Friday, March 30, 2012

Chatin Up the "Neighbors" & Unscrambling a Scrambled Brain

Back in my neophyte running days, maybe '77 or '78, I was midway through a 3 or4 mile run one Saturday morning when one of the "neighbors" (here you can substitute any of a number of disparaging names) rolled down the window of his pickup truck, fully equipped with an Easy Rider Rifle Rack, and "chucked" a loaf of Wonder Bread ("Helps Build Strong Bodies 12 Ways") right at my head. He missed and the rest of the way home I kept telling myself it could have been a can of peaches or something similarly hard. I've had a thousand laughs over that incident through the years, but I also focused in on a survival strategy for running among the "non-believers," the neighbors.

Bond with the neighbors.  Ever since the Wonder Bread incident I wave at every oncoming car or truck while I'm running.  I think it works pretty well too.  On the back roads, I think we all tend to see the same vehicles again and again, at least for the most part.  I really believe by waving, it establishes a relationship or bond with the driver and he or she then has less of a propensity to try and run me down, or throw a loaf of bread at me.  Most, and I emphasize most, folks are really decent and will slow down or pull away from the shoulder to avoid any close calls.

Now that Spring is in the air, many people are out in their yards or sitting on their front porches.  I carry the waving philosophy farther here.  I make it a point to speak to everyone I see within earshot.  Just a simple "great evening" or "this weather is more like it."  I know I'm speaking to the same folks to whom I wave, but I still maintain it helps to build that stronger bond.  Helps them to not sic Fido on me too.
Spring is such a great time of the year.  Longer days, warmer temps, less ice and snow (most of the time).  Last week during a road run, I saw a dead Ring Neck Racer.  For you non-herpetologists out there, that is a very small (6 or 9 inch snake).  They are docile, non-venomous, and very pretty.  It saddened me to see this little guy dead.  Still, a sure sign of Spring.

Last evening, as I was running 8 on the Chenoweth Creek Road near its namesake creek and my home, I ran through a large spinner fall of Mayflies.  I think they were Hendricksons or Quill Gordons, but couldn't tell for sure.  Spinners are the final life phase of the Mayfly and get their name from "spinning" above the water just before they fall and lay their eggs in the film, to begin the life cycle all over again.  We'll see the results of that next spring.  These bugs were spinning above the road.  Maybe they were confused, but Chenoweth Creek runs right beside the road where I encountered them.  For ten yards or so, they were so thick, I had to be careful not to ingest one or more of them.  Another welcome sign of Spring.

                                                           "If your heart can believe it and your mind can
                                                            conceive it, your legs can achieve it."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Big Two-Hearted River -- Hemingway

Some days I feel like Nick Adams, in Ernest Hemmingway's immortal Big Two-Hearted River.  I don't know why that is, but occasionally I face my weekend training runs in Otter Creek (OC) with some sense of dread.  I don't know if it's related to weather forecasts (which are only partially accurate in the mountains), stale legs, or what, but nonetheless, it is sometimes there.

Last Saturday is a perfect example.  I was scheduled for 18 and the weather looked wet.  I don't mind running roads in the rain so much, because I can run fast enough to generate heat and not become chilled.  I definitely do not run fast on trails and I was fretting about how to dress.  I didn't want to be over dressed (and of course over heat), but I sure as hell did not want to be under dressed and get caught in a hard rain and wind. 

So I mopped through my pre-run routine.  Added an extra spoonful of Buckwheat Honey to my cereal (the old comfort food approach to adversity) and ate.  The skies were not quite leaden, but close.  I packed up my gels, cookies, water, and headed out the door.  So far, no rain but it sure looked threatening. 

I arrived at the trail head with out using windshield wipers and thought to myself, maybe I'll dodge the bullet.  It was 50 degrees, cloudy skies and no rain.  I saddled up; hydration belt, food pouch, and the ever present hat & gloves, and hit the trail.  As I settled into a steady pace, my sense of gloom seemed to vanish.  OC was no longer as dark and foreboding as it had been in my mind earlier that morning.  A feeling of well being seemed to wash away all the anxiety leading up to that day's run.  Was the "depression" a sign of over training?  That's one of the symptoms, but I don't think I'm close to the point of over training.

