Monday, June 29, 2009

Relaxing in Sacramento

My flight home leaves tomorrow morning. Today has been a very relaxing day. I slept in, had some coffee and then visited the Auburn Running Company. I managed to avoid buying anything there, but our next stop was expensive. My pacer for WS is still hanging out with us and she took us to an amazing music store in Sacramento called "The Beat". I bought CDs by Tom Tom Club, Simple Minds, Ultravox, The Editors, Bauhaus, Anne Clark, and Husker Du. I also bought the Dead's Terrapin Station on vinyl. My son bought some Iron Maiden, Sisters of Mercy, Alice in Chains, Gallows and Nine Inch Nails. My daughter bought the soundtrack from Twilight. So, I've been copying music to my laptop and then to MP3 players for the flights home tomorrow.

My wife and kids are out playing miniature golf right now. I'm goofing off on the computer. In a while, we'll find some dinner and then get to bed early for our flight home.

Wednesday, I return to work and the "real" world after very little work the past couple weeks. Regretfully, I'm returning home without that coveted belt buckle.

One half of me really wants to retire from ultras right now. But, another part of me still dreams of finishing Western States. I've certainly had my chances and it's my own fault that I haven't taken full advantage of those chances. With the race being harder and harder to enter, how long would it be before I could even get another chance? If I wanted to.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Unforgiveable omissions

My race report was all about me. That was so wrong.

My good friend and pacer Deborah flew to CA from Texas to help me, and she never got to run. We've had fun spending time together, but my race took her away from her family for days. I'll try to make it up to her tomorrow by taking her to an amazing record store (yeah, I'm old enough to call them record stores) in Sacramento tomorrow.

My friend Jim drove from the Bay area to help, and we had a great time together, but he still hasn't seen me cross that finish line. He had agreed to be a back-up pacer for the last 6.7 miles if needed. I've run more miles in my life with Jim than anyone else and he paced me in my first 50 miler.

The first ultra I ever mentioned to my dad was Western States. He traveled from PA to help crew and see me cross that finish line. He sat with me in the stands this morning as the later finishers crossed the line. He made a comment something like "This is about when you would have been coming in, right?" He meant it in a positive way, but it really hurt to be reminded that I had failed to finish. Yet, he wasn't being negative at all. He believes I'll finish this race some day and he intends to be there when I do.

My children were all set to crew for me as long as they could stay awake. I've had a wonderful trip with them.

And lastly, my wife has been there for me. As I tried to apologize to her after the race, for putting her through so much with nothing to show for it, she was only concerned about my disappointment. She was prepared to pace me from Green Gate to Highway 49 if necessary and she's never run at night in her life. She's supported my running obsession for 24+ years, and attended ultras with me for the past 15 years.

I'm very lucky to have these friends and family members in my life.

New dubious PR

Yesterday was my 11th attempt at 100 miles. I was 5 for my first 10. The worst I'd done in the past was 48 miles at Massanutten in 2007, while undertrained and fighting a cold. I took out that record easily yesterday, timing out at mile 23.8.

The race weather was incredibly hot, but I never made it far enough to run in the heat of the day, so the heat wasn't really a huge factor for me. I described my DNF in an e-mail as a "death of a 1000 cuts". There was no single cause for the DNF, but rather a number of contributing factors.

My hamstring was not 100%. It was sore the past couple days at the top attachment point. This led to my stride being off from the start. I could feel that my left knee and right heel were going to cause me problems eventually.

I climbed well to the top of Emigrant Pass, making it in 72 minutes and feeling good. And then, everyone started passing me. I just felt like I couldn't make decent time on the downhill sections.

I passed on re-filling my hydration pack at the 10.5 mile aid station. Shortly after that aid station, the Nathan bladder sprung a leak and I was without water for a long time into the Red Star aid station at mile 16. I drank six total cups of water and sports drink at that aid station, refilled the bladder, and took a backup bottle from my drop bag. I just felt like I couldn't catch up on hydration as the day started to heat up. The stretch from Red Star to Duncan Canyon is fairly exposed to the sun, so the heat was a small factor here.

But, my mental state was a factor as well. My stride was off. The day was going to be miserably hot. It's possible that the dehydration messed with my mental status. But, in some ways, I started to mentally give up on the way to Duncan. This trail is fairly technical and I just couldn't muster the effort to run rather than walk, even on downhill sections.

I missed the cut-off by ten minutes at Duncan Canyon, and just like that, my day was over.

Many people think the Duncan Canyon cut-off is perhaps unfair, by 15-30 minutes. I was just under a 16:30 pace at this point, and I was hoping to go after the race with a slow but steady effort. This cut-off does force you to hustle a bit to make the cut-off. But, I knew the cut-off well in advance and I missed it.

