Saturday, October 31, 2015

Idea Man

I like to ride my bicycle; I like to ride my bike.



I have tried to remind myself of that the past year. I haven't been a road cyclist at all in 2015. Other than the failed Redbud Ride anyway... My cargo bike has been stabled all year too. I've got to get on the Training Partner to put my hydro brakes together. Maybe offer him some mad stacks. Minus the mad or the stacks...

Anyway, after the Grand Trail Revival in Des Moanes early this week I am fired up. I was so fired up for Trails this week that last night I ran up in the woods and chopped at the ground in a penitent flurry of trail building activity. My backyard trail has a long way to go, but I've neglected it too long. I need me a loop for quick fixes and nighttime rides. Oh yes, I'm a true nocturnal believer now!

2015 was a year for good ideas. There are a lot flying around now. I need to act on them. I need to convert more neophyte acolytes to the cause! One thing the MATAG Conference instilled in me is that we, in Kentucky, have not done enough to develop and build bike-ped infrastructure. In almost every other medium-sized city I've been in during my adult-sized life I have seen a web of multiuse paths and good sidewalks and bike lanes and bike shops and bike, bike, bike... Well, you get the point.

It's not that Lexington doesn't have some of that. But we're living in a Mark Twain end of the world scenario. Everyone else has a whole lot more. And small town/rural Kentucky is stuck in the 1980s from a transportation standpoint. It's all abut the car, except when its about the side-by-side ATV.

Time to dust off the ole Cannonball. Time to whip the Sporty Sport Bike back into Shape. Time to act on some of these Good Ideas and make things happen. And we're talking multiuse paths, new singletrack trails, and organized events, culture building, river restoration, canoe races, etc, etc.

Some exciting things are already going on. Since July myself and a few others have been working on expanding the meager MTB fare on Red River Climbers Coalition land in Lee County. It's going slow right now, but I think by spring we'll reach a tipping point. More Central KY mountain bikers are interested in the project, and I think once they see and get a taste for what's there that the miles will crank out like Play-Doh from a press.

There's an exciting development just outside of town. It would result in only a mile of singletrack, but it would be within riding distance of my house and be 100% legit. And that potential one mile loop would be in a venue perfect for biking and running events.

And the backyard trail...I've neglected it for too long. I could have a 1+ mile loop one which to get my quickies and even to do some trail run training. Why haven't I expended the energy to develop the tools right outside my kitchen window? For shame!

I can point to exactly the reasons my interest in writing and advocating for the bike has waned. I live in a place with no cycling culture. None. Nada. Zip. Something has happened to the fabric that held together the small handful of cyclists in the county. So we need to reweave a new patch and grow a culture from scratch. I know that can happen.

I'm not able to commute by bike anymore. I've seen it as too far to travel. 45 miles one way... And running to town from home for groceries and such involves ridiculous hill climbing. Not easy for the Bean or on the X with a load of weeklies. I know that's no excuse.

The Powell Bike-Ped plan is finished! I think after that process was over I might have taken an impromptu hiatus from serious cycling thought. But now that it's in place my community needs to be acting on it. I need to revisit the plan and decide what can be accomplished first. And second.

Two things have reinvigorated my neural pathways: MATAG and the Walk-Bike Clark County BPAC. I attended ( and was involved in planning) the recent Walk-Bike Summit there in Winchester. Since then I've been getting more and more interested in re-becoming that From the Pavement's Edge guy.

MATAG showed me that you can be passionate about trails and work officially as a trails person. You can be a bike-ped advocate and still put food on the table. Heck, you can even be a mountain bike advocate and put food on the table! And I started to wonder why we constantly have to remind ourselves about the benefits of play and of active transportation. Is it because we've murdered play in our society? We're so addicted to our labor saving devices that we just can't bring ourselves to accept that mixing a cake batter by hand might be better for our waistlines than using a mixer, or walking to the grocery store might be better for the planet than driving our car.

We have to reteach ourselves that play is a good and acceptable thing because we've allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated that the only good activities are those that are approved by the industrial complex of society. If we're not slaving for The Man then we're probably a criminal, a degenerate, or a disabled slug.

It's more subtle than that. Sort of. As long as you're not watching a Republican presidential debate. But I progress.

