Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Charlottesville’s Rivanna Trail and the importance of an established FKT

Circling Charlottesville is the Rivanna Trail (RT), a mostly rustic, sequence of single track trail linkages meandering around the City through public space and land easements.  In addition to carving through actual woods, hillsides and City parks, the RT cuts across and under roads, through streams and sometimes skirting backyards along the borders of residential neighborhoods while in the process totaling 19.55 miles.  There are various spurs off the trail- adding optional bonus miles- but one thing remains constant: the loop itself.
The RT in green.
One can download a much cleaner, more detailed PDF map of the RT here.
When I am on the RT or view a map of the trail I do not simply see dirt beneath my feet or a green plotted line compassing a digitized City landscape.  I see a golden halo.  A crown jewel.  I see a City resource that is far from reaching its potential yet, in its current form, a treasure worth celebrating.  What better way to come to know a community or experience surrounding nature than on foot?  In Charlottesville, one can do both on passage of the RT.
To my knowledge there is no established Fastest Known Time (FKT) speed record for the RT.  I find this odd considering the fact that Charlottesville has something of a reputation for being a runner's town.  The time is nigh for this to change.  The following is my argument for why an established FKT is a good thing for the RT and for the Charlottesville running community at large.
On the RT Foundation website one can read that in part its basic mission is to “provide trail enjoyment opportunities for citizens of all abilities.”  Though the RT Foundation’s website does not specifically spell it out one can infer that the members of the RT Foundation, its volunteers, etc., work very hard as individuals and in collaboration to create awareness for the trail.  Awareness encourages use, which promotes volunteerism, which provides sustainability, and on and on.  I am of the opinion that simply by using the gifts we trail runners’ have- running and sometimes running fast- we can create awareness for a cause.  True indeed, running the RT for an FKT is an exercise in self-enjoyment but to do so in an inspiring or popular manner might create energy, a buzz even, within the running community and one that might draw positive awareness to the RT itself.
I have decided that since I cannot find record of a RT FKT I will set about the business of constructing one.   I don’t know when I will do it but hopefully it will be on a dry weekend some time before winter's end.  Once I do it I will make a public statement on this blog and my reward will be me actually making a donation to the RT Foundation.  Also, once the FKT is set I will challenge other area runners- mostly, just peeps I know- to best it (which probably won’t be that hard!).  My reward to the first person who beats it will be a pizza and pitcher of beer dinner at a local joint of their choosing, plus another donation to the RT Foundation in their name.  Then, if another person comes along and beats their record perhaps that individual might be so generous as to pay the reward forward.  The basic premise is simple and at this point this is all just in my head but who knows... Perhaps it might grow wheels and have something of positive spiraling affect on friendly, local competition, as well as help to create awareness and meager donations for the RT.
So what the hell, this weekend you can find me out on the RT scouting turns and what not in the hopes of one day establishing an FKT for all runners to then challenge.

Lastly, a few housecleaning items:

1. UTMB.  What else can I say other than I am thrilled to be in.  My registration is set, accommodations are booked and I'm ready to soak up some French summertime mountain culture and experience international ultra mountain running competition to its fullest this August in Chamonix.

2. Literally, this is a housecleaning action item.  Take my shoes.  Please.  I have a brand new pair of Scott eRides, size 12 that are badass but unfortunately not for me.  I ran once in them for 10 miles on trails and realized that the heal lifts up a bit too much for my liking.  On a positive note, the shoes are light, offer good traction and I still have the box they came in.  : )  Be the first to email me your name and address and I will snail mail them to you, free of charge.  In fairness, the shoes were free for me (I won them recently during a raffle at Andy's Unbreakable movie thingy) and I would feel most comfortable if a deserving trail runner (one living under a family budget or one with not so much extra cash lying around) takes them on.  Picture below.

Scott eRides, size 12.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

UTMB Lottery

The lottery countdown for UTMB is on!  Tomorrow the results are out.  What will it be come late August: a standard, late summer work week in the good ol' Virginia humidity?  Or will it be a of week vacationing in Chamonix, France, highlighted by a 100 mile balls-to-the-wall run through France, Italy and Switzerland, circumnavigating one of the world’s most storied of mountains, Mont Blanc?  Hopefully it will be the latter.
Below, last June's French feets-of-strength demonstration.  I was recovering from Old Dominion at the time.  This August its my turn.

The race video is posted below for inspiration.  That is, if you actually need it.  Good luck to everyone registered!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Small Successes and the Relevance of Standard Running Routes and Short-Distance Races