Plus, there's no doubt that I would have missed a later cut-off. I think I would have made Robinson Flat, and then probably the downhill sections. I probably would have been hit hard by the heat in the canyons, and missed the cut-off at Devil'S Thumb. I simply wasn't fully mentally and physically prepared to go 100 miles in tough conditions yesterday.

Of the 399 starters, 238 finished and many very good athletes failed to finish. This was one of the slower finishing percentages in race history.

So, now I have to decide "what's next?" To be perfectly honest, I've been focused on WS for almost 20 months, since my name was pulled in the lottery in December of 2007. I was really ready last year, but never got the chance to run. That left me with the same focus for another 12 months. And, I didn't respond well to the challenge.

I got to the point where I trained only because I had to train, not because I wanted to train. That's not a fun place to be. I think I've simply lost some of my passion for ultras over the last 20 months. So, right now, I'm going to take a break of some sort. I'm going to work out regularly, but I'm only going to run when I feel like it for the rest of the year. I'm going to ride my road bike. I'm going to lift. My son wants to learn to play racquetball. My wife wants to do some rock climbing. I want to let my hamstring heal completely.

But, for right now, I need to walk away from ultras for a little while. I'm scheduled to pace at the Vermont 100, and I'll gladly do that. But, I won't be doing any long races for a while.

I finished a 50K in April, so my long streak of completing at least one race of a marathon or longer in every calendar year is still intact. I've done this since 1986. Maybe the streak will get broken next year?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hot, hot, hot!

There are now heat advisories posted for the weekend. It's going to be a hot day out there tomorrow and even the overnight and early Sunday hours will be hot.

I need to be smart in how I deal with the heat. And when I make it to that finish line, I will have certainly earned the buckle.

It's time to go register.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two days to go!

I'm in Homewood, CA right now, about 13 or so miles from the entrance to Squaw Valley. I got a good night of sleep after a long day yesterday.

My left hamstring was bothering me a bit yesterday after my run on Tuesday night. I ran 4 miles at about 9:20 pace Tuesday night and that was more than my hamstring wanted to do. So, I spent yesterday stretching in airports and just relaxing, and then my wife did some massage work on the hamstring last night. I'm feeling much better today.

I decided to skip the flag raising this morning at Squaw, but I will head over there in a while and do a couple miles on the course.

The current forecast for Saturday shows a high of 90F in Foresthill, but I imagine the canyons will be much hotter than that. The high temperature for Auburn is forecast to be 97 on Saturday and 99 on Sunday. Hopefully, I'll get to Auburn Sunday morning before the heat gets tough, but the last climb of the race is on an east-facing slope that heats up quickly in the morning.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Easy four miler

I ran an easy 4 miles at lunchtime yesterday and my legs felt great. My stride was as free and easy as it's been since I hurt my hamstring in April. I think the week of low-level activity in Costa Rica must have helped a lot. I did a fair number of hikes, but all were slow, with frequent stops to look at animals and plants. The whitewater rafting, rappelling and ziplining were all fairly easy, so I had an active but restful week.

I think it helped that I was very good about stretching every day while I was gone. Last night, I spent some quality time with my foam roller and I was happy that some previous hot spots seem to be better.

Today, we celebrate my son's 16th birthday. It's hard to believe he's that old already. I still remember driving him to day care every morning, sharing a box of animal crackers along the way and singing along to his favorite songs on the radio. He was such a sweet young boy, but by age 16, that's long gone. I don't mean that in a bad way, but he's grown up and quite different. My son's friends on the trip made numerous comments about how we have a very similar sense of humor. I felt like I got along really well with his friends, for the most part. Every once in a while, I had to act like a chaperone and make a decision that wasn't always popular.

Anyway, we are taking my son out for dinner tonight and then leaving for California in the morning. I'll do another easy 4 miler today after work.

Poison Dart Frog - You have to eat their stomachs to actually get poisoned, I believe. We ate no frog stomachs on the trip.

Howler monkeys - This photo was taken through a telescope, so the quality isn't great.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Home from Costa Rica

I can't even begin to describe our trip in a single post. Plus, I'm trying to catch up at work and sift through 700 e-mail messages. And, I have to get the new software update for my iPhone.

For now, I'll just say that Costa Rica was great and I highly recommend it to anyone as a vacation destination. We were treated so well by the residents at every turn. Activities included hiking, running (well, I ran once, not the rest of the group), whitewater rafting, jungle canopy ziplining, canyoneering where we rappelled down waterfalls, etc. We saw so much amazing wildlife and plant life. Because I did more hiking than the rest of the group, I saw some animals that others didn't see.