I'm not promising that I'll be a more vehement bike-ped advocate from this moment forward, but I will promise that I will strive to return to a place where I can be one. That I can do. And that is a small first step back to where I was three years ago.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Possums On the Prairie: A MATAG Conference Recap


Both the possum and I screamed at the same time.  But we'll get to that in a minute.
“Have a nice vacation,” a seasoned coworker chimed in as my boss and I talked about my impending conference trip.
“Oh, I'm not going on vacation,” I replied. 
“I figured out a long time ago to combine my vacations with conferences,” he said with a wry grin.
“I'm going to Iowa,” I stated.
“Oh...”
I was actually looking forward to attending the Mid America Trails and Greenways (MATAG) Conference.  I just wished it could be closer to home or in Colorado.  But I did my research and found that right in town in Des Moines there is mountain biking.  Okay, prairie biking. 
 
 
Y'know how I like to take biking and/or running lunches?  Yeah, I'm not sure if this was a prairie biking road trip disguised as a conference or a conference disguised as a prairie biking road trip. 
I drove West.  Somehow I veered north and missed Kansas and Colorado.  It wouldn't have been fair to my wife to visit Colorado without her though.  I've been through Iowa three times.  The first time I was on a road trip with my grandparents and I was somewhere between ten and twelve years old I guess.  We went out through Illinoising and visited family in the Quad Cities and then continued into Iowa and South Dakota.  I convinced them to make a detour over into Wyoming to see Devil's Tower too.  I had just seen Close Encounters and was all about seeing the Big Stump.
The only thing I remember about Des Moines from that trip was learning how to pronounce the name of the city correctly.  The second time I visited Iowa was a climbing road trip with a friend from Kentucky who had lived in Ames for a time.  We swung through on the drive back from Wyoming.  The third time I saw nothing because we were on the California Zephyr from Denver to Chicago and passed through most of western Iowa in the dark.  I remember an icy Ottumwa train station and a lot of wind and snow scoured corn fields speeding by the windows.
I opted to drive as I couldn't see the point in a two hour drive to the airport, a two hour layover IN ATLANTA and then all of the requisite hassle of air travel on top of that.  What's a mere ten hour drive across Middle America to stay out of an aerial tin can?
Plus, I could take my mountain bike.
A quick query over at MTB Project showed me what I needed to see.  There were at least three trail systems within striking distance of the conference hotel.  I was stoked.
My leisure time during my conference trip was assured!  Except...there was rain in the forecast for Tuesday.  The conference ran from Monday through Wednesday.  I had to think fast!
I rolled into town late in the day on Sunday.  It had been a fairly good trip through the Midwest with a really quick stopover at Kickapoo State Park in Illinoising for a reprieve from the tedium of the road.  Kickapoo was pretty kick @$$.  Right from the get-go I was impressed with the pit-toilet-turned-changing-stall.  The local mtb club had stowed a bench and stuck some nails in the wall for convenience.  The trails were well signed well maintained.  Despite some heavy leaf cover (it is the season after all) I was able to blaze through the system without blowing a single turn.  The trails are a lot of fun there, and I highly recommend Kickapoo for a quick sidetrip if you're traveling I-74 cross country.



 
So my legs were nicely warmed and then stiffened when I got to Des Moines.  I checked into the motel and saddled up as the light ebbed from the sky.  I cranked up the ole Lazer 7000 (actually a NiteRider 750) and tore off north from downtown along the multiuse path along the river.  As the nearly full moon climbed into the eastern sky I found my way onto the Sycamore Trail. 
I chose it for my first ever singletrack night ride because MTB Project showed it as an easy trail.  And that it was, while at the same time being fun an interesting.  Of course I'm interested in any new trail, and I realize if I lived in DM I might tire of Sycamore fairly quickly.  Still, it was a lot of fun to onsight it in the dark, cleaning obstacles and avoiding a plunge into the river while flowing over the trails and through the woods.

Met a trio of fatbikers in the dark
 
Monday dawned beautiful and the conference was underway.  How could it be a bad conference?  It was all about trails!  The keynote was really good.  And in the afternoon I headed out to Center Trails at Greenwood for my first daylight ride in Iowa.  It took me a few minutes to sort out where to start (the main parking area was closed for repaving) but once I was on the trails I found yet another fine system. 
The first few miles were pretty homogeneous though not like what I'm used to.  It was Midwestern floodplain and relatively flat with only some shallow creek crossings and levee railings.  But then I crossed over the railroad tracks and into the Greenwood section.  It started off with a stout climb like I would expect at Cave Run.  And then the trail rolled up and down like Skullbuster for quite a ways through autumn tinged woods backed up to suburban homes.  It was like Skullbuster rolled into Cave Run mixed up with Cherokee Park in Louisville.  In fact, the entire Center Trails ride had me thinking of Waverly and Cherokee.
Waterworks Park trail (Denman Woods)

