A week up north (incl. sandy faceplant) / summer update

Man, I never write on here anymore. Probably because running has just been slow maintenance, building up mileage – nothing exciting, but good nonetheless. I just looked and I haven’t posted since the end of April. What’s happened since then? I’ve been working, sleeping, running 30-40 mile weeks. Two weeks of June were kind of shot from work being busy and moving, so when I went up north with my family at the end of June into July, I decided to use it to kick my running back into gear. I did 8-11 miles a day on the gorgeous trails in and around Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore – soft and just a little sandy, more often than not covered in brown pine needles, rolling enough to keep it interesting, with views of the pure blue expanse of Lake Michigan to the west. The weather was perfect for running, and the still-frigid lake made for an excellent full-body post-run ice bath. I was actually on track to hit around 50 miles for the week, which I hadn’t done in… I don’t even know how long, but my brothers and I decided to race down a large dune. My trail-running ego kicked in and I tried to be Kilian.

I cannot be Kilian.

Right near the bottom, I realized that my legs were pumping too fast and my feet weren’t under me and suddenly WHOMPthud. My face smacked into the deceptively hard sand and the rest of my body followed. My head was instantly throbbing and before I knew what had happened, I was somehow sitting up – I’m assuming I tumbled over my head somehow? Sand was all over me – in my eyes, hair, mouth, nose, and all sorts of other crevices. It would take me days to get it all out. I looked around for my phone – my brand-new, shiny phone – and thankfully it was all right. My family, along with some onlookers (it was a crowded Saturday morning at the dune – great) gathered loosely around. “Well, that happened,” I said with aplomb as I stood up and began brushing myself off. I felt fine, mostly – my neck felt a little funny. Not painful, just… off, somehow. After a few minutes, my head didn’t even really hurt anymore. We picked up NPS Centennial hats, because we are a Super Cool family, and headed back to the condo. By the time we got back, though, I could feel my neck really beginning to stiffen. Still not painful, but obviously not A-Okay. With thoughts of What if you have permanent brain damage now? dancing in my head, I decided to take the day off and drink beer on the beach with my brothers. Punishing, I know. The pain kicked in the next day, on the drive back downstate, and lingered for… five days, maybe? I spent two days mostly lying in bed, icing my neck & upper back and watching Game of Thrones and OITNB (both of which, by the way, !!!!!!!!!!!!!)(it was an EMOTIONAL TWO DAYS). So I’m loading mileage on the back end of this week, but I should still hit 30-35. Just got back from a brutally hot 9 miles. If I hadn’t brought water, I think I actually would have passed out in the shade on a dirt road. Needless to say, it wasn’t the speediest of runs, but I made it back alive and immediately stuck my head under the faucet outside, dousing my head in icy groundwater. Delicious.

Friday night lights – sunset over Lake Michigan, with South Manitou on the right.

Chilly but happy.

Looking west over the lake from Pyramid Point. Take this, ocean, with your stupid salty water and bitey sharks and stingy things.

Taken about 10 minutes before The Faceplant.

Choppy water, grey sky, low clouds.

keep your face away from the ground, kiddos.
peace love and sandy (but not too sandy) trails,


In which it is very snowy

It’s been snowing. A lot. Which makes things kind of pretty and quiet for a while, but now we’re in that grey slush-filled stage where everything is just hard to walk in and the sight of more snow falling doesn’t bring about feelings of, “Yay, winter is here!” It arouses more of an internal groan that just escapes into your throat and everyone hears it and sadly nods.

In other words, February.

But yesterday evening, I had seven miles scheduled, so seven miles I would run, snow or no snow. I started out optimistic and headed for the trail I usually take, thinking that even a little snow on the trail would be better than road running. Boy, was I wrong. I must have clocked a twelve-minute mile or slower. Slogging through almost a foot of partially, unevenly-packed snow was tedious and hard work and not at all worth the effort and energy expenditure. In short, if I kept running – “running” – on trails, it would not be even close to a quality run. So as the sun set pink over the snow-covered river, I headed onto a road I hadn’t run on before. I knew it followed the river, so I figured I’d just turn around at about 3.5 miles’ worth of time.

