Friday, May 30, 2008

New personal bests (and an open letter to trail spiders)

This past weekend's 11 mile trail run was my longest in some years in distance, and my longest duration run ever (1 hour 50 minutes running time, not including walk breaks). There were some neat changes of scenery, from oaks to pines, to open areas with fewer tress, to a (controlled?) burned area. On the way back, I scared a black racer next to the trail, which slid rapidly away, and to my astonishment, it crawled right over another black racer! If I interrupted a reptilian romantic moment, I apologize.

If that was an unusual sight, there were some weird parts to the run, such as a 15' x 10' paved area seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with the trail running right over it. Bizarre. I also ran past a number of white vertical pipes sticking out of the ground, again seemingly far from anything other than a dirt road.

The worst part was the bugs. The biting fly season season is really picking up. Two weeks ago, 2 deerflies. On this date, 18 flies dispatched, a new record. Technically, I think these are actually yellow flies, not deerflies, based on their focus on my legs more than my head. They were on me pretty quickly when I took walk breaks, which discouraged me from taking too many photos, and encouraged me to get running again quickly. Fortunately, they were not up to full speed, and I was able to outrun them without much difficulty. However, as I recall from previous years, as the season progresses, it requires a full sprint to elude these flies.

Another less-than-fun aspect was repeatedly getting hit in the face with spiderwebs, which has prompted me to draft the following...

An open letter to trail spiders
Ok, arachnids. You have my attention. Last weekend, running on the Cross Florida Greenway, I ran through web after web, destroying your beautiful work, quite by accident. You see, I often cannot see your webs on these trails at running speed, and even if I could, avoiding them could be a real challenge. Some of you went so far as to rebuild your webs after my first pass, unaware that I was running an out-and-back course that day. That's a lot of work, without much to show for it, if I may say so.

I would like to propose something mutually beneficial. If you could simply build most of your webs off the trail - there are plenty of good locations between trees there - I would not run through them. This would save us both a good bit of grief. In return, I would leave for you any and all deerfly/yellow fly carcasses you may find along the trail.

Thank you for your consideration!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Every path leads me to somewhere

After my last long run I happened to hear Alice in Chains' "Rooster" on the radio in my car. I might have changed the station, as these days I tend to prefer something more upbeat than the often bleak Alice in Chains songs. For some reason I paused for moment - could this song be related to running in some way?
Ain't found a way to kill me yet
Eyes burn with stinging sweat
Seems every path leads me to....

...nowhere is the next word in the song, which is about where my interest in the song waned that day.

When you're running on a new trail, I suppose there is a risk that it will turn out to be a dead end, or seem like a trail to nowhere if you will. Even then, though, I think you could argue that every path taken is a path to somewhere, whether we realize at the time or not. It could be the greatest running trail you haven't yet discovered. Or it may be a bit of a disappointment, but still offer you a chance to learn something. A run can be a meditative experience.


I've been tagged by Beth at 6 a.m. Running.

The challenge was to come up with a 6 word "memoir" to describe my life, then tag at least five more people. I could easily use the 6 words I began this post with, but I thought I'd use something different. So, here's my pithy statement:

Kid at heart, making a comeback

I still like games of many kinds, even as an adult. Sometimes I like games just for fun, sometimes for the competition. My running comeback features a bit of both. I'm doing it for my health, sure, but for other reasons too - to push myself, to have fun exploring trails, to make new friends.

I'm not an expert on tagging etiquette, so I hope this works out ok. Below are some of the blogs I've been reading, but I've not yet been a regular commentator. A couple are new to me, and the others read I've off and on for awhile this year. As you might guess, these blogs are about trail running, or they've at least had a post about a trail run or a run at a place near or dear to me. These individuals may not know me, but now they may know one of their readers a little better, perhaps.

I'm tagging:
Rafael at Fat Trail Runner
The Running Chick with the Orange Hat
Anne at Run DMZ
David at Adventures in the Thin Trade

Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to:
1. Write a 6 word (max) memoir.
2. Post it on their blog and include a visual illustration if they wish.
3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post.
4. Tag at least five more blogs.
5. Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stay on target! Stay on target!

