Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Magic in the hills

Today’s run was “hill work” by ordinary, tactical terms. You could call it grunt work, drudgery, etc. I used to call these efforts Lance Armstrong workouts based on what I had read regarding his training methods. It used to provide an exalted attribute level to the burdensome work. You basically are doing hill repeats for some period of time.

Todaywas different. It represented something mystical and provided another breakthrough for me.

Last week, Matt Estes left me a message indicating 10 hills by my house on Tuesday night. I thought, “This guy is insane”. I can’t do THAT HILL 10 times, and I sure can’t hang with HIM on it. Then, a message inquiring last night. Ughh! Do I really need to admit that I’m not up to it? Heck, I haven't done serious hill repeats in years. I just did a 30 miler on Saturday, and he clocked 2:52 at Hyannis on Sunday. He is not human! It sure seemed like a negative attitude, so I thought about a more positive way to attack this challenge. I know that Matt’s training can only help me get better. It’s proven for him and it’s a unique opportunity to train with a great athlete.

OK, I know I can do the hill at least once because I have run it several times. It’s only 200+ vertical feet of climbing and about 0.5 miles in length depending on where you start/stop. So, 5 times is 1,000-1,200 feet of climbing which is respectable anywhere. It’s not 10, but it’s a start. Another flank on the hill gives a straighter shot with less traffic and frankly seems a bit less intimidating (perhaps more sustained, but less steep). I decided to give it a go by myself first to get a baseline.

The first mile was an easy warm up leading to the base of the hill. I held back a little on the first hill, but it was close to my usual pace. It didn’t feel too bad and somehow I convinced myself that 6 would be a reasonable total. I remember climbing this hill for the first time last summer and thinking my heart would burst through my chest. Now, I’m doing repeats on the bloody monster. The second lap was fine. I was surprised that my downhill pace was so close to my uphill pace. It was taking 3:30-4:00 to go up and 3:00 to go down. Hmm, interesting. I’ve been known as a good downhill runner, but not so much on the uphills. Lots of analysis going on in my brain. How long is this hill anyway?

I watched the garbage trucks, and the school buses pass. They must have thought I was crazy. After 4 laps, I could feel 6 would be achievable. Yes! My brain started asking if I could do 8 after the 5th was complete. The rationale was that 8 was close to 10, and would be a good baseline to put 10 within reach for next week. Eight was more respectable and would give me some decent mileage for the day.

I noticed that my pace really had not altered much at all, and realized that I still had plenty left in the tank. I started thinking about the hills we ran in high school and how much I hated them. Jjimmy Stephenson and Billy Felter would lead the way, and the rest of us slugs would bring up the rear. I was one of the slowest and always a disappointment to the coach as they had great expectations for me. I had good form, but no lungs or endurance. My priorities were more social in nature. I ran great when I could get a chance to run with Billy, but that was rare. We ran a hill called the Beaker at Winding Hills Park. It was brutal. I don’t think I ever finished the workouts. Coach would take my pulse and tell me to lay off the last one or two. I was happy to skip them, but also embarrassed in a way.

Back to reality…It’s cold out and this is February in CT. I’m almost 44 years old and still can’t stop competing. I love pushing myself to new limits.

I gave myself permission to drop the pace and walk if I had to, but 9 would be really good if I could manage it. If I included the hill back to the house, I could call it 10 for the day. If 9 felt good, I could consider doing a 10th.

Number 9 was tough, but my pace seemed to be holding steady for each lap. The ups were more like 4 min and the downs were 3-3:30 by eye (I wasn’t actually clocking them).

I decided that number 10 was for all the waddlers in the world, the slow pokes on the cross-country teams, and the people that never push the limits. I started the day hoping for 6 and barely got myself out the door. Now I was on the brink of a full 10 at a reasonable pace. They say you are always capable of more than you think. Today was a perfect example. I coasted down the hill throwing my arms in the air like Rocky Balboa. I rarely show any significant emotion, but I was elated.

Billy Felter would have been pleased. Jimmy Stephenson would have pushed for more. I wonder where they are today and if they even run. As for me, I’m already thinking I want to get my pace down on those hills. Faster! Faster! Faster!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Laying the Foundation

Many thanks to folks for dropping some comments. It's nice to see people enjoying the blog. Here's a short post as I need to get up to run to work in the AM.

I took a vacation day on Monday to catch up on some chores and spend some time with Dawn. Of course, I had to take advantage of the time to get in some mileage. What an ultra hound! Actually, I've never been a big mid-week mileage guy, but I'm trying to get in as much as possible now to see if it will make a difference.

