Archive for the ‘trail running’ Category

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#48 – Understand the Value of Snowshoes

28 January 2008
Haven waiting on the NCT

Haven impatiently waits for me as I struggle in the deep snow on the North Country Trail 

Even though I’ve lived in Michigan for almost 30 years of my life, I’ve never owned or even tried out a pair of snowshoes.  During my last run I really wished I was wearing some!

My plan for Sunday morning was to run 8 miles on the North Country Trail with Haven, trying to extend my long run from last weekend’s 5.6 miles in the snow.  We’ve been getting snow all week so it was no surprise that the trails were now coated in 7″ of fluffy snow on top of a 1″ layer of uneven crusty snow.

What did surprise me, however, was the difficulty of running on such a surface!  It’s been a long time since I ran in such deep stuff and boy does it ever suck away a lot of energy.   At first I was feeling frustrated by my apparent lack of fitness, being forced to walk several times to catch my breath.  Building back up after an injury is bad enough but I was starting to wonder if I was back to square one.

Haven, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly so encumbered by two clunky feet; her four paws slipped through the snow with ease.  You can see in the photo above one of the countless occasions where she would stop and wait for me, looking back as if to say “Aren’t you coming?”

Reaching a crossroad (2.8 miles) in 37 minutes, I realized that there was no point in stubbornly pushing on for 8 miles when I’m still trying to baby my hamstring somewhat.   Haven and I turned around and settled for a 5.6 mile run that took us 1:13, so at least my pace was consistent.

I bypassed the last 0.7 of trails in favor of a dirt road (i.e. packed snow) and oh my gosh did that feel great!   No wonder I was so frustrated – deep snow is tough.  I was feeling pretty good mentally knowing that my 5.6 miles was probably near equivalent to 8 miles of effort.

That mood was tempered a bit when I spotted a bright blue koosh pillow on the side of the road.  Marks in the snow made it clear that it had been tossed from a moving car, and it hadn’t been there when I ran by less than an hour earlier.  How annoying.

Not wanting to end my run on a sour note, I picked up the pillow and carried it home.  If I can clean it up, then Haven and Beacon will have another cushion for their frequent naps (as dogs can do so well!) and if it’s too dirty, then at least the road is free of one big piece of litter.

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#47 – Making Tracks

20 January 2008
Snowy Trail

Making Tracks in the Snow on the North Country Trail

Two weeks ago I was running  in 55 degree weather; today when I stepped outside it was a frigid 12 degrees!  There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.  Heeding those words I dressed in three layers – a wicking base layer, a fleece middle layer, and a windbreaking nylon outer layer – and tackled the subzero wind chills head on.

It worked – I felt toasty warm for the entire hour that I was out on the North Country Trail and was glad I made the effort to get out for a run.  Although the wind was strong out in the open, the heavily wooded trails provided cover from the icy blast.  However, it was still cold enough for the eyelashes on the outer corners of my eyes to freeze together!

One fun aspect to running in the snow is seeing the tracks of those who traveled before me.  Early on I spied some paw prints from a large dog accompanied by small human boots.  Crossing a road into a more remote section of trail the human presence disappeared but my footprints had the company of a set of deer tracks.

Later on the deer veered off trail and I smiled – the trail ahead of me was untouched by the feet of any animal.  I was making the first tracks!  For about half a mile I enjoyed this “solitude” when a new set of tracks joined the trail.  I first I thought it was the paws of a medium sized dog but as I continued along the trail there were no human tracks to be seen.  Those weren’t dog tracks, they were the tracks of a coyote!

They were somewhat fresh, too – at least within the last 12 hours – but they were headed in the opposite direction so I wouldn’t get the chance to meet this wild canine.   On the way back home I did spook a trio of deer that spooked me as well – I never saw them until they started running away.

All told I ran for over an hour, the first time I’d done that since 08 October 2007!  Boy did that feel good, and my hamstring didn’t complain at all.

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#46 – Running Goals

19 January 2008
Start Running

Start line of the 2007 Healthy Paws Healthy Cause fun run.

