Monday, May 24, 2010

Connections Revisited

What is it about a place that makes you remember it? Is it the subconscious excitement that makes you remember every little detail of a place? Or is it simply the amount of time spent there and the layout of that area? Some places might have recognizable landmarks or "easy to read" street names. But what about the places away from the public, less traveled places; the places that do not have street names or that are not populated with giddy tourists? These places can only be remembered with a deep connection with the land; of course I am talking about trails and particularly running on them. This was all brought to thought after reading a book by John Hildebrand called "Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon". In one chapter John hitches a ride on a tug boat called the Ramona, taking particular interest in Claude, the captain and driver of the boat, Hildebrand talks about how Claude could read the Yukon without any means rather than his eyes. He is able to do this by the experience he has had on the Yukon and his ability to recognize different features. The same way Claude reads the Yukon river, I believe trail runners can read the trail.

Trails are not all the same, but yet, they are all the same. Each trail has features that connect one to the other; the way rocks are situated, the texture of the soil, the impact of rain, what the foliage is like on both sides and above, the roots that cover the trail, the relief of the slopes, the different elevations, and so on. Runners program different movements with different layouts and can recognize these layouts without even thinking about it, technical or not. The more a runner runs on trails, the better they become at recognizing and responding.

And once a runner runs on a particular trail, that trail is programed in their body. For instance, the trails that I ran on in Colorado this past Spring have their own distinction with me. I can recall different sections easily and recognize them if I went back right now. The trails close to my home at Strouds run have their own features that can be recognized as well. And of course, I have the trails that I know so well, in Shawnee State Forest. I know every inch of land that I have ever traversed there, because I have ran them so much. Looking down is not even necessary. I know every stream crossing, every rock, every root, and every hill. I am connected to the fullest with these trails.

This past weekend, my family and I went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to watch my sister get married. Marriage, like trail running and reading a river, is something that the husband and wife has to become very connected with. Each person has to know the others every trait and become very in tune with it. If there is no connection, the marriage will eventually fail. I wish my sister and Andy the best of luck as they begin their journey.

While we were down there, I had a chance to visit the Smoky Mountains on Saturday morning. This short venture brought back many memories from last summers hiking/camping trip there with my brother. My brother, his girlfriend Joni, Corbin (Andy's little brother), and I left the hotel around 5:15 am and headed to the Chimney Tops trail head. They were going to hike while I ran. The trail was only 2 miles to the top, uphill the entire time. I started running around 6:10 and reached the summit at around 6:30. The view was spectacular as the sun was rising. The clouds blocked out the sunlight, but with the morning "smoke" rising out of the mountains, it was a sight worth seeing. I was on top of Chimney Tops for 40 minutes until the rest of the gang made it. It was so nice having the entire mountain by myself for a while, what could be better. I was able to run down to the bottom, almost back to the top, and a little bit on a side trail before we headed back to the hotel. The trail was great, very recognizable, and locked up in my sensory memory forever.

This summer, while just started, I have already enjoyed a lot of running. I look forward to making more connections with new trails, enjoying the aesthetic beauty of each step. This feeling will last forever.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

As Good As It Gets

When summer arrives for a person like myself, things could not be any better. Running in the summer, despite the humid 90 degree weather in Southern Ohio, has always been my favorite time to run. There are no restrictions, no mentally challenging workouts, no schedules, and so forth. At my level, I am free. When I was an incoming freshman, I "felt like" I was bound to the schedule coach sent me in the mail with mileage and what he expected during the summer. Now though, I am an experienced Bear calling my own shots figuratively, but still keeping in mind that I am a College Cross Country Runner. There is still work to do on this team, My Team. I am only working 20-25 hours a week as an intern at the Shawnee State Park Golf Course while continuing to live at Reece's house for the summer. I have minimum expenses and minimum income so I guess it all evens out in the end. Whatever the case, the situation for me this summer will provide me for endless amounts of time and energy to spend running..... free.

The past Spring as talked about in the past was my best season of running ever. 7/9 PR's are only the least that I could of dreamed of. Beginning this summer and thinking about the previous 5 months led me to think about the goals that I set out at the beginning of Winter.

The first goal was to compete in the Dirt Dawgs Dirty Dozen Trail Series monthly. I never once competed in a race in this series but I am not saddened by not achieving this goal. I was still able to race a couple trail races that were far more fun then the series races could ever of been. Plus, running trails without competing is just as pleasing for me.

