Thursday, October 30, 2014

Photobombing

Blog inspiration is down.  However, photographic inspiration has quivered the needle lately.  In fussing with my camera to try and improve focus (in truth it might be my cursed eyes) I discovered some interesting camera settings so I played around with them yesterday.  I also recently made a jaunt to Rock Bridge hoping for some stunning fall colors before the wind and rain knocked all the leaves to the ground.  I was somewhat disappointed by the dull showing.  It was partly dreary skies and partly biome.  That Swift Camp Creek Gorge is dark and dank and heavy on the large pine trees.  I discovered the "Pop" setting on my camera the next day.

Oh well.

There is a local adventure race coming up on Saturday.  We're going to be out promoting the Rugged Red Friday night at packet pickup and my plan is to be out on course early Saturday to get photos.  Regional cross country meet for our high schoolers is going on Saturday afternoon.  I'll be snapping the shutter all day.

For now please enjoy my experimentations:

Along Swift Camp Creek Trail, Clifty Wilderness

Swift Camp Creek Trail in Bearpen Branch of Swift Camp Creek



Autumn along the backyard trail






What's black and white and red all over?


 


Kentucky aspens
 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Post-Season Non-Breviloquent Summation


Bean had her very last cross country meet of the 2014 season this past Saturday.  She gathered with thousands of her newest friends at Masterson Station Park in Lexington for the elementary and middle school state championships.  The Powell County elementary school girls’ team didn’t place high, but all of the girls ran hard.  The coach relegated tales of previous years when kids were collapsing and puking at the finish.

That hearkened me back to a regional meet I ran in high school when our coach told us somberly that we’d all get our best times during that meet.  As we toed up to the starting line with a couple hundred other guys and I looked around at my teammates I was pretty sure the look of horror on their faces was mirrored on mine.  I got my best ever times in the mile and 5k that day.  5:55 and 19:49 respectively.

Lily got her best mile time in the 2k race.  I have a photo of her tagging the mile sensor at 9:32.  I’m not sure what her chip times was, but it would have been pretty close to that.  For a seven year old who just started running competitively that’s pretty darn good.  She was hurting like so many others.  She came past me with her hands clasped behind her head and a look of anguish on her face.  She hardly noticed me on the sidelines cheering her on and taking photos.
 
Smile now girls; the pain is about to begin

Lily Bean fighting to the end

Looking like little POWs after crossing the finish line

All the races were deep of field

Sophie (white PC jersey) on her way to eight place
 
Many of the girls were crying, moaning, and staggering toward the finish line.  Those kids pushed themselves hard.  It was obvious they could feel the pressure of the big event.  Spirits were high all around though.  The kids were excited to be there and they all did great.

Sophie Moon, a middle school girl on the team, placed eighth in her race.  She was at least twenty back with a half mile to go.  That kid tore ‘em down to the finish and made good on her assertion that she’d finish in the top ten.  That’s inspiring that is.

Lily says she’ll run next year.  I’m already looking forward to the 2015 cross country season.  It motivates me to run and do push myself seeing these kids find the drive within themselves to do better.  We encourage them, yes, but it’s apparent that the dig deep down and find something within that helps them fight to the finish.

Powell County high school runners still have regional and (hopefully) state competition to go, but the younger kids are all finished until next fall.  Congratulations to all of them and their efforts!

 

I may have mentioned that I have a half-hearted goal of breaking my twenty-six year 5k PR of 19:49.  When I think hard about it I realize 19:48 is a long way from 27:00.  Those years since I was fourteen, when I weighed less than 150 pounds, and was full of stupid energy have morphed my mind and body into a completely different person.  But I still possess the same genetics that made it possible for me to run that fast after a season of goofing off, poor diet, and little focus on improvement.  It was my freshman year of high school. 

These days I can muster more focus.  I’m smarter, have access to better training info, and I deeply feel my mortality.  So there’s that.

Over the weekend a climber friend, Kipp, won a 5k in a time of 19:45.  Kipp is 47 years old.  Now Kipp has been running all summer in longer events.  He finished the Rugged Red well ahead of me.  But if someone 47 years old can best that time then I know I can best that time.  If not now, when?

Another climber friend, in fact a former guided client—Al—won his age division (over 50) at the Stone Steps 50k in Cincinnati recently as well.  I’m perfectly happy with the idea of winning my age division in a race.

Where did this competitive person come from?  I’m not used to these ideas.  I’ve never really been competitive.  Of course I still make goals that are more self-competition that overall, but I do feel an underlying desire to be the guy breaking the tape at the finish.  Maybe because I never have…

Time to go.  I've got work to do.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Ride I Should Have Taken Twenty Years Ago


"When did you start mountain biking?"  Mitchum asked.
"Late '90s.  Buckskin was the first real trail I rode," I nodded out the window in the general direction of the lake.
Mitchum, Jeff and I sat around a table stuffing our faces at Pops BBQ below Cave Run Lake after a grueling seventeen or so mile mountain bike ride.  It was grueling for me and Mitchum because we're not Jeff.
*headsmack*
 