I missed a day of running this week due to a cold, which I think is my first missed day due to illness this year. The other few days off have been while I was recovering from long runs and my body needed some extra rest. This doesn't mean I run 7 days a week or anything. No, just 3 days right now. I like the hard/easy, stress/rest formula. It's working. Should I add some cross training? No doubt....

This is a challenging time of year for me, though. In the past I've made New Year's resolutions, done more running in the winter, and gotten injured and/or otherwise fallen off the wagon by May.

How do I avoid that this year? How does anyone stay motivated, stay on target?

Here are a few of my suggestions (in no particular order):
1. Use a running journal (or equivalent) to track your progress, see what's working and what isn't.
2. have a goal race/event/distance on which to focus (for me, half-marathon right now, but not a specific race...thanks for those who have reminded me of the importance of a goal event).
3. stay in the habit by running at the same time each day/week and making this part of your lifestyle.

One thing that hurt me in the past was not having a specific time to run. Now, I'm a morning runner. For more on reasons to run in the morning, visit 6 a.m. Running. Doesn't matter if you run at 5 am, 6 am, 7 am, etc. This is also a great place to go for beginning running tips and inspiration.

4. run with someone else.

This is another area I've neglected to my detriment. I'm a bit of an introvert, and pretty happy doing my solo trail runs on a regular basis. On the other hand, it's boring to run around my neighborhood by myself every week (my non-trail days). Running with someone else is easier and often more fun. And, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to determine that my fastest times all occurred when I was part of a team, running 6 days a week with others.

I'm happy to report that this morning, for the second straight week, I ran a few miles with people from my local runners' club who meet almost every morning at the YMCA. I had avoided joining them before because I was not a morning runner, and 5 am sounded downright scary. You know what? It's all what you're used to, and human beings can get used to quite a bit. How does anyone run a marathon? We're adaptable creatures.

Everyone was very nice. I had also been concerned that my returning-to-running tortoise pace would leave me way behind everyone. Not so. The group (and I bet this is quite likely true for your area too, dear reader) has people with a range of running paces, and they are willing to take turns running with someone new. (Thanks everybody! See you next week!)

5. variety - not only the spice of life, but of running. Vary your routes, terrain, distances and speed. If your running is boring, make a change.

Your thoughts? If you've gotten to the point where completing 4-6 miles or more nonstop is doable, what are your tips for keeping things going in the right direction?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Race recap #2: Trout Creek Trail Run - March 9, 2008

Trout Creek Trail Run 15K
I wasn't sure what to expect from my second trail race of the year. Although I was slowly getting stronger, this event was three times as long as the 5K I had run back in February, and I had only recently increased my long run to nine miles. Plus, this was an unfamiliar course that I would see very little of before the start. My primary goal was to finish, running as much as possible, and otherwise just do as well as I could.

It was a cool morning for Central Florida (40 degrees), so I brought some cold weather gear along and settled on shorts, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, a cap and my new polarized prescription sunglasses for a combo of sun and cold protection. It turned out to be a pretty good balance, as the course would consist of both shaded trails and wide-open berm (dirt) roads.

One thing that was slightly unusual in this race was that the start and finish were not close together. I wanted to ensure I was familiar with the starting area, and scouted that out early. However, this cost me the chance to check out the last mile of the course, and I later wished I had a better idea of where I was in the last mile.

The start itself was unique - straight up a short but steep climb up to the top of the berm. The 15K and 5K started simultaneously, with the 15K runners heading left and the 5K runners heading right, sharing the same finish. I placed myself near the very back. At the start I swallowed my pride and began this race by... walking. I joined a few others in this approach. I just felt that the race was very long for me, and I did not want to start by pulling some muscle from the get-go, on a cool morning when I had minimal warm-up (at that point 15K was enough running). Once up on the berm, I began running conservatively, with nearly the entire field in front of me, the leaders already distant. The course followed the berm for a short distance, then turned down into the woods among the palmettos for most of the first 5K. It was narrow at first, more crowded than I was used to, but having other runners pull and push me along really helped. I kept things relaxed for the first three miles or so and felt pretty good.

