Saturday, October 26, 2013

It's Cold...Not That Cold...Yeah, It's Cold

"I have prepared for the worst-case senario, but it could turn out to be a lot worse than that!" - An English Cricket player anticipating abuse from the Australian fans during an upcoming match

Just got back from my morning run, and...well, it looks like those blessed warm temperatures are going the way of the white buffalo. No, it's not "Iceland Cold" yet, but it's not "Africa Hot" anymore either. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I have been dreading this morning's run all week. Why? Because the all-knowing weather people have been saying "freezing temperatures" for Saturday morning since last weekend. Just flat ruined the whole dang week. Many of you have known me for many years and have had the thrill of training with me in cold weather. I will whine, complain, and be utterly disgusted during the winter months. Why? BECAUSE I HATE COLD WEATHER, THAT'S WHY!! In the summer, it's easy - shoes, shorts, and a singlet. When the Artic winds blow (or any temp in the 30's), it's every long sleeve, tights, gloves, knit hats, and anything else I can get on and still move. Sometimes, I feel like that kid in "Christmas Story" that falls over and can't get up because he so many clothes on. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but not about that hating cold weather stuff - always have, always will! And I'm from New Jersey! I want to sweat, I want to feel that sun beating down, I want my shoes to squish when I finish my run. I don't want to be shivering, I don't want my water bottle to freeze, and I don't want my fingers to be so cold that I can't turn my car door key at the end of my run. Now, we don't live in Maine, so the chances of getting frostbitten while we're running is pretty slim, but after running all through the Alabama summer, our blood is thinner (it's not really, but that's what my grandmother told me) and we feel the cold more.

I probably should wait and write this post in December, when it's really cold, really windy, really miserable, but I ran two runs this week in the dark, cold (yeah, high 30's is not really THAT cold) mornings, and then this morning I stepped out into the pitch black and saw smoke (not actual smoke) coming from my mouth and felt the first uncomfortable wisps of cold filtering through my several layers of clothes. I've been doing this running thing for 35 years now, and I'll be damned that I still don't know how to dress when the cold Gods laugh at me. The colder it gets the entire process of getting the right combination of running shirts, turtlenecks, gloves, toboggan hat, wind briefs (essential) and every other piece of required clothing on (and off) is a long process. I'm always worried that I'll be too warm or not warm enough. Yeah, yeah, I know the drill...dress like it's 15 degrees warmer than the actual temp. Ha, that's a good one! If I ain't sweatin' in the house, I won't convince myself I'll be warm enough. The problem is these days of technology allow you to check the hourly forecast, so you can see in the bright display of your Smartphone (smarter than the Smartrunner) that it'll be 15 degrees warmer by the time you finish your run...but it ain't warmer NOW!!

Running in cold requires an extensive (read: expensive) wardrobe of technical (read: malfunctioning) layers. I generally barely have the time to plan my route ahead of time, let alone figure out whether I need a base layer, a midlayer, and/or a shell. The advent of layering systems and wicking technologies are heralded in running, but why is it that no matter what I wear, I am sure I will still be cold? Should I go with a single, heavier weight shirt and maybe a vest, or two shirts, or just get it overwith and wear a down jacket? Sometimes I wear mittens – me, a man, in mittens! And if it's real cold, I'll have another pair of gloves under those weenie mittens! Thank Goodness for The Trak Shak - every Mercedes Marathon in February, they give away free gloves, so I have absolutely no shortage of my drawer, in my bag, in my car, everywhere! And...get this...I have a box of 40 Hand Warmers in the trunk of my car! I am serious about this, man.

Another problem with running in the cold is nutrition and hydration. That's a joke, and a cruel one at that. My weekends are reserved for my longer runs, mostly on the trails where it is essential to carry water and Gu packs. I honestly have to struggle to open a Gu pack on a good Spring day, but trying to tear those little packs from the devil when you have gloves on is hilarious. Usually, your fingertips are non-functioning anyway, so I guess the gloves are not the major problem. As an aside, if any of you ever volunteer at an ultra event aid station, one of the most blessed things you can do for an approaching runner is open his Gu pack for him. I can fill my own water bottle, but if you tear open this damned pack of calories, I will shower you with thanks. Anyway, back to the solo cold runs, by the time I get those little buggers open, I’ve probably used up half the calories I was hoping to replace.

Running with a partner in winter conditions is a whole different encounter that requires a new dialect of short sentences and disjointed grunts. As many of you know, I often run with my "long-lost-brother" Mohammed who is from Iran and although he has been here for decades, he has a strong accent, and it ain't Southern. When he gets tired, he is almost impossible to understand. Ok, when both of us have been running for a couple of hours in biting cold, just cross out that word "almost" from the previous sentence. When we both have frozen cheeks and lips and Moha speaks, honestly I usually just say “yes” or laugh or sometimes just act like I haven’t heard anything. What’s the sense? It’s not like I will be able to respond or that my response will be understood by him.