"He's a beast," Mitchum said as we trailed behind Jeff on Big Limestone.  Jeff and Mitchum had been friends since they were nine, so they had a lot of stories of adventures and misadventures to share as we rode.  And Jeff and I have packed in a lot of epic miles in the past two years.  Our three hour outing was quite the jaw session.  Mitchum and I were meeting for the first time, but Jeff had been slanderizing us to each other for a while it seemed.
By the time I was stuffing the massive pulled pork sandwich from Pops into my craw I had decided that I was pretty doggone satisfied with life despite bemoaning my lack of mountain bike fitness all day.  I didn't feel inadequate in my blatant weakness on the bike, and I was finally coming out of my headcold funk.
The fall colors seemed to be at their peak.  Jeff and I hadn't ridden together much except for the Preservation Pedal and the Hub City Tour.  And we were all out at Cave Run for the day because my wife—I love her so—had suggested the trip earlier in the week.  I was apprehensive of riding with someone new after my deplorable couple of laps at Veterans on Friday, but it didn't matter.  I had been frothing to ride for a few weeks. The stars had finally aligned.
I grumbled about by my 1x9 gearing as we climbed up from the visitors' center.  I shook my head in frustration as I walked the crux.  Mitchum accompanied me on more than one walk of shame, so we comforted each other in our non-Jeffness.  Our trio stopped too often, but that only meant more time out in the beautiful weather under the golden light streaming through the autumn canopy.  I know I only need to ride more and the 1x9 will seem fine.  I should resist the urge to go back to 3x9 wussitude.

 
The conversation ran the gauntlet.  Jeff and Mitchum talked about riding around Lexington as kids and at Cave Run twenty years ago.  We ended up comparing our respective experiences at Cave Run as we rode together.  Mitchum and I also talked about the possibilities of bikepacking along the Sheltowee.  As we parted ways at the end of the day he admonished me to get ahold of him if I wanted to give it a go sometime.
It was a relaxing day because we had no real agenda and weren't training for some race.  We ran some new trails and considered taking the Sheltowee into Morehead.
"We could ride into town and get Jimmy John's," Jeff repeated each time we had to decide whether to turn toward Morehead or away. Jeff was all about getting food at the new restaurant; I wanted to check out a couple of the trails that climb up out of town, but was fairly certain I didn't have those kinds of miles in me.

 
Mitchum didn't vocally resist, but I think he leaned more to my camp of wussitude.  In the end we turned back toward the dam and away from town.  The long fast descent down Clack Mountain West was more enjoyable than I'd expected.  We turned on the pavement and I couldn’t help but think the ride could be over if we just pedaled straight back to the cars.  But we had one more trail to ply before the day was out.
It took a little effort to find the Lakeview Trail terminus at the paved road near Twin Knobs, but soon enough we were headed back into the woods.  Just before the long brutal climb back to the ridge crest we crossed a wooden bridge.  The bridge made me think that Cave Run has a mountain biking renaissance coming.  We all agreed that things were better than they had been around the turn of the millennium and into the twenty-teens.  Recent efforts to sort out the different user groups in the area have awakened interest in the trails around the lake.  A new day has dawned for certain.

Mitchum on Lakeview Trail
The climb up Lakeview was taxing.  We paid for the long miles and sorry preparation.  I vowed silently to get back on the bike more.  I mean to keep the promise to myself.  But I mean to keep the promise while staying in running shape too.
As I listened to Jeff and Mitchum talk about riding Caney Loop before the horse people destroyed it I couldn't help but wish I'd been more of a mountain biker earlier in my life.  I try not to regret things like that too strongly because my life could have been far different if I'd been a hardcore mountain biker instead of on the path to becoming a climbing guide.  I might not have met my future wife.  And I don't want to imagine what that life would have been like.
Maybe I should have been more open to riding my bike at Cave Run twenty years ago.  Or maybe the other day was as perfect as it gets: eating damn good BBQ after riding til it hurt with good friends, and then eagerly anticipating my return home to a loving wife and kids. 
Cave Run is less than an hour from home, and I can justify making the trip and spending most of the day riding there because there are enough miles of trails and gravel roads to make it worthwhile.  The Sheltowee Trace between the visitors' center to Big Limestone is worth the trip alone.  The area's not close enough to home to get old quickly, and there's this great little BBQ joint below the dam.
I guess I'll be telling more Cave Run tales in the future.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Running Amok or: How I Learned to Overcome Adversity in Style


It’s been a long week Dear Readers.  And this post is getting out to you late on Thursday.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to fire up the old creative gin for another post tomorrow so I better make this one count.  Prepare yourselves for a rambling discombobulating trip report.
I’ve briefly mentioned the 10,000 step challenge going on at work.  I’ve been put on a team with the quirky middle-age tech geek in the office.  Can you say ‘borderline autistic’?  I knew you could!  I imagine he has some Hollyfeld-esque machine cranking his Pebble© around in perfect gaited circles in the steam tunnels beneath the office.  Seems last time we had one of these challenges he racked up an astounding one meelion steps.  Rule of thumb says that’s 100 days at a 10,000 mpd average.  Or roughly 600 miles of walking.  I’d see the guy walking laps around the building in the pre-dawn hours before work all the time.  I just can’t imagine how he got that many miles without hacking the Pebble© or cheating with a walking machine.
So this go round I decided I would stack the odds in my favor.  I’m still in decent running shape so I thought I’d just run every day.  I’d be competing against Betsy—who won the Iron Horse the past two years—and Chip, who ran the Iron Horse in a respectable 1:45.  They both run at lunch and Chip stated that one of his goals was to ramp up to 7 miles within his lunch hour.
My strategy was simple: run miles each day.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?
I was lazy Sunday so I had some making up to do.  On Monday I had a meeting in London.  I planned to have a running lunch before the meeting.  The obvious spot was where the Sheltowee Trace intersects I-75.  That plan involved the least amount of driving and additional time.  I would run south from I-75 along the not-quite-notorious Cromer Ridge section of the Trace.  Reportedly Cromer had been afflicted with the same tank traps and downed tree roadblocks as the White’s Branch section of the Trace near home.  I was curious how long the section was and to what extent it had been destroyed.
The trailhead is in the boonies despite its proximity to the interstate so I was able to stand outside my car and change into my running clothes.  The skies threatened rain, but it seemed like it would hold off long enough for me to squeeze in the run.  I locked my doors, stowed my car key and phone, and headed into the unknown.
The initial section was wide gravel road.  In fact, I could have driven another three quarters of a mile down the road with no problems.  If I had that would have made the run that much better, as I could have gotten further down the trail, but we’ll get to that.  After the initial road section I came to a turnoff to the south and immediately came to the terminus of the navigable road.  There was a sign informing potential users of the “project” that had been carried out on the NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL just ahead.