We all have to start somewhere. On January 1st, 2004 I went running for the first time in years. I made it just over a mile before I had to stop, gasping for breath and wondering if this former high school track and cross country guy could still call himself a runner! I set a few goals for myself and now here I am in 2008 with over a dozen running races and a few thousand miles underfoot since that humbling one-miler four years ago.

What initially set me down this path wasn’t even running – it was softball. In the fall of 2003 I played on my company’s co-ed softball team and was embarrassed to find myself out of breath just by jogging out to center field! Back in my college intramural days I could run all over the outfield without feeling winded, so I decided to get back in shape and I chose running as the means.

Running soon became the end, not just the means. I think a lot of runners can tell a similar tale of how just wanting to get in shape resulted in the discovery of a new passion for running. Ever since I have made sure to set many goals for myself, both for my running and for the rest of my life. These aren’t “resolutions”, mind you, but simply challenges to myself to remain focused in life.

The new year is a convenient time to review last year’s results and set new goals for the coming year. As early as last October I thought I had my running goals for 2008 all figured out – my plan was simple:

However, a deceptively severe hamstring strain has altered my plans. I don’t want to push myself to be ready for a spring marathon in case my hamstring doesn’t respond accordingly; plus, I haven’t been able to maintain an aerobic base over the winter like I’d been planning. So what do I do now?

No problem. Adapt my goals – after all, goals are challenges, not “assignments”. My 2008 racing goal is simply to finish the Wild West 100K, which will be my second ultramarathon and the first at that distance. My previous ultra was in 2006 when I ran the North Country Trail 50M as my primary running goal for that year. If all goes well, I’ll parlay that training into a sub-4:00 marathon, perhaps the Grand Rapids Marathon.

Clearly my time goals show that I’m not a competitive runner and my goals go beyond performance at races. In 2007 I ran 30% of my runs with a dog and I’m aiming to improve on that in 2008 with a goal of including a dog on at least a full one-third of my running sorties.

Along those lines I want to increase my trail running totals by logging at least 25% of my miles on trails. In 2007 I managed 22% of my distance with dirt underfoot. I toyed with the idea of bumping this goal up to 33% but I didn’t want to force myself onto the trails. I enjoy exploring (both the countryside and the neighborhood) during my long runs and that usually leads me out onto the roads.

It also leads me to my next goal: run a race purely for fun and photograph the experience. When aiming for specific finish times I don’t want to be distracted by a camera in hand, but seeing how much fun Scott Dunlap can have as a first-person race “journalist” has motivated me to try it out. While Scott is fast enough to document the front of the pack, my subjects will be from the middle of the field on back. 🙂

Lastly, I have the goal of running 2008 without injury. Realistically that’s near impossible – there are always aches and pains to varying degrees – but towards that end I plan to be much more proactive in preventing injury via cross-training, stretching, and responding more urgently to any tweaks. I probably could’ve cut a couple weeks from my hamstring recovery time had I actively sought treatment right away rather than waiting a month, hoping for it to heal.

Live and learn, which is another good reason for setting goals – it gives us a benchmark to measure our progress and allows for some instructive retrospective feedback for the next time we toe the line at the start of a new challenge in life.

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#44 – 2007 Running Statistics

1 January 2008

Ella at the Computer

Ella updating her running log – she was my #1 foster dog running partner back in 2006. 

Some people are bored by statistics but I am not one of them. If you are of similar ilk then you’ll enjoy this breakdown of my running for 2007, by the numbers:

1018.5 total miles
207 runs
156 hours
4.92 miles average per run

13 races
7 5K road
2 5M trail
1 5K trail with Haven
1 4M road with Haven and Beacon
1 10K road
1 26.2M trail marathon

788.9 miles on the roads
229.6 miles on the trails
193.2 pounds average weight
56 bpm typical resting heart rate

181.7 miles running with Haven
85.3 miles running with Beacon
53.0 of the above miles running with Haven and Beacon together
4.3 miles running with foster dogs
218.4 miles running with dogs

51 runs with Haven
24 runs with Beacon
14 of the above runs were with Haven and Beacon together
2 runs with foster dogs, Raven and Reese
63 total runs with at least one dog
30% of all runs were with a dog

Congratulations if you’ve scrolled down this far and actually enjoyed reading the stats. The dogs will appreciate your effort since I’m now going to share their own personal numbers, which also include hikes and other walks that I didn’t include in my running tally. Note that “swimming” means time spent playing fetch in water or accompanying Amanda and I while we waded in the river.

