Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vermont 100 Weekend

I have not run the Vermont 100 since 2007, and my wife and I have been increasing our volunteering time each year since then.  We've been helping out one way or another most years since 2002, but the past few years, we've worked a lot more on race weekend.

This year, my wife and I were asked to increase our volunteer roles a bit, taking over the Camp 10 Bear aid station as station captains.  Last year, we had essentially run the station all day, so this was not really a big change for us.

I went to the race site on Friday, to help with the medical check-in, but mostly to say hi to all of my ultra-running friends, many of whom I rarely see any more, because I'm not running ultras these days.  I helped, mostly with pre-race weigh-ins, until the pre-race meeting started.  I saw a few more friends at the meeting.  After the meeting, I didn't stick around for the pre-race dinner, opting instead for dinner at home and an early bedtime in my own bed.

My wife and I were up very early on Saturday, packing the items we needed to bring to the aid station.  This included some high quality knives, a cutting board, some cast iron pans for cooking grilled cheese sandwiches, and a collection of stuffed (toy) bears to decorate Camp 10 Bear a bit.  Regretfully, it was so crowded that I don't think anyone even noticed the bears.

We arrived at the aid station a little bit later than we wanted, due to some street paving going on in downtown Woodstock early on a Saturday morning.  I was amazed that a tourist town like Woodstock would allow street paving on a weekend.

We knew we had a lot of early volunteers, and when we arrived at the aid station, we were astonished.  The early crew had already set up all of the food and beverages.    They were truly amazing volunteers - great attitude, glad to be there, willing to help however they could.  Everything was ready to go, with one exception.  We had no ice.  Normally, the medical team brings the ice to this station, but there was a new medical team this year.  They didn't bring the ice, probably because they didn't know it was their job.  The race management didn't remember this detail either.  Luckily, the person who takes care of all the logistics for the aid station - parking, tent set-up, generators, wiring, audio system, etc. - was all set up and he ran out to get ice for us.

By a little after 10:00, our first runners started to arrive.  They were in the 100 kilometer race and they'd only run 9 miles or so by this point.  Luckily it was cool and no one asked for ice early.  But, by 11:00, the first 100 mile runner arrived, and we started to get requests for ice.  All we could do was promise that there was ice 11.5 miles ahead and we would have ice when the runners returned.  Luckily, no one really complained, and the ice arrived before 11:30.

I had recruited a couple friends to help us during the busiest times for the station - from 2:00 until 8:00 or so.  The first two arrived around 11:00 and stayed until 9:30, which was a huge amount of help.  Another friend arrived later but stayed late as well.

Thanks to some rule changes this year, the station was a bit calmer than in previous years.  Normally, we have large crews there for their runners for hours at a time, and those crews frequently feed themselves from the aid station.  We put up a sign this year indicating that the aid station food was for runners and pacers only, but this was still frequently ignored.

I would prefer to set this station up the way that Western States does their aid stations, where only runners and pacers would even be allowed to get into the station, and no one else could get to the runners' food and drinks.  Someday maybe.

The temperatures were moderate for this year's race and the humidity was not an issue.  Due to that, we had no issues with running out of ice or water or energy/electrolyte drinks.  We did run out of watermelon for a while, but a re-supply truck gave us a cooler full of fruit and we were set for the rest of the race.

We did request two extra volunteers for the late shift, especially with timing the runners, which we also owned.  But, race HQ was able to find some volunteers for that task, and we had no issues.

By 9:00 or so, things started to really slow down.  Typically, there are many runners coming in after this time, but that just wasn't the case this year.  I haven't looked at the results to see if the cooler weather allowed a lot more sub-24 hour finishes than usual.  By 11:30 or so, only one runner was still on the course behind our aid station.  But, that particular runner, while not fast, is very steady and finishes almost every race he enters, often in the final minutes.  I heard someone say that he has 9 finishes at the Massanutten 100, and has never finished with more than 16 minutes remaining on the clock.

