Sunday, January 31, 2010

Run Together

I do most of my training runs solo. In fact, outside of races, I almost never run with other people. With a relatively sparse race schedule this year, I've a desire to change this situation a bit. I don't have what one would call a particularly rich social life--never have. About the closest I come is when Harry, Beat and I get together for dinner in order tell tales and generally BS after one of us has run a big race. Hanging out with two guys equally as running-obsessed and only slightly less anti-social than me probably isn't what most people would call progress in terms of my interpersonal development. I will admit that it is a bit funny that, since all we do is talk about running, it never occurred to us to just plan these outings around an actual run. When Harry recently suggested the idea in an email, it was sort of an enlightened moment of "duh!"

With Beat up north in Berkeley and Harry in the south bay, we decided the first group run would be near my place. After spending a week rehabilitating a sore hip from running Mission Peak during the previous storm, I decided that, after the recent rains, a different locale would be a better choice. I settled on Pleasanton Ridge due to it's facing the east-rising sun, easy planning due to the water access on the trail and the fact that it would be new trails for my two friends. In short, we had a great run. With Beat only two weeks out from his finish at the HURT 100, the pace was slower than I would have done along and that's a good thing since I usually end up going harder than I should when alone. We ran a little over 14 miles and conversation ran well beyond run, ranging from the latest technology to American colloquial malapropisms to the epistemological basis for the non-belief in God.

Post run, we headed out for lunch and then back to my place for some hand-brewed coffee and a bit more conversion before parting to our respective lives. Retrospect says that both the idea and execution were good. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to start a running club or anything, but it is nice to step outside my reclusive ways every now and then. We will plan further runs together. It's good motivation and good training.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Impatience trumped frugality and I couldn't wait for my Brooks ID discount in order to try this new shoe. Besides, it was quite different from what I normally run in so I needed to try them on first. Green Silence: the name sounds like a super hero--some sort eco-ninja perhaps. The shoe's name comes from the post-consumer and biodegradable material used in its construction. While I'm probably one of the last to jump on the whole "green" bandwagon, something about these shoes attracted me and I'd been anticipating their arrival since I'd first learned of them.

I have odd-shaped feet, but Brook's Adrenaline shoes in EE width seem to accommodate my overly wide forefoot with mismatched, narrow heel. I was skeptical about trying a shoe that didn't come in width sizing. I was pleasantly surprised. Going up a half-size in order to compensate for width has, in past, resulted in slippage either just in the back or of my whole foot within the shoe. However, the unique design and lacing pattern of the Green Silence seemed to wrap my foot and eliminate the slipping. There was also an extra eye-hole to help secure my heel. Happy with the fit, I made the purchase. Thanks Don and Gillian!

Of course, the real test would be on the run. The soles of these shoes are almost completely flat so their use would be relegated to roads and relatively smooth trails. My plan for the day called for 4 miles of road and 6 on soft dirt and gravel paths. I was happy to find that my custom orthotics fit the shoes just fine without altering their extremely light and flexible they feel. Overall, the shoes performed great and I experienced no pain in either my feet or joints during the run. This was especially surprising because previous attempts to use a more neutral shoe caused some knee pain on my right side.

For someone used to a "support" shoe, it seems a little strange that this "racing flat" would work better than a shoe which originated as a spin off of my usual model. I haven't run enough in these to come to any solid conclusions, but I believe it has to do with the midsole height. The Green Silence has the lowest midsole (18mm heel, 10mm toe) as well as the smallest heel-to-toe ratio (8mm offset) of any shoe in Brook's line. Though I have no science to back this up, its possible this low-to-the-ground design doesn't give my foot as much space to overpronate through its range of motion. Having less cushioning also keeps me from striking too hard on my heel. It felt a little bit like barefoot running.

I've done a bit of barefoot running and also used the Vibram Fivefingers in the past. While nice training tools, I doubt I will ever dispense with my trusted running shoes. Going barefoot does help toughen the feet and works all those supporting muscles. However, when I run sans shoes for more than 5-6 miles or for a few days in a row, my calves become incredibly tight. It's possible that I just need to build up more slowly, but my training is so time-limited as it is that I don't need any more reasons to limit my mileage. With the Green Silence I felt similar to how I feel after about 3-4 miles running barefoot when, actually, I'd run much longer than that.