Raccoon River

The singletrack was connected by paved multiuse trails

Ashworth Park

Ashworth Park
 
I had intended to do a dawn patrol ride before the conference on Monday but didn't manage to get up early enough.  Sunday had been a long day.  And I rode that afternoon about fourteen miles.
Monday night I passed out once my head hit the hotel pillow.  But I'd had the forethought to set an alarm for Tuesday morning.  And oddly enough, I woke up before my alarm went off and suited up for a dawn patrol ride out at Sycamore one more time.  See, that rain was forecasted for midday Tuesday, and I knew if I didn't squeeze in that last ride that there would be no more opportunities for riding on the trip.
I opted to drive up to a closer trailhead instead of riding out from the hotel.  That saved me a solid hour of riding and a few miles.  And it put me right on the south end of Sycamore at 6am.  Sunrise is at 7:40am this time of year in Central Iowa, so I had some time behind the light.  I rode the same route I had two nights before mainly because I was most familiar with it.  It was a lot of fun even the second time around.  I have to say, on the right trail night riding is a blast.  I wouldn't do it anywhere, and I wouldn't take off on a trail I knew wasn't well below my ability, but it is a lot of fun.
 
Except when you almost roll right over a possum.  Yeah, the first night I came barreling up on one in the dark.  I locked it up and the possum bolted into the underbrush, but not before scaring the bejeezums out of both of us.  I took it down a notch and had a great time riding after that while I was in Iowa.
I desperately wanted to detour to Brown County on the way home, but  knew if I stopped there I would likely end up being so mesmerized that I would have forgotten to go home.  Brown County warrants time to explore and enjoy.
Tuesday's sessions were top notch.  I attended Rural Complete Streets, Assets, Benefits and Solutions to Trail Tourism, Tools for Developing Regional Trail Systems (particularly good) and Incorporating Singletrack and Bike Parks in Master Planning which was an IMBA presentation.  I met a lot of good people.  I was sad to see Kentucky woefully underrepresented.  I don't know if there was anyone from the Bluegrass State besides myself. 
I look forward the 2017 conference.  I hope by then I'll have some great ideas and stories of my own to share.







'Tis the season!


Friday, October 23, 2015

Free Medical Care


Recently a Today article surfaced discussing why some kids are being prescribed cycling as therapy for ADHD.  Long time readers will understand why this is significant to me, but for those uninitiated in the Chainring Saga please let me elaborate.
When I was 33 years old I made a shocking self-discovery: I have ADHD.  It took a year before I had an official diagnosis (through a free university psych clinic).  Within a month my special ed teacher wife suggested that I likely have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) instead or comorbid with ADHD.
In the eight years since my discovery I have spent a lot of time angry at the world.  I’ve wallowed in regret.  I’ve surfed the waves of depression.  And sometimes I even revel in my superhuman abilities.  I wish I could always see my wiring as a gift.  I can’t.  Too often my brain feels like a major limiting factor in what I see as success in life.
One thing that making the discoveries and learning so much about myself is that I truly do understand why I am drawn to movement activities all the time.  I know why I’m compelled to ride my bike, hike, rock climb, or run all the time.  And I better understand the benefits of allowing myself daily doses of those activities.
So the article was no major revelation to me.  It did help validate my propensity for giving in to compulsion.  It has made me feel somewhat better about what I perceive that others perceive as obsession on my part.  My dirt therapy is valid.  My mountain bike really is my friend. 
As I pondered this on my most recent long run I had another minor revelation: super long activities don’t provide the same benefit.
A twelve hour mountain bike race does nothing for my atypical neurology.  I’m wrecked beyond belief for a couple of days and when the effects wear off and my brain is functional again I need more proprioceptive therapy to focus my mind.  It seems like a solid hour of activity provides a good benefit.  Maybe as much as two hours would have a positive effect over the course of a day.  Much more than that and I start breaking down.  If I run or ride hard for three or four hours there’s no way I’m going to sit down and be productive at work.  But a solid hour circuit at Veterans for lunch is just the ticket.
In a perfect world I would work in a place where I could commute in by bike and then run out at lunch and either ride or run on some bumpy dirt trails. 
The short of it is that there is growing evidence that physical activity is key to good mental health.  I’m a true believer.
 

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Gardeners of Flat Hollow


I am not an engineer.  So before you start dialing my number to request my services…please just hang up the phone and drive.  But I helped build one amazing stone wall this past weekend.
We had a trail day planned in Flat Hollow for Saturday.  When I say “we” I mean the royal, as all of my partners in crime bailed on me at some point.  To be fair, one such co-conspirator—mayhaps the chief—reneged on his state of bail and showed up with his son.  And so there were three.
To be fair almost everyone had a legitimate excuse to call in.  Almost. 
The goal had been to finish up the extension trail that we started way back in August.  There was still about 300’ of trail to cut and a tricky section through a little boulder garden.  Also, there is the travesty climbing turn that needs to be rebuilt, but we’ll get to that at a later date.
We did not build this or approve of its construction.  To be fixed in the near future!
 
