Thursday, July 26, 2007

This is Your Brain on the Whites...

Summer haze over the White Mountains in New Hampshire, August 1, 2006. Photo by Mike Keene.

Hills are relative. I think Einstein would agree. When your frame of reference is largely based on running Oxford Road, Tuckahoe State Park offers challenging hills. When you take off on a 72-minute trail run in western Pennsylvania's Alameda State Park, Tuckahoe begins to look Kansas-flat.

Working with some seemingly brutal hills this past Sunday, made for a fantastic, scenic trail run. As of Monday, Alameda's hills will be relegated to foothill status as Mike Keene and I arrive in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We have a 4-day, 3-night, AMC hut-to-hut fastpack planned, hopefully with some trail running thrown in for good measure.

Our plotted course includes Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Crawford Path, Mt. Washington, Gulfside Trail, Mts. Adams and Madison, Osgood Trail, and Madison Gulf Trail. Our accommodations will be made at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, Mitzpah Spring Hut, and Madison Spring Hut. Keene is a White Mountain veteran, and has plotted our course based on great routes and hut availability.

Light, fast, and fun are the operating principles for the trip--not forgetting to just enjoy the experience. There are a few companies worth mentioning to say thanks for making great gear that encompasses trail running and fastpacking, and have been staples for my own trail running already. I am using a GoLite Multi-Sport pack, which is light and functional; Montrail Hardrock shoes which kept me blister-free through the Holiday Lake 50K++ and winter and spring trail running; and Ibex clothing, who pretty well has me covered from the waist-up with base and mid-layers for all conditions. I am hoping to send Ibex a report and photos after the trip.

There are any number of reasons why I am pumped for this trip. One is because I've never been to the Whites before and can't wait to savor it all. Two is to brutalize my legs a bit with rocks and mountains to help get ready for a moderately hilly Baltimore Marathon in October and the JFK 50 in November, which starts with a 14-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. Three is having a training partner and friend looney enough to languish through 5-hour training runs, a 12-degree 50K for a first ultra, one-upsmanship for entering longer trail and distance races, winter runs, and other zaniness, to finally get something slower and more low-key to enjoy. And the bonus, is to try to find a home for one or more magazine stories from the trip.

Look for a trip report on the next post here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Belly of the Marsh

At the bottom of Turkey Hill trail, Tuckahoe State Park, if you want to go over to the Little Florida trail, you either get wet, or walk across a fallen tree.

Note to Self: Do NOT forget bug spray before summer trail running at Tuckahoe State Park again! Now write that 500 times on the blackboard, please.

It’s best to stay away from Tuckahoe over the summer months, generally speaking. Black flies, overgrown poison ivy, ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and other critters and deterrents common to marshy wooded areas on the Shore help pain the picture. Being fully aware of this, I still decided to knock out a 10-ish mile run there this past Sunday—in part because I have been jonesing for a trail run and in other part because I wanted to get a good run in there to thrash the Nike Air Zoom Kyotee II shoes that Trail Runner magazine sent me to test.

Planning the run in my head, I thought about skirting some of the sections that are more overgrown in the summer to minimize the bodily damage. Once I started hoofing it, I opted for a favorite 10-mile loop that runs you right through the belly of the marsh; sends you on all the good trails (Tuckahoe Valley, Creekside Cliff, Little Florida, and Pee Wees) and throws some of the park’s best terrain at you. The lengths I will go to test a pair of shoes!

I have never run trails with an i-pod before Sunday, always opting for the soundtrack of the woods. But after reading a number of ultra-running blog race reports about playlists, favorite bands, etc., I plugged in. In a way, it added to the experience—throwing in new rhythms and cadences to familiar places. And I can understand the popularity of jam-bands with ultra runners—my playlist included the new instrumental Beastie Boys album (a winner) and a now defunct Vermont-based band called Dispatch, who rocked some great grooves. In the end, I finished the run about 2 minutes faster than the last time I ran it.

There will be more summer trail runs at Tuckahoe. Forgetting bug spray was the only issue, and then only when I stopped to take pictures. I dig it back there too much to stay away.

As for the shoes, you’ll have to wait for Trail Runner’s fall shoe review, except to say that these shoes might be on the short list for contenders to use for the JFK 50 miler.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Borg vs. McEnroe at Hardrock

Superhuman ultra runner Scott Jurek just after setting the course record at the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run--considered to be the most difficult 100 mile trail run. Photo from the Hardrock 100 website.

It isn't frequent that you end up with a showdown for the ages in ultra running--many of the great runners are pursuing particular races.

