Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trails of Glory Debut - November 2015

The single track dropped away immediately from the parking lot.  Sand alternated with rocks.  Joshua trees, yucca, creosote, and rabbitbrush seemingly dust the gray sand and rocks…gray sand and rocks that occasionally give way to the iron rich reds.  While the soils and flora and fauna of desert trails differ greatly from soft dirt of forest trails, I think the most noticeable distinction between them is the striking and far-reaching vistas of the desert.  Horizons sweep away giving one both a sense of smallness and greatness…smallness in the enormity of a massively open landscape and greatness in the ability to see a vast creation from the crest of a rise.

Over the past few years most of my trail runs have been in the desert, Nevada and southern Utah.  The wide open spaces provide an extra challenge to the run, at least for me.  On a wooded trail, the trees and turns hide the distances ahead and behind.  In the desert, distances are transparent; the runner cannot hide the distances from his thoughts or his thoughts from the distances.  The grit of the desert makes its demand of payment in kind.

Since June of this year I have worked hard to lose weight and to get myself back into good physical shape.  To date I have managed to lose over thirty pounds and run some solid distances again.  Outside of a 5K this summer, the Trails of Glory race by Desert Dash was the first race I’ve ran this year, which is significant because I’ve averaged 5 or more races each year since 2010.  As part of my current fitness program, I was challenged to set and accomplish a goal.  My goal was to complete the 12K distance in this race.  When I registered for the race online, I was required to input my expected finishing time.  Going against my better judgment I entered a time of ninety minutes, a time faster than I thought I could handle on the desert hills.

The morning chill dissipated quickly following the gun start.  After a quick loop around the asphalt parking lot, we hit the trail.  We were a crowd on a single track, each a bit hyped on the adrenaline that courses through veins at the beginning of a race.  The first two miles fell away quickly with runners pushing, trying to establish order.  In quick order I passed the damaged Duck Tree, only catching a fleeting glance of some rubber ducks.  (The branch that used to hang across the trail, forcing runners to duck, is now ripped away from the tree.)  In the swiftness of the first two miles, I only see one runner go down, but she was up quickly.  While I never slipped or stumbled, I realize the soles of my well-worn road shoes are thin, too thin to be running on rocky trails.  A problem for another day.

Just after mile three, the climb begins with more turns and curves, with the occasional refreshing dips.  Here the contest truly begins, the doubts enter the mind as pain enters the lungs and the legs.  My performance through this phase surprises me.  I manage to run more than I had expected, walking seldom.  It’s not just my conditioning that allows me to push myself further than I anticipated, but it’s the psychological force coming from the knowledge that runners are behind me and ahead of me.  Usually I prefer to run with minimal company, but the presence of other runners during a race is motivating.  I want to stay ahead of those behind me.  I want to pass those ahead of me.  I don’t want to slow and be a hindrance to those behind me.

By the the time I reach the first aid station at mile four, I’m tired but still invigorated, thrilled to know that I have a reservoir of energy and strength with less than half of the race left to run.  The run to the next aid station gave me the opportunity to push myself a little harder, even to pass a few more runners.  Views of the mountains are amazing, with the clear blue sky overhead.  By now I’m wondering if I should have gone without the long sleeve shirt or if I should peel off my short sleeve shirt.  I’m sweating profusely and enjoying the heat.  I enjoyed the steep drop and steep climb to the second aid station just past mile five.

The crowd builds at the aid station as runners from the different distance groups gather to get a drink.  I’m thankful that I have carried my own water bottle, and I push on without stopping.  At the next turn the 8K runners join us on the trail, a long, slim trail that climbs steadily for almost two miles, a long “slog” as the race director described it.  Here I walked more than I wanted, but I wasn’t walking alone.  Despite getting passed by a few, I manage to push my past a few other runners.  One demands to know where the hill ends.  I can see the final ridge and push, yearning for the last downhill portion.

After a hill, feeling the ground fall away in a decline is always rewarding.  I feel obligated to run, to push myself.  I do.  Unfortunately, another runner goes down in front of me, on the rocks, rocks that are jagged.  She is slow to rise and steps to the side of the trail so I can pass.  Another runner makes sure she is not injured seriously.  I pass a few others, and now I’m wondering if I can maintain the pace even as I quicken it.  The cars parked along the highway come into view, compelling me to go faster, assuming that the finish line is imminent.  There are more twists and turns than I expect.  Another runner cries out that the finish line is straight ahead as a volunteer directs us to another turn.  Around the last turn and I’m flying, trying to hold off the runner just behind me.  I stay ahead as I pass my wife waiting for me and cross the finish line.