Late last week and weekend offered ample mixing of quality family visiting, crystal clear weather and refreshing runs in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In addition to hitting up running routes in Golden Gate Park, Land’s End, out and back on the Golden Gate, a brief climb into the Marin Headlands, and a 19 mile jaunt on cushy, sequoia canopied single track rollers along the Coastal Range west of Woodside in Silicon Valley, I also lined up Sunday morning for the Bay Area Track Club Cross Country Challenge 8k.  Only my second 8k, I figured this one would be unique and after scanning last year’s results quite peppy, too.  The course consisted of a 2k loop circumnavigating the Golden Gate Park polo fields with additional dirt paths and a roller or two tacked on for good measure.  It was a four lap course.  Going into the race I knew the field would be quick and that I would most likely get an ass spanking.  I just didn’t want to get lapped!  I also figured that given my current state of fitness (including Friday and Saturday’s mileage on the legs) and the course a reasonable goal might be to finish somewhere with an average pace 5:50s/mile.  When it was all said and done I completed the race in 13th place, in 29:24, for an average pace of 5:55.  And fortunately I didn’t get lapped.  A small success I was happy to pocket before leaving to fly home later that evening on a redeye.
Tonight I completed a loop after work in Richmond that I have been running somewhat irregularly for a few years now.  For those familiar with Richmond and the James River Trail system my route consists of something like this: from my office I traverse the roads of Shockoe Bottom in downtown, crossing the James River via the pedestrian bridge under Route 1 where I hop on to Belle Island.  From there I head west along the rolling, unnecessarily turn-y, heavily mountain biked Buttermilk Trail before crossing the James again, this time north over the Westover Hills bridge.  Finally, I cruise back to the office along the north bank of the Buttermilk and through Shockoe Bottom.  The way I run this loop my GPS watch almost always reads 9.6 to 9.7-something miles.  After this evening’s run my watch read a finish time of 1:08:56.  This is a fairly respectable time considering the course.  The previous fastest time I ran this route was last year in a time of 1:10:22.  The time before that was 1:14.  Also, tonight I completed over half of the run in the dark.  And after suffering a 24-hour stomach virus/bug/flu thingy the previous day and booting my Sunday breakfast, lunch and dinner into some random toilet at SFO before jumping on to my overnight flight it feels pretty good.  It is a PR I am happy with, a sign of improvement in my running and another small success I will carry with me into the New Year.
We all know the dangers of running regular routes: that each run can become a contest in PRing.  I’m mindful not to approach my regulars in this fashion.  I am also keen on cherishing the small successes that increasingly come in my running slowly and bit by bit.  As my bro Paul says, it is as if the low-lying fitness fruit of my training days over the past few years has been picked and I now must work harder and more conscientiously for the improvements I seek.  Therefore, as this season picks up I am not interested in things like streaking or running ridiculously large volume weeks.  I will continue to throw large mileage numbers on the board from time to time, sure, but small, progressive successes are more what I am after.  This goal dovetails nicely with another goal I have set out for myself in the early part of 2012: running handfuls of shorter, local races, road or trail.  Sunday’s 8k was a good start.  The race obviously wasn’t local to Charlottesville but the start/finish area was about 1.5 miles on foot from my sister and brother-in-law’s house in San Francisco, which is where we stayed, and about as local as one can hope for in a race of any size or distance.  Running races like this and setting reasonable goals for each is a wise (and fun) approach to training for the looming long distance racing coming later in the summer.  Setting goals and realizing them increases confidence.  Increased confidence is what we’re all after as runners.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All eyes on Colorado this summer

New ultramarathon races are popping up everywhere.  Some are offering incredible venues.  Some incredible competition.  Others still are offering prize money.  And some are offering all of the above.  With everything that is going on in the US ultra scene I can't help but think of one thing, at least for 2012.  And that is all eyes will be on Colorado this summer.  Starting with Hardrock in July.  We all know who is on the entrants list, who is on the waiting list and how many gazillions of other runners wish they were on either one.  Then there is Leadville in August: Lifetime Fitness raised the entry field to 850 and- boom- the race still sold out.  Third year in a row.  What other state has at least two 100 mile mountain ultras that sell out each year?  Answer: None.  Leadville also happens to host the largest field (partly, because it can) out of any US 100 miler.  Then there is the Pikes Peak marathon, also in August.  The Spanish Conqueror, Kilian Jornet, is reportedly running.  Kilian vs. Matt Carpenter?  Can you say Pay-Per-View?!  Lastly, there is this business of the Power Ball race in Steamboat in September, otherwise known as the Run Rabbit Run 100.  Whatever your feelings are about the bunny race, or similar type races, there is an obvious demand for such events and it is obvious to me that a race like the Run Rabbit Run 100 would first take hold in Colorado.  That is, with its big mountains, endless trails, voracious community embrace for outdoor and endurance sports and continuously burgeoning ultra running scene.  Seems to me Bryon Powell ought to book a Colorado timeshare for this summer as his reporting services from the Centennial State will be in high demand.

Currently my name is #49 on the Hardrock waitlist.  A little birdie told me recently that he believes Hardrock waitlisters will be picked off into the 50s.  I'll believe it when I see it but on that tip alone I reserved a hotel room in Silverton.  If good fortune comes my way and somehow I am able to run Hardrock I'll do it, no questions asked.  And still run WS and UTMB (if selected on the 20th).  Who wouldn't?  Prior to this weekend I wasn't even thinking Hardrock as I was convinced that #49 may as well be #999; however, I had been thinking a lot about what I wrote above- about Colorado and the ultra running scene there in general.  For all of the break out performances by athletes at various events within the past few years I believe that 2012 is going to be Colorado's breakout year as the capital of US ultra running and racing.  Colorado may not necessarily be where all of the best runners live and train year round but at the least it is a place where a majority of them go to race.  Or where they hope to race.  Hopefully I'll be in Colorado- in Silverton- in July.  Ready for a big push in the San Juans.  2010 and 2011 were lucky years for me in that I could experience a Colorado summer.  Here is to hoping for more of the same for at least a few weeks this summer!