Overall, the day was going well.  I enjoyed a couple of brief breaks in the cloud cover, allowing a little sunlight to bathe the forest floor.  The trail was somewhat muddy from the previous night's rain; certainly muddier that the weekend before, but not terribly bad.  I finished my loop on the OC Trail and started up Yellow Creek Trail to its juncture with the McGowan Mt. Trail.  I saw a large cock Ruffed Grouse run across the trail, just before I started up McGowan.  I had run McGowan Mt. a few weeks before, but did not go to the end.  I wasn't sure how far I had run (where is that GPS function when you really need it?) or where the turnaround was, so I cut that day short by about 3/4 of a mile.  After consulting with Casseday following that run, he told me how to ID the next trail junction, and sure enough on Saturday I soon saw the rock cairn marking the intersection with the Moore Run Trail.

I'm going to tell a story on myself here.  I pride myself in being able to navigate my way around in the back country.  Rocky Mountains, Smokies, Appies, you name it, I've always been confident in my ability to get from point A to point B.  I've always thought it impossible to get lost in WV.  You may not come out where your car is parked, but surely, with a little common sense, you can get back to familiar territory.  Anyway, I passed the rock cairn marking Moore Run and kept running.  I was looking for a cut back that would tie into a forest service road.  After running for another quarter mile or so, I knew I was going in the wrong direction.  Instead of going West toward the FS road, I was heading East back towards OC.  Well time for a turn around and re-assessment.  I backtracked to the rock cairn and carefully searched for a trail going West.  There it was, somewhat masked by some undergrowth, but never the less, a distinct trail.  In another 400 or 500 yards I hit the McGowan Mountain FS Road.  I was exceedingly happy to know where I was and how much further I had to go.  It's interesting, but there was an SUV with Diplomatic license plates parked at the trail head.  I still wonder who they were and how they found their way to "boon dock" WV.

The road was a very welcome relief following several hours of trail running.  I felt like I was flying, even including a couple of miles of uphill.  It was great.  I could eat and drink without watching where I was stepping.  I was zoned out, just enjoying the views.  To my right, I could see down into the Shavers Fork drainage and could even see the river itself (what, 2000 feet below?) a couple of times.  The Otter Creek Wilderness was on my left.  After cresting the ridge line and a mile and a half of downhill, I came back to the Yellow Creek Trail.  It felt like home court advantage, simply because I have run this trail so many times, since late winter when it was covered in snow and bear tracks, through early spring.  I did fall twice going down YC.  I think my legs were just really fatigued at that point, and I  didn't realize it.  Nothing major, just carelessness.  I was angry with myself.  Finally, back to the car, more fluids and the rest of a peanut butter sandwich.  Visions of a hot shower were swimming through my head.

I had left Nick Adams somewhere far back on the OC Trail.  I missed the rain completely, or should I say the rain missed me. 

This Saturday is the Highland Sky Trainer.  I'm looking forward to some new country (although I've hiked much of that through the years) and running with some companions.  It has to be safer, right?

One other bit of personal good news; Danielle ran 5 on the tread last night and her knee seems to be doing well.  She's feeling good about it, as am I.  We are both looking forward to Wineglass this fall.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ropes and 'biners

Never in my nearly 40 years of running have I ever thought about the need for technical climbing gear.  After my 16 mile run last Saturday, I can no longer say that.  More about climbing gear later.

Saturday I was especially stoked.  It was a Bluebird day, not a cloud in the sky. It had been reasonably dry and warm (making for less mud on the trails) and Danielle was coming home that afternoon.  I was fired up.  At the trail head, the temperature was mild with very little wind, so I opted for compression shorts, a LS techie T-shirt and gloves.  No wind pants or wind jacket (Yes, with a fist pump!)  I quickly settled into a decent pace (for me) and after 4 miles had the first stream crossing of Otter Creek.  It wasn't bad.  Water was cold, but not numbing.  After making it to the far side, I was back on the trail.  It's crazy, but I passed a campsite my wife Cindy and I used back in the mid '70's. 