I leave for CA and Western States on Wednesday morning. I'm sure the week in Costa Rica helped with acclimation, but it now appears that Saturday will be a hot day. The heat is going to be an issue if the forecast is accurate. But, that's part of the race and I'll deal with it accordingly.

The attached photo is a pair of scarlet macaws. They are mainly found on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, and we were told we were very lucky to see them. More photos will show up in the coming days, as I have time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

San Jose, Costa Rica

I'm having some keyboard problems with this Spanish keyboard, but otherwise, things are good. We had some bumpy flights, and twice our flight crew to San Jose said we were en route to San Juan, but we made it to Costa Rica as planned.

I'm drinking a cup of very tasty coffee at the moment and I need to start waking up kids in a few minutes for breakfast. We leave for the jungle lodge at Selvaverde in a few hours.

Customs was crowded but as non-confrontational as I've ever seen anywhere. We breezed right through with no issues at all.

I think I'll skip running here in San Jose this morning, but hopefully we'll get to our next destination in time to do something there today.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Killington and Pico

My wife and I hit the Bucklin trail just before 8:00 a.m. this morning. The first destination was the top of Killington - 3.7 miles and 2500 vertical feet away. The first half of the trail was very moderate and the second half very steep. We hit the summit in about 1:50 and we had beautiful views to the high peaks in every direction.

Here is a photo of my wife on the summit of Killington, with our next peak, Pico, in the background:

From Killington, we headed downhill on a spur trail off the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail, which are the same trail in the southern half of Vermont. We picked up the LT/AT and headed north towards Pico, VT's sixth highest peak. After descending about 500 vertical feet, the trail levelled out and the hiking was very easy for a while. Eventually, we hit the point where the Sherburne Pass Trail diverged from the AT/LT and headed towards Pico. Until about a decade ago, the LT/AT had been on what is now called the Sherburne Pass Trail, but the LT/AT was re-routed due to land ownership considerations and also for safety issues at a highway crossing.

We took the Sherburne Pass trail and then took the spur trail to the exciting Pico summit:

Yep, that's the summit marker and my feet.

From the summit of Pico, it was an easy descent in a stream bed for a while and then the muddy Sherburne Pass trail to our car. All told, we were out for just over 5 hours and the level of effort was pretty easy for me, but less so for my wife, who did a leg workout in the gym last night. We hiked about 10 miles and climbed over 3000 vertical feet - not a really tough day.

It's time to cook dinner and finish packing for Costa Rica. Posts for the next week are likely to be rare or short if I have to do them with the iPhone or Twitter.

Friday, June 12, 2009

One more peak to go

Vermont has five peaks that are 4000' or higher. In the years that I ran Wasatch and Hardrock, I hit the summit of each of those peaks at least once during my training. I have not done that before any other 100 milers. In the past 12 days, I've hit the summit of four of those five peaks. Given the fact that I have a perfect record finishing 100s (yeah, the sample size is too small to be meaningful), I plan to summit the fifth of those peaks tomorrow. The remaining peak is Killington, home to Vermont's largest ski resort. Killington Peak is also very close to Pico, the sixth highest peak in the state. So, just for good measure, my wife and I are going to hike both Killington and Pico tomorrow. I may even get my son out there to do the peaks with us. He has skied at Pico and Killington, but he's never stood on the summit of either peak.

Between thunderstorms and a tired body, I took a rest day yesterday. Today, I'm swamped with work because I'm leaving for vacation on Sunday, but I'm hoping to at least get in a short run or get to the gym tonight.

I'll hike early tomorrow and then spend the rest of the day packing for my trip to Costa Rica.

Today, for reasons that I don't yet know, the school cancelled a trip to Japan that was scheduled one week after the trip I'm going on next week. I'm assuming it has something to do with the WHO and swine flu. We'll see if we manage to make it out of here on Sunday without our trip being cancelled. I'm sure that someone, somewhere, is discussing that possibility today. If the trip gets cancelled, my son will be really disappointed. And then, I'll have to figure out what to do with 300,000 Costa Rican Colones.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Workout and WS Dream

I was planning to run 8 last night. But, right from the start, I could tell my legs were tired. I had done 30 just 3 days earlier, then done a bike ride on Sunday, and then done a mountain hike that lasted over 2.5 hours on Tuesday. It's too late to increase my fitness a whole lot at this point, but certainly not too late to injure myself. So, I slowed down, mixed in some walking, and did 5 miles instead of 8. I might have pushed through 8, but it was my left hamstring that felt the most tired and there's no sense re-injuring that part of my leg.