We had rescheduled from a date back in September that cancelled due to rain.  That date was ideal, and I didn’t think about the middle of October being a difficult time to get people to come out and work on trails.  And then the day dawned and I realized I myself would much rather be climbing or mountain biking than head-down digging in the dirt on such a fine autumn day.
Anyway, I was hoping for enough warm bodies to crank out the last benchcutting and get as much done on the boulder garden as possible.  After those two hurdles were crossed the rest would be piddling work to refine what we’ve already got.  We didn’t get as many warm bodies as I had hoped.  But what we had was enough to get quite a bit done.
Kris and his son Andy showed and we let a respectable amount of time lapse after the 9am meeting time before we headed into the woods with our tools and a slightly revised plan.  It made sense to focus on the boulder garden and leave the benchcutting for a future day.  The trail ended about 60-70 feet shy of the boulders that morning and then extended beyond another 200.  It looked to be easy cutting except for figuring out what to do to get through the big stones.
Described left to right
 
We set about creating an “S” turn through a series of truck sized boulders.  The trail would approach down a slight grade to the overhanging lower corner of the first boulder, make a near 90° left turn into a narrowing gully that peaked at the apex of the next boulder in a tight notch, and then made another near 90° right turn and over some small rocks to exit.
There were some unknowns going into the build.  Namely, once we started pulling rocks out of the notch to use for the retaining wall in the first turn would we hit something too big to move or go over?  A couple of rocks we unearthed worried us, but in the end we managed to construct a two layered retaining wall at the low end to widen the initial blind curve, we knocked the upper notch down to a rideable passage—though techy—and we established a soft tread through the whole cluster of boulders.
Stump is gone and we've laid stone

Wall is complete and we've filled in behind for tread
 
We sat nursing achy lower backs and reviewed our work.  Before we went to get the bikes for a test run we decided we needed to bridge the 60-70 foot gap between the end of the trail and the boulder garden.  And so we began benchcutting.

Thankfully, it was fairly easy trailbuilding except for the stubborn small stump that Kris and Andy wailed on with the axe as I continued digging in the dirt.  But finally we had a brand spanking new section of trail that ended on the far side of the boulder garden.  At that point we could see where our extension will soon meet up with the existing trail.  We're within sight of being finished!
Approaching the boulder garden
 
Andy and I carried all the tools down to the trailhead as Kris ran the leafblower on the trail.  We were pretty bushed from all the manual labor, but we all wanted to give the new section of trail a go.  That first blind corner would be questionable as a successful build until we could ride it.
It took me three tries to make the turn.  My front tire kept hitting an off-camber rock on the tread edge and slipping off the trail.  The third time I barely made the turn and climbed the gully to the apex before being thwarted by the techy rocks on the exit.
We rode on out to Flat Hollow Arch and then retraced our ride back to the trailhead.  All in all it was a grand day.
Dropping back from the notch through the first gully


Making the first blind curve in reverse
 
My Bean was bummed because she didn’t get to help.  So Sunday afternoon I took her and my nephew Hoss up there and we spent about an hour hauling in some gravelly soil to dump at the nadir of the first blind curve.  We built it up a little and widened the tread.  I didn’t have my bike so it’s still a mystery if it’s any easier, but I have faith that it’ll work now.
Tweakings. 
That's better soil for a trail tread and the turning platform is wider. 
The log isn't for retention, but used as a visual cue.

Far side of the notch.  The rock pile is rideable in both direction and there is the sneak line to the right.
 
It turned out to be a really good day of work considering we only had three warm bodies.  With excavating a large dead stump, building a stout stone retaining wall, moving some dirt, and then benchcutting trail we managed to add between 125’ and 150’ of new trail.  And I was home by 5pm.
It was a pretty darn good day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Less Gadgets, More Game


The Kippster commented on a Singletracks.com article I shared the other day:

One more gadgety game people play to pump life into a hobby

I replied simply:

