their pickup game at the local rec or gym.
  4. Running a 10 miler becomes an short little recovery run.
  5. Its the only time in your life you can eat a whole quart of ice cream, a giant cheeseburger, 6 bananas, and an entire bag of chips and still be in a calorie deficit. (Ok, I exaggerated here, it was only 5 bananas...)
  6. You can look at the odometer on your car and realize that you ran farther this week than you drove.
  7. You will become an expert at removing calluses, blister prevention, and removing band-aids from your nipples without leaving a distinctive band-aid shaped red mark.
  8. You may see strange things, such as a 4 wheeler stuck in the mud as you run by in up to your ankles, mysterious bare-footprints charging up and down a mountain, grown men wearing tight leggings and discussing shoes like the designers on some corny reality T.V. show, surprised strangers who think they are in the middle of nowhere and then find themselves surrounded by hoards of runners showing up in the desert for a "training run," and women in pigtails and/or running skirts who literally can eat dirt and make tough guys look silly all while smiling and then darting off into the sagebrush to "water" the flora without a second thought (this is a combination of several remarkable women I have seen at the trails, not one in particular).
  9. Race directors Emily and Davina at Pickled Feet Ultras, nuff said...
  10. Camaraderie... you will not find any other events out there where everyone is rallied around such a common purpose and will celebrate your success with you in the most genuine way even though you just beat them or vice versa.  Ultra runners are the amazing athletes but even better people.
There you have it.  My list of reasons to run an ultra.  I guess that means I enjoyed the experience immensly and will be trying another one at the next logical opportunity.  That would be on June 23rd at the Silver City Endurance Run to be exact.  Pickled Feet Ultras are sure to put on a fantastic event and the course is designed to take you up to the highest point in the Owyhees, Hayden Peak.  Summiting Hayden has been on my list ever since moving to Idaho 6 years ago, so I cannot possible resist taking on this challenge.  However, you'll not likely find me in the 100k yet.  There is some unfinished business to take care of in the 50K distance first.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wilson Creek (not so) Frozen 50K Race Report

There are times in life where one knows the sensible thing to do but chooses to do the opposite and the consequences are painful and life changing. Competing in the 1st running of the Wilson Creek Frozen 50K was exactly that. Anybody with any sense would have stayed home when the weather report was issued, but ultra runners aren't really known for being very sensible...

If you've been following my blog you may recall some reports from training runs out on the Wilson Creek trails. Wilson Creek is an area in the foothills of the Owyhee Mountains of Southern Idaho and it is known for its great high desert scenery and usually dry and sandy trails. I can testify that running on said trails following the first real winter storm of the year with moderate temperatures preventing the freezing of the mud and in high winds is not advisable, but if you're so lucky as to survive, it becomes one of those memories that will likely last a lifetime.

The race itself is the first of what will surely be many events put on by a new and amazing pair of race directors running the Pickled Feet Ultras group. If you don't know what is meant by Pickled Feet then I will just point you to their webpage so you can see for yourself (such activity is another one of those ill-advised decisions).

As I watched the weather leading into the race week it became apparent that running in the WCF50K would be more of an act of determination than blissful running on perfect trails. Unfortunately, I was more than right... In fact, by my estimation, at least 8-10 miles of the course was completely unrunable mud, and I'm not just talking about, "oh darn, my shoes are dirty" kind of mud... I'm talking, foot sucking, packed up and heavy, slippery, gritty mud that doesn't let up but gets tougher and tougher to run in. In fact, several veteran ultra runners at the finish stated that the course was the most difficult 50k they have ever run. One even mentioned he felt the mud added about 10 miles worth of effort to the race. When you combine the mud with the weather, 15-30 mph gusts, rain, sleet, snow, and bursts of sunshine just long enough to get you sweating so you can then freeze when the clouds roll back in, you have a most epic course to be sure.

Forgive me if you tire of reading boring race accounts, but I'll try to describe the race from my perspective the best I can remember. I would like to thank my new found friend, Tony Huff for taking along his camera and sharing his shots with me. Feel free to scroll through the pictures if you get tired of reading about the nitty-"gritty" details.

The race started at 7:00 am and about 1 dozen runners took off into the darkness in front of the 65 or so participants in the 20 mile or 50K racers. I went out strong but not unreasonable so as to avoid the congestion of runners running up the 1st little single-track climb. After the climb I began to settle into a very comfortable pace and wound up right beside Tony Huff and Ryan Lund. The three of us ran together for awhile and were surprised when some strong runners flew past us. Apparantly they had taken a wrong turn and ran a mile or so off course. Who knows how many others did the same thing, but I was thankful at that moment to have known the trails so well. We eventually popped out onto the Wilson Creek road and that's where the fun really began.