Goal number two was to run trail 3 or 4 times a week. I never actually kept track on how many times I ran trails or made a conscious effort to run exactly 3 or 4 runs on trails a week, but the continuous thought was to run trails as many times as I could over the spring season. This can be hard sometimes with a college and practice in town. I just tallied 60 Trail Runs from my log and that is in 19 weeks. So, I was averaging just over 3 runs on trails per week. That is not including all the running I did on the little 300 meter loop behind Reece's house. I ran trails more then ever and by the end of the year I was running trails 6 times a week, only running in town for workout days.

The next goal was to Enjoy Track Season and Post Great Times. This track season was more enjoyable than ever and that might coincide with the fact that I was running fast times. I achieved this goal more than ever.

The last goal was to run 100 miles for 10 consecutive weeks. While making this goal, I did not know how possible this was going to be. It ended up being very possible as I ran 100 miles for 10 straight weeks plus another 5 weeks at 95-100 miles.

All of these goals pretty much run together and achieving one leads to the success of another. I have always thought it was necessary to make goals just to keep my mind on track to do the right things. It has worked so far. But, for this summer, I only have two simple goals, ones that are very vague and can only be recognized by me and people close around me. They are:

Remember November
Become an Aerobic Animal

I am highly motivated to begin this summer and to journey on to my final Cross Country season. Those two phrases are all I need to do. The rest will come. "The Hay is in the Barn" for me and I cannot wait to see the fire burn.

My life is more simplified as ever, just what I have wanted. Let's see where I run to next.....


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pictures from Early Spring

(From the top of Copperhead Fire Tower in Shawnee State Forest, looking over the "Little Smokies.")

(One of the first trail runs that was shirtless in 2010. Loving the warmer weather!)

(Following this creek as I drove up Upper Twin Creek Road earlier this Spring.)

(One of the better meals Reece and I created. Leftover chicken breasts sliced on top of some ciabatta bread with onions, cheese, and Tabasco sauce! Yumm.)

(Enjoying the meal with a glass of Jasmin Tea.)

(Reece doing the same.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Convenient Adventure

Well, it happened. Something that Keegan Rathkamp and myself have talked about for a few years is running the 40 mile main loop trail at Shawnee State Forest. Reece Brown has also talked about it. Last Saturday, we finally did it. It was the perfect time to do it, Keegan is getting married in a couple of weeks and the run served as his bachelor party! Plus, Reece and I just ended our track season and the run did not interfere with any type of training. In fact, it just made us stronger. The journey was epic, unforgettable, and just plainly put, awesome.

The decision to run this came a couple of Saturdays ago when Reece and I were running a two hour run on a new section of the 40 mile loop. I mentioned something about how I couldn't wait to run the entire 40 mile loop at once. Reece replied "well lets do it." From then the logistics were figured, Keegan was called, and the party was started. Keegan arrived at Reece's house Saturday morning at around 5:30 am. We planned to start the run at around 6 am, but after packing up and driving to the trail head, we didn't start running until 7:10 am. Still a good start. The skies were blue and the sun was shining but the temperature was cool with a nice breeze. We had a perfect day of weather for our endeavor!

We parked and started our run in the parking lot behind Turkey Creek Lake and headed out on the South side of 125 first. The South side is a bit longer than the North side, and we had cheeseburgers waiting on us at Camp Oyo, around 22 or 23 miles; we wanted our "big meal" farther than halfway point rather then less than half. We had a good plan to begin, each of us lead for 20 minutes, two time, then hike/eat for a little bit. Then do that all over. That is about 2 hours of running, then a break. We wanted to go slow, no time constraints, no worries. We all guessed how long it would take us, Reeece said 7hrs 32min, I said 8hrs 52min, and Keegan said 9hrs 36min (keep this in mind).
(About an hour and a half into the run, stopped at a clearing and took a few pictures.)
(Reece and Keegan)
(Keegan and me)

(Reece and me)

So after an early picture break we headed on to Campsite #6. We managed to miss Campsite #7 and the first water stop but none of us saw it or signs for it. Luckily it was early and we didn't need a bunch of water. We all had small packs with water as well, so this didn't hurt us. The first 2 hrs flew but and before we knew it, we were eating some grub at Campsite #6. Reece has been quoted as saying this campsite "is my favorite place in Scioto County." I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some nuts. We were probably stopped for about 10 minutes, then we hiked for a good 20 minutes while we ate some more.

