Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Laborious Bloggitude


The theme for September is going to be The Big Rewrite.  The goal is to crank out another NaNoWriMo speed draft of my book Leadville or Bust by the end of September.  To accomplish this I think I need to focus my writing energies on that effort and take a temporary hiatus from the blog.  Or at least go on a less regular posting schedule.  Maybe throw “schedule” out the window for the month.
Of course I’ll write up the Rugged Red.  I’m sure I’ll have other things I want to blather about, but I’m going to try and focus my efforts on getting the book FINISHED.
In the short term this coming is a long holiday weekend.  I’m probably going to just lay low on the internet and try to get a lot of other stuff done.  I may write, but I’m not going to be near a computer to post much so don’t freak out if there’s no new Chainring Report on your screen over the next few days. 
I may throw up book updates.  Heck, maybe I’ll even share a chapter or two along the way.  No promises though.
Have a safe and happy Labor Day.  Try to get outside and enjoy yourselves. 
Here is your moment of Zen:

 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Slow Burn


I tend to go off half-cocked.  That is a complete sentence.
I become obsessed right out of the gate.  Again, complete thought.
 
 
It should be no surprise to you then, Dear Readers, that I might have jumped headfirst into trail running believing myself to be an “expert” and “experienced” before I had put in the requisite miles to legitimately make those claims.  I know you got to pay your dues.  You can’t fake endurance.
Back in the early summer I made the assertion that I would win the Rugged Red this year.  Of course after a few good Strava runs I saw where I stood in the local trail running crowd at least and it became quickly apparent that I have a long way to go to be competitive at that level.  But I also see that possibility in the future.  I’m a firm believer in a good fluke too.
Long term I want to run ultras.  I say this when the farthest I’ve ever run in a single push is thirteen miles.  Heck, I’ve not even run a marathon right now.  And I want to do some seriously long distances.  I want to challenge Matt Hoyes thru-run of the Sheltowee both supported and unsupported.  I want to establish and defend a Swift Camp Creek/Rough Trail traverse record.
Right now I am not at a place fitness-wise to do those things.  No matter how good the fluke I’m not going to be breaking or setting any records anytime soon.  I think after all of this time (since 2009) I’ve finally started to connect fitness, diet, and motivation in my mind.  I’ve had a hard time feeling that connection and being able to maintain those three independent threads throughout.  If I can weave them together then I think I can really start to see some improvements in my performance.
I maintain that good performance in endurance efforts is a chemical equation.  I don’t have it figured out yet.  But that’s what I’m working on.  Strategy and tactics play a big role.  Being able to maintain a vision is a big part of success too. 
The reality is that the things I’m learning now aren’t going to translate to this year’s Rugged Red.  I don’t have enough time to tweak things and make vast improvements.  That’s not to say I can’t maximize my performance this year by incorporating the things I’m finding out, but I think the real gains are going to come next year, or the year after, or the year after that.
My pipe dream goal is to someday do the Cloudsplitter 100 and perhaps even the Leadville 100.  Neither of those will happen next year.  All flukes aside, I need time to prepare.  So I’ll prepare.
It’s about putting in the miles and paying your dues.  Success in any endeavor follows that principle.  Along the way you solve the equation and learn the right tactics and strategy to carry you over whatever finish line you seek.
The Leadville 100 was a failed effort for me because I didn’t really put in the right kind of miles.  I resisted some fundamental truths I should not have ignored.  I didn’t focus on the broad spectrum tools and training I could have.
I still insist that success in these kinds of activities should not be rooted in financial prowess.  If I can only overcome adversity through more expensive gear then I’m not truly rising to the challenge with my own talents and resources.  You could argue that by earning more money I would be doing exactly that, but I would counter that to find balance in life I have to prioritize my resources to benefit my family first and this hobby of suffering somewhere second to last.  That means no matter how much money I make I should be able to succeed as a wanna-be endurance athlete.
I have a little over a year to prepare for next year’s Rugged Red.  This year’s race will be the dress rehearsal for me.  I’m not giving up before I even put toe to start, but I am conceding that short of some miracle I won’t be podiuming this time.
The other side of that coin is that for the first time in all of these events I consider one to be a race.  I’m finally looking at an event as a competitive endeavor that I might have a chance of winning.  It’s going to take some refined work and effort to get there from here, but I am confident I have the tools within me to make it so.
In a little less than two weeks I’m going to go out and give it everything I’ve got and hope for the best.  I have some significant advantages over a lot of the other participants and I mean to use every one of them.  Efficiency has as much to do with winning endurance events as anything else.  I have the benefit of a subtle efficiency of familiarity and intimacy with this route that no one else out there will have.  I’ve spent literally decades hiking those trails and climbing out of those creeks.  There is nothing alien to me in that place, neither creature, rock, tree or condition that I haven’t suffered through many times over in my lifetime of explorations in the Red River Gorge.
I’ve gone purposefully into those woods and have shied away from no experience or place it had to offer. 
A final thought on the upcoming race (not really, no): I’m new at this trailrunning thing, but I’ve got a bit of endurance racing experience.  While I was never competitive as a mountain biker, I find that in my age group at least I potentially have the capabilities to do well.  I also realize that those capabilities need to be developed and nurtured.  I’m not there yet, but there aren’t too many turns in the trail ahead before I’ll see my true potential.
 

Dropping Jeaph


It was most definitely a race.  No medal was involved, but my wonderously fragile ego was going to drive me to victory like a banged up stock car.

I have this "bike friend" Jeff—y'know the one—who has been my perpetual grail on every ride over the past year and a half.  On the bike he's just naturally strong.  At my best I could keep up with him just enough to push him on, but never quite enough to wear him down.  One of our kids once said something about Jeff and I and Mandy and Casey just being bike friends.  So that's been the running joke ever since.