I really enjoyed the run back from Farmington on the roads the other day, so thought I'd trot over there and poke around a bit. My goal was to run for 90 minutes and hopefully 11-12 miles. The weather was a bizarre 56 deg F and I was over dressed. I quickly stripped down to a T-shirt and chugged up the hill toward Rattlesnake. My legs felt tired, but Matt says this is temporary. After doing 25.5 miles with him at a good pace Saturday and doing about 4.5 with Dawn on Sunday, my legs were feeling a little stiff.

I pulled through the first 2 miles in a bit over 8 minute pace and felt OK. I cruised through the next couple miles as they were relatively flat, and dropped some elevation to get down to Farmington. For such a big town, there is not much of a downtown. I brought some money to check out the bakery there, but then decided to avoid it. There's an old abandoned car dealership with a sign that says "Body and Pain_ Dept.". The "T" was missing from painT, but it made me smile. I thought it described what ultrarunners experience at times.

I headed back up the hill while considering alternate routes to add on some mileage as it took about 35 minutes to get to town. I decided to head over toward Pinnacle Rock on the way home and poke around some side roads.

As I trotted along I realized how good I was feeling. The hills were getting easier and my pace felt rythmic. The time passed easily, and I was home a few minutes early. I decided that I really didn't want to stop, so did a couple laps near my house to bring the total time to 90 minutes plus.

It's strange how your perspective changes over time. A few years back, I would not have been running at all after doing a marathon. Now, I'm cranking out 12 mile runs 2 days after doing the equivalent of a hard marathon. I'm not typing this to brag...it's more of a stupification/amazement. I remember trying to qualify for Boston at 35 thinking I was at my peak and would soon be going downhill. Wow! I was way off on that one. Thankfully!

I don't know when that day (slowing down) will come, but I'm going to keep it at bay as long as possible. There's too much fun to be had....To that end, I have my VT100 application ready to mail in. It's time to lay the foundation! Rock on fellow runners!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ice crunching

Matt left a message on Thursday, "I don't know where we're running, but we are running this weekend. What a great attitude! I needed to hear it because I was having a rough week at work and only managed to get on the treadmill for one hour work-outs on Monday and Wednesday. OK, I thought, let's do it!

I left Matt a message suggesting we meet at my house and head for the trail. Perhaps a rematch with the trail from my solo attempt last week was in order. Yeah, we'll do great! So, I checked trail conditions on Friday with Rich Fargo - not good. Hmm...When the guy that has run the trail everyday for 20 years says the trail may not be runnable, you KNOW it is BAD! So, do I listen? Of course not!

Matt and I started out a little before 9AM or so Saturday morning. It was cold and windy, but the sun was shining. I was better prepared for the cold this time and had some hammergel to go with 2 bottles of water/HEED. We headed up the road toward the top of Rattlesnake Mountain. It's probably 500+ feet of climbing. It's a tough one at the beginning of a long run. We started the short bushwack uphill to get to the trail after 2 miles on the road. A thick layer of ice covered the snow, and we knew we were in trouble. I thought the trail might be in better shape if it had gotten some traffic, so we pressed on to access the trail. Matt took the first fall of the day just before we reached the trail. He was not happy. When we reached the trail, it was obvious that it was not runnable.

OK, time for plan B. We cut over to a dirt access road, and scooted our way down. It was icy, but someone had broken some trail by walking it, so we followed their tracks. I think we each took a spill on the way down, but reached Rt. 6 without too much ado. At Rt. 6, I gave Matt the option of circling back on the road or checking out more trail. He opted for trail. After another spill by Matt, I wondered what we were doing, but it did get better. We popped out onto the road by 50 cents house and decided to try to stay to the road as much as possible. I asked Matt where he wanted to go and he said, "The reservoir". Huh? I had never run there via the roads, so had to think for a minute. I selected a route through Farminton via Old Mountain Road and then Mountain Spring Road. It was actually very pleasant running, and then we maneuvered a couple short trail sections to drop into the reservoir.

In avoiding the ice, I caught some thorns on my jacket and in my chin. Arghhhh!

We celebrated arriving at the paved loop of the reservoir and decided to do a few laps before heading back. Our goal was to run 3-4 hours total. We were cruising along well, and I started feeling good. I suggested that we might be able to do a 30 mile day if we did one more lap (3.4 miles). Matt was not up for a third lap. I should mention that he had just finished second at the Tucson marathon last weekend and had logged some decent mileage during the week. I could not have been running this kind of mileage after that effort.

After last week, I knew the run back would be tough anyway, so off we went. No sooner had we stepped off the pavement, and Matt went down again. I went to help him up, and he said, "Dude, your chin is bleeding". Huh, I didn't even remember cutting it. I thought it must be the rasberry hammergel.

