Monday, October 13, 2014

Worth it.

Been doing some more mountain running...

There was a moment last night, maybe about 3/4 of a mile long, where I was running down the new trail on Pisgah and everything felt right, and the decision was made that the training has indeed been worth it. 

The sun was very low and I was on the eastern side of the hill, but there was still enough light that I could see the leaf-covered trail. My gait felt light, strong, earth-covering, and the nagging descent-anxiety was gone. It seemed to have been replaced by a sense of rating/precision and (at least the perception of) refound confidence. I do not believe it's enough to add up to a 50 mile run on Sunday, but reaping the benefits of a little increased fitness is still good.

Two of the thoughts, among many, from the prolonged moment, include: 
1) The ability to half-half or full halt at any moment, while maintaining unhindered forward momentum, like when riding jumpers. 
2) Lynn Jennings' words, via Rosalea, about "dancing down the trail" on descents.

And now the first 50 mile attempt, my second ultra race, my fourth ultra distance, is less than a week away.  I now spend my day watching that 10 day forecast like it's a bad movie, and allowing its melodramatic displays to toy with my emotions...! My official pre-race thought is that it'll be better to dnf at 50 miles than to have merely attempted 50k. 

It's gorgeous outside, again...out I go... Peace!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A U T U M N !

Tomorrow is the day when the Big Brad Ultras day shows up in the 10 day forecast!

Great triple Mount Pisgah run today up and down all the windy, colorful, leaf-strewn trails. Wondered if I could increase my velocity by altering the way I sight the terrain as I move forward.  Played with some of the soft eyes/hard eyes techniques that I actually learned decades ago in Sally Swift's bible of equitation, Centered Riding. Need to play with this further - I think this may prove helpful in my quest to let go of hesitation.

My unwritten training "schedule" is so bungled that I hadn't really realized that my endurance conditioning for my first ever fifty mile run attempt is complete as of last weekend.

Friday was a wonderful return to Acadia, solo again, and even more awesome than the previous time (the one I wrote about in the previous entry). I was concerned that it'd be hard to have as satisfying and gorgeous a day, but I shouldn't have worried. Acadia gives, again and again. I ran as much as I could and hiked whenever I couldn't, and did around 20 miles in about 7.5hours. Much better pace early on.

My route was like and extended version of last week: Jordan Pond, Spring Trail, Penobscot South Ridge, Sargent South Ridge, Sargent Northwest Ridge, carriage road back to Jordan Pond, Bubbles Divide, North Bubble, North Ridge of North Bubble, Connor's Nubble, carriage road to North end of Eagle Lake, Eagle Lake Road to golf course, right onto the path that leads to Park Loop Rd and Kebo, ascend Kebo Mountain Trail, North Ridge of Dorr, connect to Cadillac from Dorr's false-summit, Cadillac East Face, Cadillac auto road part way down, hitchhike the few miles back to Bubble Pond since it was getting late and I'd stupidly forgotten my headlamp, and then since I hitched, I had just enough time to ascend NE Ridge of Pemetic and descend the south as the sun was setting.

Everything was all spectacular autumn color.


1) Ascending Dorr from the north that late into a difficult long run was one of the hardest physical things I've ever done. Would I do it again? Definitely, but it would be better without the preceding road run and with better hydration - I'd been kind of budgeting h20 since I was afraid I was going to run out. I was also not very in-the-moment since I was trying to figure out how to alter my route (there were several options) to deal with the the amount of daylight. Two minor stressors = too much. And both could have been avoided...

2) There are water fountains on Cadillac after all!  Would have been a very close call without these. Being able to chug&refill the handhelp with yummy, non-tailwindy, h20 was utterly joyous. Immediately there was less stress.

3) Nathan pack, trekking pole, Amphipod. It's a lot of stuff but it works.

4) 3 scoops of Tailwind, 2 Nuun, 1 Clif bar and a couple newtons. Clif bar was good but maybe no PB next time - too sticky.

5) Hitching is probably not great idea for me under most circumstances, but it worked this time. Here's what happened: I entered the gift shop at the Cadillac summit to inquire if the free ANP shuttles come up here. The guy behind the counter said they don't but that he was driving down in about 15 minutes and would be happy to give me a ride. I started running down the road and he picked me along the way. Thanks Eric, wherever you are, and good luck with the soccer teams!