While I'm not a competitive person in the sense that I absolutely have to win all the time; I'm most definitely competitive with myself in needing to see progress.  Measuring my own strength against Jeff's seemingly bottomless wellspring of cranking power has been a fruitful endeavor.  I've been challenged, humbled, inspired, and driven.
Anyway, as previously mentioned, my wife wanted me to crush him out on the trail on our Rugged Red themed training run Saturday morning.  Right up front let me say this was no fair matchup.  I’ve been running all summer and mostly longer distances on trails.  Jeff has run less than 30 miles in the same span of time and most definitely not on the harder trails of the Red River Gorge.  All the same, I was going to run him into the ground to boost my own gimpy confidence.
Looking at my training calendar I knew it wouldn’t be good to go more than nine miles on Saturday but I wanted to get in at least nine.  Jeff’s longest run to date was six miles.  A couple of options presented in my mind, but eventually I suggested the Rugged Red Simulator route I ran a few weeks ago and which I have also seen other people on Strava running. 
It’s a good Rugged Red specific training run because in nine miles you get about seven of the course in sequence and you only have to backtrack two miles to the car.  It also replicates the course in that the climb back to the car come around the same distance as the last big climb of the race.  The simulator route doesn’t perfectly replicate the race, but it comes as close as you can get without committing to the full race course during training.
The other big pro of doing the simulator route is the ability to bail and cut out three miles at the six mile point.  That allows you to assess your energy level and decide late in the run how far you want to go, but still adds enough commitment to make it real.
Jeff was game, so we met in Slade at 7am Saturday morning and I drove up to the Rough Trail trailhead off Chimney Top Road where we planned to begin.  Oddly, I wasn’t as stoked to run as I have been.  Maybe it was the rain.  Maybe it was anxiety.  Maybe I’m on the wrong side of the wave crest right now.  I do know that it’s harder for me to be inspired to run when I’m with other people.  I don’t think I’ll feel that way the day of the race because there will be no obligation to stick with anyone else.  I didn’t want to leave Jeff to die lost out on some trail in the Gorge.
There are some new waterbars on the first steep descent and the torrential rains had made them slick.  I went down on one hand after a particularly muddy one.  It was not the way I wanted to start out my Jeff’s-ego-crushing run.  I wasn’t surprised to find Chimney Top Creek raging between its banks at the bottom of the descent.  In fact, it was lower than I had expected.  With no other option I led the way through the mid-calf deep water and turned my bow toward Cuss Joe Hill. 
The trails were in decent shape considering the rain.  My sure-footedness is coming back.  I used to be like a mountain goat, though in recent years I’ve felt that assurety slipping.  When I started running early this summer I was ginger with my foot placements and my dynamic moves.  While still being somewhat careful I have definitely moved beyond being conservative with more of the youthful vigor I enjoyed pre-mountain biking.
I broke no records climbing up to Koomer Ridge.  I definitely held back for Jeff’s sake.  He was fighting hard to keep up, and I realized I was going to drag him into the red if I we weren’t careful.  I waited to make sure he made the turn onto Buck Trail and then began my descent.  It’s not long before the climb up Buck Trail to Pinch Em Tight Ridge comes at you, and again, I held back with Jeff for a while until he encouraged me to go on, so I opened up on the ridge until I reached the Sheltowee where I waited again for Jeff and did battle with a barbarian hoard of horseflies.  I texted Mandy:
“Kickin it.”
I should have ran Pinch Em Tight at a good cruising speed but again, I was holding back so as not to completely leave Jeff behind.  He was coming on steadily, but at a distinctly slower pace.  My hesitation out the ridge cost me some time.  I wasn’t running steadily myself.  I made a silent promise that if Jeff were game to run on out to the swinging bridge I would give the Chimney Top Creek section everything I had.
As I stood in the creek slaying horseflies just before the Sheltowee/Rough Trail split I hoped Jeff was game.  He was, though maybe he shouldn’t have been.  I told him I was going to go hard all the way to the bridge and I’d head back right away and meet him along the trail.  He could then decide if he wanted to keep trailing behind me or cut it short.
Mandatory wet feet
 
I love that section of the Sheltowee.  It’s nice and flat with a few creek crossings.  Saturday it was somewhat sloppy from the rain but I still managed to beat my previous time by a considerable margin.  After turning around I eased off my effort quite a bit.  It was a nice easy jog back to Rough Trail and the final climb out.  I waited for a long time for Jeff at the last creek crossing before the Rough/Koomer split and saw four other runners pass.
I gave the final climb no effort.  We basically walked the last half mile to the car.  I felt good, but Jeff was hobbling due to an old waterskiing accident.  He was still positive about doing the run with the intent of finishing though. 
I really didn’t take any pleasure from outrunning Jeff.  Okay, maybe that’s not 100% true.  I tried not to let my glee broadcast too loudly.  What I did take away from our run were some important tactical changes I need to make.
I had planned to go without food or water until the swinging bridge.  That’s halfway into the course.  I was pretty sure I could fuel up beforehand and refuel there for the final push to the finish.  I’ve now decided to take minimal water and three gels.  There’s no way to maintain a consistent effort over that kind of terrain without putting something back into your body. 
After the swinging bridge I’ll carry a little extra too.  I want this to be a solid effort.  I want to perform at my peak.  I know now, incontrovertibly, that over the past four years I’ve been trying hard to excel in this endurance event obsession ineffectively because I do not fuel myself properly.
I spent an inordinate amount of time whining about being too fat and trying to drop pounds and not enough time assessing what my caloric needs are to propel me on to glory.  There’s a part of my mind that thinks if I were too just eat a little more of the best foods I would have energy like I did in my twenties and could go farther and faster and longer.  So my tactics have changed slightly for the upcoming race.  I’m confident in the outcome.

We parted ways in Slade.  Jeff was in good spirits and I felt good about the day's run.  As he was getting in his car and I was pulling away he called out:

"I'm not your running friend.  I don't want to be anyone's running friend.