We pulled ourselves together and struggled through the trail sections to reach Mountain Spring Road. From there, I decided we would stick to roads all the way. There were some tough uphill sections, but we pulled through it. Matt sprinted near the top of the biggest one and I just watched in awe. I think both of us were hurting, and wanted to get back to the house. The towers on Rattlesnake kept getting closer, and then we were only 2 miles from home. We cruised the downhill and then hung on for the last climb.

Matt clocked us in at 25.5 miles in 3:40. Considering the epic trail sections, that was a mighty respectable time. As much as I was in pain for the run, it quickly vanished when we stopped. We downed some gatorade, and I scoped out my bloody face. Yikes! It looked terrible. After washing it off, it was a tiny cut from the thorns, but it looked much worse. Matt seemed no worse for the wear and said he was planning to run the Hyannis Marathon next weekend. Holy cow, he is a mutant runner! Matt headed off to pick up his parents and I ingested some carbs and took a shower.

Overall, I felt pretty good considering it was my longest run since the Jacksonville Marathon in December. It's funny how this running game goes...some days it's so hard to get motivated just to get out the door. Some days, the running hurts bad. Some days, I wonder if it's a worthy endeavor. Then, you have a day where you survive a tough run and feel pretty good later on. You just ran the equivalent of a really hard marathon in a very respectable time. You feel good later...peaceful, content. You think life is good, and start planning that next run :-)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Humble Pie (a.k.a. Patience)

This week's message is about Patience. At least, it seemed that was the message the Universe had for me this week...or maybe that was just what I was reading into it.

I didn't get a lot of running in this week, but it was interesting nonetheless. Things started great on Monday. I managed to hit the treadmill at lunchtime for about an hour and cranked some good negative splits ending at sub-7min pace. I was feeling pretty good despite some stressful situations in my personal life.

My plan would have been to run to work on Tuesday, but my daughter, Jamie, has no transportation since her car had been totaled a few days earlier (she's is fine thankfully), and I wanted to be available in case she needed a ride. Well, she didn't need a ride Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and I did not run on any of those days . I guess I was not making it a priority. Finally, on Friday I decided to run to work based on a little nudge from Dawn (thanks Dawnie!). She knew I would enjoy it.

I woke up late, but decided to go for it anyway. The run in was good. Of course, Jamie called for a ride after I got to work! That's life!

The run home was a bit rough. I lost my iPod shuffle in the woods for a couple minutes, got stabbed in the face by thorns, and was tired. After getting home, I quickly showered and headed to Dawn's for some Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas. They were great (thanks Honey!). Dawn needed to practice massage for 1 hour, and I was a most willing volunteer. She acts like I'm doing her a favor. The pleasure is all mine!

OK, all of this was a Preface for the story that follows:

Saturday morning is my time for a long run. Matt was in Arizona, Goat was unavailable, and I didn't make arrangements for anyone else. I was dragging in the morning, but decided to try for about a 3.5 hour run on the Metacomet Trail (mostly single track). I had completed this run to the West Hartford Reservoir from home once during the summer, but thought I could do better in the cooler temps and with more training under my belt. My plan was to try to run almost the entire way (only walk the technical, very steep sections).

I loaded the Camelbak and headed out around 10:30. After climbing up to the ridge, I decided to strip down as it was unusually warm. A few minutes later, I ran into Rich Fargo and his wife. Rich is an 8 time winner of Escarpment and is a trail running legend (see my first post). They were out walking their dog. I was pleased to meet his wife. She decided not to shake my hand after I wiped my nose with it. Go figure! :-) Anyway, I told her that her husband was a legend, and she said, "Yeah, and I'm the legends wife!" Yeah, that is tough duty in itself. Rich inquired about my route, and seemed reasonably impressed with my plan. Off I went with plans of great conquest!

I came upon the first technical section at Rattlesnake Mountain, and walked most of it. The cliff looked fairly dry...we'll have to get the ropes out soon. At the top, I said hello to a hiker and he told me the trail was slippery. I thanked him, but thought he was needlessly stating the obvious.

Things seemed to be going well. I was moving well. The temp was dropping and snow was falling, so I pulled out my gloves and hat after a few miles. I kept plugging away, but did start feeling a bit tired. I took inventory - one granola bar, and some E-caps. Hmm, not good.

I made it to the Reservoir in about 1.5 hours (can't remember). By now, I was getting cold, hungry, and tired. Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to take on the big hill rather than the normal Nelson loop (as Goat calls it). I walked the hill a little while I pulled out my granola bar. Once moving, I decided to hold the bar until I got to the top.