6) If I hadn't hitched:  I would have had to basically take the very steep, very direct/short West Face off Cadillac.This was not really what I wanted to do because even under the best circumstances it is hard on the knees and, late in the day, when tired and a little brain-fried, it'd be even more risky.  And then I'd take Park Loop and carriage roads (meh, and, meh) back to JP, skipping Pemetic, in order to not be out in the dark. But I had my heart set on ending on Pemetic!

7) Parts felt good. Mind felt good...except for the Eagle Lake Road run, which was yuck (but the only way I could see, at the time, to get to Kebo), and the Dorr ascent where I thought I was gonna succumb and my pulse maybe almost caused an earthquake.

8) Hardly thought about hand all day for the first time in months. It just curls around the handheld and feels pretty safe there. The 2.5 hours of driving each way = time enough for hand therapy. The static progressive splint followed immediately by the dynamic splint seem to be working as long as I use them frequently. Driving may not be the best time for this, but it is also, well, the best time for this.

9) I bought new Hokas like 6 weeks ago so I'd have decent ones for BBU. They are almost totally worn down already! The granite consumes them, understandably. I can kind of relate...!

10) My hitch landed me right at Bubble Pond!  I was just thrilled to finally be ascending Pemetic's NE ridge as dusk was just beginning and the breeze was picking up. Bliss. There is just something so special about that trail. I saw two people coming down as I was ascending. People with dark brown skin. I noticed this, because all day I'd see people from all over and heard many languages, but very, very few people with complexions that could be described by a similarity to coffee. They doted on me a bit, aware as we all were of the coming night - Do you have your flashlight, your map, your compass? They asked kindly. I smiled.

At the summit, the wind had picked up and the overcast still hid the sun. No one was around. It was just me and Pemetic. I didn't feel like stopping to get the windbreaker that had spent the day strapped to the outside of my Nathan-- and then, at the moment of that thought, the jacket tumbled itself free and landed at my feet. I picked it up and thankfully put it on. Now comfy, I credited Pemetic, and its summit wind, for once again taking good care of me.

I wished I could stay to watch sunset, and I dallied a bit to catch the prelude. Soon enough I was onto the lower, runnable terrain. (Note, this all would have actually been fine in the dark. Plus my phone has a light on it too that could be used in whatever dark emergency you care to imagine.)  I trotted easily along toward Jordan Pond. It began to be too dark to see my GPS without its little backlight (hm, another light... shoulda stayed on the summit after all!) only as I was doing a little extra/warm down run around the shore of the pond. Perfect. I snapped a final shot of the Bubbles silhouette, just because.

I didn't sleep much that night. Why do we often not sleep after our longer or more difficult runs? No matter, off to Pineland the next morning to follow Tim, Mindy, and Val around the in winding drizzly forest. They were all doing 28+ miles. I was hoping for a humble 10 and not expecting to keep up for long, but then Tim and I started talking and it's easy to pick up speed when you're excited about stuff like getting to answer a question with "hook of the hamate".

Ended up with about 12 strangely brisk miles (until the last when I slowed waaaay down) and was very happy to curl up and read Cope for a long time after.

The gut feeling is that I will not run 50 miles on October 19th, and that's because my strength and fitness are simply lacking. The endurance may actually be close enough, but without the other two ingredients, I fear that coasting on endurance alone is just a tiring way of inviting injury. But then again, I've never tried this before, and I really don't know.

Anyway, in case I am wrong, I'll keep acting-as-if and planning and preparing. Surely that's all good practice for something. I didn't expect the event would be looming (not unpleasantly) across my mind as much as it is, but I seem to be thinking about it more and more as the date nears.

Things still to figure out:

1) What should I do this weekend? All's I know is I am playing Balkan music with Matt on Saturday in Portland! Running/hiking wise, I have no idea what tapering-people do. Or whether I am really tapering. Maybe a medium-long run and a hike.

2) What to carry and when, and not.

3) Fuel - Tailwind is so easy but too sweet. Not sure if it'll be potable after a certain point.

4) Do I want a pacer? Sea Level generously offered, but I'm just not sure. Part of me is convinced I want to do it alone. Part of me thinks I won't get that far so why bother asking someone else to be there? Part of me says, yes, do it, you will need help and this will help you. Let him help with the reservoir fumbling if nothing else. We'll see.

5) How will I prepare for the mental consequences of either failing to run 50 miles or completing a 50 mile run? What is my plan for if I drop at 35, 40, 47 miles? What if I finish? Either outcome is probably going to have some sort of effect on the trajectory of my thoughts for some period of time. What will I wish I'd thought of? What's my plan for cultivating kindness? What's next?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where are you?

