Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Why Running? Simplicity.

As mentioned in my previous post, the list of necessary items for running is short.  The simplicity of that brevity is one of my favorite things about running.  It takes a body and mind willing to do it, and that's about it.  

I have dabbled in and enjoyed other sports.  I grew up on a basketball court.  I raced bikes, both road and mountain.  I rock climb, raft, ski, and backpack.  None of them mean to me what running does.  And part of that is complication versus simplicity.

All those other sports require some sort of gear, or a ball, or a team.  Gear can be cost-prohibitive, cumbersome, and potentially fail with varying degrees of calamity.  Ball sports require a suspension of disbelief.  It takes a group of people to agree that for whatever the duration of the game, the inflatable ball is the most important thing in the universe.  When one stops to really consider that, it's borderline whimsical.  

Running is cut and dried.  It requires no gear, tools, mechanization, or rule books.  It is historic.  It is rooted in biological evolution.  We can now leisurely do something that was once selected for by the environmental pressures placed upon our ancestors.  Running was once the very thing that kept us alive.  That's about as simple as it gets.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Unburden Your Running

Things one needs to run:
1.  Gumption
2.  Shoes (optional)
3.  Watch (optional)
4.  Shorts (optional, though strongly recommended and often legally required)
5.  If you're an old, balding, pasty man like me, a hat can sure be useful.

Things one DOES NOT need to run:
1. Literally anything and everything else.

Leave it at home.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Running for running's sake.

I haven't spent much of the last three years focused on running or racing.  Work obligations and travel have been the primary excuse, but laziness, apathy, and advancing old age have all played a part.  As I settle firmly into my mid-thirties, I find my desire to race, and the competitive spirit that always fed that desire, waning as the years go by.  It becomes harder and harder to get into that head space.  I have finally come to accept that.

Lately, I am running more.  I'm back to doing it for the pure fun of it.  It feels like the closest I've felt to the 15-year-old me who first started running 20 years ago.  That kid got his ass kicked by it and made the decision that underneath it all, it made him feel alive.  Two decades later, after wandering, searching, being lost, I feel like I have finally come back to the beginning.  Running just makes sense.  It's the only thing that ever has.

I do still have some goals.  I do still want to challenge myself.  But I don't want to lose myself or the purpose behind this in those challenges.  It is important to push the limits, try new things, be uncomfortable.  That is how we learn.  The point is to not get so caught up in the challenges that it festers as self-pity and self-doubt.

Slowly, piece-by-piece, I am attempting to rebuild myself, mentally and physically.  No longer will I compare what I am doing now, what I am capable of now, to my younger and faster self.  He had his time.  I value the present, being in the moment, more than I ever have.  I feel most in the moment when I am on the trail, clipping off an honest pace, and appreciating the act.  The rocks, the soil, the flora, the hills, the clouds, the sun, the one-foot-in-front-of-the- other of it is the essence.  I hope to do this the rest of my life.

Until the wheels fall off.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Again to Carthage and the Race to Robie Creek

I've considered whether or not to resurrect this blog over the last six months.  Updating a running blog when one is not running is obviously pointless.  I also have always struggled with how I perceive things of this nature.  Everyone and their mothers has a blog, and the truth is, I don't spend time perusing other blogs out there.  There is something very self-indulgent in this practice that has always bothered me.  To put my thoughts and training out there...there is a significant degree of narcissism involved.  I am not doing anything special, I can assure you.  I'm just another over-educated, white-collar, white American male with some spare time and disposable income who chooses to spend that time and money running around in small shorts like a dork.