Later in the day I sent him a text to see how his knee was doing:


 
 
I don't think it'll stick...
 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Groggy Monday Update


On Friday Doug commented and asked the question: I like the "When I was a mountain bike racer" comment. You mean you have gotten that out of your system? :D
On Friday Casey at the LBS told me about a “free” 50 or 100 mile mountain bike race coming up next month in Georgia.
On Friday Wendy at the LBS said Mandy should attend the upcoming womens’ mountain bike clinic at CVP.
On Friday it rained enough to make me go out and check the family ark to make sure we had enough rations.
Clear Branch of Middle Fork in Slade on Saturday morning
 
On Friday I remembered that I am permanently infected with a disease, and the cure is more cowbell.  Race cowbell that is.
It’s true; the Fool’s Gold 50 & 100 is taking place on September 20 in Dahlonega, Georgia.  It’s also true that if you bring an adult volunteer with you that can help out for the duration your race is “free.”  Tom is skilled at both proofing and sweeping.  I think that could count double duty for me and *Jeff.  That would put the September schedule looking something like this:
 
6th
Rugged Red trail half marathon

13th
Hub City Tour century ride (totally unprepared)

20th
Fool’s Gold (most foolish thing I’ve ever conceived of doing with so little preparation)

And of course the Cloudsplitter is two weeks after the Fool’s Gold race.
Nah, not going to do it.  When I peeked at the calendar I saw that Lily has cross country meets on the 13th and the 20th, and I just can’t justify skipping out on her meets two weekends in a row.  My parents didn’t come to any of my meets the year I ran cross country; and while at the time I didn’t care now I look back and wish they had been slightly more interested in what I was doing.  More interested or more able to attend anyway. 
There’s a meet the day of the Cloudsplitter too.  Of course what I’ve decided to not decide about Cloudsplitter is that since there is day-of registration and the 25k begins at 10:00am if I can zip down early that morning, do the race, and return like lightning then I might do it.  The medal is pretty cool.  My goal for next year is to do the 50k Cloudsplitter.  Eventually I want to do the full monty century run, but I’m not putting that down in black and white until I’ve got some shorter runs under my waistband.
The only important participatory event for me right now is the Rugged Red.  I also want to do Hub City to get another Century Challenge jersey, but I’ve even resolved that if I don’t get it I’ll be okay with that too.
I feel pretty good about the upcoming run.  The next two weeks you’ll be seeing trailrunning posts reach a fever pitch.  Heck, you might even see a three post day (throwback from my Pavements Edge days). 
This is kind of a throwaway post today.  I had intended to flesh this out a bit more before flinging it up against the graffiti-covered wall of this internet overpass.  Tomorrow I’ll slap up a trip report from my trail run with Jeaphre.  *Yes, that Djeff.  Until then just be at peace in the knowledge that you can have an allergic reaction to horse fly bites.  If you’re bitten multiple times then the effects may be compounded. 
And pumping yourself full of Benadryl does not make for a productive day.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Flip-Flop Cross-Trainer


Well this is quite the shocking plot twist.
When I was a mountain bike racer I considered incorporating running into my training.  Of course I never did, but I considered it.  Now that I’m hyperfocused on running races I’m considering using cycling or mountain biking as a low impact addition to my training regime.  Considering.  Of course Mandy and I need to ride more in the coming weeks as we have one more Kentucky Century Challenge ride to complete to be able to claim our jerseys. 
I finally see the real benefits of running.  I wish I had seen this back when I was on my way to Leadville in 2012 and 2013.  I find it much easier to analyze my diet and its relationship to performance as a runner than while cycling.  I think I’m able to fake performance on the bike, especially when I’m riding shorter distances.  You can’t fake running.  Especially when there is climbing and any amount of distance involved.
For once the sign is almost correct (4.7 miles for the loop)
 
The big day is a little more than two weeks out.  I’ve got two more weekends to do a couple of tapering long runs.  I’m excited about the Rugged Red.  What I hope is that it will go over so well that it becomes a strong annual event.  Joe and I have talked about adding some other events (road cycling and mountain biking) to create a small local race series.  For this year I’m going to shoot for placing in the masters division (40 and older) but for next year I want to be competitive with the entire field.  I’ve got a year to work on the things I need to perform at that level.  I know what I need to do I just need to work on finding the motivation and focus balanced with my other life to pull it off.
Another startling development in local trail running came in the form of a text message from none other than the Mozhican:

"This run" meaning the Rugged Red
 
As you can see, he deflected my most honorable challenge to try out for American Ninja Warrior and tried to steal my trail running thunder.  When I told Mandy he was planning on doing the Rugged Red she gave me a look.
“But this is your thing!”
I nodded knowingly.  She’s right.  There is the real threat that Jefe will make me look bad like he does on the bike. 
“Kick his ass,” she admonished.
I nodded again, and shared with her my quick-schemed plot to take him out early in the race.  It involves dynamite, pole vaulting, laughing gas, choppers – can you see how incredible this is going to be? Hang gliding, come on!
He took up running earlier this summer because he wanted to be able to get into some pick up soccer games at the city park.  I’ve been running because I want to do well in this race.  I’ve been trail running heavily.  I’ve been putting in long miles over hard trails.  My best hope is that Dgeff will have overestimated his abilities and will be at least a full five minutes behind me at the finish line.  I’m not telling him about raw nipples.  He can figure that one out on his own. 
The One* should be back together sometime this weekend.  I’m hoping to get in some lunchtime rides at Vet Park as the summer weather allows.  Jeff had recently mentioned a desire to go to Cave Run and ride too.  I want to go and check out the newest trails there and maybe explore a little further afield.  12 Hour of Capitol View is this coming Sunday, but I doubt I’ll make a showing.  This fall hopefully I can get back on the fat-tired steed and carve up some dirt.  I miss mountain biking. 
For now I have to focus on running Jeff into the ground.