So, now the temp outside has warmed up to about 55 and I feel silly writing this post, but during my run this morning (when I get most of my ideas of what to write) it was ALL I could think about. Maybe I'll repost it when the winds of January come a-blowin'. In the meantime, I'll just organize my winter wardrobe in nice little stacks in my drawer (thin long sleeves, heavy long sleeves, gloves, mittens, tights, knit get the picture). Tomorrow, I'll show up for my run with friends bundled up, and Ken will probably come shirtless, the girls will wear short sleeves, or worse, singlets(!), but I'll be perfectly content in my warm cocoon ready to yell at the heavens "bring it on". Spring is right around the corner. Ok, it's a big corner, but I'm goal oriented.

I'll see you on the cold roads - AL

"One child lost is too many... One child saved can change the world"

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Self-fullfilling Long Run Prophecy

"All the good stuff is on the other side of tired" - unknown

One of the questions I get asked often by new folks training for a marathon or ultra is "When do the long runs get easier?". My usual answer is that you don't really notice in training that the runs are getting easier because the necessary long runs keep getting longer. When you first begin and your long run is 6 miles, you start to wonder if signing up for this thing was pure folly. A few weeks later, after whatever the scheduled long run is, you still have that same thought, BUT that 6 miles that was a struggle a few weeks before is a whole lot easier.

What has always bothered me though, through my many years of thousands of long training runs is that at the end of these long runs I was about done in. Not necessarily because I ran out of carbohydrates, or was dehydrated, but because my run was finished!  I often think that our bodies are programmed to run the prescribed distance of a schedule but then mentally shut down when you reach that distance.  This phenomenon has happened to me more times than I can count...ok, just about everytime I do a long run...having committed to some manner of “long” run" (whatever that means at the time) and what I often find is that when I finish, I am just about in the trashbin. At that point I cannot imagine being able to run any further. Doesn't matter if it's 12 miles or 22 or 30. When this happens, I usually think something like “Oh, crap—I’m in the bag at 15 miles. How can I ever think about running 26? Or 31?Or 16?”  But then I think, be cool, been here before, this is nothing new. Don't always convince myself, but I go through the scenario. 

It’s just like when you prepay cash at the gas station and the pump automatically starts slowing down and then shuts down at the preset amount.

Because come race day, I do the distance and if I have a collapse point where everything seems to be going South, I never believe it's because I didn't put in those obligatory long runs. It's nutritional, or lack of specificity, or lack of concentration, but this is something that's different, more mind/body/training specific. It's just that it surprises me that, aging aside, after decades of doing marathons and ultramarathons, the quality of the ease of doing these long training runs still seem to be dictated by your pre-run mindframe. Seems like the distance planned and the distance run are self-fulfilling prophesies, mutually synced up like a pair of binary stars.

Is it just me or does anybody else experience this phenomenon? If you run as a group that has a certain distance planned, does the whole group poop out at the designated distance plus one foot? You'd like to finish every long run with the attitude of "Bring it on!", instead of "Holy crap, I'm dead!!".

This mind/body connection thing has been rattling around in my head for some time, but it was, in a way, made clearer by the 3-day stage race I did a couple of weeks ago. If you said to your running partner "Let's run 15 miles today, then get up early and run 18 tomorrow, and just for kicks, let's do a 3rd day of 21 miles", your partner would probably tell you to cut back on your pain meds. But, to my surprise, and I'm sure to the others that finished this adventure, it wasn't too difficult to get going the next day. The daily goal was set, the mind was programmed, and the trained body performed. I probably couldn't have gone another mile on any of those 3 days, but my mind knew I didn't have to. 

Just a thought and observation from a thousand years on the road. What do you all think?

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My 3 Days of 3 Stages On 3 Mountains

"When you think you are ready to are only at 40% of your potential" - David Goggins, Navy Seal, Ultramarathoner