I spent a lot of time with the foam roller after I ran and then my wife did some massage work on the hamstring. I feel better today, but my legs are still feeling a bit tired. We are also expecting thunderstorms about 5:00 today, so I may simply take a rest day. If the weather stays nice, I'll run whatever feels comfortable, whether that's 2 miles or 10 miles.

Overnight, I had a dream about WS that seemed to be tied to my DNF three years ago. That year, I missed the time cut-off at mile 93.5 - 6.7 miles from the finish. In my dream, I came into an aid station 6 miles from the finish. I got there right as the clock ticked over to 29 hours. The aid station people tried to get me to drop out, telling me I'd never make it, but I hadn't missed the cut-off. So, I told them that I was going to keep moving until I'd actually missed a cut-off. I took off and discovered quickly that the last 6 miles in the race were on a flat, paved road. I was able to run 9 minute miles and I was passing people. I was hoping I could maintain that pace to the finish. About 3 miles from the finish, my alarm clock went off.

So, I suppose I'll have to wait a couple weeks to see how the dream ends. I'm pretty sure that the terrain from Highway 49 to the finish has not been shortened, flattened, and paved. There are two real climbs in there, the descent to No Hands Bridge, and perhaps a mile of pavement at the end. You have to make the Highway 49 aid station in 28:15 or you get pulled. I was about 20 minutes late last time.

When I went to WS in 2006 to pace, the runner I planned to pace timed out at Duncan Canyon. I went to Foresthill looking for someone else to pace. Because there were a lot of drops that year, I was way back in the line to pace someone. But, someone needed a pacer just to the river crossing, and no one in front of me wanted to pace "just" to the river. So, I hopped to the front of the line and got a hurting runner to the river, where his other pacer took over. The runner had been behind 30 hour pace at Foresthill, but he finished in the 27s.

On the Monday morning after the race, I got up early in the morning. We were still in Auburn. I ran from the hotel to Robie Point and from Robie Point to the finish line. I wanted to run that route and promise myself that the next time I had a chance, I'd do those miles in the race. It's just about time to see if I will pull that off.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Camel's Hump

I looked at the weather forecast just before I left work last night. The rain had stopped about mid-afternoon, and although it was cloudy and breezy, weather radar showed no rain and no lightning in the area. So, I decided to take a chance on the weather and do my planned ascent of Camel's Hump, the peak depicted on the Vermont state quarter.

I left work a little bit early and I was at the trailhead by 5:00. There were no other cars in the parking lot. I like to do this hike as a loop, going up the Forest City Trail to the Long Trail and then come down on the Burrows Connector. This makes the trip about 10K, with just over 2400' of climbing. But, compared to my recent mountain hikes, this one is much more technical, so I decided to hike in rock climbing approach shoes. These shoes have very sticky rubber soles that grip wet rock better than any running shoe.

I left the car wearing tights, a long sleeve shirt and a rain jacket, and I had an insulating jacket tied around my waist. The first half of the ascent, to the Long Trail, was fairly uneventful, but I could hear the wind howling higher on the peak.

Once I hit the Long Trail, the terrain gets very rocky at places and my choice of footwear turned out to be a good idea. At some places, the rock was dry but other places were soaked. The approach shoes worked perfectly.

Because this is a very technical trail with lots of rock scrambling, I was going fairly slowly. I've done this round trip in 2:24 in good weather, but last night it took me 20 minutes more than that.

The last few hundred vertical feet to the summit are above treeline, on exposed rock, and the weather was wild. For this stretch, I wore the insulating jacket over my rain jacket. The temperature was no warmer than 40F, winds were gusting to at least 40MPH, it was drizzling, and the fog was so thick that I simply hiked from one white trail marker to the next. I had to carry my hat so it wouldn't get blown away. I didn't spend much time at the summit and I took no pictures; you couldn't see anything anyway.

The descent isn't a very exciting trail and I cruised back to the car, getting there about 7:45. Due to the cloud cover, it was feeling somewhat dark as I got to the car. I still had a long-ish drive on back roads to get home, and I didn't make it until 9:00. I was starving when I got home.

I had my last PT session for the hamstring this morning. The therapist asked how I was doing and I tried to explain that I think I'm at 90%, yet for most people, I'd be beyond that. I told her that I'd run 30 miles last Saturday and it felt OK, but not completely right. She did some ultrasound and massage, and then I was "discharged" from the rehab treatments. I only go back if I re-injure myself, which I certainly hope to avoid.