Eventually, I ate the bar after hitting all the highpoints on the ridge. I knew I was in trouble, but the rest of the reservoir loop was fairly flat. Unfortunately, the wet snow was making the footing rather difficult by now. Near the end of the loop, I hit the parking lot, and put my jacket back on. I was getting very cold and my fingers were going numb. My gloves were more or less glove-liners. They were not adequate today. I pulled my sleeves over the gloves, and things started feeling better quickly. My plan was to walk most of the hills going home.

Surprisingly, my tracks were already covered with snow, and the trail was very slick. I walked more than I would have preferred, but progress was OK. I felt beat up like I do at the end of an ultra.

When I hit a major intersection (Rt. 4) in Farmington, I wiped out in a big wet mess by trying to avoid the big wet mess. All the cars were backed up in traffic, so I'm sure I entertained some folks. One lady asked if I was OK. I was fine, but now my hands were completely soaked and I knew they would be hurting until I got home.

I felt like such a rookie. Didn't bring enough food, went out too fast, and did not have good gear (gloves).

Well, I stumbled home the last 4 miles with my tail between my legs (actually it was dragging on the ground because I was THAT tired). I don't even remember how long it took me. It was somewhere around 3.5-4 hours when I got home. I wish I could tell you it was more than 20 miles, but it is not. It is one tough course though.

After re-grouping (which took the rest of the day), I reflected on this run. A couple days earlier, a friend told me that he only remembers the tough workouts. He said, the good ones are great when you do them, but the hard ones are more memorable. I think he's right. I certainly will remember this one for awhile.

I have a rematch with the Metacomet Trail coming sometime soon. I'll be more prepared, and more patient. I won't go out too hard, I'll listen to my body, and I'll run smarter. I'll also keep my chin up when things get tough because they will eventually get better. I'll try to apply these lessons to my everyday life as well.

Patience....that's my plan ;-)

Happy trails!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Bizarre Run

Matt left a message saying, "Strange run today". Indeed, it was a bizarre morning.

We were meeting at the West Hartford Reservoir, and Matt's friend, Mark, was coming along to join us. When I arrived at the reservoir, it was closed. Ughh!! Something about "dangerous conditions"...."Yeah, maybe for little kids or parents with strollers, but not for hardcore trail runners like us", I thought. Famous last words :-)

Plan B - We head to the other side of the reservoir and enter the adjacent reservoir (No. 6?) near the top of Avon Mountain. When we arrive there, Matt shows me a $20 bill that he had intended to carry for the run today (in case we passed a BBQ stand or something :-). Seriously, he shows me the $20 that has "Steve+Dawn= I love you" written on one side. Cool! Dawn, as you might have read, is my girlfriends name. How bizarre is that one? We exchanged $20's, so I could show it to Dawn.

This was the beginning of a very strange run. So, we head off toward Heublein Tower as I was anxious to get some climbing in. The gravel road around the reservoir was a sheet of ice. No kidding! I've rarely run in conditions this bad. I thought, "No problem", we'll hit the trail soon. Amy, Matt's wife, opted to run the paved road which was a brilliant decision. We'd later find the conditions there to be much better.

When we hit the trail, it was like fording a river. OK, I exaggerate a bit, but it was NASTY! Slippery and wet and occasional pot-holing. I muttered something about, "Who's idea was this?" Mark probably thought we were nuts! Near the top, the trees were covered with ice. It was surreal. We decided to take the road to the tower. It was icy as well, but probably less treacherous...or not. Anyway, after summiting we decided to head down to the reservoir and run the roads for the duration.

On the way, Matt took a minor spill on the ice. Amazingly, it was the only spill of the day. After hitting the road, we found Amy in short order. She looked like she was enjoying her run more than we had enjoyed the ice, water run.

We did a couple of loops on the road that were probably about 3.5 miles or so. Matt and Mark got to catch up on the past several years. They had run together in High School, but apparently hadn't kept in touch. They talked about marriages, kids, and old classmates. It was cool.

At one point, Matt looked at his legs and they were looking raw and bloody. We guessed it was from the descent off the mountain. Conditions were harsh.

Matt, Amy, and Mark decided to call it a day after a bit over 2 hours, but I really wanted to do at least 2:30. I headed out for another loop on my own. We had passed a woman that I knew on the loops a few times, but I couldn't quite remember how I knew her. I passed her again and she asked if I remembered her. Luckily, it came back to me and we ran together and chatted for about 10 minutes. She was training for Boston. I wished her well and headed back out to finish that last loop.

The last lap was slower, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was a bit sore, but I attributed it to the roads. My total time was about 2:43...mileage was probably around 17.5 miles (just a guess).

Matt was right. It was a strange run.