 
*Nickname for my mountain bike, long story. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Practice


Last year I started going to yoga with Mandy.  At first we were going once a week at the Om Place in Clark County.  It was inconvenient for her and more so convenient for me as it is in a round-a-bout way on my way home from work.
The first session as awkward for me, but I really wanted to try yoga because I knew I needed the benefits like more flexibility, core strength, forced relaxation etc., etc.  But after that first session it didn’t matter to me if I was the only guy in the room.  It didn’t matter to me that I couldn’t do all of the poses perfectly.  All that mattered was that I had found an activity that didn’t involve moving fast in the outdoors that seemed to satisfy my compulsion to do so.
People have forever counseled me to slow down and enjoy things.  I’ve been criticized for moving too fast.  I’ve felt pressure to slow down when my brain just keeps driving me on faster and faster.  I’ve hit the walls of age, injury, and reality time and time again.  Usually I just break on through full speed ahead and hardly spare a glance over my shoulder at the wreckage I leave behind.
I discovered that yoga is the perfect activity to force me to slow down and slow my mind.  So far I haven’t seen majestic physical changes in myself.  I’ve noticed some improvement in balance when I do the tree pose.  I’ve improved control when I do certain other poses.  And I feel better afterward.  My limbs and back are more relaxed even if my lower back is a persistent knot of latent cubicle/road rage.
 
That posture will ruin your day son
When summer ramped up we went on hiatus, but then a couple of months ago a friend of ours started offering yoga locally.  By locally I mean in my rural podunk county.  Within a few weeks she was offering yoga twice a week at the municipal building in Clay City.  I was glad to be back in practice.  I was glad to have easy access to such a beneficial activity.
During the last couple of sessions I realized something (in conjunction with my last few posts).  There is the possibility to find a state of flow while doing yoga.  It’s harder for me than while running or hiking, or cycling hard.  But there have been moments when time has seemed not to exist for me while doing yoga.  There have been sublime moments when I was lost in my own breathing and in my own body.  I didn’t see the people around me or the room, only the spot on the floor that anchored me in balance.  Eventually the spot disappeared as well.
Night before last I was frustrated as I tried to hold yet another downward dog.  My shoulders and wrists screamed at me and denied me the oblivion I wanted.  When we went into corpse pose I couldn’t wrestle the negative and troubling thoughts of the day out of my head.  But I was also cognizant of the lack of flow.  And that got me thinking more about the previous times during yoga when I had found the elusive state of being.

I get lost in this image sometimes
 
That made me somewhat happy, and I was able to finally relax and lose myself in the stillness of the moment.  The feeling was fleeting.  Eventually I became bored and impatient for the session to be over.  It was the first time that had happened to me. 
I’ve been trying to ease back on running.  After the Midsummer Night’s Run lead-up marathon and my overzealous attempt at a latitudinal crossing of the Red River Gorge this past weekend I have felt wrecked.  not specific pains mind you, just a general feeling of being stiff and run down.  I don’t feel as bad as I did only a few weeks out from the Iron Horse last year though.  I hit a wall of distinct mental and physical burn out that didn’t go away until I had hiated from running for a solid month.
I want to do the Rugged Red strong.  I want to feel so good and have such a good time that I can’t help myself but to do the 25k Cloudsplitter in October.
Just looking at this map gets me excited
 
I guess I’ve been playing fast and loose with my time lately.  I want to be focusing more on my internal issues, but I’m constantly distracted by my daily grind.  That puts me in a perpetual state of anxiousness that I’m never going to get my issues sorted out.  That, in turn, gives over to feelings of desperation in which I lose all regard for the realities and expectations of society. 
It’s hard to care about going through the motions for the sake of going through the motions when you’re not exactly sure if catastrophe is around the next corner.  I know I’m being vague, but it’s necessary because I am currently shirking responsibility to write this post as it is.  I still have enough self-awareness to be self-protective. 
A lot of my “recreational” pursuits are survival tactics.  It’s hard to explain or justify to other people, but I need the escape sometimes. Sometimes is more often than it used to be.  I’ve tried not to go back down the road where all I do is mope about, wishing for the apocalypse to get started.  It’s not healthy, it’s not productive, and that mindset wastes so much precious energy.

©Kennedy Miller Productions
Right now it’s hard for me to visualize myself as ever being obsessed with yoga like I am with other activities.  I don’t rule out that possibility, but it doesn’t seem to gel with my self-concept right now.  As I do it more that could change.  For now I use it as another escape, another avenue to flow, and as a time for giving my body some much needed love.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Revising My Stance


I’ve made the executive decision to rewrite my book.  What book?  I have been writing a book about my forgone obsession with doing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.  Looking back at it now with some temporal distance it seems to me to be less than cohesive and little more than a collection of disjointed blog posts.
I still like the story I’ve told with it, but I want it to be stronger and more relevant to the audience.  I also want to weave in some of the threads of thought I have had in the past year.  A year gone from the race has given me—what I feel anyway—a very unique and relevant perspective of the entire journey from “I could never do that” to rolling across the red carpet in downtown Leadville.  The afterword is in some ways as compelling as the race.
It’s not easy to go back and interject those observations in any kind of meaningful way without interrupting the tenuous flow I previously had. But this rewrite isn’t as much about adding new content as shoring up the whole saga and giving it a better framework and polish.  I guess I knew this effort was a possibility when I began, and had hoped I could get away without putting in so much work, but now I’m staring it in the face.  I risk losing some important things I previously wrote, but I think it’s time to murder my babies and start over.
The whole book has too much Debbie Downer tonality and I want it to be uplifting and inspiring.  There are some incontrovertible Debbie Downer moments that are important to the story, but they shouldn’t set the tone for the whole book.  I think the story would be stronger if I can show the ups and downs more equitably but with better focus on the bright times and featuring more prominently all of the reasons I feel like anyone could benefit from going down a similar path.
Most days I feel as if I’m surrounded by a host of dragons all bent on burning me away to nothing.  There is the Dragon of Self-Doubt, the Dragon of Inattention, and the Dragon of Depression.  There are so many smaller and fierce dragons nipping at me constantly.  While this is a tumultuous way to live, I have developed so many coping mechanisms and strategies to maintain my position against all of them.  I’ve recently touched on that here.  I feel as if I do have something to offer to those who are struggling with the same kinds of daily battles I go through myself.  Maybe they don’t need a how-to guide to mediocre mountain bike race results, but there are still lessons to be learned and guideposts to be maintained that can be a benefit to those seeking outlets and answers.
It is highly unlikely I’ll ever inspire anyone with my athletic feats of greatness.  I don’t win races.  I don’t break records.  Most of my adventures are contrived and often my suffering could easily be avoided with a phone call or simply stopping the activity I’m in.  So what if I don’t give up on a solo trail run?  Does anyone else in the world care if I ran fifteen or only thirteen miles the other day?  Nope.  But if I set a goal and reach the goal there is value.  What kind of goals am I setting and for what purpose?  Do those goals benefit me, and am I focused on gleaning the right type of benefits?  Beyond that do my ambitions benefit anyone else?  Do any of the benefits outweigh the costs?
I guess these are the questions I have really tried to ask and answer in my book, but I don’t feel like I have done so effectively.  That’s what I want to go back and do.
Doing research for my book