Haven
327.7 miles total
107.7 miles on leash
220.0 miles off leash
92 outings
65 hours total
9.9 hours swimming

Beacon
226.2 miles total
65.6 miles on leash
160.7 miles off leash
74 outings
52 hours total
15.8 hours swimming

Foster Dogs
7 of our 17 foster dogs went running – Amber, Raven, Honey, Reese, Betty, Annie, Teddy
51.3 miles total
18.8 miles on leash
32.5 miles off leash
16 outings
14 hours total
no significant swimming

If you’re wondering why Haven racked up 100 more miles than Beacon, there are two main reasons:
1) Beacon likes running, Haven LOVES running. However, Beacon makes up for it with almost 6 more hours of swimming because while Haven likes fetch, Beacon LOVES fetch.
2) Beacon’s pads become sore rather easily and there are several occasions where Haven is taken for a run in place of Beacon because his paws are still recovering. We think the cause is a combination of Beacon’s naturally thin pads and his somewhat stiff-legged gait; in comparison Haven is a very smooth and easy runner.

Yes, I love running with dogs!

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#43 – 2007 Summary

1 January 2008

A year of good news and bad news, so I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way. 2007 ended not as I’d hoped thanks to my hamstring injury but at least it’s getting better with physical therapy. The downside was that I didn’t run a single mile during all of December, the first time I’ve missed a whole month since I started running four years ago today.

The good news is that I had a great year of running yet again. I ran 13 races including a post-high-school PR in the 5K and then lowered that mark with the help of my dog. It was all part of 1018.5 miles underfoot in 2007 so despite the injury, I was happy to crack 1000 miles even if it’s just a number. One of my goals for the year was to run 250 times but I only reached 207; however, I probably would’ve hit my target if I’d been smart enough to not overtrain into an injury. Live and learn.

Another positive is this very blog – since writing reason to run #1 back in April (which has been one of the most popular articles) there have been over 5200 visitors to Why Run?, much more than I would’ve thought my writing would attract. Thanks for reading!

Looking forward to 2008 my first priority is to get running again. Before the hamstring acted up I was hoping to try for a marathon PR in May and do some serious training for a sub-4:00 finish. Hopefully I can still go for that, but right now the prime race on my radar this year is my first crack at the 100K distance in August. Aside from that event I’m still working on sorting out my race schedule but I won’t be racing as many 5Ks this time around.

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#29 – Fallsburg Trail Marathon

19 August 2007

Although I’ve been focusing on shorter races this year, I couldn’t pass up the chance to run a trail marathon in my backyard! The Fallsburg Marathon uses the same roads and trails that I train on, including the two covered bridges of my “explore the countryside” trek in April. In fact that countryside 16-miler was my longest run of the year until two weeks ago when I decided I better gauge my fitness for the marathon by doing another 16 mile run. I decided I was fit enough to finish a trail marathon, but definitely not with a fast time – I estimated a finish time of between 5 and 6 hours.

Runners feeling fresh and having fun at the start of the Fallsburg Marathon.

The weather couldn’t have been better! It was sunny and 55 degrees at the start, warming to an overcast 70 degrees later in the afternoon. The Fallsburg Marathon started and finished at Fallasburg Park (yes, they’re spelled differently and no, I don’t know why!) It was a rather small event despite offering three race distances – marathon, half-marathon, and an 8K with about 20-40 runners in each event – but nobody was complaining about the low turnout. In fact, I thought it was more enjoyable with its laid-back and extra-friendly atmosphere. Most runners were local and I was probably the most local of them all, but a few runners were from out of state – I met representatives of Wisconsin, Kansas, and even California!

 

Crossing the Flat River – the field in the background was the home stretch before the finish.