It turned out to be a pretty run. That road is lined with huge houses, mansions in a variety of architectural styles overlooking the river with the city off to the southeast emitting the faint pinkish-yellow glow of light pollution. With the sun set, that glow was behind me, an anthropogenic sunrise, and the dark western horizon lay in front. As I ran along the mostly deserted, and impeccably plowed, road, I passed traditional houses of stone and brick and gleaming modern, minimalistic ones. There was one standalone little log cabin right by the river’s edge. I wondered how it got there – and how long it would last. I passed a few driveways, gated and lined with lights, that twisted up dark hills, into forests and beyond, leading to a fortress of a house somewhere. I imagined a dystopian future in which the dissatisfied plebeian citydwellers marched on this neighborhood, attempting to storm these glittering strongholds.

I hit my turnaround point and turned back, back towards the city. In my return, I went over and under bridges, ran along the tracks, through a tunnel. I never saw another soul – just one hushed black audi rolling along, shiny somehow even at night. I felt myself pushing the pace a little while I was on semi-dry pavement, and it felt good. The last mile was an uphill slog, though, through the barely-shoveled walks in town. After a nice hot shower, I calculated my splits and my average pace on the road was just under 8:30s, which for seven miles is good for me, if I haven’t been running a whole lot (which I haven’t, still, really). Man, I remember when eight miles would be a tempo run of sub-8s. Sigh. I’ll get back there.

After my run, I did yoga and stretches and foot exercises and abs. So productive. And this morning, I just did an easy five. I was a little stiff from my effort last night, but my pace was mainly impeded by the fresh three inches of snow that had fallen sometime between my run last night and 10:30 a.m. today. And they’re calling for more. It’s snowing right now, and has been since early this afternoon. Sigh.

I’m moving somewhere where this doesn’t happen.

happy yak trakking to you!

The storm at night…
IMG_9656 IMG_9657
The Diag
nn Arbor isn’t big on plowing residential streets that well…

The overzealous runner

I, like most of you, like running (to say the least). When injury sidelines us, whether for a week or a year, our whole life is thrown out of balance. We get anxious, depressed, irritable – generally unpleasant to be around. So when we’re finally ready to run again, we run the risk of letting our excitement cloud our judgment. Maybe it’s a lack of self-control, or maybe it’s just an overabundance of enthusiasm, but personally, once I can run pain-free again, I go at it 110% and repress the memory of my seemingly distant months of injury.

In my mind, I’ve been back to running for what feels like months and months, but really, it’s only been since the beginning of September. Had I been keeping track of my weekly mileages like a responsible runner, I would have seen that my averages of 20 to 30 miles were far from the lofty 60-, 70-, 80-mile weeks dancing in my mind. Had I been keeping track of things, I would not have run 22 miles two Sundays ago and attempted 26 this past Sunday. Had I kept track of things, I wouldn’t have had to bail on my long run a mere six miles in because of shin pain, hip weakness, foot cramps, and a fun new outer-ankle pain that appeared a few days ago.

To wit: I was so excited to be able to run kind of far (18 miles) with relative ease that I let my mind get ahead of what my body is currently capable of doing safely, which is especially dangerous coming off of a long period of injury. I had this idea of myself as still being in the shape I was in 2012; I couldn’t accept that I’m not exactly in great distance shape right now. Mentally and cardiovascularly, maybe, but my shins aren’t ready to jump into the 45 miles I did last week (a huge jump from 28 the week before).

I spent a while yesterday reading sections on running addiction, overtraining, and shin stresses and fractures (as well as the female athlete triad) in The Lore of Running. While reading each of those sections, I found myself thinking, “Yep, that’s me. Exactly.” Increasing volume too rapidly – check. Vague shin pain – check. Reliance on running for mental stability/happiness – check. (Delusions of grandeur – check.) What I got out of it was a simple message: be realistic and be smart about running. Recovery and mileage buildup takes a long time. I can’t expect to be back in good, safe 50k shape after two or three months of running, no matter how many times I’ve read Eat & Run or To Be A Runner in that time.

So I’m going to bite the bullet of being realistic and aim for about 30-35 mile weeks for the time being. I cringe typing it when I think of my heydays of 70-80 mile weeks, but I’m at a different point in my running life right now, and that’s okay. I’d rather take as many months as I need to safely build back up to higher mileages than push too hard now and end up out of commission for another year.