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Swiftly Roughed Up


I just can’t get over how much fun it was running Swift Camp Creek Trail.  It passes through a truly amazing and underappreciated area.  I’ve got to get back there soon with my camera.  Of course I have unfinished business along that trail too.  I’ve still got to complete my latitudinal traverse of the Red River Gorge via Rough Trail and Swift Camp Creek Trail.
I hatched that particular scheme when we still lived in Colorado.  I think when it was first conceived I thought it would be easy.  I had thru-hiked Rough Trail two different times.  The first time I did it as an overnight backpacking trip, and then a later went back with Tomahawk and hiked it straight through in a day.  It’s about ten miles end to end.  Before both of those outings I had section-hiked the entire trail during my earliest Gorge explorations.
How hard could a crossing of the Gorge be?  It would be nothing compared to travelling through the mountains of Colorado.  No problem!
As I mentioned in my previous post I had hiked all of Swift Camp Creek twenty years ago; probably as two out-and-back hikes from the north and south termini.  In the following years I often hiked the northern section to Wildcat Trail and then closed a loop using Sky Bridge Road to get back to the trailhead, and I’d also hiked a loop on the southern portion utilizing the unofficial Turtleback Arch Trail to complete a loop.  Then as suggested in Ruchhoft’s Land of the Arches I had also hiked the Hell’s Kitchen section of Swift Camp Creek proper through the roughhewn gorge during dry weather from near Rock Bridge to a logical ending point.  I then picked up Swift Camp Creek Trail to return to the Rock Bridge trailhead.  I did that adventurous hike at least three times.
The one section I had never repeated after my initial explorations was the stretch between my historic exit point from the creek about three miles below the Rock Bridge/Swift Camp Creek Trail junction and Wildcat Trail.  That lost mile blew me away.  It was amazingly beautiful.  It was technical and narrow.  The creek roared over boulders and shoals below the trail providing an incomparable soundtrack to the melodrama I was playing out on the trail.
Once I passed Wildcat Trail I was actually disappointed to be back on familiar ground, even though I had been apprehensive about running through the semi-remote and committing miles of Swift Camp Creek. 
My goal is to run all of Rough Trail and Swift Camp Creek.  After my attempt last week I now know what I’m in for.  It’s not fourteen miles as the trailhead signs would have you believe.  It’s not fifteen miles as most maps tally it up to be; no, a latitudinal crossing of the Red River Gorge utilizing two of the longest trails in the area equals seventeen miles and no less than 2,000’ of climbing (six big climbs).  What also makes this run challenging is that the trails do not loop.  You have to shuttle or do a crazy 34 mile out-and-back…!!!  New scheme!  It would be easy enough to shave off three miles around Grays Arch on one pass to make it an even 50 kilometers.
No shuttle necessary.
I’m a long way from that level of fitness.  But I’m also at an advantage being so close to such fine runnable trails.  Oh. My. Badness.  I’m not sure why I hadn’t considered that before.  Maybe because it’s just a little bit whackadoodle. 
Like I said in my last post this trailrunning thing is a chemical equation I need to solve more completely.  I’m getting there, but I’m still falling short.  Running takes so much more out of me that mountain biking ever has.  I had it figured out, and now I have to relearn fueling for running on trails.
Why do I put myself through all of this?  In “Dream Seasons” I talked about running (or biking) to find a state of flow, of existing only in the moment and leaving the trappings of industrial time behind.  But the reality is that on a long run there’s a lot of time when I just can’t run hard enough to evoke flow.  Maybe it’s because of my inherent wussitude.  When my body rebels and I have to walk it’s almost impossible at that point to find the void of flow. 
Does that mean I should actually be looking at shorter runs?  Sounds like it.  There were times on my last long run when I was just kind of bored with the effort.  I wanted to be miles on down the trail.  I wasn’t enjoying the moment.  Was I bored; or was that the vague shadow of depression?
I’ve no hope to win the Rugged Red this year unless my opponents all take a wrong turn.  It’s possible but not too probable.  I’ll focus on my best effort this year, but then go into the next year with a much more honed focus on getting faster and better on the trail.  I’ll cross train more.  I’ll broaden my training to incorporate more strength and core fitness as well as dropping weight to become the climber I want to be.
My intent it to establish a competitive FKT on a latitudinal (and ultimately a longitudinal) traverse of the Red River Gorge and to dominate next year’s Rugged Red.  There are other key trails and loops that make for good ITT type races through sites like Strava.  Sand Gap comes to mind.  The short but classic Auxier Loop is excellent.  Lost Branch/Osborne Bend thwarted me a week and a half ago, but it was really a good loop just screaming to be run fast.
I live in a world class area for rock climbing.  I’m beginning to think I live in a world class area for trail running.  I also think it’s time I get serious about my athletic ambitions.  Mandy and I want to be in better shape.  I want to be able to perform at a higher physical level than I currently am, and I want to do so and have fun.  It’s going to take some serious reshaping of the mind and body.  I know the key (for me anyway) is to step it up in a very assertive way.
My mind can come up with the schemes.  Can my body keep up if I teach myself how to do it?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Trailrunning: The Horror Movie

From the waist down I felt like a horrorshow: all pain and gore, my calves felt like some psychopath was standing on them with  spiked boots.

