Sunday, January 4, 2009

Deep Thoughts from the Trail

2009. 2009. 2009. OK, I think I’ve got it. I think I wore out my backspace key on Friday at work after typing in 08 all day long. Practice makes perfect, right? Well, we’re never perfect but practice sure does help. I’ve been having a few days of those “deep thoughts” that commonly invade my private space inside my mind. Of course, I set myself up for this by firstv planning a 5:30am “group” run (HA!) yesterday morning. I never thought a single soul would be up in the 20F cold of January and in the dark to join me on the crunchy trails. I was not disappointed! I took off from Lock 29 at 5:35am and went on a route I made up with the goal of being back to Lock 29 at 8am for the VR Training group run. Fast forward to the end: I ran back into the parking lot exactly at 8:00am. That wasn’t even on purpose, it just happened. Back to the run: it was perfect. It was surreal. It was…well, exactly what you want every trail run to be. The run took me over the Valley Bridle trail for 3 miles until it dumps out onto Akron-Peninsula Rd. I then picked up the Salt Run trail within the Kendall Lake area. Very hilly and technical and still dark, but with 3 fresh new AAA batteries in my Petzl headlamp, seeing was no issue at all. Halfway through Salt Run, I arrived at Kendall Lake and took the Lake Trail counter-clockwise around the lake. At this point, there was just a hint of orange outlining the horizon. I thought that hopefully, I’d catch sunrise here on my way back. Once I got to Truxell, I crossed over and headed up towards Pine Grove and took the long way around and then taking the first exit towards the Ledges Trail. Once to the Ledges, I went clockwise around, navigated through some fresh-fallen pine trees near the ice box cave, then took the exit back to Pine Grove Trail. I re-traced my steps back to the Lake Trail at Kendall Lake and finished the Lake Trail, thus rejoining the Salt Run Trail. Unfortunately, I was too early for sunrise. I did capture this picture on my phone of sunrise over the valley. I snapped it looking south over Akron-Peninsula Rd. The hills you see in the distance is where the Salt Run Trail is.

I continued where I left off on Salt Run arrived back at the entrance with exactly 28 minutes to spare before 8am and 3 miles to go on the Valley Bridle. Ironically, it took me exactly 28 minutes to cover that on the way out. Back at Lock 29, the large VR Training Group was waiting. For those of you interested, this loop ended up being 14.2 miles and one that is a great sampling of our trail systems. You get a little bit of everything during this run: roots, rocks, flats, the Ledges rock formations, Kendall Lake (and a sunrise if you’re lucky), and probably a few spooks from resting deer in the high brush of the Valley Bridle Trail. I really enjoyed this route and will certainly do it again. Easy to make it longer, too, with the cross-country and Wetmore trails adjacent to the course.

So here are some fleeting thoughts I’ve been wrestling with: as I craft, re-craft, and shape the 2009 schedule with regards to the events I aspire to doing, I have discovered that to plan, you must do it objectively, looking at all aspects. For me, one of my goals for 2009 is to cross the finish line of a 100 mile trail race. That was also the goal for 2008, but never happened. Starting at the goal and working backwards is a great way to plan to see if the end goal really is possible. With some really good experiences in 2008, I know the type of training I must do. The tricky part is planning this training around every other facet of life: family vacations, the kids’ spring break, my Navy commitments every month, a couple extra Navy trips and good ‘ol family time. I also have a goal of spending as little as possible on these events which removes “destination marathons” from the 2009 picture. So my process went like this: pick an event and work backwards. Does it fit? If not, move on to another event and repeat. At one point over the last 5 days or so, I was going to do the Cleveland Marathon….preceded by a long trail run the day before. That idea was scrapped within 12 hours of coming up with it. I certainly don’t love the Cleveland Marathon and I’d rather do a 30 mile trail run anyhow. At least THAT would coincide of my ultimate goal. Then came the Green Jewel 50K fun run…a run done entirely on asphalt. 2 weeks after GJ is Lloyd’s Fools 50K Trail Run which I’m definitely doing. Plus, 2 weeks BEFORE GJ will most likely be the Covered Bridge FA 50K in Mill Creek Park…another event I want to do and support. With that said, I’ve scrapped Green Jewel. I wanted to do it, mostly because I ran the inaugural GJ last year, but running 31.2 miles on asphalt fits nowhere within my ultimate goal…so it’s gone. Again, I’d rather be somewhere other than on asphalt. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trashing marathons or road running. Heck, I’ve logged 23 marathons and thousands of miles on asphalt and all of my Monday-Friday runs are done on it. My goal event, though, is trail and I believe my events leading up to it should prepare me best for it. Road running during the week will allow for speed-work, tempo runs, and “resetting” my legs after a long trail run over the weekend.