The thing that truly bothers me with social media is how people choose to portray themselves online.  As one delves into Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, one finds a smorgasbord of running selfies, before-and-after pictures of fitness progress achieved through crash diets (juice cleanses are hogwash, folks.  Eat real food), insane cross-fit workouts, and of course pictures of the strange and inventive (to say the least) things people eat as part of their "healthy" diets (as an anthropologist, nothing drives me more crazy than the "paleo-diet".  Also bullshit).  The issue I have with this culture is that it is 100% wrapped up in vanity.  I myself am certainly not innocent.  Of course you want to take a picture of the cool place you ran so Grandma and Uncle Carl can like it on Facebook (and your crazy ex-whatever can stew when they cyber-stalk you about how good you look and how much fun you are having without them).  But it goes beyond that.  I get the impression that a lot of people out there run because they feel they have to in order to look good, or to look how society et al. has determined we should all look.  It is nothing more than a means to an end.  And while there is certainly nothing wrong with people improving in whatever form or fashion they deem fit, especially if it makes them feel better about themselves, that type of running is often fueled by negativity.  Be happy with how and what you are.  If you hate running and are only doing it to meet some bullshit societal standard, then don't run.  Do something else you may enjoy more.  

Running is not something to ever be taken for granted.  After 17 years of running being part of my lifestyle (and at certain points, my life period), I have come to a place where it's something I do for me.  For my sanity.  Because I love it.  I appreciate the health benefits it provides, and I'm sure I will only appreciate them more as I get older.  But it has never been about looking good or pursuing health.  I started running as a teenager because I enjoyed the sensation I received from it.  I fell in love with the pain one encounters when pushing to the edge; the ragged breath, the cramping muscles, the stinging sweat, the tunnel vision.  And it's fucking fun to win races (there, I said it).  I still to this day get a kick out of that sensation: running to the top of a hill and looking back over the view, tooling around the Greenbelt next to the river, dropping the hammer at the end of a race and feeling that speed.  It's not as fast as it used to be, but it still sure is damn fun.  In essence, running is the thing that, now that I am an adult in an adult world with adult responsibilities, keeps me connected to my youth.  In some ways maybe to my childhood.  There is a freedom and innocence and simplicity to it that I absolutely cherish.

All told, this blog was never about sharing my experiences with others.  I am much too introverted for that to be the case (though a public blog, which lacks actual face-to-face interaction and confrontation, is a good way for introverts to express themselves).  I started this blog over four years ago as a way for me to track my training and experiences for myself.  Part training log, part journal. In a post-collegiate world, with no coach and no teammates, it became my source of accountability.  If I slacked off, it would show up on these pages.  And I would have no one to answer to but myself.  

Training gets harder every year.  To gear up for workouts, races, is tedious.  To pencil training into a schedule of full-time career, fieldwork, a marriage, kids (ahaha! I don't have kids), is difficult to say the least.  But I do still truly enjoy it.  It's that sensation that keeps me coming back.

I spent the latter half of last year healing my achilles, doing fieldwork, and indulging in all that the holiday season has to offer (mostly pie and beer).  I have been in the office more lately which has allowed the opportunity to focus more on getting in some training in preparation for a little racing.  The big one I was interested in is the Race to Robie Creek.  Now in its 38th year, this race is billed as the toughest half-marathon in the northwest.  Leaving Military Reserve on the edge of the foothills, it climbs its way up Shaw Mountain Road, topping off 8.5 miles and 2000 feet later before rapidly descending down into Robie Creek Park.  Every year there is a different theme and participants are encouraged to dress up and party while they run.  The race sells out in a matter of minutes, with 2300 people toeing the line on race day.  The fanfare and spectacle involved reminded me of a smaller version of the Bolder Boulder.

First race in a long time.  Again to Carthage.
This year's theme was "The Running of the Toads," celebrating all things Basque.  Boise has a strong Basque population, including our mayor, and the theme made for a fun starting line and course with people lining the road out of town and at the finish.  Basque music and dancing and "bulls" saw us off from the start at high noon (not sure why so late).  The first couple of miles are paved but do climb up and over the first ridge outside of town before dropping down to cross Cottonwood Creek, marking the beginning of the real ascent.  

By Cottonwood Creek, I had moved into sixth or seventh overall and was content to find the groove and simply get to the top as efficiently as possible.  That's essentially the extent of the climb.  Nothing exciting happened.  I got passed by a couple of other runners.  It started to get very warm in the canyon, so I ran through the aid stations content to douse myself with the water they provided.  The last mile to the summit is far and away the steepest.  I went from running 6:05/mile out of town to a 9:25 leading to the summit.  The climb reminded me of Pilot Hill.  They are similar in distance and elevation gain, with the last mile being the hardest.  Hell, I crested the top in 1:03, which I believe is right around how fast I summited Pilot Hill last year.