And then something totally unexpected happened. A long, low bridge over a stream was flooded and completely underwater. The course did not detour around this obstacle. Two women in front of me paused, and conferred on whether to remove their shoes or just go for it. Somewhat stunned by this whole development, I paused momentarily too. I could pretty much tell running through this would completely soak my socks and shoes, and I would face about 10K of running with wet, heavy shoes. On the other hand, taking them off would cost time at both ends of the bridge, to say nothing of exposing my bare feet to whatever lay under the dark water. Another man quickly caught the three of us. I kicked myself for delaying and ran on into the waters, which soon covered the tops of my Asics, well up my shins, and deep enough to slow my pace. The water soaked through and was cold. And my shoes were heavier. I told myself that everyone would have to deal with this same issue.

I actually still felt pretty good until we reached the middle of the race with an extended portion out in the open, up on the berm. I tried to pick up the pace a bit and found I did not have another gear available due to my lack of speedwork to that point. A few guys passed me here, so quickly I wondered if they were out doing some speedwork of their own, not running a 15K. What were they doing behind me before?

The last 5K was back on trails and grass and I tried to make up some time despite feeling far from fresh. Most likely I was just minimizing the slowdown process. With a lack of mile markers, it was hard to tell my pace or exactly where I was. At least the turns were generally well-marked. There were four water stops, and I used all of them and seemed to stay hydrated ok. The last mile included another surprise ( I had heard something about this on the web, so it wasn't really a mental shock, more of a physical one). A steep, narrow hill the size of a sand dune, with a trail up it so steep and narrow I had to walk up it, and down, for fear of toppling on my wobbly legs. The finish came soon after, with a long straightaway perfect for unleashing a final kick. I picked up the pace but I was too far back to even give someone else a good push to the finish.

The finish area featured a DJ and good food and drinks. I had done all right for myself this day, though the race results told a sobering story. I finished near the bottom of my age group, and many men and women with 5, 10, and in some cases even more years on me, had crushed me today. These Tampa-area trail runners proved to be a tough group indeed. The overall winner, a men's masters runner, set a new course record. Congrats to the race director, Jim Hartnett, on a great event.

Pros: well-organized race and well-marked course, four good water stations
Cons: if I'm being picky, and maybe a trail newbie... very few mile/distance markers (exception - a good one in the last1/4 mile reading "it's monkey time!")

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Beware the fury of a patient man"

I've been thinking about my last post and for some reason this quote came to mind. The quote is from John Dryden, I believe. I confess I don't know the full context, and fury is not a word I generally apply to myself, but I think this quote is applicable to running. Like many Americans, I often want things to be quick and easy. Running isn't like that, is it? Building up a base of endurance requires time and patience. One building block at a time, no shortcuts.

Monday, May 12, 2008

How to increase long runs safely?

Yesterday was my longest run of the year, and I'm glad to find minimal soreness today. My legs are adapting to longer runs, and to slightly faster downhill running when I have the opportunity, better than they were two months ago, when I had plateaued at 9 miles and my legs were protesting the addition of a bit of faster running to my week.

Still, yesterday was far from easy. The heat and distance made it a significant effort, and I was more relieved than overjoyed at finishing. The thought that this was only about a third of marathon distance is almost incredible. Although I was in my typical post-run or race good mood for some time, I grew tired by evening.

