Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sweet As

Friday evening I returned home to Washington D.C. from Queenstown after a 28 hour door-to-door trip.  It is always nice to be home, once I actually return home safe and sound, however it remains sad, very sad, to leave the mountains.  Running down the peak from Ben Lomond on Thursday I pondered this repetitive feeling and considered what it might be like to enter the mountains and never leave.  Without attempting to sound philosophical (or morbid), I realize this is likely a subconscious end-goal in life for me.  Meaning, obviously we all will depart from this earth some time, somewhere and I hope that when my time comes I go on a mountain and there, too, is where I am layed to rest; no coming down for me.
Speaking of Thursday's run, my second to last outing in Queenstown, I hooked up with local trail runner and Routeburn Classic race director Evan McWhirter for a quick tour of local area trails.  Evan and I met up over coffee then headed out to the closest mountain trail two blocks from the hotel sometime around mid morning.  We ran together only for a little while, though it was more like a collective grunting power hike, and conversed all-things Queenstown until finally he returned to his busy day and me on to the peak of Ben Lomond and new territory further afield.  I imagine there are many activities in life that provide complete strangers the opportunity for getting to know each other quickly and bond.  Fortunately, in my opinion, one of those activities happens to be climbing a narrow technical trail of sheer vertical.

Evan McWhirter.  Living the Queenstown Dream.
The run itself took me higher and higher after Evan’s departure until the town of Queenstown, nestled poetically in between the mountain I was climbing and Lake Wakatipu, eventually became hardly recognizable.  The higher I climbed the steeper and more technical the trail became until my stride was ultimately squashed to a forward leaning amble up the final pitch.

From here.
To there.
The final slog.
The top.  Center: Queenstown.
Middle to bottom left-hand side: the ridge trail leading to the top of Ben Lomond.
After slowly descending the gnarly trail I had just previously climbed I turned left on to the Moonlight Track, a grassy, slippery, boggy, steep mountain face traversing east towards a ridge overlooking the crystal clear Shotover River 1,000 feet below.  I continued following the Moonlight Track, which followed the river, for a few miles until the intersecting wild goat paths became increasingly confusing to decipher against the narrow Moonlight Track.  I eventually lost the track and became turned around on the goat paths for about an hour.  In the process I shredded my legs and arms amidst thick briar brush and was bloodied and splintered to the point of nervousness.  Believe it or not, at times I even crawled on all fours below the towering stalks of briar bushes in a misguided attempt at escaping further torture as the lowest stemming braches still managed to scratch and pull along my back and neck.  Thankfully, I eventually made my way back on course, ran the remaining miles down to the river and finally to the gravel trail along Gore Road which delivered me back to town.  Despite my frustrations with the briar brush attacks, I still wanted to make the most of the day so once back to town I headed up Queenstown Hill for quick loop, then down to the Queenstown Garden trails along the lake, to the grocery store for airplane snacks and, finally, back to the hotel.  In addition to the full-frontal mountain vistas each and every trail mile provided on this run, I was equally thankful to happen upon its fresh crossing streams.  In the central Otago region of New Zealand's South Island the water table is high and produces bountiful full streams with fresh, potable water that is pure and delicious.  If I could I would drink from these streams for the rest of my life.

Sadly, the situation on my arms and legs was much worse than the picture below depicts.  I snapped this shot after washing off in a stream.  I've since pulled out several splinters and there remains still many more hiding just below the skin.
Too much of a good thing?  Nah!
12 hours after returning home to D.C. on Friday I found myself lined up yesterday morning downtown at the National Marathon, about to run my first half marathon in what I hoped would be a comfortable training tempo fashion.  Several quick VHTRC buds were out in force (Keith, Aaron, Matt, Jon, Mitchell and Martha).  I ran the first few miles conservatively and comfortably, as I had planned, figuring that Queentown's mileage and elevation remained memorialized in my legs.  Also, I had the squeamish feeling that the previous day's airplane food would return to haunt me on this day.  Unfortunately, my intuition proved correct: by mile five the gi was kickin' and at mile 10 I was forced to pull over.  Oh well.  I carried on well enough after that little episode and finished happy, albeit with lingering gi issues.  It was a fun, first half marathon run and a venerable stacking of tempo miles over top a solid high mileage week with unusually high loads of elevation gain and loss.  My sister Joan and brother-in-law Colin also ran the half marathon, and another sister, Margaret, ran a Boston qualifying time in the marathon.  Good stuff.  One of these days I do hope to actually really run- much less train for- a road race (preferably a marathon).