First let me just say I am all for restoration. But I am also a big proponent for trails through our public lands.  Why have public lands if the public has no access to them?  They might as well be private if that’s the case.  Private lands tend to be better managed from an impact standpoint anyway.
The sign at Cromer states that the work was performed under a grant from the EPA.  Now, I’m not one to badmouth the EPA (I like breathing clean air and drinking clean water more than I like driving or using electricity), but I do like to give the USFS the rough side of my tongue for its persistent efforts to break up and destroy the Sheltowee Trace.  The fact that taxpayer dollars were used to eradicate a section of a long distance National Recreation Trail is contemptible. 
In his account of thru-running the Sheltowee Matt Hoyes writes that Steve Barbour (Sheltowee Trace Association) referred to this section as the “steeplechase”.  That’s an apt description.  While the road is still technically open to foot traffic and presumably to mountain bikes it is not a pleasant section to hike or run.  The USFS has intentionally downed trees and dug tank traps at frequent regular intervals for a full 0.8 mile.  They did the same thing on White’s Branch on three different sections of road/trail.
Intentionally felled trees between tank traps

This was the initial barrier.  Those pipes are full of concrete.  On a narrow ridge this is basically enough
to keep out ATVs and dirt bikes.  The remainder of the destruction is not really necessary.
 
I did okay running through the section.  I averaged 11:58/mi for the entire 6.5 mile run, but going and coming I ran through the destroyed section at 14:38/mi and 16:06/mi respectively.  My legs looked like hamburger afterward from the thick briars that have choked the trail since human traffic has been cut off through the area.  That’s a major factor in trails disappearing in this ecosystem.  Thick briars are typically the pioneer species that take over open areas on the Cumberland Plateau.  Even in trafficked areas they’re hard to keep at bay.  Where foot traffic is sparse they take over completely.  And if not briars then small scrub pines that become too thick to wade through will take over. 
To me it seems like varying agencies in the federal government are trying to fracture Kentucky’s longest trail.  Maybe it’s not a conscious effort to close the trail, but I wouldn’t rule it out
Anyway, I was talking about running
After I escaped Cromer’s bad section I ran along another open gravel FS road for a short distance before the Trace dove into the forest as a singletrack trail.  I was ready to turn back at that point, but I decided I had to run some of the actual trail, so I dropped off the road and into the unexpected but idyllic Sheltowee section ahead.  I watched my time and distance and once I knew I was more than 5k out from the car I turned back and climbed back up to the road and the ridge crest.  I was reluctant to turn back, but I enjoyed the lonely section of trail I found.  It was obvious it didn’t get a lot of traffic either, but it was a well-built and enjoyable section to travel.  I wish I had made it to a logical termini, but I'll connect through to KY 80 next time I'm in the area.  I wasn't far from where I had my last Sheltowee MTB ride.
I fought my way back through Cromer and found my car unmolested.  I changed back into my meeting-acceptable clothing as rain began to fall.  The timing was perfect.  I then headed out to an ironic meeting about signage along the Boone Trace from Cumberland Gap to Boonesborough State Park
I will say that I was able to run through the steeplechase stupidity steadily and in some ways it was fun.  I can’t imagine facing those obstacles as a long distance backpacker with a traditional load on my back though.  From a bikepacking standpoint it would be a frustrating obstacle to overcome, but considering it’s less than a mile in length I don’t think Cromer alone would deter me from riding through that area.  White’s Branch is a whole different story because you already have to detour around Natural Bridge Fascist Park…I mean State Park, and the detour routes that would put you at the park boundary have been destroyed in the same manner.  It would be a few miles of bushwhack-a-bike and that just sucks
Tuesday night Bean had her last home cross country meet.  Once again I was corner marshal in the creepy woods.  At the request of the coach I dressed as the grim reaper and some other parents decorated the woods with spooky yard decorations (like a bunch of headstones).  My son found a piece of rope, tied a respectable noose, and hung it from a tree near the course.
 

"Death by Cross Country"
We opted not to scare the elementary runners and focus our efforts on the middle and high school races.  Bean came in ninth in her race and did her mile in less than ten minutes.  We were all stoked about that.  And then the elementary kids came over into the woods with me in my costume to scare the older kids.  At one point I had all the elementary kids laying in the cemetery like they were dead, and I called out to passing varsity runners that if they were tired we still had plenty of room for them to lay down and “have a rest.”  I also called out to some of our team that I would come after them if they didn’t run faster.  I got a lot of chuckles and only one horrified reaction that I know of.  It was darn hard to see through that hood
Yesterday the creeping reality of a head cold finally caught up with me.  I’d been ignoring it since Sunday but finally nothing would veil the fact that I was running down and needed a break.  I stayed home and did very little on Wednesday.  Even today I’m not 100% and doubt I’ll clock in the requisite Pebble© results.  By running about 6 miles I can really boost my numbers, but I have to do it every day.  That’s hard to do.  Our team is still in first place, but I’m way down in the standings.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn Run

I ran hard.  The cool air was conducive for an all out effort.  I was determined to have a PR on THE Loop in front of the house.  I should have known my chances were slim when I got to the road and discovered my running shorts were on inside out.