One of the memories that came flooding back was about a mixed breed hound we had named Moonshine.  Moonshine was what you could call a piece of work.  She would bark at her own reflection in the water and bark at jet contrails in the sky.  We always thought she was brain injured.  At any rate, on that long ago backpacking trip, Cindy, Moonshine and I passed a camp along the trail.  About a half mile further, we found a nice site and set up our camp.  During this time, we had Moonshine on a long leash.  We ate dinner, cleaned up and when it was time to turn in, we let Moonshine off the leash.  She immediately took off, hell bent for leather, back toward the other campsite.  Of course, Jim was hot on her trail.  When I caught up with her, she was about 25 yards away from the other campsite, just standing in the middle of the trail barking.  You talk about being embarrassed.  I apologized profusely, thinking all the while how I was going to kill Moonshine and tell Cindy that it was a horrific accident.  We kept "Moon" tied the rest of the night, and if I recall correctly, that was the last time we took her backpacking with us.

After passing the ancient campsite, I again had to cross Otter Creek.  This time it was deeper, wider and  swifter than the first crossing.  I picked the most shallow, slowest part of the ford (not the most direct route) and started across, thinking "one mis-step dummy and you're history."  I made it across uneventfully and continued on down the trail.  I crossed Moore Run and then the trail began to run 40 or 50 feet above Otter Creek.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  I ran through a couple of beds of young ramps (a ramp is a kind of wild mountain leek; Allium tricoccum Aiton)  I longed for a camera, but then thought I would probably just break it when/if I fell.  The water was Gin clear and I could imagine the Native Brook Trout rising to my #16 Royal Wulff or a Little Black Stone Fly.  There are several sets of pretty significant water falls ending in deep pools so clear you can see the gravel on the bottom.  Not so in the preceding weeks when the stream was off color and high due to the snow melt and spring rains. 

So, totally lost in the beauty of it all, I'm "truckin" on down the trail when all of a sudden the technical climbing gear issue raises its ugly head.  The trail is high against the edge of a steep hill, 50 feet or so above the water.  The trail had washed out and was blocked by a tree that had fallen during the washout.  It was steep and slick.  I had a couple of more miles before my turn around point and I "had" to get across to sound trail again.  That's when I really thought a fixed line would be nice.  Hand over hand, down and back up and on my merry way.  Nah, that wasn't gonna happen.  I tried to crawl over the downed tree, all the while knowing I was going to end up in the creek, or worse.  Hand over hand, grabbing protruding roots and branches, I made my way back up to the trail.  The Otter Creek Valley was getting wider and the creek getting larger.   I passed several very nice campsites and suddenly there was my turnaround.  I could see a large rock cairn on the far side of Otter Creek, marking the beginning of the Green Mountain Trail.

As I began making my way back towards the Condon Run Trail Head (my starting point) I ate part of a peanut butter sandwich and drank 5 or 6 oz's of water.  I've begun experimenting with different foods for the Ultra.  Call me a garbage gut, but so far everything seems to work just fine.  Better to know that now than to find out something is causing stomach problems during the race.  Then I was back at the washout.  It may have been my imagination, but it seemed more difficult to navigate going back, than it was coming in.  The footing was terrible and had I not been able to use my hands to grab branches, I wonder if I could have made it.  (We are supposed to get fairly heavy rain on Saturday, so I am skipping that part of the trail this week.  I just don't want to 'out dumb myself') 

All in all, it was a great day.  I must have nicked my ankle because it was tender on Sunday.  I definitely favored it and was thankful I only had to do 10.  By the way, I fell once on the Saturday run.  Just carelessness.  I guess I'm still doing better than a month ago when I was falling multiple times every time I went out.

                                               "Never argue with an idiot.  They'll bring
                                                you down to their level & then beat you
                                                with experience."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Should I Call This?

I've been a slacker this week, when it comes to my Blog.  Too many distractions, too much to do, you know all the excuses.

Last weekend was a cause to celebrate.  The weather was improving, it was warmer and drier.  The big whoop was I did 14 on Otter Creek & McGowan Mt. Trails with no falls.  I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was about that.  Actually I have somehow manged 3 successive days of  running trails without a fall.  Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of it (knock on wood).  I actually feel like I'm getting stronger following several weekends of fairly serious frustration.  I can tell you, my quads think so.