The SWAG was pretty sweet, too – as a full marathon runner I received a t-shirt, a hooded pullover sweatshirt, and instead of a traditional finisher’s medal I was handed a bath towel printed with the words “Fallsburg Marathon Finisher” – very cool! The 8K race was dubbed the “Wimpy” to poke fun at the runners who declined to go 13.1 or 26.2 but the 8K’ers got the coolest t-shirt, featuring Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

Crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge – this was the second loop, thus no other runners nearby.

Within the first 1/4 mile all racers found themselves crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge and then staring at a long climb on the paved road. At mile 2.5 was the first aid station which also served as the turn-around for the 8K runners – for them it was almost all uphill for the first half and then downhill on the return. It wasn’t until mile 4 that pavement gave way to dirt road for the next three miles.

Descending a long hill enroute to crossing the Flat River.

This dirt road section was quite flat until just after crossing White’s Covered Bridge, where a towering hill loomed in front of us. I chose to walk up it and was able to keep pace with most of those were maintained a running stride.

Crossing the White’s Covered Bridge just before tackling a major climb.

Once at the top the hills didn’t stop – the surface switched to pavement again for a little over a mile but there were two large hills to tackle during that stretch. Lots of runners were surprised by the terrain; I kept hearing comments such as “I thought Michigan was flat!”

The unusually large rolling hills of rural west Michigan!

Finally after 8+ miles of running we finally turned off-road onto the trails! I had maintained a very constant 10:00 pace over the first 7 miles and it started slipping to an 11:00 pace by mile 10, which I held through the trail section and into the start/finish where I crossed the 13.1 mile mark in 2:19, good for a 10:37 first half pace. That was about what I expected; however what I hadn’t expected was that my heart rate was about 150-160 during that time. I should’ve been at 150 or below, ideally 140, at such a slow pace; in fact I’ve done some training runs at a 9:00 pace where I maintained a 150 HR, so I was a bit concerned.

An example of the beautiful trails that were part of the marathon course.

The concern was apparent at mile 14 when Amanda did a video interview of me running while she drove alongside in the car. I can be heard saying “I’m kinda tired” after warning Amanda to watch out for the mailbox that she almost hit! Filming and driving simultaneously can be difficult! Amanda had a busy day herself as she met me on the course at least a dozen times to snap some photos and even serve as my support crew when necessary.

Cruising along the North Country Trail about three hours into the race.

Just before mile 15 I hit the trails again, this time the section North Country Trail that I’ve run dozens of times in the past, especially with my dogs. It would’ve been fun to have had the dogs to keep me company but as it was, the next three miles went by rather quickly thanks to my familiarity with the trail. I was definitely slower, keeping an 11:00-12:00 pace (by running a 10:00 pace and taking occasional walking breaks) through mile 18.

Walking for a bit to recover some energy for the stomach and the legs.

However, I was feeling very fatigued so I decided to walk the entire mile between 18 and 19 – it helped, but not as much as I’d hoped and I was beginning to really struggle. I ran a bit after mile 19 but my stomach felt nauseous and my legs were extremely painful, probably due to the swelling of being on my feet for so long. I staggered for a couple miles and saw my hopes of a sub-5:00 marathon disappear, and soon again a 5:15 finish became unrealistic. Miles 21-23 were the worst as I was unable to drink much and my legs began to stiffen up.

Feeling pretty crappy as I shuffle along.

Around mile 24 I decided on another extended recovery walk and this time it did wonders for me! I jogged down that very first hill I’d climbed some five hours earlier and before embarking on the last 1.2 miles of trail, I was greeted by some barking – Haven and Beacon! During our earlier rendez-vous Amanda and I arranged for her to pick up the dogs and when I met Amanda at mile 25 I traded my water bottle for a leash that had Haven attached to it!

The volunteers did a great job marking the trail with chalk dust.

Excitedly she dragged me down the trail and her “assistance” felt pretty good! As soon as we were far enough from the road I let her off leash to go sprint the trails and wade in the river. I’d recovered enough to maintain a 10:00 pace over the last 1.2 miles and even managed to pass a runner in the last half mile. I put Haven back on the leash – she may have towed me the first time, but I had to do the pulling across the finish line as Haven tried to socialize with spectators, Amanda and Beacon among them. We crossed the line in 5:31, “good” for 19th out of 22 marathon runners. At least I wasn’t last!

