Monday, February 25, 2013

We're On The Road To Nowhere

Somewhere, there are runners who have everything nicely planned out. They are probably the sort of fools who believe that any difficult uphill effort would be balanced by an easy downhill effort, and thus, bother with neither. They know what mediocre weather conditions to expect. On the other hand, the trails are somewhat of a mess right now. So, running trails is a bit of planning, replanning, finding things, and making hard decisions. When I hit the very bottom of the Entertainment Trail, I found an unexpected pile of ice patches. It's nothing that I cannot handle with a good water bottle to take half the blow, but every time the ice rears its head, I risk some manner of injury, which will prevent me from running for awhile. I'm not down to sit around while the knees and legs heal, so I don't want to get injured. So, I head up to the Rodney Ridge trail. I had planned on heading down T. R. Trail, but realized that it tends to be horribly iced over, so that wouldn't be a good option. In fact, anything Waterline way would be a slickly miss. I thought I might try the Roger Fuchs trail, which I haven't spent much time on. However, I got a grand total of fifty feet, realized that I'd be dong slip and slide the whole way, and wisely decided to head on back. So, up and over the big hill, which was big, but didn't have piles of ice to worry about. Except for at the very end. Which weren't too bad. But would be annoying. And the trail toward Spring Hill road would probably have the same conditions. So, I decided not to do the Spring Hill road, even if it would normally be awesome, since slipping over to it would not be. Instead, I ran down Arrastra and Oro Fino. I'm not normally a huge fan of running on roads, especially when there's a nice parallel trail, but I'm not a fan of slipping all over the place, and roads are known to be dry. I'll take a lack of view and annoyance of cars for dryness sometime. So, the moral is that there really shouldn't be a great deal of planning in running on the trail, especially this time of year. Actually, during the summertime, there's plenty of logging operations, fires, and sundry other maladies to force constant rerouting. So, one should learn some good navigational skills. The real navigational skill (in addition to knowing where one is) is knowing how to get to the nearest road. Roads are speedy, and there are plenty of vehicles to take you back to civilization in case of emergency. Mostly, the speedy thing is an advantage, along with the fact that roads have to be grades for wimpy cars, and are relatively few in number. So, don't get too caught up in plans. Do what you need to do, adapt when necessary, and don't adapt when necessary. Parse out the logic.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting Up To Speed

There's a myth that runners are somehow full of a mystical runny substance which makes them faster than the rest of the planet, call it, runundium. There are possibly a few people with some supernatural count of this mysterious substance. But, unlike magical abilities, trust funds, and eyeballs destined to need glasses, running is not something that was predestined. Rather, like great piano playing, driving in the Indianapolis 500, and Bayesian modeling, running is a skill, one to be learned and applied. Even after all the miles that I've put in, it's a fact that most people will run faster than me over short distances. I'd make an absolutely miserable purse thief. So, what separates me from the pack? Despite being barely able to keep up with the average second grader in a game of tag, I know how to keep running. Most people will beat me to the corner, fewer can beat me around the block, and, without experience, very few can actually beat me over a distance of a mile or so. Running isn't about having massive levels of runumdium in the bloodstream, it's about learning how much effort to exert at the proper times. When I first start to run, I never feel good. The body has been enjoying being at rest, and it is never quite sure that it wants to change that position. There's the annoyance that the weather outside is miserable this time of year, and I'm wearing far more doo-dads and gizmos than I want to wear. I don't want to wear gloves; it's cold outside so I must. I don't want a flashlight, vehicles are dangerous so I must. So, I spend my time getting everything on. And, even running after having done it a hundred times, I'm slow out of the gate, and wonder why I'm doing it. But, after a little while, everything starts to click into it's proper place. I find whatever pace I feel like running at. I start to find those paths around the trails that I've learned, along with all the pinnacles and sloughs. It doesn't take me long to find where I want to be, and once I'm there, I'm good to go for awhile. None of us start out this way, though. It's like playing the guitar. It sounds great to say that Eric Clapton just picked up a guitar for the first time and started making awesome music. It's far more accurate to say that Eric Clapton spend a ton of time practicing, figuring out how to make the notes sound good, and then started to rock the guitar. He's probably afraid every time that he gets on stage, but knows it'll come back, and just be part of his guitar playing nature. There's probably someone else who picked up a guitar the same day as Eric. On that day, Eric probably didn't sound any better than that person. But, no one remembers the name of that person, we remember Eric Clapton, who realized that he's be able to play well, and saw beyond the moment to the possibility.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Devil's Cadillac