Once over the summit, I was looking forward to letting gravity take charge and get back to my strengths, namely running downhill fast.  I bombed down after a couple runners I could see in front of me, clipping off mile 9 in 5:22.  I settled down to 5:38 for mile 10 while I reeled in two guys in front of me.  I was not the only one feeling good at that point, and another guy came up on me.  We jockeyed back and forth for over mile 11 before the steepness, speed, and heat hit my legs like a ton of bricks.  I slowed over the last mile, managing a 6:13, and got passed by a couple guys at the end.  I was eyeing my watch, wondering if I was going to break 1:30 or not.  Going in, I figured 1:30 would be a good goal time.  I mustered a half-hearted kick to finish 12th in 1:30:16.  

Gora! Gora!
For my first Robie, and on six weeks training, I'm happy with the result.  I spent a lot of time training for the uphill, and while I felt strong on that, I could tell I am lacking some speed and could stand to work on my downhills.  Elizabeth and I signed up for the River of No Return 50K in June, so I will work on some tempo, extending my long runs, and maybe a little more downhill work to go with the climbing.  The great thing about Boise is the proximity to a fantastic network of trails in the foothills.  Lots of vert and hot summer temps will hopefully help me work on my two biggest weaknesses.  Heat and climbing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

End of Summer Update

The summer has rolled on quickly and now that I find myself near its end, I realize how much has happened in such a short amount of time.  And so far, next summer is shaping up to be even busier.

First, as mentioned in the previous post, I finally moved to Boise at the beginning of July.  I came out without knowing when and where I might find employment.  We had money saved up for a potential long-term unemployment, and I spent my first couple of weeks in Boise on the job hunt.  I had a couple of major helping hands, and by the end of the month, I was offered and accepted an archaeologist position with URS.  The next day, we traveled out to Eugene for some Track Town racing!

Elizabeth ran her first marathon, running under her goal time and generally being awesome.  My achilles cooperated just enough for me to gut out a 17:08 5K and a win over a running flapjack.  That brought home the pancakes, so to speak.  Those who beat the flapjack received a "year's supply" of Krusteaz pancake mix or other Krusteaz products.  I'm not sure I would quantify what I received as a year's supply, but it was cheap as free, so I shall not look this gift horse in the mouth.

Another fun fact: before we left Eugene, we grabbed coffee and breakfast burritos and hung out at Spencers Butte, home to the challenge course where Elizabeth used to work as well as some very large trees that she loves.  I decided that was a great time and place to propose.  Thankfully, she said yes.  So yeah, we're getting married next year!

I will eat his brethren for breakfast.
Somewhere in there, we also spent a couple of nights in the Owyhee Mountains southwest of Boise.  We camped outside of an old mining town called Silver City, which we spent some time exploring.

Silver City, ID.

I started with URS at the beginning of August.  I spent a lot of the month on a project in eastern Idaho.  We were based out of Idaho Falls, with a short stay in Lima, MT.  The Centennial Mountains form the border between Montana and Idaho there.  I want to go back and explore.  The country isn't particularly high, but it is rugged and empty of people.

Living in a cabin in and RV park down by the river (Snake River, that is).
Sunset from Lima, MT.
Labor Day weekend, a group of us went backpacking in the White Cloud mountains northwest of Ketchum. Our ultimate goal was bagging Castle Peak, which, at 11,815, is the highest peak in the White Clouds and also the most prominent in the state of Idaho.  The climb involved a steep traverse of a gully that was mostly Class 3 with some Class 4 near the top.  

Castle Peak.
It snowed above 10K feet Saturday night.
Going up.  Photo: Monica Hubbard.

Terrible view.  Photo: Monica Hubbard.
Kim, Noel, Monica, Elizabeth, me, Landon, Katie, and of course, Stanley Dog.  Photo: Monica Hubbard.
Out of the mountains and on to Ketchum for burgers.
And with that, summer seems to be nearing its end.  I have spent a couple of weeks in the office, but I am on my way out to Washington on Sunday for a three week project on the upper Columbia River.  From there, I guess we'll see where things go.