I took off at a fast cadence.  I charged up the backside of Granny Moppet hill (Granny's Fanny) and down into town still feeling strong.  As usual I slowed going into mile three, but I jacked up the cadence again for Steamshovel Hill and carried on over the top taking in the muted overcast autumn vista of Kaincaid Mountain and Turkey Knob.

As I ran through the tunnel of trees along Steamshovel I breathed deep in the crisp earthy air.  The smile on my face was unbreakable.  The hardest sections of the loop were behind me.  I resisted the urge to take out my phone and look at the time.  I was going for a PR.

Finally I was back on my own road—on the mile stretch of asphalt I've traveled more than any other in the world—and I pushed strong.  My cadence was fast and solid.  The further I went the harder I pushed.  The effort only managed my third best time on the loop.  By less than a minute.

I'd hoped for another surprise performance like my run at LAC the other day.  Not so much.  Regardless it was a good run.  

It almost didn't happen.  There was the aforementioned wardrobe reversal.  The shorts were clean, so there wasn't a real danger in pushing forward with my seams showing.  While I would later revel in the chill misty air after my heart got all pitta-patter when I first stepped out of the house I almost aborted.  

I had already stalled for a half hour.  I'd wussed from running in the woods because it was the first day of muzzleloader season.  I didn't think I'd be mistaken for a whitetail, but I didn't want to take a chance.  And now we're going into the deer season gauntlet.  It's a frustrating time of year to be a non-hunting trail user.

Finally I leapt from the cliff and took off.  It wasn't cold enough that I noticed the chill once I was moving.  Once I completed the loop I had another four miles under my belt.  That's four more base miles.  That's four miles closer to being fit enough for the Cloudsplitter 100 next fall.  That's four more miles of cardio conditioning.  That's a few hundred more calories burned.  I was fueled by homemade chili and home grown (baked) potatoes.

Sunday was lazy.  Mandy ran with a friend who was just beginning a couch to 5k plan.  It might be good for both of us to drop back to shorter distances and work on speed and efficiency for a while.  I've been running four or more miles because it's convenient.  Maybe the distance isn't as important right now.

Anyway, fall is in full swing and I fell like I'm letting it get away from me.  I need to get out with my camera before it's too late.

Friday, October 17, 2014

LACtic Acid Trip


Months ago I started training for the Rugged Red.  I eased into long distance trail running.  First I took short non-technical runs.  I built up distance on the road and increased the frequency of my trail runs until I was ready for a distinct testpiece: Sand Turtle.  I decided for my first eight mile run since 2013’s Iron Horse training regime I would run the Sand Gap loop at Natural Bridge State Park.  It ended up being nine and a half miles instead of eight, but it was a strong effort even if it had something of a fluke factor.  That would be my fastest trail running pace all summer and into the fall.

Until yesterday.

The Sand Turtle loop (so named because it utilizes the Sheltowee Trace and the Sand Gap Trail) involves a hard climb up the Low Gap Trail from the trailhead to the Rock Garden Trail.  The final elevation is gained from the base of Natural Bridge to the ridge top.  From that point the run is miles of flat ridge running followed by a long gradual descent with a few short rolling climbs.  I averaged 11:07/mi that day. 

I had a meeting in Versailles.  Fittingly it was a Bluegrass Bike, Hike, Horseback Trails Alliance (BBHHTA) meeting to begin a new phase of the project in Woodford and Franklin Counties.  I decided for lunch I would have a nice trail run at Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass (LAC).  What I didn’t realize (until my run was over) was that the trails are “mountain bikes only.”  Oops.

There was a saving grace.  I’ll get to that.  Right away.

I locked and closed my car door.  I stuffed my phone and car key in a zip lock and turned toward the trail.  The field off to the north was fuzzy gray with a misting rain.  The cool air and droplets on my skin were refreshing.  It was nice to be in the outside and have such compelling visceral evidence that I wasn’t trapped in a cubicle.
 
 

It was unlikely there would be any mountain bikers on the trails on a cool, rainy Thursday afternoon.  My presence wasn’t apt to intrude upon anyone else’s experience, and my footprints were likely to do far less damage to the trails than a mountain bike would.  Of course LAC seems to hold up well in wet weather.  I’m fairly certain other than the risk of skidding out the trails were actually in good shape for riding.  But I had a good go of it anyway.

My initial effort was sluggish.  I’d run the night before at the city park in Stanton.  I did a 5k with a full lap of strides followed by two circuits of running the bleachers at the football field.  I did a little core and halfhearted pullups as well.  So Thursday afternoon my legs were heavy and stiff.  I wasn’t going for speed.  LAC was about getting in some miles for base purposes and to boost my numbers in the 10,000 step challenge at work. 

Little did I know the first mile on the trails was somewhat of a record for me.  My pace was 9:07/mi for the first mile, 10:25/mi for the second, and then in the 11 minute realm for all of the others except one.  I ran 5.3 miles total and the Knucklehead Trail—as it’s called—drops into a drainage from the parking area, climbs the other side and returns.  It’s not an easy trail.  I’ve been frustrated on the bike there each time I’ve gone.
 