Because if I’m grumpy for an entire year again, I will have no running buddies left.

peace love and grudgingly being smart about running,

PS. My long run on Sunday turned into a 6 mile run out, then a 4ish mile walk through the woods, which allowed me to take some (iPhone, but still) pictures. The park is beautiful this time of year; pictures don’t do the colors justice.

Pain and ecstasy (22 golden miles)

I had 23 scheduled for this weekend, out at Pinckney Rec Area. I think I did a little less than that because (a) 3:35 seems pretty speedy for 23 trail miles for me, and (b) I think I cut off about a mile at the beginning, based on what I remember from races there. So I’m guessing it was closer to 22, which is still the farthest I’ve run since (pulls up years-long training log) WOW. December 2012 – the Bigfoot 50k. Wait, really? That can’t be right. But maybe it is. Sheesh. Wowzers.

Anyway. When I checked the weather last night and saw that it would be in the low 30s this morning, I thought, Screw it, I’m not sacrificing a sleep-in to shiver through the first half of my run. Having skipped setting the alarm, I woke up a little after 10 a.m. and was at the trailhead about half an hour shy of noon. Early bird gets the frostbite, I always say. I was chilly for the first couple miles in just a tee and capris, but warmed up quickly enough and was soon comfortable. A little too comfortable, in fact. About 40 minutes in, as I was sailing along a little ridge between two golden leaf-filled valleys, my mind drifting to who else but Tony Krupicka and one of his interviews (maybe in In The High Country?) in which he talks about the need to be outside pushing yourself, making yourself at least a little uncomfortable every day. Literally – literally – as I thought, “Hmm, I’m pretty comfortable right now,” my right foot rammed into some rock or root hidden by leaves and BAM. I ate it. Comfort gone, replaced with some scrapes, a little blood, and a hole in the knee of my favorite capris.

What’s fall without a little fall?

Other than that minor spill (which mainly reminded me to pick up my feet), the run was relatively pain-free, although my left hip was once again giving me shit on the uphills until about two hours in. I hit 18 miles around 2:40 into my run; I wasn’t speeding along, but I felt good. I almost always hit an anti-wall about two hours in. I’ve never had a problem with a “wall” at 18 miles because, up until a certain point (50-miler, I’m looking at you!), I just kind of hover at the same level of pain and weariness. Before that, my hip might bother me on hills or my foot might threaten to cramp, but after I pass that point it all kind of evens out and I just push on. Hip feels weak? Go up the hill anyway, hands on thighs and keep up the pace. Knee’s bleeding? As long as you’re not bleeding out, no worries. Tired? Well, yeah, you’ve covered 20 miles. You’re tired and sore now. This is your existence. No use feeling worse about it, it just is. And so you keep going until you’re done, because bailing is failing and failing is DNFing and DNFing is the runner’s nightmare. That’s the mentality that takes over and allows me, and all you other distance fiends, to keep moving – it’s that not moving forward isn’t an option. It doesn’t cross your mind. Because if it does – if the couch and its giant heavy fuzzy blanket pop into your head, if you imagine what it would feel like to lie down in the warm crunchy leaves and watch the sun fall and slowly freeze to death overnight (if it’s one of Those runs) – then it’s awfully difficult for the distance mentality to prevail. The spell is broken.

That’s one of the things I love about running, especially distance and trail running. It requires a strong mind in addition to a strong body. Training miles will only get you so far; you have to train your mind too, otherwise your dedicated hours will have been for naught. It’s a strength that comes entirely from within, and is then translated to the external physical form of you, and only you, pushing yourself (mind and body) to greater feats and beyond greater boundaries – reaping greater rewards.