As for running, I have been slowly easing back into it.  I definitely lost some fitness over the last couple of months, but the achilles, while not 100%, is good enough to let me get in a few miles.  I forgot how difficult it is to work running into a fieldwork schedule.  I have to be a little more dedicated to that.

I have scrapped all my racing plans for the rest of the year.  Between the injury and my work schedule, it doesn't make sense to spend money on registrations.  I also have an itch to just be outside.  Running can be part of that, but not all of it.

I will see how I feel in the coming months.  I did recently think that maybe it's time to consider a 100-miler.  It sounds stupid and horrible, but lately the challenge has seemed a little more acceptable.  I wonder if suffering through something like that might finally cure me of this need to compete.  

I'm open to whatever opportunities and challenges come my way.  I'm happy right now.  That's what matters.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I finally did it.  I made the move to Boise.  After spending most of my life as a resident of southeastern Wyoming (lots of bouncing between Cheyenne and Laramie), I am now beginning a new adventure in western Idaho.  While moving to a larger city and searching for employment is somewhat daunting, I have one extremely good reason to be here.  And she is more than reason enough.  What I have experienced over the past two weeks leads me to believe that everything is in its right place and will work out just fine.

Running-wise, things are not great.  It took me several days after Bighorn to feel recovered enough to even attempt running, and that running was short and lackadaisical.  Two Wednesdays ago, I went for a six-miler in Cheyenne.  I felt great, ran quickly and fluidly, and was looking forward to getting to Boise so I could start the next training upswing.  The following day, my last in Wyoming, I stopped at Happy Jack on my way home and forced myself through 40 painful minutes that ended with me unable to move my left heel.  The next day was just as terrible, and just like that, I was a pedestrian once again.  The culprit?  My old nemesis, my left achilles tendon.  What aggravated it, I can't say.  It's just there now.  

I've been on the bike most mornings trying to do something.  Elizabeth and I escaped the sweltering Boise heat this past weekend with an overnight backpacking trip into the Sawtooth Range.  The hiking didn't cause the achilles to flare up too badly, so I ran a short 30 minutes on it this morning.  It wasn't 100 percent on the run, but felt like it loosened up over the duration of the run.  However, my ankle is again feeling inflexible, and with every flex, I can feel the crepitus in there.  So, more stretching, icing, calf raises, and biking for me.  Sigh.

Hopefully the running thing will come around.  That would be a nice piece to add to this wonderful Boise puzzle.

Elizabeth and me ready to get our hike on.
Ragan in front of Mt. Regan.
Helluva sunset at Sawtooth Lake.
Mt. Regan in the morning.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bighorn 50K

After last year's humbling (and demoralizing) experience on the Bighorn 50 mile course, I chose to step down in distance this year and registered for the 50K.  While it should come as no surprise, it truly is astonishing how much easier it is to wrap one's mind around 31 miles as opposed to 50.  My attitude this year regarding preparation and the race itself was much improved.

The key word in that last sentence is preparation.  I did not adequately prepare for last year's race.  This year, I drew up a training plan that began in earnest in April that focused on an increase in threshold training, climbing, and higher mileage weekends to go along with a tempered increase in overall mileage.  Formal workouts were primarily poached from Jack Daniels' marathon training plan, particularly his segmented threshold workouts which I feel mimic trail racing.  Climbing workouts consisted predominately of biweekly forays to Fort Collins to join in on Thursday evening Towers time trials as well as some jaunts up Pilot Hill and, more recently, a return to the Silent Trails course and my old friend, The Bitch (Death Crotch).  All told, I logged around 300 more miles by race day.

Monday morning Chris and I did a quick tune-up workout of 3x1200 at the Central High track.  3:59, 3:52, and 3:44 intervals made me feel like I was heading into the race in a good place.  After a couple of easy days, Chris and I drove north Friday morning, convening with the Frenchs in Sheridan.  The House of Fuller was quiet that evening with Josh, Jeff, and Nate on the 100 mile course with Cassie, Tina, and Jason G. in support.  Unfortunately, none of them would make it past the halfway point.  That was a common theme in the 100 this year.  The rate of attrition was high.