Autumn exploded. I've been tearing about through the fire-clad foliage in between the more characteristic spurts of ambling. Hopefully you're out there too, vivacifying your way through the circus.

It's been a memorable, fantastic, confusing, tricky, and unique epoch of running. That would sum it up. You may skip to the end!

On September 7, I ran 34.6 miles throughout Bradbury - my longest ever in distance but not in time. 

I began shortly after sunrise and ran alone to Tryon mountain. I paused to scratch a message in the mud for Squatch, but the consistency was insufficient for literacy. Eventually I gave up and headed back to base camp to meet Scout, Squirrel, Danielle, Rick and Piper. ("How's Piper?" I ask. "Crazy," replies Scout. I file this under the same category as taxes and death.)

We set out on Act One, Scene One of the UXBA loop: the Scuffle. It seemed to be over in a breath. By mid-Breaker, which also flew, we were just me, Scout and Squirrel. Those climbs up to the summit will always be insane! I should practice more hills, she notes to herself - as perhaps many of us do. It is never enough, and never will be, and if one can't embrace the beauty of that grand conundrum, then why are we even here? 

Colin joined us at the beginning of the Bruiser. We were somehow right on schedule according to where I'd thought we'd be. Last time I did UXBA there were multiple lengthy stops and I was determined to keep moving as much as possible this time. Colin helped me replenish my h20 reservoir, a task that earned him a lot of points since ye olde left hand is still weak and clumsy. In my haste to get going, I committed a sizable mistake of which I would not be aware until I was deeply nestled into the 12 mile Bruiser course.

Even on the flatter terrain of the East Side, I dropped farther and farther behind the chattering group. I wondered what they were talking about. Iceland or maybe upcoming ultras, maybe shoes, I thought through an increasingly nasty headache... Fuck... I know this headache! This is what it feels like when I have forgotten to add Nuun to the h20. Damnit. Classic error. Ignoring this would mean termination of running. I believe this happened around mile 24 which is never a great time to discover mistakes.

I would simply have to get off course, go get the Nuun from DDR, and just do some other course after. I would be sad to leave Scout and not complete UXBA but I could see no other way. When we paused to bid farewell to Squirrel, I broke the news, but the team had a better idea. Fast, fast Colin volunteered to run all the way back to DDR, find the Nuun stash, and run it back out to where Scout and I might be. Scout volunteered to estimate where we might be, which was no small task either, after the correct amount of time had elapsed. Needless to say, this is a skill that I do not remotely have. And these are both things that not just anyone would willingly do, and that not just anyone could figure out/plan, but Colin did, and Scout did. I nodded in feebly headachey agreement and expressed as much appreciation as I could without attracting the local media. UXBA had been saved by the power of friends.

Thankfully, the headache thing improved very soon after Colin made the wondrous, wondrous delivery. If you are reading this, thank you again and again.

Very soon, Scout and I neared the infamous O trail. We played our way through it and remained amused. Time was still moving pretty fast and I still felt strangely lucid even as I surpassed marathon distance and went into ultra world for only my third time ever. Of course, the previous week when I'd had that thought about being lucid, I went completely loopy within a couple minutes... I made a point not to take anything, anything for granted. 

The UXBA was soon complete, and I felt ultra-well and ready for more. Scout, who had been so generous in cheerfully guiding me all day long, assisted once again before she headed back to Scoutland. We discussed some options for the rest of my route and came up with Summit, Krista's Loop, Tote Road. "That would be badass," said Scout. I'd thought it would be a good place for tired legs, but if it could be badass at the same time...that settled it.

Turned out it was a little more than enough. Maybe I should have stopped while everything still felt good... Recovery the following week was smooth, but a couple of parts had not averted damage entirely. I'd rolled my right ankle coming down South Ridge the first time, which meant I then ran on it for many many more hours. It was most of the week before the...peroneus longus, is it? I forget... felt runnable. Not that it wasn't totally worth it!

I'm not sure if that same incident is also what damaged the knee. I wasn't able to put weight on it without grave discomfort for the last few miles, even at a slow walk. I wasn't worried at the time. Surely it was just tired. That's normal. However, I've had to be pretty gentle with it ever since or it will basically stop working. When it's fine, it's fine, but then when it stops... Hmm, there is no discussion. Had a few pretty interesting changes-of-plans due to this but it is finally getting better. More on its antics, below.