I'm convinced that the devil drives a Cadillac. It's the class vehicle one gets with great power and wealth, large and fuel inefficient. It's probably got a bunch of red, because that color is usually associated with the devil, and smells like cigars.
When I was running the 50k out in the Elkhorns last August, I might have considered a ride in the devil's Cadillac. I'd just gotten back to the aid station at the top of a figure eight, and had plenty of miles of painful downhill ahead. My toenails were in the process of coming off. My shoes had given out ten miles ago, and the heel was falling apart. My socks did little to comfort the blisters that were forming, and were a wet, soppy, mess. For better or worse, the devil's Cadillac might have an impressive speed on the Autobahn, but is completely incapable of getting around the Elkhorns. So, regardless of what I wanted to do, I had no choice to continue onward, regardless of the consequences.
The main thing that separates the runners who finish events like the Elkhorn 50k from everyone else is a refusal to quit. It is technically possible to quit the race, and have a staff carry one out. I suppose, if one should actually get seriously injured, a helicopter can always take one the ten or so miles back to Helena, as the crow flies. Yet, despite all manner of aches and pains, the consequences for quitting are severe. Thus, as I constantly remind myself, I've nothing better to do, and continue onward.
During the Fat Ass 50k, I became confronted with the same dilemma. I'd ran too hard at the start, took too much time at the aid station at the power station getting my water pack unfrozen, and fallen behind the main pack of runners. I'd run into a friend, Lisa, and asked for the one that would get me through the race, a perfectly acceptable cup of hot chocolate. I knew that I'd be walking up Lump Gulch and Travis Creek, until I got to Brooklyn Bridge. So, I'd been going at a steady uphill slog for two hours, with nothing but Bruce Springsteen to accompany me on the iPod. Yet, after cresting Brooklyn Bridge, I knew I had another seven hard miles down Grizzly Gulch.
My temptation came when I ran back into my friend, who, I must admit, I'd completely forgotten about. She was helping another runner who got injured, and so I walked with them awhile, trying to get my legs warmed up again.
She had two great temptations. The first was the hot chocolate I'd requested two hours ago. The combination of warmth and sugar filled me with unimaginable energy. At that point, I'd spent over four hours in temperatures ranging from -5 degrees Fahrenheit to a balmy +5 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd have to fight to get clothing back on, as it would freeze whenever I needed to remove it at aid stations, or to get at the semi-thawed water pack. But, all of a sudden, everything just felt better.
Second, she offered me a ride back to Helena, instant transportation in a more humble vehicle back to the safety and comfort of the indoors. Yet, I knew I couldn't take it. I was not injured. I'd followed my running plan well enough, and had plenty of strength to get back down Grizzly Gulch and to the finish line. And, most importantly, I'd no reason not to accomplish what I'd set out to do that morning.
Fifty kilometers seems a long way. But, the secret to success is to keep going, and not quit.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Even Experienced Runners Get Scared Of New Things