(Campsite #6, Hemlocks make it beautiful, the spot of our first stop.)

This part of the trail is just beautiful. It is all single track, running by a creek, and very clear. It is very technical though. We continued to exchange leads and reached Campsite #5. This was about 12.5 miles into the run and and we needed the water that was there. I filled up my bag and drank a lot. Even though it wasn't hot and I wasn't thirsty, I still tried to keep a conscious effort to drink a lot.

The next section of trail was rough. It was downhill, slightly slanted to the right, and very overgrown. My eyes were so fixed and concentrated on the ground ahead that it took a lot of energy to just run about a mile and a half stretch. It was very technical and ran in and out of a stream with big slippery rocks. I did not feel bad running this section, but once we crossed Pond Run and were running on a flatter, wider trail, I was exhausted. This was the only point when I was mentally fatigued during the day. We made it to Campsite #4 (15.1 miles) and took a little break to use the restroom, drink some water, and eat a cliff bar. We were all back to a good mental state and agreed to make a push to Camp Oyo, 5.2 miles away.

This stretch of running became known as the "Push to Cheeseburgers in Paradise." We stashed a cooler of food, including Cheeseburgers, Doritos's, Cliff Bars, and other things. This part of the run was one of the fastest parts. The trail was cleared fairly well and there were more downhills than ups. I can't remember the exact time it took us, but it was something around 50 minutes for that 5.2 miles to Camp Oyo. We were all happy to be finished with the bigger of the two sides of the trail (split by 125) and it felt hardcore to pop out of the tree line into the field to get to Camp Oyo. We were probably stopped for a good 30 minutes before we started back up.

Even though we just completed 22.3 miles and were less than halfway done, I knew this last part would be the roughest. This part of the trail was hilly! Hills one after another and very steep. Plus, it was that much farther into the run, with our legs entering into a whole new zone. I do not remember what our time was at this point but it was right above 5 hours, almost double the farthest I had been before!

We pushed on, to the next Campsite. Oyo was campsite #3 so we only had #2 and #1 left. It was nice to have these different sections to base our mileage off of. The trail map has the mileage in between the campsites so we knew pretty much where we were and what we had left. The last few sections were spaced out more but we had water at both of them. The hills were rough, as expected. My legs were feeling more resistance than they ever had in the past, but it was a nice feeling. I knew I was building muscle. The pace was slow, but that was good, and everyone was feeling the same emotions.

The section from Camp Oyo, through Campsite #2 and to Campsite #1 blended in pretty well. I had only ran this part a few times so it was basically new to me. The hills were all steep, the downhills all made my quads burn, and I was enjoying all of it! Although this section was our slowest, looking back I think it was our most consistent and smartest 11.5 miles. We stopped when we had to, hiked when we wanted, and kept the pace even. I was in a nice rhythm.

(Looking way across the Scioto Valley into the distant Kentucky Ridge.)

We reached the water stop just after Campsite #1 at around 8 hours. So, we had just ran 33.8 miles in 8 hours. This ended up being a long stop and much needed . The hill before this was very long and tiring. We all set down on the trail and just chilled. Reece even fell asleep for a few minutes! After resting, we all agreed to make another push to the finish. We all knew the last part of the trail and felt decent enough to make another push, only 6.2 miles left!

(Water with 6.2 left!)

(Keegan Resting)

(Reece upside down after a quick nap.)

So, we started back up and ran down and across Hobey Hollow and ran up the very steep, loose graveled hill. I ended up walking a little bit up that thing. One of the nicer views was up here, pictured below. Once we crossed the gravel service road, we were on the most familiar grounds of the day. This was the part of the trail that Keegan used to bring me when I was first getting into trail running. From here, there was only 2 big uphills and 2 big downhills. Push on.

(Looking across a ridge and seeing the Fire Tower.)

This might of been the second fastest section of the day, even though it was 35+ miles in. We pushed hard on the uphills, ran a little faster on the downhills, and kept a nice pace on the flats. The last uphill came, it is called "Beasty." It is one tough hill that fools you into thinking it is over about 3 times. I mentioned to Keegan earlier that I wanted to try and run up the entire thing, without walking. Well, we did it and it felt like I had accomplished the world! It was such a great thing. Then, we were able to cruise the last 1+ mile into the parking lot where we were finished! We did it!