I finished in 1:27:37, almost a full two and a half minutes faster than I planned.  Managed to place 40th overall for the 12k distance, which ironically matches my new and beautiful age.  (I came in 8th for my age division.)  As I expect at the end of a race of this distance, my legs and my lungs burn.  Unexpectedly, however, my level of euphoria is higher than it has been in months of running, even since my last race, driven no doubt by my satisfactory performance and the majestic course.

My hunger for racing (and trail running) is restored.  Already I’m looking for more races and reasons to run the desert trails.  A few of the upcoming Desert Dash races have my attention; I’ll likely run one or two of them in 2016, perhaps pushing myself to the half marathon distance and maybe to a trail marathon.

Post Script on Desert Dash

This was my first Desert Dash event.  Other than the longer than average wait for the official results, I think the race was organized and executed very well.  The check in was set up and ready for runners to arrive and the trail was marked clearly with volunteers to direct us through any complex junctions.  The price for the event seemed about right.  Were I in better shape than I am right now, I would consider running their Black Mountain Friday event on November 27th...that and if the price wasn’t so high.  Even for a late registration, a $70 fee seems too high for a seven-mile race, especially with no aid station at the top.  Perhaps the permit fees are higher than normal.  Either way, it look like a great race.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Constant and Faithful Running Companion

In the social sphere of my running life, (or perhaps in the running sphere of my social life), people, places, shoes, shirts, and shorts have come and gone over the past five or so years.  My running hat, however, was a constant.  From the time that I purchased it from Runner’s Corner in Orem, Utah, I ran with it everywhere.  It’s been on three or four marathons, two half marathons, eight or nine Ragnar Relays, two Ragnar Trail Relays, two Red Rock Relay races, and a number of various other races.  It’s been with me on miles and miles and miles of training runs.  My dad runs with this hat’s twin.  He’s been running with it for the same period of time and covered many, many miles.

What is the benefit of a good running hat?  First, it keeps the sun off your face, preventing a sunburned nose and protecting the eyes.  Second, it absorbs and wickers the sweat, keeping it out of your eyes.  The wicking of the sweat also helps to keep your head cool as the sweat evaporates.  Third, the amount of sweat soaked into the hat, at least for me, is a rewarding indicator of hard work.

Freely I admit that I did buy another running hat to wear on occasion, a bright neon green hat.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to wear my white running hat with the Runner’s Corner logo, but that occasionally, after a week’s worth of runs, it needed to be washed.  At the request of my wife I even wore the neon green hat during a few races so that she could pick me out of the crowd a little more easily.  The white hat, however, remained my favorite, even as the band began to fray here and there.

This past September, as I suited up for a run, I grabbed my trusty Runnner’s Corner hat and the plastic clasp at the back of the hat broke.  The hat is now unwearable.  Never again will it grace my head on a run, emitting a lingering scent as I pass innocent pedestrians and bystanders.  I was devastated to a somewhat significant degree by the loss, enough so that I sat down for awhile contemplating my history with that hat…the good runs and the bad.

After a few minutes I moved on, donning the neon green hat for that days run in the 90-plus degree heat.  My sadness continued for a few days.  I thought about ordering a replacement hat from Runner’s Corner, asking them to ship it to me.  Looking at my calendar, I even counted down the days to my next expected trip to Utah.  Less than a week after my hat came apart, I was at the neighborhood park with family and friends to celebrate a milestone birthday.  A good friend gave me a gift wrapped in a bag.  Since I was cooking I set it aside to open later.  At the end of the party, after my friend had left, I opened the bag.  It was a shiny, new running hat.

To quote the famous Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places We’ll Go.”

New running companion with me on its first race.

See also:
Read about the hat's first race: Trails of Glory Debut-November 2015
Ogden Marathon 2013: The Experience and Lessons Learned
Ogden Marathon 2014: Oops, I Did It Again

Monday, June 9, 2014

Unplanned Speed Training and Race Trepidations

It’s just after 9pm and I’m struggling to stay awake.  I ran with my 15-year-old daughter this morning.  She’s not in great shape for any kind of distance, but she’s extremely competitive.  She pushed me hard for that first mile and then challenged me to a sprint for the last quarter of a mile.  Lucky for me she was slow on the hills in between.  I felt great all day until I came home from work.  Now I’m dragging.  The pressure is on to keep running consistently this month, despite triple digit temperatures in the Las Vegas Valley.  Getting up before 6am is imperative.  Soon I’ll need to get up even earlier to avoid the sun.

The Wasatch Back Ragnar is fast approaching, less than 20 days away.  My training for the past few months has been almost non-existent.  Until the past two weeks most of my running has taken place as part of race instead of a regular training program.  Following the Ogden Marathon last month and a generous donation of a pint or more of blood to the Red Cross, I’m finally back to running about four days a week. 