My training schedule for this weekend calls for 16 & 10.  Gonna stay on the Otter Creek Trail and ford Otter Creek, following the trail until it intersects with the Green Mt. Trail which should be about 7.5 one way.  I'll throw another mile on the back end to wrap up the 16.  I'm pretty psyched; the weather is supposed to be in the 70's (in town) and only a 30% chance or so of rain.  It will be nice not to have to layer up before heading out.  The local weather has been amazing this week;  in the 70's and sunny.  I actually did a road run with no shirt last evening.  It was great.  First time since last October.  I just know it's gonna be hotter than hell this summer.  The winter has been so mild and with these unseasonably warm temps in mid March, it's gotta be a hot summer.  Heat training makes us all tougher though, right.

I'm so excited.  Danielle is coming home this weekend for a few days.  Haven't seen her since Christmas.  She's rehabbing from her knee "boo boo" and is working her mileage back up.  I truly hope she and I can run the Wine Glass Marathon together this fall.  Well at least start together.  She'll kick my ass, but I love it.

Thanks again to everyone who is giving me positive feedback on my blog.  It kind of keeps me going.  I made the mistake of sending a virtual air tour of the Wasatch 100 to Dan & Adam.  Now they're saying "let's go do it."  Maybe!

                                                                 "Happy Trails to You..."
                                                                           Roy Rogers

Friday, March 9, 2012

Another weekend adventure

I'm feeling less than creative this morning, so please bare with me while I attempt to put together some cohesive thoughts.

Tomorrow's schedule calls for a fourteener on the trails.  I'm having a little trouble estimating distances on some of these trails, due to the lack of an accurate topo map.  I know, I can always snag one, but what the hey?  I am working in a new trail (the McGowan Mountain Trail) tomorrow.  It's mostly ridge line, so hopefully it will be drier.  Also, there has been less precipitation this week than last.  I can tell you, it felt like I was running down the middle of a stream on many parts of the Otter Creek Trail, which follows its namesake stream and is naturally wet.  Some of the little "streamlettes" on the trail actually had some visible current.

I talked with John Logar earlier this week.  John is recently back from an Alaskan 100 miler where he had a great finish.  I don't know how he tolerates the extreme winter conditions.  He ran the Arrowhead 135 last winter and night time temps dropped to minus 35 F.  Brrrr!  At any rate, I always enjoy talking about running with him.  He is very supportive and offers sage advice based on his many ultra experiences.  "Hydrate, eat, and 'don't fall' "  Actually the 'don't fall' is my advice to myself.  Seriously though, John talks about ankle strength, leg strength, mental toughness, among other things as benefits of trail running, and has actually convinced me I can finish Highlands Sky before they shut the course down (12 hours).

The weather for this weekend looks good.  Sunny (YES!!!) and warmer.  Should be in the low 50's Saturday and nearly 70 on Sunday.  That's here in town of course, so subtract 10 degrees for the Otter Creek.  Still, it way beats last weekend.

I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from new readers of my blog.  For that I am grateful.  I welcome any ideas or suggestions anyone may have, both from a training perspective as well as a "blogging" standpoint.

Have a great run!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


First off, let me welcome Mark Robbins as a follower to my blog.  Mark is actually the catalyst behind my decision to start this blog.  He's another "crazy" who is going to run the Wasatch 100 this fall.  I've known and worked with Mark for many years.  Besides running, one of the biggest things he has going for him is he is a huge Steelers fan, so break out your Terrible Towels and welcome Mark aboard.

   "It's a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours.  It used to be that running a marathon was worth something -- there used to be a pride in saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore.  Now it's, 'How low is the bar?' "

                                                    Adrienne Wald
                                                        Women's Cross Country Coach
                                                        College of New Rochelle
                                                        1st Marathon, 1984

Now I don't mean to cast disparaging remarks about anyone who is at all active, so I will apologize in advance to anyone who may take offense.  After all, even walking 26.2 is an accomplishment, and sure beats shuffling to the bon-bon bowl while watching day time TV.  But, Coach Wald does make a valid point.  Just something to think about while you're out there on that long, lonesome run.  Aw comon man, I know you don't need anything else to think about.  Keep thinking about whatever works for you, like not falling down.  LOL!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Surviving another one

Welcome Adam Casseday as the second follower on my humble blog.  Although Adam is from the Elkins area and we both have many interests in common, I did not have the pleasure of meeting him until a few years ago in Cooke City, Montana.  Adam is a fly fisherman in addition to being an endurance runner.  He and I hiked into some back country mountain streams in the Northeast quadrant of Yellowstone NP.  First goal was to avoid "tourons" and the second goal was to enjoy the solitude of the Rocky Mountain high country while catching wild Cuthroats.  I have to confess, Adam ran every morning before we hit the trail head.  The hikes in and out of the back country were workouts in their own right, but Adam made me feel like a slug for not running too.