Pain and ecstasy. These are two things which running offers us, and though neither is guaranteed, we sign up for both every time we step onto the trail, having mentally committed to spending three, four, six-plus hours out there. Pain is expected, assumed, sometimes sought. Ecstasy – an endorphin high – is bestowed upon those who are dedicated enough to put in the time and lucky enough to have one of those perfect, or maybe imperfect, runs with just the right combination of… I don’t know what. Mood, chemicals, mud, music, anything. But not every long run ends in a rush of happiness and satisfaction and contentment and positivity. Sometimes we trudge to the car, cold, damp, and broken, and huddle miserably by the heaters and are just thankful that we aren’t running anymore. Pain rules those days and takes its mental toll. Ecstasy seems worlds away, a physical impossibility. But as the aches subside and we warm back up, it seems less impossible. The next run holds not the promise of ecstasy, but the possibility. A chance at reaching that perfect state again, and not through drugs or booze or anything else external. The utter bliss felt from an endorphin high, like the distance mentality and tenacity required to cover that distance, is produced entirely by you. Self-produced high. Now that’s satisfying.

And when you do have one of those excellent runs where you reach the parking lot tired but revitalized, weary but satisfied and proud and content, and stretch in the sun, and climb exhaustedly into your car and blast your favorite post-long run songs, you’re hit with an overwhelming surge of pure ecstasy. It’s not just about how great the last 22 miles were. It’s a culmination of all the miles you’ve run, the places you’ve run, the people with whom you’ve run. And where you’ll run in the future, and with whom, and all the miles you’ll cover. It’s where running has taken you and where it will take you. It’s… inexplicable. Many have tried and many have failed, myself included, to fully describe the near-religious experience that is the ecstasy of completing a long run. It is impossible to be sad or negative. It’s almost impossible to think, it’s so overwhelming. It’s a tidal wave of emotion and memories and thoughts all so near and dear and happy – flashbacks to standing atop mountains, running along bare ridges as storms brew, crossing finish lines… every run you’ve ever been on is suddenly there with you again, and all the time you spent and struggles you got through to get you to where you are now.

Which is tearing up in a parking lot full of mountain bikers as Alpha Rev’s Highways comes on.

No shame. ALL THE FEELS. *mic drop*

So yes, today’s run was phenomenal. Depending on whether or not I was running uphill at the time, I toyed with the idea of doing the 13-mile loop after the 18 and just going for 50k today. Wisely, though, I stuck with my plan and found that 22 was quite enough, thank you (say my knees). But I suspect that in a few weeks, I’ll be out there loping around by myself for 31 miles, because races are far away and cost money and I’m just running for myself anyway. Although they are fun. I drove home to an awesome playlist, took a hot shower (heaven), and ate many an oven-roasted potato. And completely neglected studying, which I should probably do at some point.

I hope you all reach ecstasy after your next long run.

My “rut” produced results. (Turns out, rest is good. Crazy, right?)

I planned on running out on the Potowanami trail this morning. It’s a good half-hour drive from here, so I set about eight alarms knowing that it would take a lot to get me up between 7:30 and 8:15, which is when I’d planned on leaving. And it did take a lot – but it wasn’t the alarms that roused me. It was my cats scratching and meowing at the door.

At 6:45 a.m.

After a grumbly fifteen minutes, I decided I was up for the day and got ready for the run. I filled up my Nathan pack and applied BodyGlide. I laced up and headed out. On the drive there, which takes you through a winding green tunnel this time of year, I listened to some of my favorite songs and got really psyched about the run. The last time I ran this loop was March 7, 2013 and, according to my log, the trails were frozen and terrible but I had a decent run (no time recorded). I pulled into the parking lot as I have dozens and dozens of times over the last eight years and stepped out. The sun was shining, it was barely 60 degrees, and there was a nice breeze. Absolutely perfect. So with a happy spring in my step and pack straps secure, I finally pressed start on my watch and set off.

The 13-mile loop (which I think is closer to 12, but maybe not) has three sections in my mind. The first bit, I don’t know how many miles, is somewhat hillier than the rest and serves as a good wake-up, adjustment phase. You have to get right to it, but at the same time the hills are all very runnable. It’s just a lot of up and down. It has a very nice flow to it – the whole trail does, it’s also (primarily?) a mountain bike trail – and it keeps you alert, keeps your stride short and quipped and your feet nimble. You fly up and down, over roots and rocks, feet barely skimming the surface as you round turn after turn. You cross a few bridges but don’t pause yet, you’ll break the rhythm. This part takes a little over an hour and is the longest section.