As I head into 2009, I plan on making some other changes, too. In a nutshell, they consist of:

a) Less “official” events

b) Smarter recovery from multi-hour training runs and events

c) Smarter taper leading into events

d) More time running in the dark so as to better prepare for the night running in the 100 miler

e) Back-to-back training runs practicing sleep deprivation and tired legs: let me explain…I have every other Friday off of work so to get these types of workouts in, I’m going to use these Fridays to my advantage like this: During the very few times I do this, I will stay up late on Thursday and then hit the trails just after midnight while everyone is in bed and run until sunrise (around 30 miles). I’ll head on home, catch a cat-nap during the day and then run the normal group run on Saturday, probably starting early while still dark. This accomplishes two objectives: night running, running while tired, and running on tired legs. In my opinion (very much so), I only need to do this twice at most and it should come at the peak of my training with the last one being between 3 and 4 weeks before the targeted 100 miler. I realize these runs will mostly be alone but I don’t expect too much company at this stage of a 100 miler, either…again, simulating race conditions. The rest of Saturday and all day Sunday are reserved for family.

f) Less concern with what everyone else is doing and how they’re doing it. It is wise to learn from others. However, it is quite another thing to know what does work and what doesn’t work. Rest/recovery/days off/tapering/ultra-distance nutrition/training mileage/diet are all things that can vary greatly from ultra-runner to ultra-runner. Luckily, there are endless resources to tap into to allow each of to craft the best strategy that will fit into each of our lives.

g) Get to know my fellow runners a lot better. There are some really good people here that I don’t even know more than an e-mail address, an occasional face on group run, or a name on race results. The intangible reward of being a lifelong runner is the friendships garnered along the way. In the ultra-running world and especially tackling the 100 mile distance, a whole new side of humanity is discovered. Sharing in that is priceless.

h) Forget trying to explain the answer to this question: “WHY on earth would you ever run THAT far?!?!?” They’ll just never understand!

i) Try to stop looking at the scale and worrying about my weight. I lost my 50lbs a year and a half ago and honestly, I couldn’t lose anymore unless I stopped running and lost the muscle mass. I weigh exactly what I weighed one year ago but if I so much as see a 5lb increase on the scale, I nearly freak out. I still log my weight every Thursday morning on the calendar. Take yesterday for example: I ran 22 miles, ate a little for a late breakfast and then took my 5 year old out for Mexican and some of my Dad’s homemade ice cream at 3pm. I felt so guilty that I didn’t eat again until breakfast this morning….after my 6 mile recover run!!! Remember the saying “practice what you preach”??? Note taken.

j) Make sure that every goal/event put on the calendar is “screened” through the “boss” in the house and support is at 100%. No exceptions. There will not be a “running widow” in this house!

k) Have more fun! If this ever turns into something NOT fun, I don’t what I’ll do with myself. That existence is unimaginable.

So off to 2009. Now that you’ve traveled through my mind, maybe what I do will make a little bit more sense to you?!? Maybe not, but I’m glad I wrote this all down…kinda helps putting everything into perspective.

Happy Trails, everyone!

Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ...
--David Blaikie


Kim said...

Good thoughts Nick.
I'm somewhat like you, in that, I'm thinking of what I need in training FIRSt instead of what's available out there to run, as official events.
For example. I've decided not to run the Summer BT Trail. I've decided my time would be more valuable spent on a training run for BR. Nothing against the BT Race of course, I may still come up and volunteer at it.

Nick Billock said...

Same here, Kim. I will not be running the Summer BT50K. Anything that could potentially derail BR won't be an option. I plan on volunteering, instead.

Thanks, Kim!