Tonight, I'm planning an easy 8 after work.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Just about done with hamstring treatments

I saw the PT yesterday - the person who approves of my active lifestyle. He spent a solid 45 minutes doing ultrasound, massage, and stretching for both hamstrings and the piriformis on both sides. He noticed yesterday that my right (non-injured) hamstring is tighter than the left right now. We guessed that there are two reasons for that. First of all, we've been working hard on the left leg to restore flexibility. Secondly, I'm probably still favoring things a bit, so my right leg is probably working harder than the left, leaving it more fatigued and tighter overall.

I see the other therapist tomorrow morning and the chiropractor on Friday, and at that point in time, the treatments for the hamstring will be done. I still have work to do on my own, and I'm looking forward to resuming lower body lifting after WS to strengthen that muscle group. But, for now, the hamstring is at least 90% healed and if I avoid stupid stuff like sprinting, I don't think it will cause me any severe problems at Western States.

I was hoping to climb Camel's Hump tonight, the peak that is depicted on the Vermont state quarter. It's the only one of Vermont's highest peaks without a ski area on the peak itself or within half a mile or so. Plus, the summit is completely above treeline and offers beautiful views in every direction.

But, it's raining like crazy right now and we might get thunderstorms this afternoon. I may end up doing an indoor workout today, which doesn't thrill me at all. But, one way or another, I'll do something after work.

Eighteen days...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bike Ride, Rest Day, and Twitter

As planned, I went out for an easy bike ride yesterday. The weather was somewhat threatening, so I only rode for 20 miles in just under 80 minutes. I stayed in the small chainring the entire time, just spinning easily rather than pushing bigger gears with my tired legs. At about mile 13, a few raindrops fell, but the real rain didn't start until after my ride. Overall, it was a very pleasant ride and my legs felt pretty good after 30 running miles on Saturday.

In many ways, buying a road bike this spring has turned out to be a very good decision. First of all, I'm having fun riding on a road bike again. Secondly, with the hamstring injury, the bike has given me a way to train when I couldn't run. And lastly, the bike has turned out to be a great way to do something when my legs are beat up and I want to burn a few calories but I don't want to run.

Today is a planned rest day. I was tired last night and fell asleep by 8:30. Today, I woke up without an alarm clock by 5:30 and I started working by 6:30. I have a PT appointment today and after work, I'll mow the lawn. Big excitement.

A week from now, the Twitter area that I just added to this blog will probably have comments that seem strange to my three or so blog readers. I'll be chaperoning a school trip to Costa Rica for a week, and I've agreed to use Twitter to keep parents updated on how our group is doing through the week.

The weather forecast for this week doesn't look very promising. It sounds like it's going to rain for most of the week, which could make it tough for me to do mountain hikes after work on Tuesday and Thursday. If I can't safely head into the mountains, I can just run instead. I won't get any heat training this week. Tomorrow, we might not even see 60F.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Solid 30 miler

"Just in Time" training - that's what I'm calling it.

Two weeks ago, I dropped out of 50 miler because my leg wasn't happy. But, yesterday, I cruised through a 30 miler and my fastest miles were the last 8. It wasn't fast, but I did run at a faster pace than I ran my 22 miler last Saturday.

So, here are my last few weekends worth of workouts:

5/9: 43 mile bike ride
5/16: Four hours of hills
5/23: Just under four hours of rolling terrain, mostly hiking
5/30-31: 22 on Saturday, 10 mountain miles on Sunday
6/6: 30 miles

Next Saturday, I'll do a somewhat long but slow hike in the mountains and then my taper will get serious.

Hopefully, the weather will cooperate enough for me to get in some mountain run/hikes this coming week as well.

Today, I'll go out for a bike ride - probably 90 minutes or so at an easy level of effort. Tomorrow will be a rest day.

Three weeks from today, I intend to be getting that buckle in California.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Top of Vermont

That ugly mug is my best attempt at a self-photo with my iPhone on the summit of Mt. Mansfield - Vermont's highest peak. I had an amazing hike/run on Mt. Mansfield last night and I was on the summit all by myself.

I had to laugh when I pulled my phone out of my waist pack. I had a text message from a friend who wanted me to meet him for a beer after work. I responded that I was on the summit of Mansfield and e-mailed him this photo. A year ago, I would have laughed at anyone sending photos or text messages from a remote peak somewhere, but the iPhone is an addictive little toy.

Yesterday, I had looked at my past times for the route I was using yesterday. I wasn't trying to beat my best time, but I was curious how I'd done on this 6.4 mile route in the past. I found that my best time ever was 2:17, done solo in 2005. I had done a slightly shorter route in 2:21 with a friend that same summer. I'd done this exact route with my wife in 3:14 in 2004.