Less gadgets, more game

I’m not a purist to an extreme level.  But I appreciate simplicity.  I see the value in having fewer moving parts.  It’s one reason I became enamored with trail running even though I love mountain biking infinitely more.  Take the complexity out of the experience and gain satisfaction.  This is especially true after getting bogged down with mechanicals or muddy conditions, or other barriers to enjoyment.
Finding the single speed camp feels less like jumping on a fad-wagon and more like reaching a long sought destination. 
No one goes into mountain biking wanting to add gears and gadgets and accessories.  Okay, well, maybe there are a few Captain Dashboards out there.  Some people are gear heads and need the gears in their heads checked maybe.  But the appeal of the bike is its simplicity.  To take it to a more simplistic level is to distill mountain biking down to something that replicates flying. 
I think the human instinct is to find less friction.  In everything we do we just want to move more freely.  That could explain why our species has a fascination with flying. 
For the uninitiated, single speed mountain biking may not seem like an activity with less friction than geared mountain biking.  It is counter-intuitive.  But looking at the bigger picture and weighed against complexities involved in maintaining and riding a geared bike there is a long term benefit to riding with a single speed.
When you reduce the energy needed to keep a system operating you increase the range of the vehicle.  Again, you could look at this on a larger scale than a lunch time ride.  Over a lifetime a cyclist with less hassle is a happier cyclist.
Am I reaching?
I really just wanted to post “Less gadgets, more game” and leave it at that.  The statement is simple and explanatory.  Self-contained.  But I figured you would want more bang for your buck.  So…bang.
To put a microscope on Kipp’s statement, there’s really no truth—at least from my standpoint—in it.  My “hobby” didn’t need new life.  I ride as often as I can.  I’ve been trying to make myself focus more on running to get ready for the upcoming 50k suicide I have signed up for, but otherwise I most often choose to go forth on my mountain bike for recreation and fitness.  It’s my default setting. 
I would have happily kept riding my geared bike until the end of time.  I had slimmed it down from 3x9 to 1x10 this past year.  It’s nice having some flexibility.  But if I were still cranking the 27 gear beast I’d be having fun and keeping it real.  No reductions necessary.
Having discovered the joys of simplifying my bike (or truly, debunking the misconceptions surrounding single speeds) I am merely a better and more satisfied rider. 
Experience is the best teacher.  My first mountain bike was fully rigid.  No squish.  I rode it for years and had no problems.  In fact, when Dave started peer pressuring me into upgrading to a front suspension fork I resisted.  The only reason my next mountain bike had a suspension fork was because that’s what I inherited.  And when I started planning my bike to take to Leadville I realized suspension would ease the suffering of a one hundred mile mountain bike race.  Reality is.
I’ve considered putting on the rigid fork Dave sent with the SSB.  It would lighten the load and simplify life even more.  As long as my decrepitude didn’t stray into wussitude I think I’d be happier. 
I’ve got enough friction in my life without allowing more hassle to creep in.  Fewer moving parts.  Less brain damage.  More game.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Monday, October 12, 2015

I Am…Iron Horse


I had a goal.  But then, isn’t that why you sign up for organized athletic/recreational events?
In 2013 I ran the Iron Horse Half Marathon in Midway, Kentucky as my first ever half marathon event.  My time was 2:14 and I felt pretty good about that.  My training had fallen apart in the last few weeks leading up to it and I ended up walking some.  I knew I had it in me to do a road half in less than two hours.  Two years later I’d not managed to do that, though I have run a trail half in 2:57 (which I felt pretty darn good about) and a couple of unsupported road halfs in the past year at or under my previous PR.
The distance no longer worries me.  This summer I’ve been running longer distances as I train for my first 50k trail race.  A road half seems pretty tame to me now.  I felt like a reasonable goal would be to shoot for a sub-two hour finish.  That was my only goal.
I know that I could have picked a more ambitious time.  But since my focus has been on getting to a 31 mile race distance I didn’t want to get too far off track shooting for a 13.1 speed record.  I figured with a little extra oomph I could crack a hundred and twenty minutes. 
I didn’t run the Iron Horse last year, but Mandy did.  I should have.  I think I would have done pretty well coming out of my Rugged Red “fitness.”  I was really jazzing on trailrunning at the time.  The thought of a road event just didn’t appeal to me.  Since that time I have realized that too much trailrunning (unless your name is Al Edwards) can be debilitating.  So I switched gears and started incorporating a lot more road miles into my regime.  Regiment.  Platoon.
 