He got to the station around midnight, and we took care of him and sent him on his way.  We spent the next hour or so tearing down the aid station.  My wife and I got back to the start/finish area at about 1:30 a.m.

For the first time in years, neither of us was pacing, and we didn't have any reason to stay up all night.  We slept in the car for a few hours, and then watched the last 90 minutes of the race at the finish line.  Regretfully, two good friends failed to finish, which was disappointing for them and us.  The highlight of the morning was seeing that last place runner from the aid station cross the finish line with about 3.5 minutes to spare, in last place.

Next year, there will be a new race director for this race.  I have talked to her by e-mail and in person this past weekend.  I told her that my wife and I will be happy to help out however we can.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tweaking my training a bit

Sometimes I have a hard time calling my workouts "training".  It's not like I'm preparing for a race or any event at all.  I'm just trying to keep myself in decent general shape, so that on any given day, I am strong/fit enough to go for a run or a hike or spend 12 hours wading in a river in search of trout, or just about anything else I might want to do.  I want to be fit enough every fall so that my first day on the mountain in my ski boots, I can ski right to the end of the day and feel good all day.  Those first couple days on snow are always interesting.  I am skiing with other instructors, and many of them are better technical skiers than I am.  But, by the end of the day, when I'm still feeling strong and those who didn't train all summer are exhausted, I feel pretty good about the work I do in the off-season.

A few weeks ago,  I was complaining here that I was really struggling with my training, especially CrossFit workouts.  I decided I needed to change some things around.  But, instead of taking more rest days, I'm actually taking fewer rest days right now.  But, I've changed my approach to CrossFit workouts.  I've decided to let go of the whole competitive/ego side of the workouts, and just do a workout that makes sense for me.

That has meant that on Monday squat days, I might lift less weight than specified by the coach.  On our auxiliary squat work (a second exercise to help with squatting), I might do 2 sets rather than 3.  Or, if a particular workout is going to hit a weakness really hard, I change the rep schemes.  When I do that, I don't write a score on the board at the gym, because I haven't done the specified work.  But, I feel like I'm doing the work that is appropriate for me.

Recently, we've been doing lots of burpees in workouts, and a lot of them have been burpee lateral bar hops.  For this movement, you do a burpee beside a loaded  barbell.  After the burpee you do a 2-footed lateral jump over the barbell and do the next burpee on the other side of the bar.  I'm really slow at this movement.  I'm slow on box jumps as well.  So, when it makes sense, I simply modify the workout.

On Thursdays, when we have the first half of the workout to practice movements that cause us trouble, I always include 50 burpees.  Over the last two weeks, things have gotten gradually better at the gym as I have implemented these changes.  I've been doing some sort of training 6 days per week instead of 5, but feeling better overall.

For instance, two Tuesdays ago, we had burpee lateral bar hops in a rep scheme of 5 rounds (alternated with other movements) of 9 reps per round.  I chose to do 6 reps per round instead.  Last Monday, I did back squats lighter than prescribed, and only did 2 sets of barbell box step-ups instead of 3.  On a day off work (to go fishing), I got out for a couple miles of walking with my daughter and the dogs, and then spent 9 hours in my waders in some challenging terrain.  Was it a workout?  No.  But, it wasn't sitting on my butt all day either.

Another night included high box jumps - higher than I typically use.  Instead of going with the easier lower box, I chose the higher box, but I decreased the reps.

One recent night, we had ring rows in the workout.  This movement can be adjusted for difficulty simply by your body angle.  The more horizontal you are, the tougher they are.  The more vertical you are, the easier they are.  I opted for a more vertical position.  Gradually, these changes have been leaving me feeling better from one day to the next.