In the end, I guess that one fact pretty much says it all: I had planned only 10 miles for the day, but ran more than 12 simply because it felt good and I wanted to keep going.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Back and Forth

This is the part of the story where I;m supposed to wax poetically over the previous year's accomplishments and then blather on excitedly about plans for the new year. I finished off the final week of 2009 or the first week of 2010--whichever you like better--with the Epiphany Run, a fat ass run based loosely around the birthday of Ultrarunning Magazine editor John Medinger. Finishing the run with a little over 50K due to my own creative course creation, I then topped off my week with a short recovery run the next day giving me 76 miles. I definitely felt like I was in the flow of training, but my over-enthusiasm created some back issues the following week ending in less than 35 miles. The back is better, but training is still sporadic. However, mentally, I am in the right mode so plans is underway.

I'm only going to say a few words about last year; if I let myself think too much on it, I know there is far too much to say. In short, from a running perspective, it was my most accomplished year yet. As with the previous year, I finished 4 100-milers. Each of these races represented a milestone of one sort or another.

Looking back, here is how they stack up in my mind:

Coyote Two Moons
This was a repeat race for me and one that I didn't really need to repeat for any reason other than where it fell in the year and the fact that a couple of good friends were going. The course is tough, but the format of going through two nights makes it a bit ridiculous. It ended up being my most epic event yet. Starting at 11pm, I had about 8 good hours before I started feeling bad. The second day and night was one long continuous deterioration--physical, mental and emotional. The last few climbs were arduous and I kept telling myself and others that I was going to drop at the next aid station. Looking back, I still can't figure out what kept me moving through the night except maybe that my mind was too addled to come up with a convincing reason to stop. It's the closest I have come to a DNF yet. It made me realize that, for better or worse, I am unlikely to quit a race unless I am physically unable.

Western States
What can be said about this race that hasn't already been said. Like most people, this is the first 100 miler I ever learned about. I'd thought about it for years. I had good confidence in finishing, it being my 8th 100, but I really wanted to go for the gold--or silver as it were. I had a plan and I was totally on it, at least for 60-70 miles. After that, it became more about getting the mark on the checklist. I loved the idea of such a classic event with its history, but, ultimately, it wasn't really the type of race that moves my spirit. I enjoyed the early mountain miles much more than the more famous sections with big packed aid stations.

I don't recall exactly when I first learned of Plain. However, I do recall that it captured my imagination immediately. The adventure, rather than the competitive, aspect of ultras is what attracted me the most. The idea of traveling 100 miles under one's own power intrigued me, being able to do so while carrying all one's own necessities, drinking from mountain streams, following an unmarked course, that was a whole other level of self-reliance. I'd intended to write more about this race, but life got busy. All I can say is that it retains a distinct position in my memory. I'm sure there are plenty of low points whitewashed by time, but no other race has given me such a feeling of belinging out there.

I've spilled more words on this race than any other. It being a loop course and my most repeated 100, the 15.4 miles of this races main trail is as familiar to me as anything I run. This familiarity presents both a level of comfort as well as a certain pressure to perform. I've managed to beat my previous results upon each return, but I've no idea how long I can keep that up. I plan to return for at least 5 finishes. if I can keep my streak of sub-24s alive, perhaps I'll keep going.

That's about all I have to say about last year. This year is, again, focused around the 100 milers; perhaps even more so. It's not that I've lost any respect for the shorter distances. In fact, I often find them tougher; feeling the need to push myself much more than in a 100. I'm never going to be competitive in them and I'm not getting any younger either. The real motivation, however, has more to do with limited time and a desire to focus on events that fill my spirit with a sense of renewal. On that slightly melodramatic note, my plans for this year will again are really only set for the beginning of the year.

The first is a quest for a new experience. I have entered and been chosen in the lottery for the Massanuttan Mountain Trails 100. Any race on the east coast would represent new territory for me. This race has a reputation for toughness; a toughness very different from the mountain altitude or steep climbs that mark the hardest races in the west. Extremely technical trails and rocks galore will be the new order of the day.

Next, is another lottery, but with a fairly slim chance of selection. I will find out about Hardrock 100 next month. This is still the only race that really scares me. I haven't traditionally done well at altitude, suffering in anything above 8500ft. Elevations up above 10K are completely new territory for me. If I am selected, I will need to acclimate properly and it will still be a risky proposition. This race will be my new challenge. I am still thinking about what I might do in its stead in the likely event that I find July open in my schedule. I am thinking about some sort of fast pack, a long solo trek, perhaps.

I plan to finish the year with both Plain and Javelina again. Plain, because I want to see if I can repeat that most singular experience. Javelina, for all the reasons I mentioned before. I will fill in with other races as opportunity permits. I am also going to try to add in more long self-supported runs. I rarely go much beyond 25 miles in my training runs, but I'd really like to plan some 30+ milers of my own design.

That's it. Nothing particularly special this year, but a gradual progression, I think. There is a certain transition underway, but right now I'm not looking that far ahead.