Hard to get a clear photo while chasing a PR
 
I'm not going into a blow-by-blow of the race.  I did finish in less than two hours.  I bested my recent half marathon distance PR (2:08) by twelve and a half minutes.  That was an improvement of six minutes over my 2013 Iron Horse time. 
After doing the math I was unsure if I could maintain a low enough pace for the distance to pull it off.  I know myself.  When I was still running a sub-9:00/mi pace after 5k I was hopeful.  After 10k I felt like my chances were distinctly good.  I worried about cramps or mystery pains flaring up, but I stayed relatively pain free for the entire race.  Around mile 10 I felt a stitch growing in my side but it went away fairly quick.
My final average pace was 8:52/mi.  I don’t typically pull that off when I’m shooting for a 5k PR.  In fact, I came close to setting an adult PR.  I was a minute shy.  I did clock PRs for 10k, 15k, 10 mile, and 20k.  Oh, and half marathon.  My official chip time was 1:56:24.  It was mile nine before my pace dropped below 9:00/mi and that was the first long steady climb (gaining the most elevation of any mile on the course).  I only had three miles where my pace dropped slower than 9:00/mi.
 
 
Mandy and her mom went.  They signed up early when I did.  They both did it off the couch.  The normal crew from work didn’t make a showing.  There were only two of us this year.  I ran into an old friend and another guy I know.  They overtook me at about mile twelve.  I ran with them for a couple tenths of a mile and then let them go on.  Terry finished two minutes faster than me.  It was good to see him again.  He’s signed up for Yamacraw, but I think I’m going to bow out of that one.  It falls on my son’s thirteenth birthday.
Nothing stands between me and the Rough Trail 50k now.  I have a scheduled 26 mile run for this coming weekend and then there’s a tapering of distance until November 14th.  I really feel pretty good considering.  My knees are a bit ragged this morning.  I’m a little worn down.  But the only real pain I have is from an off-the-couch gym session on Saturday.  I did some bicep and tricep curls and worked my core, and my arms and abs are screaming still.  But that’s not from the Iron Horse.
I’ve got a lacing problem to sort out still.  On my most recent long training run I thought I had it fixed, but my left foot flared up during the run Sunday.  I tried to keep my laces loose enough, but loose enough that they don’t cause pain is so loose my shoes feel like they’re going to fall off.  I can’t have that on a tough trail run.
Gonna hit the running shop with my shoes one day this week.
Anyway, that’s the 2015 Iron Horse Half Marathon report.  I feel pretty darn good after throwing that down.  I was worried going into it.  I put it out in the world that I wanted a sub-two hour finish.  It took extreme focus to do it.  That’s not something I typically do well at. 
 