For seven of the last eight years, Scott Jurek won the Western States 100, ultimately deciding that he had finished his work at WS, and winning the Badwater Endurance Run (135-mile grueling road race) the last two.

Karl Meltzer wins almost every 100 mile race he has entered in the last two years. He has won the Hardrock 100 miler four times, including setting the course record. So when Jurek and Meltzer both signed up for Hardrock this year, it was on.

From my computer screen perch in Ocean City on vacation, then home in Easton, I constantly checked back in with Hardrock's live webcast to see what was going on. I had a blast. I don't remember looking forward to a showdown of individuals like this since the Wimbledon tennis grudge matches between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

Long race to short story, Jurek won the race in course record time, despite spraining his ankle in a pick-up, community soccer game earlier in the week. If you go to his blog, you can get good stories from a couple Colorado newspapers. Meltzer finished second, despite bonking, taking a 2-hour nap, and then continuing. And Krissy Moehl, who has quickly become a 100-mile force of nature, finished 3rd overall, 1st woman, setting the women's course record as well. You can check her blog as well.

If you want to see some inspirational videos, go to the Hardrock site and watch the footage of Jurek and Moehl finishing. To give you an idea about the differences in trail courses of the same distance, Jurek set the Western States course record in over 15 hours. He set the record for Hardrock in over 26 hours. I suppose 33,000 total feet of climbing vs. Western States' 18,000 will do that to you. I wonder how many times you'd have to run around Tuckahoe State Park to get 33,000 feet of climbing?

Apologies for the lack of updates--beach vacation, and now I am having a hard time accessing any sites from my Mac at home. Hope to get that figured out soon. Next post will be a return to Tuckahoe for a great, but buggy, summer run, with some photos from a 10-mile trail run out there this past Sunday. This weekend we are off to western Pennsylvania, where I hope to hit the great, hilly state park next door to my brother-in-law in Butler.

In related news - Mike Keene and I are officially registered to participate in the JFK 50-miler in November.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What Envelope?

The JFK 50-mile Run was started as an initiative of President Kennedy to challenge the country, and specifically the military to get in shape. Image from the JFK 50 website.

I can't say that I have enjoyed any of the 20+ mile runs I have done. Sure, there were parts or stretches I dug. And the sense of accomplishment--the whole experience is somehow sadistically addictive. The shock value of telling people you are running some crazy conglomeration of miles always creates some interesting reactions.

Maintaining a fitness level to run 10Ks to half-marathons is a sort of life goal. I like those distances and once you are there to being able to run and improve at those races, the amount of work to stay there isn't unwieldy. I have heard, and can see why, that 10 miles is called the perfect distance for races--long enough that you have to work, but short enough that you don't have to punish yourself (too much).

So why today did I send in registration forms for Mike Keene and me to sign up for the JFK 50-Mile Run in November? The "because it's there" mountain climber rationale somehow seems cliche. The short answer is that I don't know, though I guess that's not completely true either.

I subscribe to the notion that you've only got so long on the planet and you owe it to yourself, God, Creation, Life, what-have-you, to push the envelope. To find out what I am capable of. To do things that raise eyebrows and question sanity. Yet sanity is relative, to be sure.

At the runners' dinner before the Holiday Lake 50K++, Mike K. and I sat with a group of ultrarunners from northern Virginia. None of them fit the archetypal runner description. Yet they, and so many people there, dropped past 50-mile and 100-mile races around like fishing stories, minus the ego, plus the scars, photos, finisher's medals to prove it.

I probably read too much. But it is easy to get inspired and motivated by the stories of 25-time Western States finisher Tim Twietmeyer; by meeting David Horton or Dean Karnazes; by talking to Don Marvel; or following Scott Jurek, Hal Koerner, Nikki Kimball or Krissy Moehl. I can't wait to see what happens when Karl Meltzer and Jurek go toe-to-toe at the Hardrock 100 this year.

I have at times been one to fling, rather than push, the envelope--body, mind, spirit. I remember well 12 years ago the first time I ran farther than 10 miles; two years ago the first time I ran 20 miles; and this year pushing past 30 miles. I look forward to trying to add 40 and 50 to that list.

If you are interested to know more about the JFK, they've got a thorough website. Interestingly, the first ultrarunner I met, a crazy Marine-turned-lawyer named Brian Boats may be running this year as well. I met Brian through a close friend of mine, and he talked about running 50 miles and the JFK. We all thought he was nuts, myself included. Now, I am hoping to include myself in that kooky company.