 

Not so as a trail runner.  I averaged a 10:58/mi pace.  Considering that on the road I’m about a 9:00/mi runner and on the trails I’ve been happy to average anything under a 12:00/mi pace I’ll take it.  I don’t think it was a fluke either.  I had to fight to run that pace, but I didn’t run too hard.  I was shooting for miles not performance.  I just needed to keep moving to get in an out at a consistent pace.  For me, good results on a long run are more about maintaining elusive focus than in pushing harder.

Lately I’ve been working on more focused training.  Contrary to our long held philosophy it’s not all training after all.  Strides have been incorporated into my workout runs and I’ve tried to segregate my efforts into “workout” and “base miles.”  While I’ve not had great numbers on my workouts it seems like maybe they’re paying off.  I’m attributing my fast trail run to the concerted effort I’ve started putting into getting faster.

Now really there is little chance I’d already be seeing gains from more specific training.  It’s been two weeks since I first tried strides.  On the other hand, I’ve been working on retraining my brain to run a faster cadence for a little longer than I’ve been doing strides.  My mental game was on as well, and I pushed through those initial sluggish moments and stayed in the mindset of keeping a fast cadence even when climbing. 

Despite a thin carpet of wet leaves and slickery surface conditions I didn’t worry too much about losing traction.  I just ran smart and didn’t try to do anything sudden. 
 
Still a lot of green
 
LAC is a unique trail system.  It criss-crosses a cool limestone based stream and runs along old stone fences in places.  I saw white-tail deer all through the area.  Fall is in full swing all over the state even if peak color is still a ways out. 

I had a surprisingly good run, both from an experiential standpoint and a performance standpoint.  And no mountain bikers were hurt in the making of the experience.  This gives me a boost of confidence that I can see improvements.  I need to work harder if I truly do want to become a faster runner though.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Breakin' All the Rules


For a long time I replayed those moments on the side of the road when I gave up. I leap from the present moment to that one as a specter and whisper in that person's ear and say in desperation: "Do it!  Get back on the bike and ride!"  He doesn't listen.  There's no changing that moment; only reliving it.

Excerpt from Leadville or Bust

 

Random book share.  No reason.  I’m trying to move toward publication and promotion.  Getting the word out a little more.

Anyway, we started a 10,000 step challenge at work.  I thought there would be cake.

Wait, let me rephrase that: I thought it was going to be cake.  Man, that spoonful of oatmeal just ain’t gonna cut it today.

Anyway…anyway!

I’m running again.  Mandy will be running as soon as her soft tissue all spontaneously reconnects.  Then we’ll be back to crushing local KOMs and QOMs.  Of course there’s no one but ourselves to compete against.  It’s nice, but depressing both at the same time.

Last night I took Speedy Bean to cross country practice.  Another week and the season will pretty much be over.  Three more meets jammed into an impossibly short time period.  She’ll do fine.

Attendance was sparse last night so she didn’t have her other elementary buddies to run with.  The coach sent her off basically by herself to run two mile along the outer perimeter or the Lion’s Club Park, which is essentially a treeline at the edge of a mowed field.  In a couple of places the course dips into the trees.  I didn’t think anything about it.  Coach didn’t think anything about it.  But Bean on the other hand, it being so close to Halloween and all, was a tiny, teensy, horribly awful bit freaked out by running through the woods all by herself.

Some of the kids ran clockwise and some counter.  Bean took off counter and I decided to run the opposite because Coach’s rule is parents are welcome to run during practice, just not with their own child. 

I was running because I wanted to run and to boost my first day’s steps in the challenge.  The first time I passed Beanie she tried to get me to stop with tears.  She claimed her feet hurt which is code for “I don’t want to do this.”  I encouraged her to keep going.  She called out that Coach had told her she couldn’t walk.  I called over my shoulder to run a little slower then.  I could tell she was trying to deflect.  Bean can be a bit lazy when it comes to practice.  She gets it honest.

After we moved back to Kentucky my sophomore year I ran track as a poor substitute for my beloved cross country.  Some of my less ambitious teammates and I would sneak off from the track, get in our cars and go to Hardees (Carl Jr’s for you westerners) for burgers.  We learned our lesson the time Ovie (the coach) caught us coming back and made us run more laps with burger-full bellies.  I confessed this to him at the beginning of the Natural Bridge 5k last year.  He laughed.

Anyway, I kept running and Bean went on.  I met her again on her second lap and in the middle of my third.  She was getting ready to go into the woods and she actually ran straight at me, forcing me to stop, and grabbed my hand.  I knew something was up.  I said I would break the rule and run with her back to the finish.  In the past she’s wanted to quit when she found herself running all alone.  I looked around and it hit me.

“Are you just freaked out because you’re by yourself?”

She nodded, flinging hot tears everywhere.

“Okay, let’s go,” I said as we took off.  She ran strong.  It was apparent her feet didn’t hurt.  And she didn’t ask to stop again.  She didn’t want to run alone.  And looking around I could see why. For long stretches if there are only a few people out it would be possible to not see anyone else.  It would be pretty lonely for a seven year old, no matter how brave, to be in that situation.

She finished her laps strong in a dead sprint against her dad.  She won. 

I apologized to the coach, but I think she understood.

Today I have an afternoon meeting in Frankfort.  My plan had been to run at Capitol View during lunch.  The weather isn’t cooperating.  Rain.  Rain.  More rain.  Potential for thunderstorms and severe weather.  If it was a morning meeting and I could just run and skip on home it might be feasible.  I can’t justify the hog wallop that would be if I were to take to the trails this afternoon though.