Speaking of which, my first DNF occurred a week later at the Bruiser. Everything had felt fantastic and I felt like I was really racing...but with the knee thing looming, of course anything could happen. I ran a while with Caroline who is probably also doing the BBU 50 mile and who I'd met briefly last year. I enjoyed chatting with her a bit but I think she must have stopped at an aid station though because soon I was alone-ish again. And then at about 6 miles in, the right knee did its suddenly-bad act. Easy decision on my part. My mind was on BBU. I stopped and took about three days off.

It seemed better enough by the weekend that I did a short (4.5 mile), way easy (2 hour) solo venture into the Camden Hills. I kept moving but placed my feet exceedingly carefully. The knee was okay until the final cranky descent, but it kept working. It was a brisk day and the wind was whipping - the perfect day for being in mountains.

There was a bad vibe hovering all about on the following day but I was desperate to get back to conditioning for BBU. All the days off lately, however necessary, were adding up, and it felt like my training was just melting away before my eyes. A long run - maybe my only hope, she cried! - should ease the worry. Harden the fuck up already, knee...

I headed out in the dreary early fall beauty but everything was impossible, especially myself. The negativity was a problem, but not. The parts were not a problem, but then were. Nasty knee pain at mile 9. I walked gingerly home and wondered what exactly I was going to do. Later on ice, I was extremely angry at myself for being so careless that I should now be possibly injured again. I would not let it be so. 

I took a few more days off and once again things felt fine. I grabbed my trusty trekking poles and hiked the Brook Trail out & back on Tumbledown mountain. Knee held up okay as long as I was careful - A tremendous relief. But mostly this hike was about laying on the warm granite. With early color just beginning in the peaks surrounding the lake, it was a dream world. I shut my eyes to fully partake. Attempts to release the unwieldy, shameful melancholy, that has been haunting me for the past months, were inconclusive. But benevolent granite is supposedly skilled in such arts... If sun-warmed granite can't help you, what can? 

I was encouraged after the slow yet successful Tumbledown and decided the knee was maybe better. So, when I was to meet my co-worker at his first 5k a few days later, I signed up too. It would be like a $25 speed workout. Whatever, it's for a good cause...  I ended up PR-ing at 26:something.  I love running slowly best, but running fast-ish feels amazing and I love it in another way.

I drove the 3 miles to Hobbitland for a proper warm-down on the trails. Spent a bunch of minutes first stretching out left psoas here.

I was at mile 7 ish when the nasty knee pain returned out of no where. I headed woefully back to the car finishing at about 10 miles for the day. 

So let's get this straight. Good knee, no pain, 3 fast miles (a serious speed workout), plus 4 more easy trail miles, and only Then the knee sucks suddenly? And there's a 10 mile run in the log for the day? This (I don't want to call it an) injury isn't making sense. It's too good to be truly bad, but when it's bad, it's way too bad to get anything else good done. WTF.

I looked at the race results that night and somehow I'd placed 3rd in my age group. Probably out of three, I muttered. But no -- out of 14. Shucks. I was quite surprised but any joy was bittersweet! By now, plans to run 50 miles in three weeks were not looking good at all. Though nice, this little ego-stroking moment didn't help.

...But I mostly ran/walked about 10.5 miles alone the next day at Brad and it was okay. This was after  morning of hot, sun-drenched, patientless, med volunteering at Craig Cup which I hadn't realized was a suicide-related event. It only seemed right to go immediately to Brad after such a thing. I stopped for a really long time to stare into the reflection in the brook. Acceptance. Numbness. Fear. Give. Color. Isolate. Recenter. Quiet. I'm not sure what I was weeping about but probably nothing. I think it just was.

I took a very long time to see if I could get as much of whatever into the stream and gone. It could all get washed softly away and maybe take with it the shame of not just being okay, the self-loathing brought on when of course I have so much, and yet I somehow refuse to be content. And of course, let us not forget the boundless sorrow. Into the stream - all of it. Go.

After two 10+ mile days where the knee held up not well but enough, I could see no reason not to go to MDI on the third day. My route could have bail out options all over the place there, just in case.

Ah, Acadia... In my left hand was the Amphipod, an accessory that I'd never liked until I realized you can not only strap it on, but you can pad the hell out of the strap. With this, I could protect (hopefully) the still-tender southpaw, and in protecting that, work on technical descents with less anxiety.