This will be my fourth year running of the Wasatch Back Ragnar.  I’m runner 1 for the first time.  Just under 21 miles, I’ll cover the second longest distance of the race.  Looking ahead I’m intimidated by the distances and the hills.  The first leg is 6.5 miles with a good hill right away.  It will be a beautiful run up along the eastern rim of Cache Valley above Logan.  Leg 2 will leave from Snow Basin on a trail with a 300-foot climb and then scream down SR-167 for about seven miles.  The total leg is 9.3 miles.  My third leg, luckily, will be the easiest at just five miles—mostly flat with a little bit of rolling hills.

With the time that’s remaining, I won’t be able to set any great speed records.  I can, however, build my endurance and speed enough to finish each leg and make recovery a bit easier.  Hopefully I’m fast enough that I don’t anger or disappoint any of my teammates, but I ran with them last year so I don’t think their expectations are too high.

My goal is to keep running through the summer, despite the heat.  I need to get my body weight down while building some endurance.  In order to register for the Ogden Full Marathon next year I need to be down 10 pounds (hopefully 15) and consistently be running double-digit mile distances by October.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Early History of Running

Deep thoughts about running?  Deep thoughts during running?  I’m not really sure what I’m trying to capture here, but we’ll see where it goes.  This will be sort of a running journal, an opportunity for me to explore my extroverted tendencies and share the joys and pains of my running journey.  Some of what I write may be technical (best shoes, training methods, diet, etc.).  Some of what I write may be for entertainment purpose.  Some of what I write will be to capture lessons learned (and it likely will cross over into the spiritual).

I have been running since I was a child.  Then it was just to run from my sister or others as I teased them, or from the scene of some newly made mess.  There was a commercial, way back in the day, for a shoe that was supposed to make the wearer extremely fast.  I begged and begged until my parents finally bought me that brand of shoe.  With a sense of great expectations I put the new shoes on my feet in front of my grandmother’s trailer.  Pulling the laces tight, I tied and retied my knots perfectly.

A few other children had gathered around to observe my exploits—my sister, some cousins, and a few neighborhood kids.  I jogged up and down the sidewalk a few times to warm up, then I told them to watch while I unleashed the power of the shoes in a sprint up the sidewalk.  Crouching in the three point starting stance, I waited while someone counted down: “Ready!  Set!  Go!” 

Spring from my stance I took off down the sidewalk, pumping my legs and watching the shoes work.  I was certain I was faster than I had ever been before even if I didn’t notice much more wind racing through my wild hair.  After a few dozen yards, I reined myself in and turned around to gauge everyone’s reactions.  Nobody seemed overawed, much less mildly impressed.  One of the neighborhood boys chuckled at me and said, “I can run faster than that.”

The challenge couldn’t be ignored.  We picked a starting line on the sidewalk, lowered into our starting positions, and waited for the countdown.  On “Go!” I took off as fast as I could run.  Within about five steps it was obvious that I was outmatched and wouldn’t catch him.  Devastated I slowed to a walk.  As he turned and began to gloat, I had a sudden thought.  What brand of shoes is he wearing?  Maybe he was wearing the same new brand and simply had more experience in them.

I said, “Let me see your shoes.  What are you wearing?”  He looked down at his shoes and I looked at them as well.  They were well worn, almost worn out.  Where I had nice new leather and a well-textured soul, his shoes were thin and torn, smooth on the bottom. 

“I don’t know what kind of shoes they are.  I just wear whatever my mom buys me.”

That day my dream of being fast didn’t die, not completely, but it was the first step toward a realization of my natural skills and shortcomings.

By middle school I once again was entertaining hopes that I might turn into a fast runner, although maybe not as a sprinter.  At Workman Middle School in Pensacola, Florida I managed to run one mile in around 5 minutes and 45 seconds.  My hopes were that my legs would get longer and I would be able to decrease my time.  Unfortunately that was the fastest mile I ever ran.  In ninth grade I started to put on a lot of muscle weight and my legs didn’t get much longer.  During tryouts for the freshman football team the next year at Booker T. Washington High School, my forty-yard dash was barely fast enough to earn me a position as an outside linebacker.  I never ran the forty-yard dash that fast again.

From that point on, at least until I tried to get into the Air Force, I never pushed myself hard to run for speed.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t run.  I ran a lot.  Primarily I ran because a wrestling or football coach told me to run.  I ran so I could make weight for wrestling.  But, at that point in my life I didn’t do much running for the joy of running.  Oh, I enjoyed running during a football game and crashing into someone.  I enjoyed a good pick up game of basketball or ultimate Frisbee.  Running itself, however, was not the goal or path to fun.