I felt strong as I headed up yesterday. I was expecting to be up there for about 2:45, and I had an incentive to be no slower. The gates to the park where I started the hike would close at 8:30, three hours after I started. So, I couldn't dawdle. Even though I thought it would be close to 3 hours, I didn't take any water. I took a flashlight, my phone, an extra long sleeve shirt and a wind jacket. Those items would be enough to sustain me overnight on the peak if anything bad happened.

I checked my altimeter occasionally on the way up the Laura Cowles trail. This is the steepest trail on the peak - almost a straight shot up the mountain. My climbing pace was over 2000'/hour the entire way up and it felt great. I stopped once to catch my breath and I could just feel my heart pounding and the blood being pushed through my body. I was just amazed that my body could work that hard and yet I was having fun.

At the one hour mark, I emerged above treeline where the Laura Cowles trail and the Sunset Ridge trail intersect. I'd climbed 2300' in one hour. A minute later, I was on the Long Trail and after 1:00:29, I was all by myself on the summit of Mt. Mansfield. I love going up these peaks during the week rather than the weekend, when I often find myself alone on the summit. A few summers ago, a friend and I did an overnight double-traverse of Mansfield and we stood on the summit in complete darkness at 2:00 a.m. I just love being up there, no matter when or what the conditions are like.

My ascent had been my fastest ever ascent of the peak. I took some pictures, replied to my text message, and headed down. The Sunset Ridge trail is rocky and exposed, although not exceptionally steep, for the first mile or so. There are a few steep spots where you have to be careful, but overall, it's a longer and less steep route than the trail I'd used on the way up. I did manage to fall once on the descent, but it was a minor fall.

About 2/3 of the way down, I hit an easier section of trail. Without thinking about it, I found myself running. This surprised me, as I had no intention of running and I'd worked really hard on the way up. But, as the trail moderated, I found myself running spontaneously at spots.

With just over half a mile to go, I could tell that I was going to have a really fast total time. I ran easily whenever the terrain allowed. My final time was 2:06:06, and my descent time was 1:00:37. I had just managed to do my fastest ever ascent of the peak followed by my fastest ever descent. In some ways, this really surprises me. My climbing right now is as strong as it's ever been, even though I weigh 10 pounds more than I did for WS last year. On the descent, I could tell that I'm finally starting to get my "trail legs". I felt very comfortable on very uneven terrain, with lots of rocks, roots and mud.

I've had a very encouraging training week right now in every respect.

I saw the chiropractor this morning and he was happy with how things are going at the moment.

Tomorrow, I'll run 30 rolling miles, and I'll follow that with an easy run or bike ride on Sunday. It costs $90 to enter the Pittsfield Peaks 50K on race day, and I can't justify that expense when I can run from home for the cost of some Hammergel and electrolyte caps.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

An easy day

I saw the physical therapist yesterday. He was kind to my aching quads and even did some light massage work on them, plus showed me a few new stretches for the quads. Yesterday, I saw the therapist who is OK with the training I'm doing. On Monday, I saw the other therapist, and I downplayed my recent training. Only two more PT visits and two more chiro visits and I should be good to go for WS.

After the PT appointment, I took my road bike out for an easy 75 minute ride. I never left the little chainring - just easy spinning and a slow ride. Then, I spent some time with the foam roller after my ride, and did some light quad massage work. I'm definitely feeling better today.

And that's a good thing, because I'm planning to hike Mt. Mansfield tonight. My favorite route on Mt. Mansfield is to ascend the Laura Cowles trail - a very steep trail - and then descend by the Sunset Ridge trail. This route is about 6.5 miles with 2500' or so of climbing. My fastest time on this route was 2:17 in 2005. My slowest summertime round-trip is 3:14, done at the end of a day where I hiked all five of VT's 4000 foot peaks in one day. My slowest time ever on this route was over 6 hours - done on a sub-zero January day in 1999. It was Super Bowl Sunday and my buddy Jeff and I had the trail to ourselves that day.

I rarely get to do this route in the evening, but as the name of the descent route suggests, it is a beautiful hike in the evening. The descent route travels mostly west, towards the setting sun, and it should be beautiful out there tonight.

I still need to pick a route for my 30 miler on Saturday. The option of signing up for a local 50K is out there, but it's a tougher route than I think I want to run this close to WS. Plus, the mosquitoes are likely to be horrible on that course this weekend.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mt. Ellen Ascent

Vermont has five peaks that exceed 4000' in height - Mt. Abraham, Mt. Ellen, Killington, Camel's Hump, and Mt. Mansfield. In 2004, while training for Hardrock, I ascended all five of them in one day - a feat that is rarely accomplished, to the best of my knowledge. Last summer, for some reason, I never summited any of those five peaks - the first time since I've lived in Vermont that I didn't do any real hiking in the summer.