Back in early Spring, I signed up for the Southeastern Trail Series (7 races in 7 months). Sounded like a good idea at the time. Get me out on the trails with periodic goals to finish. No problem. Well, maybe tiny problems, but my ultramind said no problem to my ultrabody. All Spring, Summer, and into Fall, I have been posting about my successes, failings, and struggles to get through the increasing distances, hills, heat, rocks, roots, ruts, and anything else that Race Director David Tosch could throw at us. Since the beginning, my "A" race has been the 3-Day, 3-Stage, 3-Mountain, race that would cover 53 miles and 7000'+ of elevation.. I had never approached a back-to-back-to-back race where I had to run/recover/sleep/run/recover/sleep/run/die before. I have run many runs where the total miles were more than 53 miles, but after about 20 miles, you're mentally in a fog and just keep going till some evil Race Director tells you to stop. Then you go home and rest for about a week. Usually after a shorter...much shorter...extremely shorter... run, my ankles are barking pretty loudly, so I was literally running into new territory.
      Well, amigos, that race run adventure took place this past weekend, and to the best of my ability, I will try to reconstruct it here. I actually first planned to write the night after each stage, but that didn't work out so well. Everything was pretty fresh in my mind, but I just didn't feel like sitting down to type away when I could be sitting down doing NOTHING. Then, I planned to recap it all Sunday night after the 3rd stage, but I was lucky I could remember what mountain we had just climbed that day, nevermind trying to remember little details like "what day is today?". So, to the best of my ability, here I go, a full week after the fact:

Friday - Stage 1- Moss Rock Preserve - 14.8 miles - 2,223' elevation gain
     The Moss Rock Preserve is a nature preserve in Hoover, Alabama that is relatively new. Of the 3 Trail systems we were to do this weekend,  MR is the smallest, only about 350 acres total! Despite my strong belief in specificity of training, and the fact the the MRP is only 8 miles from my front door, I have only run there once, and got lost twice in that one run. It was (is) rooty, very (big) rocky, with very frequent twists, turns, and short steep ups and downs. There were few long hills, but by looking at the elevation gain, you can appreciate the constant up/down racking that your legs take along basically at least 75% of the course. Due to some Hoover Ordinance or something, we couldn't start till 9am, which I hated, 'cause I wanted to get this first stage over and done. I think David said about 70 had registered for the 3-day option (there was also a 2-day, Sat/Sun option), and being early morning runners, most of us arrived way too early and had plenty of time to gab and get more nervous than we already were. Fortunately, the weather couldn't have been any better the whole weekend...high 50's, windless, under a cloudless sky. The figure-8 course would consist of two loops. In the middle of each loop, you would come back to the start/finish area/aid station. This would make it incredibly convenient to run around 3.7 miles, hit the aid station, fuel up, and be on your way. One handheld water bottle was all I belt, no gels, no nothin". This'll be a snap. Ha! After a quarter mile downhill doubletrack to start, it quickly turned into a maze of Alice-in-Wonderland thick roots, gnarly trees, slick moss-covered rocks, and never more than what seemed like about 25 yards of straight running. That is, except for the mile and a half of long hills along the Powerline on the 2nd half of the loop. We even hit one rock climbing escapade that involved a rope to hoist yourself up the rockface and two "fat-man squeezes" between huge boulders. I'm serious, these were tight. And remember, we hit all these fun hilites twice! I was sure I had taken a wrong turn at about 3 miles...yeah, I saw flag markers, but I convinced myself that these were markers for the 2nd half. Then I came out of the woods from the opposite side from where I thought I would emerge...Crap!...That's just great!! As I ran towards the aid station, the volunteer worker yelled at me "What can I get you?". My answer..."Some confidence that I went the right way". "Yeah, you're good!".  First calamity averted! Only 50 miles to go! I eventually got myself around the two loops in a little under 5 hours and felt pretty good. I decided that my recovery meal would be baked chicken, baked potato and grilled veggies. And a ton of water. I just couldn't stop drinking. Tomorrow is another day, another park, another mountain.

Saturday - Stage 2 - Red Mountain Park - 17.8 miles - 1,993' elevation gain
      Red Mountain Park is another of our newer park trail systems. There are over 1200 acres at RM, but the open trail systems probably are less than 20 miles even if you count all the connectors. Surprisingly, I woke up feeling relatively fresh without any more soreness than I do when I wake up after a day of work or a day after a shorter run. Had some coffee, PB&J on toast and got to the race site about an hour early. Glad I did 'cause there was a rep from Swiftwick socks giving away free pairs. I LOVE Swiftwick socks and have about 8 pair, but gladly accepted another pair. Before the race, David (the RD) said one of the trails we were to use was closed so with the course change, each loop of what was to be 8 miles was going to be 9 miles with one unmanned water-only aid station. No big deal. After all, this was to be the easiest of the 3 stages. I'd say about half of the loop is wide double track with the remaining half being rooty single track including the added 3 mile trail that replaced the closed trail. The problem was that this added section had long uphills, rocks, and (yikes) snakes...well, a snake...huge snake...cobra or Boa I'm sure...about 8 feet long. Ok, it was a 12 inch long green snake, but when you're lumbering along with only a third of your brain functioning, and something quickly slithers a foot in front of you, well, at 66 years old, I don't have many scares left in me! Only got lost once during this stage and it was quickly overwith because I hit a deadend at an old mineshaft. I swear I could hear the ghosts of the old miners having a good laugh -"I told you we could distract him and make him go wrong. That was so easy!". The last 3 miles were pretty tough with looonnngggg climbs that elicited a few Dammit's as I would turn a bend and still see the trail going up. I got tired, I walked some good sections of the ups, but I finished this almost 18 mile leg in about 10 minutes slower than yesterday, but it was 3 miles longer. Yes, I was tired, but for 33 miles and over 4000' of climb, I wasn't shot. So, after a Chicken sandwich when I got home and later a Chicken and Veggies Chinese meal, I was ready for Stage 3 at my favorite Park - Oak Mountain.