Crossing the finish line with Haven in tow!

Boy was I worn out but there was still plenty of food left – it reminded me of a picnic, with hot dogs, grilled chicken, watermelon, pop, water, popsicles and even a cake! I chilled for a while with Amanda and the dogs, snacking on some of the grub and thanking the race director and the volunteers. What a fun day! I was really looking forward to spending the rest of the evening on the sofa!

It felt great to get an epic long run under my belt for this year. Clearly I was under-trained but I knew that going in; however, I was surprised at the effect. I’m not sure why my heart rate was so high, but my stomach and legs weren’t used to having to function for so long under so much stress, and that’s just what a long run is supposed to prepare you for.

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#28 – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

11 August 2007

Deep in the heart of central Michigan farm country is Sleepy Hollow State Park, a splendid network of trails surrounding Lake Ovid. A hundred or so scantily-clad folks congregated here this morning, drawn here by The Legend. The legend of Ichabod Crane? The headless horseman? How about a trail run?

Why yes, these people were runners, searching not for a lost head (although some would argue otherwise!) but rather a win, a personal best, or just an enjoyable run through the woods. I joined the crowd at the start line despite waking up late (6:00 am) for the one-hour drive, showing up with 15 minutes to spare. The Legend is actually two races: a 5-mile trail run and a 10-miler that begins ten minutes later. This race is hosted by Running Fit, the same company that organized the Road Ends trail run that I ran earlier this spring.

I was tempted to run the 10 mile edition since it scenically circumnavigates Lake Ovid but with the Fallsburg Marathon coming up next weekend I didn’t want to overdo it. My goal today was simply a 40-minute 5-miler, just as I’d done at Road Ends. Things started off pretty well as my first mile passed by in a surprisingly fast (for me) 7:14 and although I was feeling good, I knew that this was a bit too quick. Sure enough, mile 2 arrived at a perfect 8:00 pace and I concentrated on maintaining my rhythm on the winding dirt trails.

Compared to the hilly and rocky trails of Road Ends, the trails here at The Legend were much flatter (with one big hill) and features countless sharp turns and exposed tree roots. In fact I did stumble twice but managed to stay upright. My face also took a couple blows from overhanging tree branches and I had to duck dozens of others – I noticed that my shorter competitors did not require such maneuvering! My lower back is a bit sore now, presumably from all of the bending to duck the attacking leaves.

But that is what makes trail running so much fun! Mile 3 went by at a 8:07 pace but I was feeling very fatigued at this point. I never figured out why – perhaps the poor night’s sleep, or running five miles yesterday, or starting out too fast, or maybe the heat of a warm, humid morning? All of the above? Well it doesn’t matter during the race – no excuses – and by this time I was getting passed quite regularly, about a dozen times in all. I knew I’d slowed down a bit, but was appalled to see mile 4 arrive at a 8:50 pace!

What a downer. I was going to need a sub-8:00 final mile to break 40 minutes and I was still feeling like crap. It’s frustrating… I tried to speed up and I just couldn’t. Coming down the home stretch I did my best to turn on a finishing kick but that last mile proved to be too slow and I crossed the line at 40:20.

Results aren’t online yet but they were posted at the race – I finished 25th overall, 21st male, and 4th in my age group. I think there were about 50 runners in the 5 mile. The overall winner was Ian Forsyth, a former Michigan Runner of the Year who dominates most races he enters, and he finished in 27+ minutes! A 5:31 pace! I don’t think I can even run one mile at that speed!

Despite missing my time goal, it was still a great race. The trails were a ton of fun and there was a great spread of post-race food. Better yet, not only was my wife Amanda there but also my newlywed brother Ryan and his wife Megan, plus her mom Sue and her little dachshund Mini. I actually had a cheering section! Megan grew up in the area and used to work at Sleepy Hollow during high school. We had fun chatting in the shade as we watched the finishers from both races cross the finish line and occasionally indulged Mini with a bite or two of some of the food. 🙂