And in my right hand was a trekking pole. I was still spooked at how quickly it had thrice gone bad after so many miles of going well. A pole might at least make the brain feel better.

It was rather too much, but it was the right gear for what I needed to do this day. It was unseasonably warm and there was a wondrous breeze as I climbed the deliciously vertical Spring Trail. Penobscot's blueberry bushes were all the brightest red. In the sun they were ablaze, and I was in love.

I hadn't planned to include Sargent but its long, open South Ridge beckoned before me. There was no way I could resist. I was able to run more than I'd anticipated, but I did not, at any time during the day, rush. The day was going by too fast as it was. The sweetness was amplified by its own fleeting nature. I crept down the East Cliffs trail, trying and trying to pinpoint that which is weak and to engage it. Knee held up. Didn't fall on hand. Careful, you. Yes.

I hadn't planned on North Bubble either but quickly became powerless against its draw. As will all the breathtaking summits of the day, there were but a handful of people up there. I hadn't considered that this might be peak leaf season. I'd never been on the northern No. Bubble trail and found its sea-green-lichen-y open ledges pretty wonderful. 

The carriage road around Eagle Lake was supposed to be an opportunity for a little more speed. I dallied instead. Contemplation of how poorly I'd planned fueling and h20 must have distracted me. Next time I do this loop, I'm not sure I'll do this part. It is anticlimactic next to the mountains.

Was very stoked to get back to Bubble Pond and back onto the singletrack. The day had been planned so that my favorite ascent of Pemetic would be last. I knew that the descent was mentally & physically gentle and a late-in-the-day descent would be my number one source for potential trouble. The Northeast Ridge ascent was its wonderful ass-kicking-steep self. Then there is the wall before the open ledges, and then that first little open spot, with the granite that looks like huge fingers, where Crag and I have snacked a time or two while gazing at Cadillac. I tried to recall, was there snow last time I was here, or was that the time before? Not knowing is good though: It means I've been here a lot. 

The summit of Pemetic was all a world of wonders and cannot be contained in a blog entry. I checked the ledges where the snowy owls were - none this time. I ran across the ledge where the rainbow wrapped all around Tim after the mini-graupel-storm, two Januarys ago. Sun-touched-red fire bushes, now, everywhere.

Pausing near the summit sign to take some pics, I cursed having forgotten my good camera. My stiffened hand dropped the phone at one point; the granite left a little crack in the corner of the screen: Thank you. Now I will carry a reminder of this day with me all the time. Perhaps it seems silly, but I love the new little scar. It will lead to a net increase in thoughts of mountains.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bigelow FKT.

Colin set a new FKT today for the Bigelow Range traverse. Pretty damn proud of him. It was technically unsupported but I suppose you could say that DDR and I fleshed out the logistics.  Read his account and see his photos here: 

Starting point across from the ballfield in Stratton, ME.
A quiet moment before the start.. do I have everything?

Starting at 10:40am!
My leg didn't really feel like hiking today and I had a bit of time to kill,
so I drove around to Flagstaff Lake and looked at the traverse from there.
Need to bring a kayak here sometime!
Then I followed my curiosity and drove up MT IRA. I'd never heard of it either.
As far as drivable mountains go, it's pretty cool so far I think. No junk up there.
The road is still under construction.  DDR says he wants a bumper sticker.
That's another view of the Bigs in the background.

I read some wondrous John Irving at the Orange Cat for a while.
They had a nice bulletin board and I give the hummus thumbs-up.
And of course, because nothing kills time like a little splinting,
 I subjected  the woeful southpaw to its bizarre device.
Scout says it looks like an implement of mouse torture.
I believe she is correct, that is, if by mouse, she means hand. Augh!
Then I drove to the AT crossing, where C- would soon finish, at East Flagstaff Road.
While waiting, I read Cope's description of differential diagnosis of acute appendicitis.
I became sleepy but reminded myself that someone a lot sleepier would soon come running out of the forest...
Flying Colin emerges!  FKT very much conquered!
Totally unrelated shot of the lovely ground cherries that Matt F. brought for me a
couple weeks ago. Didn't know what they were. Anyone know if they are the same idea as Chinese Lanterns like at E&L's?  And do those have edible interiors as well?
Also unrelated, or maybe completely related, since I probably wouldn't even exist without him:
The peaceful Shen-wen. Love.