Sunday - Stage 3 - Oak Mountain St. Park - 21.1 miles - 3067' elevation gain
      And so strangely, I wake up on Day 3 with muted enthusiasm and excitement to finish this adventure. I was tired, but not exhausted....ankles sore, but not screaming...and confident that I would finish (it might be Tuesday, but I would finish). Wasn't going to mess up a working formula, so with coffee and PB&J in my tummy I was off to Oak Mountain. OM is my favorite training park. It has almost 10,000 acres and advertises 50 miles of trail, but with all the many connectors, there are probably close to 75 miles at least. I know David has found trails that I have never seen in over 15 years of running those trails. 
      Anyway, this last stage was to be approximately 21 miles with a 14 mile loop on the South end of the park and 7 miles on the North. It was nice not to have to look forward to a 2-loop stage. Now, if you've been reading my posts throughout this series, you know that David is an evil Race Director in that he is in love with 2 aspects of running Oak Mt - 1) the yellow/white connector which is a one mile meandering hill single track at about an average of a 15% grade (sometimes close to 30%!) filled with large rocks, and 2) the Peavine Falls Gorge which is a boulder dominated 150' climb (rappel) down to the bottom of the falls, followed by the total body exhausting hands & legs climb out of the falls. You can count on these two gems in most of David's OM races. When I'm doing these parts of his races, I always have the thought of going to work on Monday and somebody asks "What was your pace?". Geez! Fortunately, we got both of these overwith in the first 7 miles of the race, but 14 more miles through the hills on already shot legs was not too inviting. The middle 7 miles was more downhill than up, but it was the rocks on the trail that just got real old, real fast (well, not that fast). I made it back to the Start/finish/aid station in a little under 4 and a half hours, filled my bottles with Heed, and made an effort to get out of there - I didn't want my butt to get too comfy on a bench. As I left, my good buddy Suman (who had already finished, still calls me "Coach", and creams me in every run we do) yelled some words of encouragement raising a beer, and I was off into the woods. I had in my head that this would be a fairly relaxed trot through the last 7 miles. HA!! Miles 15-17 rises through a constant grade about 600' to Shackleford's Point which is the highest crest in the Park at 1267'. Ok, not exactly the Rockies, but after 49 miles, my legs were saying "Another hill...really?". That climb was the worst pull of the whole 3 stages. The last 4 miles were mostly downhill and kind of a blur. I finished next to last, but actually did better than I expected by over an hour for the 3 days. Only folks who do races (doesn't matter if it's 5k or 50k) know the inner pride you feel when you finish a race. I guess that's the buzz that brings us back. 
Total - 3 Stages - 3 Days - 3 Mountains - 53.7 miles -15:54:57 - 7313' elevation gain

Some last thoughts:
     1) My total food during the stages was either Gu or Hammer Gels every 3-4 miles. I'd start out with water, but always filled my bottles with Heed at the Aid Stations. 
     2) Pinestraw on rocks is REAL slippery.
     3) Trail Karma works - They say if you treat the trail with respect it will repay you. Well, I made a point to try to pick up any gel wrappers or trash I saw along the trail and stuff it in my pocket. C'mon people. Anyway, I finished and maybe it was that Trail Karma.
     4) Standing in a cool creek for 30 seconds sure does wonders on hot feet.
     5) Trail running surrounds you with the most friendly runners anywhere. Always smiles and pats-on-the-back.
     6) The Birmingham Area has a marvelous trail system that still needs a lot of exploring by me.
     7) The older I get, finishing means so much more than time (but many thanks to those who wait for me to finish).
     8) The Race Director(s) NEVER get enough thanks for the tons of work they do. Thanks again to David and Marye Jo.
     9) I don't bounce back like the old days. Still recovering a week later. Slow and sore wheels.
    10) One more race in the Series - Tranquility 50k in November. It's at Oak Mt and the only race that has a time cut-off, so I guess I better do some speedwork...Haha, I crack myself up!!!

Went a little long, both on the trails and with this week's post. Hope you enjoyed reliving Race #6 with me. I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too many...One child saved can change the world"