A few weeks ago, I did a "double" on the automobile toll road on Mt. Mansfield. The toll road leads to a sub-summit, and because the Long Trail was still closed, I couldn't go to the true summit that day. On Sunday, I did summit Mt. Abraham as part of a mountain training day. So, I decided that for my mid-week runs these last couple weeks of training, I'd try to hit each of the five summits once before Western States. I worked in my office rather than at home yesterday, and Mt. Ellen isn't far off the track on the way home.

Because I needed to work a bit late last night, I didn't get started until 6:30. The shadows were already starting to lengthen and I was going to be on the east side of the Green Mountains. So, I put on a long-sleeve shirt, tied a jacket around my waist, and carried a flashlight "just in case". My quads are sore from Sunday's workout, but I felt OK as I started the ascent. My hike yesterday was up a steep service road to the top of a ski area.

About halfway up, I realized that I had a shot at hitting the summit in under one hour. I have only gone under an hour once in my life and that was in 2004, not long before I ran Hardrock. The climb is 2.65 miles long and gains 2480 vertical feet. For me to summit in less than an hour is work, even when I'm in good shape. So, I started working. Quickly, I was redlining, but I kept on working. At 40 minutes, I knew I was going to be close. At 50 minutes, it looked like I had no chance. At about 50 minutes, I passed below a double black diamond ski run called F.I.S. I was surprised to see two small patches of snow still on that run. This part of the mountain closed at the end of March, and the mountain that stayed open until early May is now completely devoid of snow.

At 50 minutes, I still had to get past the top of this steep ski run and I was now pretty sure I had no chance at an hour. But, I pressed on. As I neared the summit on the Panorama ski trail, I knew it would be close. I had to hit the top of the summit chair and then duck into the trees on the Long Trail for about 100 feet or so to hit the summit. I entered the forest at 59:53. I hit the summit at 1:00:25. I didn't quite make an hour, but this was my second fastest ascent ever, which felt good.

On the way down, I saw a snowshoe hare, now wearing its summer colors. I took a photo, but it was too far away and blended into the background so well that publishing it here would be like finding Waldo. We see them occasionally in the winter when skiing and see their tracks a lot. I don't see them often in the summertime.

On the descent, I was thinking about the great mood I've been in the past few days. I think that I really needed some time alone in the mountains. I can't explain what it is about being in the mountains that makes me feel so peaceful, so alive, and so insignificant all at once. I know that many others share that love of mountains, but it's hard to put into words. I found myself wishing I had a tent and sleeping bag with me, so I could just sleep at the summit for the night. My two climbs in the past few days have been really fun and it's really helped my overall motivation.

I took it easy on the descent, not wanting to trash my quads any more. I never needed the flashlight.

Today, I have a PT appointment - one of three remaining before Western States. Then, I'll do an easy bike ride tonight.

Tomorrow night after work, I'm planning a Mt. Mansfield assault.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Here Comes Sunshine

Another Grateful Dead reference above, for those who aren't fans. This morning, on the way to work, I was in a great mood. So many positive things have been happening lately. I often listen to political talk radio on the way to work, but this morning, I decided that I didn't want to hear the conflict and hate I'd hear there. Instead, I decided to listen to the Grateful Dead channel on satellite radio. One of the first songs I heard was "Here Comes Sunshine", and it just seemed to fit how some things have gone recently.

And, I'm not just talking about one great training weekend. That's just a small part of the good things going on.

My son has been struggling in school all year. He's been very withdrawn and this past winter, he didn't even seem to enjoy skiing. About 6 weeks ago, he brought home the worst in a bad series of report cards. My wife and I were so furious at the report card that we headed out the door for a run together, so we could talk and cool off a bit. My wife told me that she thought our son was depressed and that we weren't seeing typical teenage behavior. There is a lot of depression in my side of the family, including me. By the time we were done running, we were calm and we'd formulated a plan. We gave our son two choices - severe punishments (no video games, cell phone, internet time, TV, etc.) or visit a counselor. He chose the latter and after some visits and consultations with his doctor, he was given a low dose on an anti-depressant. In just four weeks, it seems like we have our son back. He is still struggling to wrap up the school year, but he's become sociable again. He's smiling at times. We are playing chess and cribbage again. We bought him an electric piano and he's learning to play. He's excited by some things again. The situation probably isn't over, but it's much better. We almost went the other way - with severe punishment. It's clear that would have been exactly the wrong thing to do and I'm glad we took some time to think things through.