Then you hike up the first hill that sucks to run up – long, unshaded, and covered in deep sand. At the top, as it evens out, the shrubbery forms a nice light green tunnel. The trail fades back to soft dirt, mostly free of roots, and after a few minutes you are lulled into that wonderful trancelike state of smooth, fast, easy trail running. These miles really fly by. I haven’t looked at the elevation profile, but I would guess that it’s a little downhill on average. There’s some variation, of course, but by and large you speed quietly through the woods; the only thoughts that float through your head are things like, “I’m flying over this trail. This is great. This is a great run. I could run forever. Of course I’ll do a 100.” During this time today, I kept flashing back to various runs and races that I’ve done on this trail – here’s where I dropped my glove, here’s where that woman was pooping during my first 50k,  here’s where my dad fell and bruised a rib… (He’s not so keen on trail running now.) And further back: here’s where I fell during cross country and scarred my knee. Here’s where I caught back up with the team. That sort of thing. Odd how when I try to summon memories of high school, I often come up blank, but then I remember very specific moments (almost all running) very vividly.

Anyway, this magical middle section floats by, and suddenly I’m back in what I’ve deemed “familiar territory.” I call the last few miles “familiar” because I often don’t remember specific parts of the middle section, since I’m pretty lost in my own heads. The only other hill that I usually powerhike is right in the last two or three miles, and it’s a doozy. And it’s rocky and long and long and did I mention long? So that usually yanks me out of my stupor pretty quickly – and harshly. But from then on, it’s a nice coast and I know I only have a couple miles left so I can crank pretty hard. You cross the last two lopsided old bridges, crest a small hill, and burst out of the forest, startling small families who were peacefully enjoying a morning at the lake – picnics and kids and such – until this runner came charging through, sprinting to a finish line that wasn’t actually there, then doing handstands and splashing about in the lake.

I stood in the warm lake, hands on my hips, sun on my face and back, a gentle breeze blowing, and looked around at the green and the blue and the trails and thought, “This is where I belong. Not lifting in a stuffy gym, but here, outside, for hours and hours.” I’ll still lift, especially squats for my legs and hips, but my focus is definitely going to shift back to running.

So: this was a great run. One of the best I’ve had in a very long time. My shins are a little tender, but I don’t think it’s anything rest and ice and some more rest won’t heal. I think it was so great because of two things: how easy I’ve taken the last two weeks (my “rut”) and my sheer joy and enthusiasm for running. I just love it so damn much. Very few things in the world make me happier than running. I felt strong the whole time, worked up the hills instead of trudging, and only stopped once to take a few quick photos and to stretch my calves. (The horse flies were definitely an incentive to keep moving.) At the end, I still felt strong and fresh, like I could easily throw down another 13. Now, writing this 11 hours later, my legs aren’t sore or tired at all. Maybe it’s from the rest, maybe it’s from the protein I’ve been eating over the last couple months, but I feel superbly excellent. My motivation has definitely returned.

So, about that marathon next month… we’ll see. I’m definitely going to try at least 18, maybe 20, within the next two weeks. If that goes well, I’m going to tentatively say the race is GO. But I will always defer to the state of my shins.

Love running always,

PS. In case you were wondering, here are some songs I listened to on the way to and from my run.
Crystal Colorado – Alpha Rev
Highways – Alpha Rev
Today is Mine – Jerry Reed
On top of the world – Imagine dragon
Carry on – Fun
Get there from here – William Elliot Whitmore
Let’s do something impossible – W.E.W.
Country roads, take me home – John Denver

PPS. Here are some pictures from today.

Who says running isn’t sexy? Look at those compression sleeves and flips!

Glen Arbor vacation = hiatus

Hello people! The internet is working, miraculously, so I’ll shoot out a quick update. I’m on hiatus until this Sunday because I’m on vacation in Glen Arbor, MI (near Sleeping Bear) with my family and the internet sucks, so updates are limited to… well, this. I found a good training “summit” run (about 14 minutes uphill, 7 or 9 mile loop) that I’ve done a couple times, and luckily my hip AND left foot AND bone spurs have all stopped hurting (knock on wood)! Been taking it easy, don’t want to risk my 50-miler training. Found a little trail for the downhill portion of my run today, which was pleasant and energizing. Nothing quite as good as happening upon a trail and *not* getting lost  🙂

I’ll post more (better) pictures and an update when I’m home.

peace love and running!