Jeff, Johnna, Chris and I hopped on the bus heading to the 50K start at East Dry Fork early Saturday morning.  It was shaping up to be a beautiful day in the Bighorns, though by the 8 a.m. start, the temperature was already rising.  A warm day was something I was not excited about, but I had my pack with plenty of water and made sure I stayed on top of the electrolyte pills.

On the bus up to Dry Fork.
50K start.
The 50K starts with a climb to the top of East Dry Fork Ridge.  Immediately, my calves tightened up on me.  I walked most of that first climb thinking, "Really?!  It's really going to be one of those days?!"  Jeff passed me and said, "Don't worry, your calves will loosen up once we get to the top of the ridge and it flattens out."  El Jefe was right.  Once we got to the top, the topography mellowed and I was able to open up my stride and get a little rhythm going.  Rhythm is the most important thing when running long distances.

View south from East Dry Fork Ridge.
Heading toward Riley Point.
We came off the ridge at Riley Point with a fairly gnarly descent through a marshy meadow that was hell on the ankles.  I went a little fast down that section and burned a little too much energy.  I just get so excited to descend.   I got into Cow Camp feeling decent.  I tried not to dilly-dally in the aid stations this year.  Of my 11:35 on course in last year's 50M, nearly an hour and half of that was spent sitting at aid stations.

The climb from Cow Camp back into Dry Fork still sucked.  That climb is a little deceptive.  It's not steep, but it is five or six miles of gradual uphill.  And by 10 a.m. it was getting very warm in the bottom.  I rolled into Dry Fork about 2:15 into the adventure.  I changed my wet socks and shoes, but was having some lower stomach cramping that convinced me to chill for a bit.  I spent seven minutes at Dry Fork.  That was too long.

I took it easy coming out of Dry Fork in order to get my stomach settled and hopefully find a rhythm again.  Once on the road going down to Upper Sheep Creek, I found that rhythm and kept it going over The Haul and down into Tongue River Canyon.  My legs were a little trashed by the time I pulled into Lower Sheep Creek.  I topped off my water and started the slog into the heat of the canyon.

Just out of Upper Sheep Creek at the base of The Haul.
Top of The Haul.  The flowers were out in full force.
Beginning the descent into Tongue River canyon.  The finish is about 10 miles away.
Another 50K runner and I traded places for the remainder of the race.  Once through the last aid station and on the road, I opened up and put a gap on him.  I ran well for a couple of miles before my wheels fell off.  The last two miles or so were miserable.  My legs were trashed from the descent and every step was painful.  The other runner caught and passed me with a mile to go, and I didn't have anything to counter.  I jogged it in for the remainder, crossing the line in 5:21:51.  I went into the race wanting to run around five hours, so I was pretty satisfied with the result.  After the race results were tabulated, I finished ninth overall and third in the 30-39 age group.  That was good enough to bring home one of the coveted Bighorn rocks.  It was a nice birthday present to myself.  31 miles for 31 years.  There is a nice symmetry to that.

For the most part, I feel satisfied with the result.  I trained well and raced well.  As with all races, there are things I have reflected on that could have been different.  Or I could have made a different decision here or there.  The main thing I am contemplating is what do I actually need to carry?  I wore my pack this year so I could have all the water and food I needed on me so I wouldn't have to waste time at aid stations.  I was also afraid of the heat, especially after what happened on my last long training run down in Fort Collins.  I scared myself into thinking I needed more than I really did. The pack was too much.  My shoulders were brutally sore after the race, and I could move more efficiently without the added weight.  This ultra thing; it is a continual learning process. 

The southeast Wyoming crew ran well in the 50K.  We placed Chris 3rd, me 9th, Jason R. 10th, Jefe 11th, Nathan 14th, and George 19th, with Johnna bringing home a rock with a 28th overall/3rd in her age group run.  A great run in the Bighorns!