Despite the rumors, I am not in fact, fearless. I'm afraid of approaching groups of strangers, who are probably talking about things more interesting than I. I'm quite fearful of drivers on cellular phones, who manage to pose great threat to me with little threat to themselves.
On Sunday, I decided to actually do the Grant Creek to Rattlesnake run. I checked everything up on a variety of websites. There's a trail that goes up Ravine... Trail, up toward Stuart Peak. The problem is that I couldn't quite figure out the distance looking at a collection of maps designed for bicyclists. I cannot be the only person who thinks it is more fun to hike / run from one edge of Missoula to another, but, looking online, it seems like the bikers outnumber the hikers, and there are few runners. Plus, who else wants to do a complicated point to point run that involves getting dropped off and heading over to another part of town. Okay, someone with someone who can drop them off, and someone who knows someone cool who lives up the Rattlesnake.
Fortunately, the night before I undertook this epic quest, it had snowed. Now, I hear a lot of opinions on snow, usually from people who don't spend much time in it. Since I spend a large amount of time outside, I think my opinions count for more. In my opinion, snow is great for trail running, because snow has a good slowing crunch.
I run into another runner who is planning on doing an out and back up Ravine Trail. I leave a few minutes before him. You see, despite the fact that it's wintertime, and I'm about to commit to a run with unknown distance and time, I realize that I've got to do this sometime. Plus, I've got nothing better to do on that morning; I've already committed to it. So, I bravely head up the Trail and into the unknown.
For the first half mile, I'm scrambling over ice with a snow layer. There's a few places where I get brought to my knees with the ice, which forms a huge sheet heading down the trail. But, then, something cool happens. I get past the ice, and into a nice collection of packed snow. It's absolutely amazing, tromping over packed snow. And, roughly two miles up (where the trail starts to split up), I get overtaken by the fellow runner heading back. I ask him about the trail, he says that I can go left, toward Stuart Peak, or stick to the right. I had planned on doing the left, and so I start to head down. And, I go from trail into three feet of snow, thrashing all the way. I remember hitting the turnoff for the out and back up Stuart Peak (which I had not planned on running) and thinking the best feeling in the world, which is that I knew exactly where I was at, and exactly how to get where I was going on the unfamiliar trail. However, at that point, I manage to get caught in the snow drifts, and flop into three feet of loosely packed snow. It's just too much fun.
I head down through the Rattlesnake, and start to see the capillaries of trails heading down toward the main trail. The heavy snow is gone, replaced with the light dusting that crunches and encourages speed. Eventually, I hit the main trailhead, and run from there the last three miles to my friend's house. Actually, that's a bit of a lie. Rather than take the direct route, I try taking a trail near the creek, and end up wasting a bunch of time and sneaking out through some citizens yard.
So, despite my hesitation about trying a totally new route, with unknown distances and weather conditions, it's the most fun that I've had out running in a very long time. This one's a good one!

Totals: 11.55 miles, and about two hours and forty five minutes of crazy fun running, stomping, pushing through snow, and the occasional slip and slide.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Fitness Weekend

There are probably thousands of promotions run under the name of fitness weekend.  Then again, I’m not all that much of a promoter, other than to promote health and well being.  So, I’m here to tell you the secret to doing an awesome fitness weekend of your own.
The idea behind a fitness weekend is that one can do a lot of important things during a weekend.  Sure, everyone knows that doing laundry is super important, and watching the continuing adventures of Honey-Boo-Boo child and Uncle Poodle is not as important.  But, the fundamental idea of a fitness weekend is to do a bunch of cool stuff.
So, I’d been planning night skiing up at Great Divide since, well, last week.  But, in my fast moving world, a week is a long time.  There’s epidemics of congenital heart disease to be found and lost in a short time, along with more branches of ICD-10 to learn about.  There’s twenty or thirty miles to travel down in that time, which makes it feel slightly more epic.  Anyway, I head up to Great Divide, where I continue to ski, with less light than the last time I went, last weekend.  So, I get in three good hours up on Great Divide, where I continue to learn more about how to travel over snow, ice, and combinations thereof.
So, Don’s headed on the slopes the next day, and let it never be said that too much is not enough.  Anyway, he’s planning on heading out at 11:00.  So, I decide, rather than let a weekend of running go to waste, just go running before meeting up to go skiing.  Head up the Rodney Ridge for an awesome two hour run, finishing at exactly 9.99 miles.  I’m alright rounding that up to the whole ten miles.  The only real downsides were a few places where the trail was packed with snow that wanted to dump me off the ridge, and not having time to head out past Springhill Stables, and instead heading down Arrastra Gulch and flying back to my place in time to be ready at exactly 11:00.  I’m starting to get the hang of this running timing thing.
Yep, back for round two of skiing that afternoon.  Nothing like another hour and a half in boots, with new tricks to learn and places to move.  So, at this point, I’ve done a great run, and done two days of skiing.  But, is the end of the noble quest?
No, as expected, I head back out on Sunday for another great day out at Great Divide.  Jase shows us all an awesome route, even with the broken Good Luck lift.  Yep, I get to spend even more time outside, doing real and important things while a bunch of people I’ll never meet push each other around over a football.
So, how do I feel after this weekend?  I feel amazing.  At some point, the body switches from being exhausted to being energized.  The chemical receptors in the brain change wiring, and learn to ignore the exhaustion, instead, replacing it with massive amounts of chemicals released by the brain.
Get out there y’all!