At any rate, while I was finishing up a 12 miler in the Otter Creek Wilderness on Saturday, I glanced up the trail and another runner was approaching me.  It was Adam and we stopped and chatted for a while.  We talked about the Highlands Sky and trail running in general.  I have been plagued with falls on many of my trail runs, but Adam told me he had the same problem when first starting running on trails.  I can't tell you how much his advice and words of encouragement meant to me.  I just keep thinking I'm beating myself up for nothing, knowing in the back of my mind "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger."  All of my ultra friends (there are a surprising number of them) say the same thing.  Run trails and keep running trails.  Trail running toughens one for the challenges of the ultimate goal.  As Adam said in a recent email (and here's where it starts to make sense), "'re getting the foot-to-eye coordination down."  That and strengthening ankles and leg muscles.  I know mental toughness fits in there somewhere too.

                                                    "Yes by God, baby we were born to run."
                                                                      Bruce Springsteen

Friday, March 2, 2012

River's 10 Feet High & Risin

Well, not really, but we've had a lot of rain this week.  Two inches or so on Wednesday, which caused some small stream flooding.  Glad it wasn't snow or we would still be digging out.  It's supposed to rain fairly hard again late today, so I'm trying to get my head around the idea of wet feet for my trail runs this weekend.  Wait, aren't my feet always wet from running trails here in the Mon (Monongahela National Forest)?

The main trail through the Otter Creek Wilderness is wet most of the time.  Parts of it are muddy and wet, even during the dry season.  I'm not certain, but I've always thought this was due to natural springs that leak onto the trail in many places.  With all of the rain, I'll literally be running down the middle of a small creek (splash, splash, splat -- LOL).

My long run for this weekend is only 12, so I won't have to ford the main Otter Creek.  It would be dangerous to try and cross.  Hopefully the water recedes some by next weekend, but I'll worry about that then, when I try to tackle the Possession Camp (see my "A New Trail" blog) Trail again.

One of the trails I'll run tomorrow is the Yellow Creek Trail.  Two weeks ago, I followed  a bear track (cub of the year) in the snow for about a mile on this trail.  I thought that was way cool.  Many people think Black Bears hibernate all winter long, but here in the East they get up and move around.  I think with our unseasonably mild winter this year, many of the hibernating species have been moving about.  There probably isn't any snow left on the trails this weekend, following the hard rain and warm temperatures earlier in the week.  Just mud and water.  I'm already looking forward to a hot shower!

                                           "...cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run."
                                                                  Bruce Springsteen

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mopin around

First of all, thanks to the Santa Clarita Runners for allowing me (well maybe not actually allowing, but it was in a public domain) to poach their Fifty Mile Ultra training schedule.  I've always had what I thought was a sound, if old school, marathon training schedule I could rely on to get me across the finish line in reasonably good shape.  High mileage ( at least 60 per week) with one 20 miler each week for 3 months leading up to race day.  That was it.  Worked well enough through the years.  Even now, in the "super masters" (or wherever I fit) age group it has served me well.

Then I get this crazy notion of running an ultra, and quite honestly I didn't have a clue how to train.  When all else fails, go to Google, right?  That's how I stumbled upon the Santa Clarita Runners web site.

So I printed the training schedule and backed it up 18 weeks before The Highlands Sky 40, and now I'm all set.  Simple enough, right?  Well, in the immortal words of Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend."  These early weeks are really easy weeks (I know, I know, the best is yet to come); like every Monday and Friday off and a couple of 4 mile days and a six mile day stuck in between.  The weekends have back to back long runs, but the total weekly mileage in the early weeks is less than 40 and it's drivin me nuts. 

I'm just "mopin around", feeling like I'm losing my base, gettin fat, becoming a couch potatoe.  Oh the irony of it all! 

I guess I realize the long back to backs on the weekend are really the key to preparing for an ultra.  In a month, I'll probably be longing for these shorter weeks. 

                       Always remember, "Pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever."
                                                                     Lance Armstrong