On the descent from the Grays Arch area I decided that on the drive home I was going to swing by Joe's house and carve him into little pieces with a rusty hand saw.   

Then I changed my mind.  I decided I'd put him in a woodchipper.  And as I chipped him piece by piece I'd give him just enough gels and water to keep him in misery.  It was too good for him.  Rugged Red!  Bloody Red is more like it.


Move you dead thing!  Live, my monster!

This distance running thing is a chemical equation I just haven't figured out.  I'm not eating and drinking right.  I think that's why I'm being gobbled up by some alien monster at around mile ten on every long run.  It's not that my muscles can't keep going but that they're depleted of something crucial to their successful operation.

The middle miles of the Swift Camp Creek Trail are a creepshow place.  Not only does the trail squiggle through the dark folds of Clifty Wilderness but it's not as well-travelled as other trails in the Gorge.  It's seven miles long and does not loop.  That keeps out a lot of riff-raff.

While Swift Camp Creek Trail doesn't loop it does butt up against Rough Trail.  My scheme was to run both consecutively.  The total distance is about 17 miles.  I know this, not because I ran 17 miles, but because there were two miles I didn't run.  Well, actually there were four miles I didn't run.  But we'll get to that.

Other than the fact that 99.947% of people I know would flat be horrified at the mere thought of running 17 miles there are two ways to do this run:  east to west with Swift Camp Creek Trail first or west to east with Rough Trail first.  Depending on your perspective either direction could be more horrifying than the other.

Rough Trail has big climbs while Swift Camp Creek doesn't.  From a purely physical effort Rough is the beast.  Because of this I had decided when I attempted to flee the slavering monster I would do Rough Trail first leaving Swift as a more "mellow" finish.

The night before, when I was still planning to stick to the Rugged Red course for my big weekly training run, Mandy offered to go out with me and run a shuttle.  It was the perfect opportunity to give my Rough/Swift scheme a go.

The impromptu-ness of my attempt necessitated a different approach.  I wasn't sure I could cover the distance.  I've been stalling out around 10 miles.  I didn't want to run out of gas in the middle of Blair Witch country on Swift Camp Creek.  There's no easy way out, no cell service, no SAG access and it's kind of a spooky place when you're all alone.

East to west profile
 
 
I decided to reverse direction and start at the Rock Bridge trailhead (southern terminus of Swift Camp Creek) and head north and then west on Rough Trail to the Martin's Fork trailhead.  That put the "easy" running at the beginning, but also had me passing through the more remote and committing segment of the run when I would be fresh and strong.  It's a seven mile trail with only one option for shortening at four miles where Wildcat Trail climbs out of the gorge and back to Sky Bridge Road.  It really only shortens the route by a mile or so and dumps you out in the middle of an uninhabited road.

Choosing that direction also gave me the option of shortening the run at the end.  Once Rough Trail gains Pinch Em Tight Ridge it is possible to shorten the route in two places.  The first is where Rough splits off from the Sheltowee.  That drops a full two miles and two big climbs off the run.  The second option is a little further on Rush Ridge which would drop one mile and one climb.  Once you pass Rush Ridge into the Grays Branch section you're in it for the full butchery.

It's a disturbingly exhilarating feeling to watch your significant other drive away into the shadowy fog leaving you with miles of ground to cover all alone.  Feeling strong enough to fight off a chainsaw wielding psychopath I ran down the rough asphalt trail away from civilization.

I've been intimately familiar with Swift Camp Creek my entire adult life.  But I'd never run the trail so I wasn't immediately sure what I was in for, but I quickly discovered it's a great trail to run.  It's fairly level as it contours along the western wall of the Swift Camp Creek Gorge.  I've always thought this drainage had enough merit on its own to draw outside attention even if it hadn't been attached to the Red River Gorge area.

The landscape is stunning.  The trail is high enough on the steep hillside to provide spectacular views of both the gorgeous streambed below and it's myriad side waterfalls as well as the colorful and towering sandstone cliffs on the opposite side of the gorge.  Oddly enough I realized somewhere past the unofficial Turtleback Arch side trail that between there and Wildcat Trail was an area I had not visited in nearly twenty years.  It won't be that long before I return I assure you.

I came off of Swift Camp Creek feeling good.  I knew my clock was ticking extra fast as I wasn't quite halfway through, but I was very low on fuel.  I was a little more tired climbing up to the common trailhead between the two paths than I expected too.  I was hoping for a strong second wind.

I paused at the trailhead to text and let Mandy know I was off Swift Camp Creek before dropping into Rough Trail.  In short order I was down into Parch Corn Creek and then tackling my second beating...er, climb of the day up toward Chimney Top Road.  I felt distinctly more flayed as the humidity choked me and as my legs began to grow stiff and heavy.  I walked a couple of easy sections telling myself it would help me go faster later on.  Oh how wrong was that logic!

Once again I was at the Rough Trail parking lot on Chimney Top Road.  Some backpackers were loading up to head out so I made a strong showing as I ran straight through the gravel lot, but I slowed once I was out of sight into the trees.

The steep descent comes quick, and on this newly familiar section I really began to see my folly.  I ran the upper half strong, falling easily down the hill, but near the bottom I found myself slowing over step-downs and gingerly avoiding obstacles.

The long climb out of Chimney Top Creek slayed me.  I had nothing left when the trail leveled out near the top of Pinch Em Tight Ridge.  I'd already decided on the shortcut in lieu of a full Swift Camp Creek-Rough Trail traverse.  I tried to run, but the slightest hills thwarted me.  At one point I was walking and stopped to scrape some pine duff out of my heel and found myself breathing hard. I sat down on a rock to try and stretch out my hamstrings and my big thigh muscles threatened to seize up.