I've noticed in the running literature that many half-marathon and marathon plans call for increasing your long run by 1-2 miles every week. I can see that in the case of someone who is fit and is building a new base after a finishing a racing season, as in cross country or track. But what about someone who has either not run this far before, or has not done so in years (that's me), which amounts to about the same thing? Two miles a week for weeks on end? Maybe if I had lower legs of titanium. Is this just something I have to get through to complete a half-marathon or more? Has anyone else struggled with this aspect of training?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Summer weather is here, and so are the snakes... new section of the Florida Trail - I-75 Land Bridge trail

I successfully increased my long run to 10 miles (estimated) this morning on the Florida Scenic Trail. I kept the pace pretty slow as this would be my longest run of the year, and it was already 75 degrees when I got up before dawn. I was concerned about fluid intake, so I planned on splitting the run in half, running west from the trailhead, returning to my car for a reload of H2O, then running east, out and back. I normally prefer running a single out-and-back run, or a loop, but I'm glad I chose this plan as I drained my single water bottle by mile 4. I needed some walk breaks today to cope with the heat and a surprisingly hilly (for Florida!) stretch. This old Barge Canal project area is not as flat as a pancake! After 5 miles I stopped to get more water and met two fit-looking guys just returning from their own trail run. They had Camelbaks and suggested I give 'em a try, so I expect I will. My second half featured increasingly tired legs, so the flatter terrain was appreciated. I did get a treat on this stretch - yet another black racer sighting. I came right up behind this one before it knew it, and then it shot away.

Kudos to the volunteers maintaining these sections of the trail - it was totally clear of downed branches and trees.

Wildlife report: 1 deerfly attack, 2 spiders crawling on me, no mosquitoes, 1 small skink, 1 black racer - 3rd in 3 days - I saw one while running Friday and another behind my garage when I got home (wildlife report does not include the more common squirrels and barely glimpsed small birds and lizards).

Trail pros and cons (this section and time of year) -
+ mostly good shade throughout (I skipped wearing a cap and shades and didn't really miss them), western section heading across the I-75 land bridge - varied terrain, no observed poison ivy
- eastern portion had two areas loaded with poison ivy (recommend high socks) and I got some spiderwebs in the face (occupational hazard for trail runners though)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On the direction of this blog

This is a new blog, and I'm new to blogging. I'm having fun with it so far, but I haven't been to go back and describe the evolution of my transition from nonrunner to three-days-a-week runner (some might say "jogger" given my pace) over the last several months. It's enough to keep up with the present, so that's probably what I will do, most likely. I hope to write about new trails I find, and new trail races I enter (or re-enter in the future). I plan to go back and report on my three races from 2008 for anyone curious about Florida trails. (An aside: I keep spelling trails as "trials" when I type too quickly. They can be trials as well as trails, but they're the kind I deliberately seek out to test myself, and so are preferable to the other kinds of trials life springs on you).

If anyone is in their first few months of returning to running, or starting running, I've just been through that initial stage and will be more than happy to discuss it. I've made some gains but I'm not satisfied; the challenge now is not to lose focus. I do want to run a trail half-marathon, so it's time to pick one, even if it's not until fall, and get my long run from 9 miles (current) to 13+.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Penguin waddling a little faster

I had no race on my schedule this past weekend. I skipped the local 5K because it was (a) a 5K, and I've done a few of those before, and (b) it was on pavement and this year is about new running experiences - and TRAIL running above all. Yet, I felt like running fast (well, for me). So I opted for my fourth one-mile time trial of the year to gauge my progress (a technique recommended by Galloway's Book of Running). The good news is that for the third straight time trial, I improved by 10+ seconds. Still at "penguin" speed - and there's nothing wrong with that - but waddling a little more quickly each month. I had enough left to run a two-mile cooldown jog to make it a five-mile day too, and I could not do that back in January - one hard mile and I was spent.

A couple things concern me though. With the weather heating up, there are fewer trail races in my area (and I mean a two hour driving radius). How to stay focused and motivated? Will building my long run to half-marathon distance be enough? I may need to set a specific target race. Also, along with the hot weather comes deerfly season, which makes many trail locations miserable. I have neither a gym membership nor a treadmill right now. I'll probably stay on the trails until I'm forced off by those winged fiends.