Back to New Zealand for a final word: nine days on its soil allowed for 128 blissful miles of running.  This week, beginning Monday, ended with 103 miles as of this morning.  Things continue looking up on the training front; my confidence for Massanutten and the following summer season is slowly building; I am pleased.  In conclusion, though I was in New Zealand on a work-reward trip with the good people at Accident Fund and it was very productive in that regard, which is equally pleasing, Queenstown revealed to me it's prowess as a phenomenal destination for outdoor adventure and a great place to consider a true "running vacation".  If you haven't visited already please consider adding Queenstown to your vacation to-do list.  By the way, “sweet as” is Kiwi slang similar to phrases we Americans might say like “hell yeah”.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This is IT

Greetings from Queestown.  Ground zero down under for adrenaline junkies, outdoor enthusiasts, wine lovers and adventure seekers of all sorts.  I have so much to say about trail running in Queenstown, words could just as easily fall from my mouth like drool from a baby.  After several pre-sunrise pavement pounding miles during my visit in Auckland, on New Zealand’s north island, things changed immediately upon my arrival in Queenstown four days ago.  The trail offerings here and the surrounding scenery is, in a word, stunning.  As a consequence my priorties have shifted to getting out on the trails as much as possible with whatever time I have available and as much as my body will allow.  I’ve been out on the trails each day and will head out again this afternoon for seconds after this morning’s mouth watering helping.  Tomorrow’s long run (5 hours or so) will in part take me from the valley floor of Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, straight up about 5,500 vertical feet to peak of Ben Lomond.  I’ll then traverse on to other local peaks, canyons, high mountain lakes and ridgelines before, finally, descending back into the cosmopolitan, European-esque town of Queenstown for, hopefully, tasty local beer and a pizza.
Better still, it is early Fall in Queenstown; the weather is perfect.  And not too cold for shirtless afternoon ridgeline running.  Check out the coloring maple in the photo below I snapped strolling through town this morning on my way to the coffee shop where I penned this post.  The Remarkables range loom in the immediate distance.

Yesterday’s run was an experience unlike any other.  I rented a car and drove northwest from Queenstown to the famed Routeburn Track.  Kiwis (New Zealanders) call trails “tracks”.  I was in awe the entire run.  The track is a point-to-point 24 mile single track trail crossing of the south island divide- of which, sadly, I only ran 20 miles due to time and logistic constraints.  The Routeburn Track is the best trail I have ever experienced- bar none- running or hiking.  I’ll take the Pepsi challenge with anyone who wishes to dispute this track as anything less than superior to any single (short distance) trail in the United States.  Sounds profound, eh?  It's true.  Check out these pictures for a small taste if you don’t believe me.

The views continue sweeping having crossed west over the divide.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Feeling lucky

Something amazing happened this week: Gaby was selected as a Grand Prize winner for JetBlue’s Boston Marathon Extra Mile Contest.  Last month she submitted an essay for entry into the contest and won a free 2011 Boston Marathon registration entry, two round trip tickets (on JetBlue, of course) and two nights hotel accommodations.  Very nice!  (I wonder who she will take with her?)   2009’s Chicago marathon time stood as her qualifier so now the only thing that stands in the way is crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on the paperwork JetBlue emailed her.  Last April Gaby’s Boston Marathon aspirations ground to a halt at mile 18 courtesy of insufferable IT band pain.  I witnessed the entire meltdown; it wasn’t pretty.  As a matter of fact, it was very sad.  I am so happy she now has this opportunity to return to the Boston Marathon.  Thank you, JetBlue!  Let’s just hope she is recovered from the Bull Run Run 50 mile nine days prior.
Speaking of recovery, a quick update on the running progression, which I am proud to report.  Just finished up the most solid week of training so far in 2011.  Since Monday I logged 106 miles, including an impromptu fun run/fat ass 50k yesterday, with 6k+ feet of climbing, along the exceedingly technical trails of the Massanutten Mountains, then cherry-topped the week this morning with a nice tempo run in the surprisingly turn-y St. Patty’s 8k in downtown D.C.  Therefore, as of this week, my training regimen, I figure, has been elevated beyond base building.  Good thing, too, since that is about where I want to be at this point leading up to May.  I also noticed a familiar feeling after yesterday’s run in the mountains: I’m getting back a little of what I experienced last year before and during the Slam.  Meaning, recovery time is shortening rapidly.  Last weekend’s first-run-in-the-mountains-since-November left my quads unhappy for days but immediately after yesterday’s run , preceded by a before-sunrise 20 miler on Friday, my quads felt solid; barely sore, even.  Then as the run ended I felt fresh still and easily could have kept running for several more hours.  This is good news.
Another bit of good news: Tuesday I depart for New Zealand and am thrilled for the opportunity to experience a new country, culture and demographic of people I have yet to know.  I’ll be visiting Auckland and Queenstown, and the outer countryside of each city.  A quick scan of Google Earth reveals excellent mountain running options only two city blocks from our hotel in Queenstown.  Gee, I wonder where I’ll be watching the sunrise each morning?  I’ll see about internet access and try to post a few pictures on the ol’ blog from down under.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ultra Running in Virginia

The March issue of UltraRunning Magazine is a good one.  It is loaded with all sorts of fun articles to read and 2010 statistics to admire.  One particular 2010 statistic I am fond of is Virginia's 2nd placement in terms of the number of ultra race completions by runners- 2,818.  California is way out in front with 8,949.  The next state is Texas with 1,933, still far below Virginia.  Each state's number obviously does not include Fat Ass events and runs of the sort (hell, if it did the VHTRC events alone would eclipse California's staggering number) but it is impressive to see Virginia hold a confident 2nd.  In fact, I have heard that Virginia is always 2nd in this ranking, next to California, but can't back that up.  (Anyone?)