It took some effort to drag myself to my feet.  Once I was shuffling along the trail again I texted Mandy:



At 12.5 miles I checked my pace.  I noticed I had been going for three hours and twenty-two minutes.  I decided I could run and get 13.1 miles in 3:30 or less.  It was a gruesome sight I'm sure.  I probably looked like the run/walking dead.  But I managed to do it.  Then, with about two miles to go to the car, I stopped trying to run at all.  

It was a long two miles.  There were shadowy thoughts.  I had humorously hostile thoughts about Joe.  I basically had to crawl down the upper parts of the Martins Fork section of Rough Trail.  Back along the creek I was able to walk along almost normally, but that's when I began my homicidal mental tirade.

The last mile a second burning thought took over my brain: food.  As bad as I wanted to hunt Joe down and murderate him I also wanted to eat.  I was disturbed by my quasi-cannibalistic tendencies, but I assure you I'm not a man-eater.

I sent one last text home once I had service again:

"Going to swing by Joe's on the way home.  Pack a bag and get us two tickets to South American.  I'm going to murder him."

My ordeal wasn't over once I was in the car.  For fifteen miles my calf muscles ached as I described earlier.  At one point I was moaning so loud people were rushing of of their houses to see what kind of horrorshow was speeding past.  Then my gas light came on.  Ugh, I would have to stop and get gas before going home to die.

It was just as well, I was out of tart cherry juice and barbed wire at home.  I could fight the zombie hoard at the Kroger gas station and then pop in for some antioxidants and zombie repellent. 

Bean had her second cross country practice that night.  As I told another parent about my run (he delved until I had no choice but to tell him) it didn't seem like such a big deal.  On paper my adventure sounds matter-of-fact.  But at each step along the way the outcome was uncertain.  In the middle of Swift Camp Creek Trail I had no idea how I would feel or how I would handle the Rough Trail sections.  When my legs succumbed to the monster of exhaustion I didn't know how I would make it to my car.  When it was too agonizing to descend the last hill I didn't know if my legs would buckle underneath me.

I have faith in my inner strength and in my own resourcefulness, but I'm also cognizant of my own limitations.  Sometimes you just don't have the stuff in front of you to solve the chemical equation.


 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Without a Rope


Y’know that Robin Williams committed suicide earlier this week, right?
I don’t mean to bring you further down.  I really don’t.  My desire is to lift you up, inspire you, and maybe convince you to become a Platinum level financial patron in my fantasy to become a professional writer.  Well, it’s worth a try.
My vague apology aside I can get right to the point of today’s post: malaise.
I’ve been talking (and writing) more and more about climbing lately.  I would not currently consider myself a rock climber right now.  I’m flirting with a triumphant return to the “climbing scene” in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky.  Not really.  The climbing scene anywhere is toxic.  In the Red it has been nearly hostile in the past, and at its best it’s comically stupid.  I don’t want to be part of that anymore.  I like being a fringe lunatic.  I like watching from afar. 
It's hard to fit in when you're on the cutting edge of style
I called this problem Hierarchy after Maslow's scheme.
 
Ah, let’s face it, it’s pretty fun to stir up $#!+ too.
The weather was downright fall-like earlier in the week.  My primal brain took over, dragged me into a hooky state, and propelled me toward sandstone.  I ended up at Tower Rock with my pup, a crash pad, two pairs of climbing shoes, and a chalkbag.  I sure felt like a rock climber/boulderer. 
Time has dulled my senses.  I didn’t think about all of the recent rain.  The rain and temperate rain forest makes the rock damp and slick.  I didn’t consider all of the time that has passed since my upper body has been put into service pulling the rest of my body upward against gravity.  It never occurred to me that despite a few yoga sessions in the past couple of months I am about as flexible as the passenger-side leaf springs of a ’72 Silverado. 
Ah, faux youthful bravado!
My intent was to get on an old standard of mine.  I went back to where it all began.  It was Bob’s fault.  Can’t Pam keep him in line?  Since I was trying to learn to climb by myself through the week he suggested that I go out with my crisp new Red River Gorge guidebook (John Bronaugh’s new first edition Red River Gorge Climbs) and climb the first ten feet of each route I could find.  He was encouraging me to become a boulderer.
 
Fulfilling the mandate on an attempt of Mr Smartypants
 
“And then when you finally get a partner and rope up under a climb you’ll have the first ten feet wired,” he added.
Bob also told me about a bouldering traverse listed in one of Martin Hackworth’s old guidebooks.  It was rated 5.9 and was described as being a sideways traverse between the routes Africa and Arachnid at Tower Rock.  The description seemed to be off.  It took me a couple of years, but even after I photocopied one of Tim’s copies of Stones of Years and confirmed for myself where the traverse was supposed to go, I just couldn’t figure out how Hackworth expected the aspiring boulderer to get from the Anti-Gravity Acrobatics arĂȘte to Arachnid.  At a 5.9 grade that’s not possible.  I’d also managed to add on a few dozen feet or more of traversing before Africa, though I never unlocked a feasible sequence to gain the dihedral crack of Arachnid.
Later on, after I had become a much stronger climber, that traverse and other boulder problems at Tower became mundane and boring for me.  Only when I was trying to introduce a new climber to bouldering did I return to Tower without a rope. 
The traverse seemed like a good place for me to go to begin the long journey back.  It wasn’t that exactly.  It showed me just how far I have to go.  Much like my recent ascent of Big Country with Mark, bouldering at Tower was somewhat humbling and even disheartening.  Much has changed and little of those changes have been in favor of my sensibilities. 
Displaying my "long-hair-is-cool" sensibilities
 