 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Friend of Pain


Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.
~Ken Chlouber

Sometimes we romanticize our lives to the point of becoming ridiculous.  I’m guilty of it.  I know you are too.  It’s human nature.  We easily lose perspective too.  My life has not been full of tragic and excruciating pain.  I don’t live with debilitating chronic pain.  Heck, I’ve never even broken a major bone!  But pain is a part of all of us.  It is woven into the fiber of our individual experiences.  No one is exempt from the company of pain.
Those who test themselves by going overfar seek out pain.  Maybe it’s not the goal, but it is a requisite part of the process.  You can’t go “crazy” distances under your own power without experiencing pain.  It’s possible to mask pain and make others believe they suffer more than you do, but it’s impossible to escape from pain.  Much like gravity, pain is reality.
But by expanding your comfort zone you learn about yourself.  You empower yourself to go beyond perceived limits and stretch your potential.  Again, you can’t do that without pain.  Without pain we can never be more than couch potatoes.  Maybe some people can live that way.  I can’t.
Last Saturday I ran myself headlong into an exercise in pain.  I’ve had many of these.  Most have been from the seat of a bike, struggling to push through the pain and return home without calling SAG.  Of course there have been numerous times when the pain was a wall I could not surmount.  I’ve busted through the wall on occasion as well.
I’m “training” for the Rough Trail 50k.  It’s going to be vomit-inducing hard.  I’ve not been preparing as I would like, but life dictates your investment sometime, and I can’t justify the investment right now.  I run on the roads instead of exclusively on trails.  My body wouldn’t really hold up to the punishment of the long runs in Red River Gorge terrain.  So I hit the roads.
For an explanation on why this is problematic please read my Pavement’s Edge post from this week.
Anyway, two weeks ago I ran twenty miles.  That’s something I never thought I would do.  It went better than I expected.  I won’t say it was easy, but it was easier than some of the shorter runs I had made to get to that point in my so-called training.  Last week I did not manage to get in a long run.  It would have been sixteen miles.  Doesn’t matter, I didn’t do it.  I had rested all the week after the twenty miler, but I did get out and run ten miles early in the week and then rode at Vet Park to keep myself loose going into my scheduled twenty four mile run this past weekend. 
Read my post “Convert” for yet another explanation of my seeming random distances.
My earlier success going beyond the teens was due to my resolve to stick with a consistent and conservative pace.  Fuel and hydration were key as well.  I hoped to recreate that success while adding four miles to my longest distance ran ever.  Mandy asked why I wouldn’t just go ahead and run a full marathon distance.  I answered that we’d see when Saturday came.
I had no easy SAG option.  Mandy was running SAG for some foster dogs way up to nearly New England.  I was sort of on my own.  I knew there were other people in town I could call for a bail out, but none of them were my wife.
I started early, just after she left, and settled into a too fast pace in the dark as I tried to outrun the potential weekend traffic on the main roads of Stanton.  I landed square in rush hour in the middle of Rosslyn (pop. not enough to register) in the dark running angry and hot of head. 
My previous strategy had been a steady 11:30/mi pace.  Saturday I started out at 11:06/mi then fell to 12:27/mi for the climb on the second mile, then as I passed through town and onto KY 11 I was keyed up.  My next miles went 10:36/mi, 10:48/mi, 10:33/mi, 10:31/mi, 11:01/mi, 11:17/mi, and 11:02/mi respectively.  The further from town and then the unexplained congestion around Rosslyn the more I eased off the throttle.  After mile nine I was onto a backroad and I settled into the pace I wanted from the beginning.
The specter of pain had already begun in my feet.  It felt like the ghost of a sprain in both of my ankles.  As the pain grew over a few miles it began to feel like my shoes were tied too tight.  At first it wasn’t enough to affect my pace or my stride, but it was persistent and therefore required a little mental attention to manage.  By the beginning of my fourteenth miles I knew I was going to have trouble finishing my run. 
I stopped and loosened my laces.  For a good distance that seemed to help though the pain did not go away.  As described in “The Suicide Lanes” I ran a quick mile to get past the crossing of KY 213.  But after that my mile paces were all over the place and started to erode quickly.  I was in pain with every step.  It wasn’t a dull throb either; but a stabbing flash of pain in each foot each time they struck the pavement. 
Crossing Tharp Ridge was going to be difficult.  The pain was most intense on downhills.  It felt like the bones in my feet were going to break on the slightest downsloping grade.  On the steep climb up I walked hoping to give my feet some rest and relief.  That did seem to help.  I picked it back up once on top of the short rolling ridge.  Frustratingly I found myself walking down the lee of every low roller.  I wanted to crawl down off the ridge back to the flat river bottoms.
It was just after I entered my twenty-first mile that I actually stopped running to walk along the flats for the first time.  I was afraid I wasn’t going to start running again.  I had at least four miles to go to get home.  The first inkling of doubt crept in.  I could end it at my in-laws for a 23 mile run.  That was good, right?
Diving back into the pain I ran again, slow, but faster than a walk, and gritted my teeth against the knowledge that I might possibly be doing damage to my feet.
I ran until I couldn’t bear it.  I walked until I hated it.  I ran until I reached Washington Street at Railroad.  I was at 21.65 miles when Tomahawk pulled up beside me.
“You okay?”
Without hesitation I responded:
“Would you mind giving me a ride home?”
He pulled over and I got in.  He said I didn’t look so good even as my feet began to feel normal and not destroyed.  I explained what was going on.  My theory was that my laces had been too tight. 
It seemed to be confirmed when I got home and went to untie my shoes.  They felt too tight despite the earlier loosening.
“Your feet probably swelled,” Tom said when I called to thank him for the ride.  I had been a little distracted by my body when I got out of the car so I called, thanked him properly, and mentioned the shoes.
They didn’t look swelled.  Well, I had cankles for sure.  My feet looked normally bony and pale.
It’s a bit of a mystery to me still.  I took two full days off of running.  I would have stayed completely off my feet if I had been able.  Twenty miles is a long way to run.  I’m amazed I’ve been able to progress to this kind of distance.  I know I need to be putting in better quality base miles.  Don’t lecture.  I know it all too well.
I also believe in the power of pulling off the inconceivable.  Mileage is important, but sometimes you have to keep going farther and farther without saving anything for the run back just so you can see how far you can go.  If you do that you will most definitely meet up with pain.  That’s when you need to make friends since you’re going to be spending some quality time in the company of.
It's not melodrama or contrivance, or romanticizing to want to make yourself stronger.  Now, while things are easy, is the time to prepare for tough times.  When things go south it's too late to delve your personal depths for your inner strength.  Do that now.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rugged Little Pill