Wilson Creek road is a clay based dirt road that turns to nearly impassible mud when the slightest moisture comes in. When you put 3 or 4 days of rain on the road it is a miserable trek for 4-5 miles until you reach the upper parts of Wilson Peak.

Below, you can see how Ryan's shoes looked after just a bit of the road.

After slogging through as much mud as I could stand, Tony, Ryan, and myself reached the saddle where we head up the out and back to the summit of Wilson Peak. Even on this rocky protrusion there were places where the mud continued to test our mettle. It was hard to see runners already descending when there still was a considerable climb ahead, but nonetheless, I continued pushing. By now, however, my stomach was not feeling great and I decided that I needed to head down as quickly as possible once I reached the top.

At the summit, there is a weather station where a hole punch was hanging with instructions to punch a hole in your race bib before descending. I punched mine and then told Tony and Ryan that I wasn't feeling great and just wanted to book it down. I think they lingered for a few moments but we basically ended up together for the major descent off Wilson. Ryan turned into an animal at this point, either that or I just hit a major low and had to back off because he was out of sight within minutes. Tony and I ran together for the main stretch off the peak, but only because he twisted his ankle and had to slow considerably.

One of the hardest parts about this course is that even though you are heading down the mountain, there are several pitches of steep climbing followed by even steeper downhill running. Tony seemed to be able to handle the ups better than me at this point, but I would catch back up on the downs and we came off the mountain and to the aid station at about the same time. I decided at this point to linger a minute at the station to try and get some nutrition and fluids going and Tony headed on to the end of the 20 mile loop. From this point on, I was running by myself and was facing a low that would last until around mile 26. As if to add insult to my injury, a massive gust of wind blowing sleet and rain blasted us as we made the last descent to get off the main mountain pitch.

After coming into the start/finish area and changing my socks, I decided to also put on dry shoes and a jacket. The jacket paid off but I think that changing my shoes caused my hip and knee to get out of alignment and I started to feel a lot of pain in the joints from the 22 mile mark until the brutal end. A section of trail between mile 21 and mile 24.5 was completely mud. At times I had to grab on to sage brush to move forward through the mess and I was really regretting my shoe change. Afterall, I had about 1 mile of dry shoes and then there was no difference from my original choice. Oh, well, that's an experience that will only help me in future ultras.

After reaching the mile 24.5 aid (Rocky Road) I finally got some stretches of trail that were dry and runnable. The only problem was that after wallowing in the mud for 25 miles I was really hurting and I was trotting downhill at 11 min/mile. This was particularly frustrating because I normally go somewhere around 6 min/mile in many places on this particular downhill. In my head, I was thinking: "run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, but just don't quit." (Dean Karnazes)

I limped into the mile 26.5 aid station in around 6 hours. At this point I knew I was going to make it to the finish ok, and had a little positive moment while I basked in the glow of just completing my first marathon length run. Now I had just 4.8 miles to go and they were the most scenic and runnable of the day. I was able to basically run the rest of the way, although I walked a few of the ups.

It seemed all my attention was focused on putting one foot in front of the other. There was no noticing the scenery, no euphoric moments of bliss, just the simple reality of left foot, right foot, repeat...

It was a huge sign of relief to cross the final stretch of flat terrain before coming within sight of the finish. My legs were dying and so was my watch. The screen flashed "battery low" and all of a sudden I had a spark to try and get to the end before it ran out of juice. I went as hard as possible from about a half-mile out and just barely made it through the chute before the screen on my Garmin went blank. 7 hours, 10 minutes, and 4 seconds was the official time. More importantly, I finished my first ultra and became a marathoner and ultra marathoner in the same day. Post-race there were some nifty prizes for the age-groupers and great food. Emily and Davina put on an amazing race. I couldn't have asked for better organization, volunteers, and course marking.

Props to the winners of some fine Wilson Creek awards. You can't get much more "Owyhee" than these prizes. Great job to everyone that even came out and attempted to run in these conditions. For all those that completed their mission, there are surely going to be some fond memories as soon as the pain wears off. For me, that may be awhile...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Frozen 50k Update and a new Merrel road shoe

I just wanted to take a quick minute and post that my training for the Wilson Creek Frozen 50k is coming around nicely. I currently in the taper mode, which means I'm dying to go on a long run but am holding myself back for the sake of my race and my family's sanity. Its been a long Christmas break, and I've managed to hit some really good workouts. Now its time hurry up and rest. Meanwhile, check out this blog post from Running and Rambling to read about the latest Merrel barefoot road shoe. I'm a fan of Donald's posts, so if you enjoy blogs and running check it out.