The good overhanging boulder north of Tower proper has been fenced off by the USFS to protect a supposed archaeological site.  It’s a bunch of crap.  That site has been so overused by modern man there’s no way it could have any archaeological significance.  It had been disturbed long before I discovered the bouldering potential there by campfire, feces, and litter.  Total midden chaos.  A fallen tree is currently resting on the cool easy arĂȘte problem I called Sundown—not after the Gordon Lightfoot song but because it was my late-in-the-day cool down—always bathed in golden light when I danced delicately up its only adequate holds.  
I know most of my old haunts are overgrown with dense rainforest, maybe obscured by deadfall, and most certainly grown back over with moss and lichens that once had been scrubbed away. All of my work undone.  All of my art erased.
While trammeling down this path of self-analysis I’ve tried to unpack that part of my history.  When I was at the height of my bouldering prowess I was also in the depths of my pre-ADHD diagnosis depression.  Running to the woods, to the boulders, was my subconscious escape tactic.  It caused tension in my marriage.  Mandy thought I was running from her, but I didn’t know what I was running from except that it wasn’t her that I wanted to be separated from.
What I’ve realized is that being alone only intensifies my depression.  But I am drawn to solitary places and into solitude due to my inherent human nature.  It’s not comorbid with my depression.  My desire for solitude is a valid feeling.  I’m an introvert.  Introversion isn’t directly related to depression and moodiness.  It’s simply what it is.  This duality that compounds my frustrations is hard to untangle.  I’m really only beginning to understand the separate threads of my neuro-atypical self.
Doing battle with my inner Weasel
 
There were many days I would remove myself from everything and go into my forest world where I made the rules and where I could imagine a more perfect life for myself.  Because of my proprioceptive-seeking compulsions I would take along my crash pad and either hunt new boulders to clean and climb or revisit projects or old favorites to savor.  As time went on I began more often experience days absent of any kind of enjoyment in my chosen recreational activity.  Most often the curious malady manifested like this:
I would decide to go bouldering and maybe not have a clear idea of where I wanted to go.  I might drive to a couple of different locations before finally deciding to get out of the car and haul my stuff into the woods.  Maybe I’d drop my stuff under a problem, put on my shoes, fiddle with the holds for a bit, and then in apathy pack up and go without having tried very hard to climb.  Then maybe I’d drive to another area looking for inspiration or motivation.  The process would repeat.  A few times I visited three or more locations trying to overturn some spiritual rock and unleash the desire to do what I had gone into the woods aiming to do.
Some days I would return home feeling worse than when I left without having climbed at all.  My apathy disgusted me.  I never guessed that it was a sure symptom of depression.  There were days when I had no reason to be in a bad mood or have dark emotions.  My own misconception of what depression was veiled it from me for so long.
Allie Brosh’s powerful posts about depression on her blog/comic Hyperbole and a Half helped me to understand that what I was going through on almost a daily basis was more than just “being down.” 
At first, I'd try to explain that it's not really negativity or sadness anymore, it's more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can't feel anything about anything — even the things you love, even fun things — and you're horribly bored and lonely, but since you've lost your ability to connect with any of the things that would normally make you feel less bored and lonely, you're stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how boring, lonely, and meaningless it is.  
While many times I was able to glean some satisfaction from my escapist activities for the most part they have always left me wanting more.  I’m never satisfied in my pursuits.  When I’ve wracked my body to the point of exhaustion and fall into a heap I still don’t feel as if I’ve done what I wanted to do.  I have endless lists of accomplishments that mean nothing once completed.  I give up on the lists when the feelings of success don’t follow my intermittent progress.
Maybe none of this is making sense to you.  There are too many details about all of this to share.  It would be too long and too complex to try and convey what my compulsive processes are like. 
When I recently went to Tower Rock with my climbing gear I got back on what had once been an easy boulder traverse for me.  The lower rock, where my feet scrabbled for tiny footholds, was green and damps and slick.  I managed to keep climbing.  My soft pink skin resisted bearing down on the dark coarse rock.  Pain kept me from aggressively flinging myself along the holds toward the end of the traverse.  After a couple of limp-wristed attempts to figure out the old sequence of moves I gave up.  I climbed up on top of a nearby boulder, removed my climbing shoes and stared out into the dense canopy over Sal Branch.  Those old feelings of despair and apathy were choking me again.  With the return to bouldering came the crashing return of that lumbering monster of escapist depression.  There’s not a lonelier place to be. 
 
I sat there for a while.  I begged God for deliverance from those feelings.  And finally I climbed down off the boulder to pack up.  In the back of my mind I kept thinking maybe I would swing by Left Flank on my way home.  It was that same tactic from years ago.  Nothing at Tower had eased my spiritual cramping and yet I believed that a similar visit to another cliffline would be just the tonic I needed.
There are layers to my frustration and depression.  On one hand there are the superficial, almost mindless reactions to my environment.  When I’m not getting the stimulation I need I want to escape from the moment I’m in and race to another in an energy-wasting sprint to nowhere.  But then I see what I’m doing.  I’m so much more self-aware than I ever have been, and yet I can’t mitigate these impacts to myself because to fight my impulsiveness takes more energy than I have.   
My life is more complex than it ever has been.  I’ve built up too many castles in the air without foundations.  It’s taking all of my energy to keep them afloat.  It’s taking too much of my attention to maintain my life lists.  I have too much in the midden heap of my life and can’t find the things that matter.  I only want the things that matter.  I’ve never valued extraneous things.  And yet I keep collecting them as if I do. 
I, I, I, I…
That’s not how I want to be writing. Again with the singular, the royal, the inner. 
Sometimes I’m funny.  It’s something I’ve had to work at my entire life.  I’ve always wanted to be funny and witty, but it’s never come easy for me.  Sometimes I pull it off, and one of the mysterious things about my depression and how it affects my attempts at humor is that when I’m in the deepest blackest hole I find myself also spouting off with the most razor sharp wit.  Every once in a while it feels like if I don’t find humor in my situation, or somehow create some laughter or mirth, that I will go crazy in the darkness.
I wonder if what was going on with Robin Williams was the same kind of desperate attempt to balance out the chaos and turmoil of a troubled soul with what he really wanted to be.  I can only speculate as I know nothing of his personal life or how he was in his private moments.  He seems very human to me now though.  In death he has portrayed himself as just another one of us struggling for meaning and peace.