This statistic by itself, on paper, seems remarkable but not when you consider the many great runners who hail from Virginia, the available terrain, history of ultra running and racing in the state and- best of all- it's welcoming culture to new comers.  When I close my eyes and imagine running pristine mountain ridgelines or up green valleys I often assume I'm somewhere out west in Colorado, Utah or the Sierras.  Oddly enough, what even prompts these reoccurring day dreams are the bountiful memories I have running pristine ridgelines and up green valleys right here at home, in Virginia.  The unique and long standing ultra running culture in Virginia is one that we Virginians are proud of and cherish and the number 2,818 is a mere token representation of these feelings.  I've commented recently on this blog that I am somewhat new to the whole ultra running thing but I can't imagine a better place to be "new to ultra running" than in Virginia.  The mountain trails are the best you'll find anywhere and so are the views.  In the end it is the people that always create a culture- certainly not altitude, terrain, etc.- and the people who built and sustain the ultra running culture in Virginia, I find, are truly in a class of their own and who make Virginia a great place for ultra running.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Is there no substitute?

If Saturday’s run has taught me anything it is that I must incorporate more downhill running into my training over the next few months.  Saturday’s mountain running adventure, spanning 36 miles and 8,750 of climbing, was the first of it’s kind since last November.  The body’s memory for climbing and uphill running in general felt second nature, which was nice, but I knew the fast, technical downhill running would come with a cost, paid later in sore quad muscles.  Now, two full days removed from Saturday my quads are still sore, a cautionary reminder of running down tall moutains on unseasoned legs.

The quad muscles will come around soon enough, as will their conditioning, but I can’t help myself from wondering how is it that mimicing long, uphill running is not so much a problem but there isn’t much one can do to replicate mountain downhill running other than to actually seek out mountains and run down them.   Aside from maybe doing leg lifts or squats what options does a (mostly) flatland runner have for seasoning the quads for the rigors of running down mountain after mountain?  As the racing season approaches, the days are fast getting longer and so are my runs.   The time for frequent weekend mountain training runs is nigh.  But what about during the week?  It would be nice to work in extra quad conditioning runs in addition to long weekend runs to prepare the quads, a complicated muscle group to say the least, in the same fashion as running long, sustained descents.  I doubt there is much one can do other than perhaps jacking up the back of a treadmill- something I couldn’t try even if I wanted to since I don’t have access to a treadmill.  I suppose I will continue on with my old habits (which aren’t so bad, really): mountains on the weekends when I’m lucky and a mixture of roads and rolling trails during the week.  Still, if anyone has ideas or suggestions I’d love to hear them.

In other news, to be perfectly honest, people who know me well know that I’m generally somewhat obsessive.  One thing I am obviously obsessive over is running and, certainly, I’m obsessive about actually being able to run and not being injured.  I guess Lisa Jhung sensed this about me and offered to share with her readers how I work to manage running injuries.  Read here: The extra workload I take on just so I can add running volume comes with a heavy time burden and may not be [necessary] for everyone.  It is simply something I choose to do because I know it works for me.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Marching On

The dust has mostly settled from Saturday’s bonkfest.  I feel much better and mostly recovered.  My head still has some sort funk coming and going out- leftover remnants from whatever flu virus came over me, I figure.  Anyway, March is here which means training officially kicks up a notch.  This is good because I am ready for the next level.  The next level begins this weekend with a long planned trip to the mountains several hours from home with a sturdy batch of trail veterans with plans to cover several miles and get in lots of vert.

February ended right where I hoped it would with not a single day off from running since before January 1.  The thought process for the first half of this year follows something along the lines of by running each day I re-affirm a commitment to showing up at Massanutten ready for battle.  So, consistency is the jam I will continue spreading over my training bread in the remaining months, weeks and days leading up to then.

The past few days of running with the flu-funk has not been the greatest.  I considered holding back and resting but instead kept the runs short and at a slow, active recovery pace.  Walking the tightrope between maintaining the consistency goal and overdoing it is not, nor will ever be, easy.  And, truly, running each-and-every-day is not that important in comparison to day to day health because remaining healthy above all else is actually the linchpin to consistency.  This morning’s run is an example of the aforementioned tightrope.  10 minutes into the run, arriving at my usual North Trail marker in Rock Creek Park at 4:40 I almost turned around and ran back to bed.  Looking down trail in the pitch black was like starring into a black hole.  That, plus the fresh mud from yesterday’s rain didn’t feel so welcoming.  My body felt cold and not really up for the outing.  This was a weird moment.  Somehow, fortunately without great effort, I talked my body into going for the run after all and, though it took a while, like an hour or so, we eventually warmed up together and by the end managed to come away with a somewhat meaningful hilly 10 mile effort for the bank.  I’m not saying I liked this run that much.  I prefer not to have to talk my body into doing something it doesn’t necessarily want to do.  But if I have to, and the body is willing, I will do so again.  What’s worth doing is worth fighting for.  The goal is on the table and I won’t lose it without a fight, or at least without some sort of attempt at persuasion.

With regards to toppling any remaining flu-like symptoms inspiration comes in many forms.