I've been fighting an injury. But, I've also been fighting something worse than that. In the past year, pretty much since WS was cancelled last year, I've been drinking too much. For years, I've tried to kid myself that because I drink world class wines, high end liquors and high quality microbrews, I'm not really a drunk, but rather a connoisseur. But, recently, I've really come to doubt that. I recently made the decision that alcohol was really causing me some problems. So, I simply decided that I was going to stop drinking for six months. I don't know what will happen after six months right now. But, I know that if I can't stop on my own for six months, I need some help and I'll get it. Since making that decision, it feels like a weight has been lifted. Last night, I went out to a nice restaurant with my wife and friends before a concert. I served as the designated driver and it was just fine. Different, but a better approach to life. It's only been a week since I stopped drinking, but I feel better already.

Here Comes Sunshine.

And yes, my hamstring injury is starting to feel a lot better. A friend remarked in an e-mail yesterday that my blog had been too depressing to read recently. He had pretty much given up on me being able to finish WS. Ten days ago, I was thinking those same things. But, the last week has changed my mind. And yet, in some ways, that's been the least important change in my life in the past few weeks.

Just 10 weeks ago, I was working 3 jobs and 75 hours per week. Right now, I'm working one job for about 40 hours per week. I'm working from home 3 days per week. My life is so much simpler. I'm spending more time with my family. I have time to relax. I've been catching up on reading. I've been doing work around the house that I'd neglected for a while.

And, I have two cool trips coming up - a week in Costa Rica with my son and some of his friends, and then a family trip to CA for Western States, where I'll also get to visit with lots of other friends.

Here Comes Sunshine.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Turning the Corner

Saturday, I really wanted to hike in the higher mountains of Vermont, preferably on the Long Trail. But, we'd had so much rain that I decided the trails would be in terrible shape. When the trails are really muddy, hiking on them can damage the trails, so I tend to stay away from places that get really muddy. So, I opted to train on local dirt roads that were fairly hilly.

I ran from my house, and started by doing 4 miles with my older dog. I walked the first mile to warm up slowly and then started running. After just one mile of running, my dog was tired. We hiked most of the way back home. I stayed focused on maintaining an average pace of 4mph - not fast, but it's 25 hour pace for a 100 miler. Next, I took my younger dog out for 2.5 miles. She gets bored easily, so 2.5 miles is plenty for her. When I got back home, my wife was wearing running clothes. She headed out with me for a while. Her plan was to go the first 4 miles of my 7.75 mile loop and then take a shortcut home. But, because my pace was fairly easy, she did the entire loop with me.

When we finished, I tried to talk my son into doing a loop with me. I told him that I'd run with his sister the day before, and both dogs and his mom had gone with me that day. Always the smart*ss, my son suggested it was the cat's turn to run with me. So, I headed out for one more 7.75 mile loop by myself. I did that loop 5 minutes faster than I'd gone with my wife. Overall, I averaged about 14.5mpm for 22 miles, with 1700' of climbing. Because my pace had been easy, I felt pretty good.

On Sunday, I headed to the mountains. I went to the mountain where I teach skiing in the winter. I headed straight up a service road, hiking to the top of the mountain. I was very happy to climb the first 2000 vertical feet in less than an hour. That number is a benchmark for me. When I can do 2000' per hour and not feel like I'm going all out, I know I'm in good shape. The first 2.8 miles took me just over an hour and I climbed about 2500' in those miles. From the top of the ski area, I hopped onto the Long Trail so I could summit Mt. Abraham, one of VT's higher peaks. It's only 0.6 miles to the summit, so I tagged that peak and headed back to the ski area. I ran downhill for a mile, and then turned around and hiked back to the top of the ski area. From there, I ran back to the base of the ski area.

All told, I did 9 miles in 3:02. My hamstring, and my legs in general, felt great all day. I did just under 4000' of vertical in those three hours.

My quads are a bit sore today, but not too bad, and nothing like two weeks ago when I spent the day on Mt. Mansfield. I'm going to a concert tonight (David Byrne), so today is a good day to take a rest day.

But, the important thing to me is that I did back to back long workouts and my legs held up very well. I think I've finally (and it's about time) turned the corner in my training. I wish I could have gone longer last weekend, but this weekend was a good confidence builder.

I'm going to do some of my mid-week running the next two weeks on the steep mountain trails and service roads. I'm going to hike most of WS, so that kind of training will be very race specific. Next weekend, I'm planning a 30 miler on Saturday for my last long run.

It's late, but things seem to be coming together at the last minute. I have a PT appointment this afternoon and I imagine I'll get some grief from the therapist about my training this weekend. They think I'm crazy anyway, and wish I'd rest more. But, I know I have to tread the line between my training and my recovery.