(Keegan after we finished)

The total time was 10 hours and 20 minutes. I am not sure how much time was spend on the stops, but it had to of been 2 hours or more. I will venture to estimate 8 hours of total run/hike time.

This was the most fun any run has ever been. The emotions, stories, and physical feeling that was felt during the adventure was just unreal. Still today, two days later, I do not completely realize what we did. It might sound like this was slow, which is what it was intended to be, but no one knows how rugged, hilly, and technical the Shawnee State Loop is. What makes it the hardest in my opinion is the frequency and steepness of the hills. There are not many flat areas at all and it is impossible to completely get into a rhythm, thus, making it hard to run fast. I would imagine that we are the first people to run it in less than half a day, but who knows?

The memories that were made with two of my best friends are everlasting. The stories that we can tell the rest of our lives are unreal. The experience of a long run will prepare us for many things in the future. This was all to celebrate Keegan's Bachelor Party as well, so he was able to have a great adventure before his wedding.

That night, Eric, Krista, and their two kids came out to the house for dinner. The great day was capped off with great food and great people. Then, we slept soundly for 9 much needed hours! Reece and I were able to run 9 miles the day after and I am still feeling great!

That 40 mile run was the most convenient adventure. Only a 30 minute drive for 10 hours of running. Where will this lead us?


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Winter/Spring Training in Review

This has been my best season yet as a college runner. The experiences and races that I went through produced a lot of good memories that will last a lifetime. I ended the season last Friday at the Jesse Owens Classic. I had hopes of running a big PR but that didn't happen. It was an overall "slow" day, with the faster heats not running as fast as normal. In my race, we went out too fast. The first mile was 4:39. That was fast! I ended up running 15:13 and finishing 3rd in my heat. I wanted something better to end the year on, but I fought hard in the race and still ran my third fastest 5k.

The past several days, since Jesse Owens, have been my "off days." I have only ran 3-5 miles each day, at a pretty relaxed pace. Yesterday I ended up running 9 miles though. I also bikes an hour yesterday. The main thing for me is to keep my fitness level fairly high and not take any days completely off from running. It feels pretty good to be a little more free with running.

So, from December 7th, till now, here is what I have ran:

Week 1 (12/7-12/13): 50 miles
Week 2 (12/14-12/20): 62 miles
Week 3 (12/21-12/27): 74 miles
Week 4 (12/28-1/3): 80 miles - Week in North Carolina. Won Frozen Sasquatch 25k in 2:07:25
Week 5 (1/4-1/10): 88.5 miles
Week 6 (1/11-1/17): 95 miles - PR'd in the 5k at Cedarville indoor with a 15:27, won.
Week 7 (1/18-1/24): 102 miles
Week 8 (1/25-1/31): 106 miles
Week 9 (2/1-2/7): 100 miles - Won Lovin' the Hills 15 miler in 2:03:41
Week 10 (2/8-2/14): 102 miles
Week 11 (2/15-2/21): 104 miles - PR'd in the 5k at Kent St. Indoor with a 15:18
Week 12 (2/22-2/28): 108 miles
Week 13 (3/1-3/7): 117 miles
Week 14 (3/8-3/14): 120 miles - Spring Break in Boulder, CO
Week 15 (3/15-3/21): 114 miles - PR'd in the 5k at UNC Charlotte Outdoor with a 15:00.2
Week 16 (3/22-3/28): 104 miles
Week 17 (3/29-4/4): 95 miles - PR'd in 10k at Duke Invite with a 31:11, 4th place
Week 18 (4/5-4/11): 95 miles
Week 19 (4/12-4/18): 95 miles - EKU 1500, 4:07
Week 20 (4/19-4/25): 95 miles - Bear Run 5k, 15:04, won
Week 21 (4/26-5/2): 67 miles - Jesse Owens Classic 5k, 15:13

Total Miles = 1,755

So, that is how things went down. No days off, no injuries, and "variety consistency."

I can't wait till this Saturday. Keegan, Reece, and myself are running the 40 mile loop at Shawnee State Forest. This should be one of the best experiences in my young life! More on that after it happens.