If things clear up I’ll have a lunchtime opportunity for a run at Life Adventure Center on Thursday.  I’m not holding my breath.  And if it were drier conditions I’d be hauling the MTB instead of running.  It’s been too long.  And the bike is back in operational mode.

For now I may be relegated to hard surface running.  Hopefully by the weekend I can at least get back on the backyard trail. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Feeding the Obsession


My amazing wife is…amazing.  I’m so proud of her for pushing through the pain of the couch to run the Iron Horse Half Marathon yesterday.  She’s pretty sore today, but she’s coming around. 
We’ve got to stop doing this stuff to ourselves.  I don’t mean we need to quit running, cycling, and otherwise cavorting over the face of the planet.  We need to stop with the half-hearted efforts to be fit.
Both of us.
We’ve faked our way through some pretty tough events.  The last few months I’ve been content to let my “experience” with endurance events carry me through some rough suffering.  The Hub City Tour was a wakeup call for me.  While I can ride a century off the couch it’s just not fun.  I’ve got to evict the Blerch from around my middle.  I feel the strength and potential in me.  I’ve felt it my whole life.  But I keep it shackled with apathy, doubt, and fat. 
When I set out to ride the Leadville 100 I decided what I needed to prove to myself and to the world was that an average guy with limited resources could train for and finish a one hundred mile mountain bike race.  I did that.  I’m not satisfied with my effort, but I achieved my goal. 
The whole sordid affair began with a muttered “I could never do that.”  That thought evolved into a silent “could I ever do that?” and finally into “I’m going to do that.”  It took two years before I was open to the prospect of actually doing the race and another three before I had crossed the finish line.
Somewhere along the way—in a discussion about the famed Leadville 100 mile foot race—I once again muttered “I could never do that.”  Actually, I think the thought was more like “that’s @#$%ing insane!”  But whatever.
What the average guy set out to do was get fit and have fun doing an endurance event.  I didn’t set out to just tick off a bunch of events.  I didn’t set out to set PRs.  I didn’t set out to become a pro racer.  The key was getting fit.  I knew to pull off my goals I’d have to change my lifestyle.  I knew by investing in the entry fees and a nice bike and in the time to train that I would feel the pressure to succeed that I couldn’t slap on myself otherwise.
Unfortunately I sort of proved that you can be mediocre and finish.  I also proved to myself that I wasn’t happy with just finishing.  Maybe my dissatisfaction was related to the realization that I could sort of fake it.  With enough mechanical advantage and fueling tricks you can finish a hundred mile mountain bike race.  So the challenge didn’t take me far enough.
 
Remember I said the Kentucky Century Challenge lived up to its name for me this year?  That’s because I was completely unprepared for it.  I suffered through the Preservation Pedal and the Hub City Tour.  The Redbud Ride wasn’t a piece of cake either, despite my completing it on my cargo bike just for kicks.   
I even felt somewhat soft on the Mohican despite finishing it.  My time was wretched.  It was more than two hours slower than the (sort of) comparable Alpine Odyssey. 
I was happy with my Rugged Red time, but I won’t be satisfied with that pace ever again.  I know I can run faster.
Yeah, suddenly the numbers matter again, but only as an indicator of my progress.  Like I said a few posts ago, I don’t need to pay someone to hand me snacks.  I can go out and do a run for myself and see the progress I want to see.
The difference comes in ultras.  I honestly don’t think I can do a hundred mile trail run outside of an event without employing most of my inner circle of friends and promising them things I may not be able to deliver.  If I ever want to do a one hundred mile foot race I need to aim at an event.  Leadville automatically leaps to mind.  Cloudsplitter is there as well, as my home state’s first hundred mile ultra.  There’s the Mohican.  And there are others.  But Leadville and Cloudsplitter are paramount.  Cloudsplitter makes the most sense.  Leadville is a continuation of the saga I’ve started and am already in the process of chronicling.  To take that path makes sense in that it will lead into a logical sequel to my first book.
Hey, I gotta feed my family man!
I’ve never made the true mental change I need to make.  I’ve faked my way along to this point.  Somehow I have to find the will to flip the switch in my brain.  I have to stop being lazy when it comes to (everything) training and nutrition.  I have to stop taking the easy path.  It’s internal, all of it, every obstacle and patch of friction. 
Regardless of whether I ever run another organized race in my life this is a change I want to make.  I’m forty years old with the health habits of an eleven year old.  I need to be a better example for my family.  I need to be better support for them in their own health and wellness.  I’m smart, and I know what good habits are.  I just don’t have them.  If not now, then when?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Props


I’ve written before about how mountain biking or long distance road cycling appeals to me in that I can cover a large amount of ground for the least return on investment in energy.  The mechanical advantage and structural support the bike provides allows you to maximize the potential of the human body.
I guess I’ve spoiled myself from an endurance activity standpoint.  No, not “spoiled” but set myself up for a huge fall.  Lemme ‘splain.
I was out on some long training run for the Rugged Red.  I was miles from anywhere.  Alone.  I had enough food and water to just get me through the run.  I had no other survival gear, no light, no first aid gear.  Nothing.  Nada.  Nyet.  Nien. 
It was a happy-go-lucky run until I got turned around a little bit and lost some time.  Then when I started feeling the first hints of cramps I realized I might be effed.  At that point I was about three miles from a trailhead that was still another three from my car.  Now, I can probably crawl three miles and beg for help if I have to, but I don’t ever wanna. 
 