It all came together last Friday in the gym.  On the 4th of July, we always do a difficult "Hero" workout, named after a soldier or first responder who was a CrossFit member and who died in the line of duty.  Last Friday was Glen:

30 clean and jerks
Run 1 mile
10 rope climbs
Run 1 mile
100 burpees

The prescribed weight for the Clean and Jerks was 135 pounds - too much for me.  I opted for 85 pounds.  For the rope climbs, I substituted 50 band-assisted pull-ups.  And, as the workout started, I decided I would see how I felt when it came to burpees.  I had done 50 burpees the day before in a "work your weakness" workout, and I wasn't sure if 100 would be a good idea.  I paced things well through the workout, but I was still near the back of the pack.  I did start in a second heat, about 5 minutes behind the first group.  But, some people were completely done with the workout before I finished my second run.  I didn't worry about that, and I started the burpees.  They were a struggle from the very first one.  I decided I wanted to cap the workout at about 50 minutes, which gave me 12 minutes to do the burpees.  I can do 100 burpees that fast as a standalone workout, but not after everything else we'd done.  I got to 80, and I was beat.  So, I stopped there.

Again, I wrote no time on the board.  I hadn't really done the prescribed number of reps.  Others in the class who clearly hadn't done the reps not only wrote times on the board, but even bragged about the workout on Facebook later, talking as if they'd done ever single rep.  Yeah, that's still a pet peeve of mine.  I don't care what workout people do, but they should be honest in reporting what they did.

I was tired from this workout, but not destroyed.  I got out for a road bike ride the next day, riding for just over an hour.  Yesterday, I finally took a rest day, only my second rest day in the last 15 days.  Today, I'm working from home, so I'll take the dogs for a run after I'm done working.

The change over the past few weeks has been great.  Less intensity.  Less ego demanding that I follow the workout on the board to the max of my ability.  Plenty of sleep.  And, I'm more active on a daily basis.  Good changes all around!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

An "anniversary" trip to Mt. Abraham

Of the 5 peaks in Vermont that exceed 4000 vertical feet, Mt. Abraham (aka Mt. Abe) is the lowest at 4006 feet.  But, unlike Mt. Ellen, its peak is not covered by trees, so there are great views in all directions - Killington and Ascutney to the south, the mountains of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, Mt Ellen, Mt. Stark and Camel's Hump to the north, and to the west, Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.

In 1984, my wife (we were a couple then, but not yet married, or even engaged) and I had a week off between our finals after our last semester of college and our graduation.  We decided to visit her family in Vermont.  One day, being somewhat bored, we pulled out a hiking guide and looked for a good hike for the day.  We settled on Mt. Abe and summited the peak in late May of that year.

We've climbed it many times since then, but it's been a few years now.  To be honest, since giving up training for ultras, I am spending a lot less time on the trails here in VT.  It was not uncommon for me to hit 25-30 summits in a season while training for tough ultras, but that seems to be in the past.  I've done stuff like climbing Mt. Mansfield three times in a row and doing an out and back double summit of Mansfield.  I've even climbed all 5 of the 4000 foot peaks in one day.  But recently, I've been doing more CrossFit and easy runs around the neighborhood at home.

With the rivers too warm for fishing, a hike was the perfect thing for a Sunday afternoon.  While thinking about where to hike, I realized it had been just over 30 years since our first Mt. Abe hike.  And, of the 4000 foot peaks, to be honest, that's the easiest hike, at only 5.2 miles round trip and maybe 1600' of climbing.

We got a somewhat late start on the trail, at about 1:30.  I figured it would be just over a 3 hour hike for us.  One of the reasons we decided to hike was to hopefully get into some cooler air at elevation.  But, for most of the hike, the humidity and temperatures remained stifling.  About 1:45 after we started, we got to the summit and found a decent crowd and some light breezes at the top.  At the top, we rested for about 15 minutes.  My wife had some food while I took some pictures, and I had her snap one of me as well.



I have no idea why I looked so grumpy in the photo.  I was honestly having fun, so maybe my wife snapped it when I wasn't paying attention.  My face gives the impression that I'm absolutely miserable.

While we had been hiking up the mountain, I had suggested that we were in the neighborhood to make a stop at Prohibition Pig in Waterbury, a high quality watering hole that we don't get to visit very often.  I think that gave us both an incentive to move well on the way down, and it took just under 90 minutes to get back to the car and head for Waterbury.

I would love to be able to repeat this hike with my wife again in 30 more years.