Another race tee-shirt; another stab in the heart.  Another suggested Powell Countian friend on Facebook with a profile picture including a turtle finishers medal.  Another question: “how was the Rugged Red this year?”  I can’t even answer that one yea or nay.
No, I didn’t run the Rugged Red this year.  Mandy and I didn’t help put the race on.  In fact, that day I did a road run and managed a half marathon PR all by myself.  I wanted to do the Rugged Red.  I wanted to do it because I had started to feel a part of a community similar to the Leadville family.  I wanted to do it because it’s a race on my home field.  I wanted to do it because it takes place in the Red River Gorge which is the crucible in which my soul has been formed over the years.
After the 2014 Rugged Red I wanted to help make the event better.   I knew it meant I probably wouldn’t be able to run, but I felt like I had evolved to the point in my life where helping others to have that kind of experience would be as rewarding to me as seeking them for myself.
Someone took that away from me.  And the feelings I have for that person are still bitter, and angry, and harsh.  Every time I see a photo from the race this year or see someone in town wearing a race tee my teeth grind.  I curse under my breath.  Or sometimes above it. 
I wore my own race tee the other day when I was going to be working on and painting a fence.  I wanted to destroy it.  But I can’t bring myself to just throw it out.  The experience of that run was amazing.  It is a great memory for me.  I put forth a lot of energy and effort to finish one tough trail half marathon in 2:57.  I was sixth in my age group.  The only other experience in my life comparable to finishing the Rugged Red was finishing the Leadville 100. 
I believed in the race as a concept.  I hoped it could become something truly positive and beneficial for Powell County.  I saw it as having the potential to change the dialogue and the cultural awareness of a community.  I thought that person believed it, too.  Looking back it seems like he preyed on my hopes.  I was willfully gullible.  I let myself be blinded to what was going on because I desperately wanted to be part of that thing. And so maybe I overprojected my aspirations into it.  That’s on me. 
It was too easy to overlook the warning signs.  Now it is all clear to me.  Then I dismissed the things I should not have dismissed.  And the worst part is that I let my wife be dragged into it as well.  For a time she was the full time race director.  I was simply the “assistant to the race director.”  I let my kids get dragged into it.  That drive home last February after the ugly breakup was hard.  My Bean wanted to know what was going on.  Were we going to be going back to Joe’s?  No.  Why?
I didn’t understand why myself.  How could I explain to an eight year old what had just happened?
It seemed like he picked a fight to get us to go away.  And if he did he got what he wanted.
Living in a small town the drama never seems to end.  It only washes a little further downstream.  You eventually catch up with it, or it sticks to your shoe, or you trip over it unexpectedly.  I was asked to be part of the Slade Trail Town efforts and so was he.  And the race tee-shirts…and the posters, the social media posts, and the questions.  Over the weekend I took my kids to DQ and saw his truck in the parking lot.  We went through the drive-thru.
There have been a few instances where we’ve been thrown into a room together.  He approaches me acting like he wants to be friends.  I can’t.  And for now I won’t.  I have no charitable words for Joe.  I am struggling to forgive him, but I know too much.  It goes beyond my personal feelings of how we were treated.  There are things about the race that I feel make it more of a liability to the community than a benefit.
For the visitors who come for the experience I don’t feel there are any reasons not to participate in the Rugged Red.  I wish someone else would take it over.  Joe was adamant that he would never sell it, but I have my doubts of his concrete resolve in that matter.  But for the community it is still an event to die for.  I get it.  It’s what drew me in.  Red River Gorge.  Trail running.  A challenge for the body, mind, and soul.  It needs someone in charge who understands that and who knows something about running.
I guess I latched onto it because I couldn’t have Leadville.  It was closer.  So close.
Last week I went out and ran in the rain.  I did some hill sprints.  I rambled without purpose for a while.  Exploring.  I poured my soul into the run.  Maybe it felt like the bitterness was washing away.  Time will dilute it for sure.  But I hope that an aftertaste remains forever so I don’t let myself be drawn into that kind of relationship again.
If you’ve been reading me for very long you know I’ve struggled with doubt, depression, and various issues.  For a while now I’ve been doing pretty well.  I’m in constant survival mode, but I have always been really good at adapting to whatever new reality I face.  Summer was good.  I fear winter now.  But I keep my head well above water and keep trucking on down the trail like I always have.
I’m writing about this now because I realize I hadn't addressed it in words.  I’ve only hinted at things that went on.  I’ve not provided any clarity in the Rugged Red saga.  I realize this post is no real explanation of what happened either.  The reminders have been more apparent lately.  I know I’m going to have to deal with this aspect of my past and move on.  I have to find closure and make peace with this shadow.

I know--at least for me--with words come healing.  By avoiding the words and avoiding the excavation of the heart and mind things like this just fester.  I need to move on.