It's a long way to crawl from here
 
Something hit me, and it wasn’t just another spider web in the face though there were plenty that day.  I didn’t have the bike to support me.  I was on my own: 100% human powered with no mechanical advantage.  That led me to begin thinking more of the bike as a participant propelled SAG vehicle.  That’s what it is.  That’s why Leadville was possible for me (or anyone).  I had the bike to lash additional gear to, to keep me upright when I was lightheaded and wrung out, to provide the occasional opportunity for coasting, and ultimately to prolong my suffering performance using less energy.
I haven’t truly articulated all of this in my mind until now, but I’ve been chewing on it all summer and into the fall.  But now I think I realize why trail running went from something I was dabbling in to something I gave the normal level of Chainring obsess.  I mean, it’s right up there with coffee and mountain biking.
I’ve been in some remote places all alone.  I enjoy finding myself sitting on some spire of rock with nothing but acres of empty sky surrounding me.  I like being able to look back upon miles and miles of land below me and know it will be hours before I am both literally and figuratively out of the woods.  That’s my drug of choice.  That is where I find my heaven.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love mountain biking.  The proprioceptive benefits alone make it like crack-cocaine for me.  If my kids didn’t whine so much about eating I would just quit my job and mountain bike all the time.  I can relate; I whine when I’m hungry too.
Anyway, I don’t dismiss the inherent risks of solo adventuring; especially on foot in remote places.  And I hold no illusions that being on the bike is any less committing or more “safe” than hiking, mountaineering, or trail running.  There have been times I’ve been out on the bike and been cognizant of how truly screwed I would be if I were to have a crash, or an unfixable flat, or a major mechanical.  It’s why thinking about the Tour Divide gives me a little flutter in my belly before the grin spreads across my face.
Commitment and remoteness are relative to a point.  Beyond a certain threshold on any adventure you can find yourself committed to your marrow and effectively isolated from comfort and security.  That can happen on a ten mile bike commute in sub-zero temperatures.  That can happen on a family hike in a state park.  That can happen on a midweek six mile trail run in rural Appalachia.  It doesn't have to be getting socked in by a nor'easter in the Rocky Mountains during the apocalypse.  The combinations of conditions that can lead to disaster on any adventure are infinite and hard to completely mitigate.  But that's why adventure is fun.
 
 

My natural progression has gone from obsessive hiking, to a brief hiccup as a rock climber, to organized century rides, to endurance mountain bike racing, and now to long distance (eventually ultra?) trail running.  After the past couple of years I find myself growing tired of the event scene.  It’s been too much money (and not that much!), too much time, and not enough return on investment.
To me it seems like running should be more like climbing was.  I saw a line I wanted to do and did it.  I didn’t have to pay someone to give me snacks along the way.  So I didn’t get medals for my accomplishments...  I wasn’t after medals then.  I don’t think I want to be after medals now.
On the ultra side of things I think I might still be in it for events and medals for a time.  There is the Cloudsplitter, which is in my backyard, and Leadville, which is kind of ingrained in my psyche for the time being.  But I can come up with plenty of schemes for 50k and less that don’t involve a bib number and aid stations.
Adventure isn’t found between ribbons on a course.  While it can be rewarding and challenging, relying on race organizers for your experience leaves you with something less than perfect.  At least in my mind…

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Perfect Crime


Good gosh darn it!  I want to get back on my mountain bike!
I finally have it back together.  I was sick last week.  It’s been raining since I started feeling better.  Muddy trails do not a triumphant comeback make.  Fathead Cyclist made a blog post about getting away with the perfect crime a couple of days ago and it really struck a chord in me.  Ride dammit, ride!
My vintage sporty sport bike has lazed against my cubicle wall unridden so long its tires have gone flat.  I suck as a cyclist these days.  Somebody needs to give me a copy of Breaking Away and lock me in a room with a box of gels and a cooler of sports drink until I come out singing a better tune.
It’s the same old crapola that keeps me from riding.  The sporty sport bike has gummed up cables and housings.  It’s far enough gone that I just need new ones.  You really need your gears in my neck of the woods to get anywhere.  Not being able to shift the rear derailer at will makes for not fun riding which makes for not riding at all.
I had major rear wheel issues with the mountain bike earlier in the summer (think Mohican 100) and it just took some time to get everything back together.  I do still need one set of brake pads.  The shop was out of them and I’ve been waiting.  Jack.
On a happier note, the Cannonball is in fine working order.  I even swapped to clipless pedals for my imminent poaching of the Red River Rally but my beleaguered physiological system wasn’t up for that type of shenanigans on Saturday.  And technically Minus (N-1) only needs a spritz of air.
Lately I’ve been dreaming of climbing some hills; of getting back out on the roads and just riding.  That, and some joker stole my KOM on the Pompeii Climb in Clay City.  Actually it was three jokers, and I’d worked hard to take that KOM away from a past Red River Rallyer.  I’m not above using a car.  Strava terrorism has an appeal all its own.
It’s fall.  The mountain bike is where it’s at.  If I get my $#!+ together and the weather cooperates I’ll have two opportunities to ride next week and one the week after.  Truth is there are a lot of days I could be riding at Veterans if I would just get out there.  Or doing some road riding on Minus.  Ah geez, I’m not turning in my running shoes for a bike!  Okay?  It’s just…grrr…I’m so confused!
Anyway, sorry for that little outburst.  There’s a lot I could be doing, and I’m doing nothing.  I need schemes.
Mountain biking, Pottsville cranking adventures, front door touring, bikecragging…there are so many options. 
 
There's not much we can't do
 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Craft of Photography


Looking at all of my old images has gotten me thinking a little more philosophically about photography.  Now, to snap you a clear picture up front, I am not the most technically proficient photographer.  I’ve always struggled with the mechanics of photography and the superficial quality of my images suffers accordingly.
I’ve been told I have a good eye for photography and I’ve tried to develop that over time.  My personal feeling is that I have a long way to go in developing it, but every once in a while I accidentally capture an amazing image.  My great images get buried in a deluge of mediocre-at-best photos and some bad editing.  I’m weak at color balance.  I can crop out bad composition with the best of them, but I have ruined good pictures with a heavy hand on the photoshop buttons.
What I’d like to delve into is how I get images.  I touched on it a little yesterday, but I have a deep philosophy on the who, what, when, where and how of taking good photos.  Of my two photographic skills (the other being an eye for composition) this might be the stronger.
Basically my philosophy is to be in the right place at the right time.  It’s being ready to capture the images as best as I can.  Sometimes I know I’m not going to get the image I want because I don’t have the right lens or that I don’t have the knowledge.  The internet has been great at providing some good on-the-fly education as well as helping me to plan for some big images I wanted to capture.  Most notably has been the attempts to capture meteor showers and other night sky phenomenon.  

 

The photo of the fireworks in downtown Denver in my previous post exemplifies my philosophy.  We had heard that the city was going to put on a “family” fireworks show at 9pm on New Year’s Eve.  I did my research, found out where the fireworks were going to be fired off from, and then determined the best place to set up and get the shots I wanted.  I’d had some meager experience shooting fireworks from the Fourth of July that year.  I knew where I had made mistakes and I was prepared to do better.
Everything went off without a hitch.  I love the image I share in my last post.  Technically it was an order of magnitude better than my previous efforts.  I snagged the image I wanted.  But of course I had to go to the image.  I didn’t wait for it to come to me.
The photo of Tomahawk on Furnace Mountain was an image I had in my mind for a few months, but it was totally providential.  I was on my way home after picking Boone up from my sister-in-law’s house and saw Tom headed for that overlook on his bike.  I slowed down and told him what I wanted to do, turned around in the middle of the road, and went back and waited for him to ride past.  It was impromptu but also staged.  The light was bad, and I hate Tom’s shirt, but I got a decent representation of the image I wanted.
I go into the evolution of an image in this post from the Pavement’s Edge.  It’s possible you might see a more advanced form of the Furnace Mountain image at some point in the future, but my real point is that sometimes a good image comes from months or even years of development in the mind and through moving yourself to better and better locations to find the more perfect composition, lighting, and subject matter. 
Sometimes it’s difficult to get the right lighting and that takes the determination to revisit a place, no matter how difficult to get back to, to get the best conditions.  Better yet to plan ahead and be there in good light the first time.  
Another key to capturing good images it to be willing to step out of your normal life stream and take the image.  Early in my photography someone told me to take my camera everywhere.  I don’t do that—except I do carry my iPhone everywhere—but I try to have it when I know I’ll be inclined to take photos or when the possibility for good subject matter or good light will exist.
But the other component of that is to be willing to pull the car over or even turn it around and stop and take the photo.  The black and white chapel photo in yesterday’s post was like that.  I was returning home from a conference in Estes Park in some heavy, wet, early season snow and we drove past the Chapel on the Rock in Allenspark.  With the snow coming off Longs Peak, the shining snow white of the roof, and the rough texture of the stone walls I was stricken.  Mandy said: “So turn around and go back.”  So I did.  My family sat patiently in the car as I snapped four photos of the building.  They are some of my favorite photos to date.  There’s something about the ambiance.  It looks a like a storm off the mountain is getting ready to overwhelm the building even as it shines in the sun. 
To me it’s worth the effort to carry the camera along on my adventures.  That image of Mandy summiting the Third Flatiron is one I love.  There is a lot of personal history there.  It hearkens back to our childless days when we were mostly carefree and had some great adventures.  That day was special to me because we got to relive the “good old days” for a brief moment and it was a big adventure to boot, not just some pretend mock up.
I’ve learned to take decent photos from the saddle of my bike.  That photo of Tom on the Switzerland Trail was taken as I rode along the rough road behind him.
My propensity for lonely places has taught me to get clean photos like the one of the crowdless panorama of Chicago’s Millennium Park and the Cloud Gate sculpture.  I had to get up really early to get that and a few others of the famed sculpture.  Of course I was out on a run and took them with my phone.  I’ve learned not to instantly discredit images because of the device used to capture them.

Sunrise from Natural Bridge taken with phone camera

Well, that’s another good rambling non-lesson on photography.  I hope it might inspire you to go out and capture some good images of your own to share.

On a side note: my wife and I used to be notorious for taking good self-portraits.  We have a lot of photos of the two of us in places we visited because we stopped to take the photo.  I had learned how to take arm’s length self-portraits back in my film days so we have a series of photos of the two of us in good focus with some stunning backdrops.  My all-time favorite photo of us (and of myself I might add) is in the fading afternoon light on top of Table Rock, North Carolina after climbing Helmet Buttress and Block Route. 

We have the original color print hanging on our fridge
 
 LATE UPDATE:

Last night was a crazy moon and storms were rolling through.  I stepped outside and saw the moon illuminating huge white cumulonimbus with silver light.  I ran back in and grabbed the camera and tripod but nasty gray lower clouds obscured them before I could get setup.  I grabbed the best images I could get.  The clouds were moving so fast that at a long shutter speed I just couldn't get a clear image.  These were the best two.