Yours truly talks ultras on RunIowa podcast

3 Jul

RunIowa snippedI could talk your leg off about running, but I try not to bore my friends by talking solely about the hobby that I love. I realize that not everyone is as interested in intervals and vertical and fartleks and long runs and the like.

So it was a pleasure to get to share without restraint my thoughts on ultras and running on the most recent episode of the RunIowa podcast.

Most of my training time is spent listening to podcasts, which are pre-recorded shows that you can listen to on your computer or download to your phone or MP3 player. I listen to a lot of running podcasts, a lot from NPR and a lot from ESPN. This link details some of my favorites.

As the name implies, the RunIowa podcast focuses on things around our state. The show is hosted by Rob Lindquist and David Kaeding, a pair of teachers from Council Bluffs. They’ll talk about gadgets, training, races and more. I stumbled across the very first episode that was released in late 2014, and it’s been at the top of my playlist ever since. I was honored to appear in the episode released yesterday (July 2, 2015). And I certainly enjoyed sharing my adventures in ultrarunning with fellow running enthusiasts.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the photo at the top of the post or here’s a link to the podcast on iTunes. RunIowa can also be found on Twitter at @RunIowa or here on Facebook.

Let me know what you think of the podcast by commenting below, and I’m sure Rob and Dave would love to have you as subscribers to the podcast.

 

Video: Conquering the Bighorn 52-mile trail run

24 Jun

 

Another run at the Bighorn 52-mile trail race

16 Jun
Running the trail in the 2014 Bighorn 52-mile trail run.

Running the trail in the 2014 Bighorn 52-mile trail run.

Here I go again.

On Saturday, I’ll take another run (pun intended) at completing the Bighorn 52-mile trail race near Sheridan, Wyo. Last year, I missed a time cut-off at mile 34.5, bringing my day to a premature finish. And that failure has stuck in my craw for 52 weeks.

Sometimes you set a goal so high that, over time, you come to realize your reach will always exceed your grasp. While the Bighorn 52 is certainly a worthy stretch goal, I still believe it’s within reach. Of course one fellow I passed last year may have had the same delusion when he noted he was on his sixth try at finishing without success yet.

Last year was my first mountain ultra, and I learned so much during the attempt that I am cautiously optimistic this year.

I had no idea how rugged the trail itself would be. I couldn’t comprehend the toll my quads would take from 18 miles of downhill to start the race. As a flatlander from Iowa, it was hard to visualize 8,300 feet of climb and 13,250 feet of descent. Having never faced a time cut-off before, I didn’t have a good pacing clock ticking away in my head.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve adjusted my training to compensate for my shortcomings. While I barely logged any training miles on trails last year, this year I’ve run more than 600 miles on the trail. I’ve run more hill repeats, concentrating on the downhills as well as the uphills. I’ve taken two trips out West in the past couple months to train at elevation and on mountainous trails. I’ve changed my footwear and my nutrition.

In the end, my efforts may or may not be enough. But I feel good about the attempt.

With that in mind, I’ve set four separate goals for the race:

  • A Goal: Enjoy the experience. I’ll be running in the mountains of Wyoming, taking part in a physically demanding but rewarding challenge. Whether I finish it all or not, I don’t want to lose sight of the intrinsic rewards of the effort itself or the extrinsic beauty around me.
  • B Goal: Finish all 52 miles in the time allotted.
  • C Goal: Make it further than the Dry Fork Aid Station (mile 34.5) in the time allotted.
  • D Goal: Don’t kill yourself.

The race starts at 6 am Mountain time on Saturday. If you can, think some good thoughts for me that day.

Here’s a link to the race’s website.

This link will take you to a video I did on last year’s race, while this link will take you to my written race recap.

The Fab Four

9 Mar

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Iowa’s Lake Geode State Park: A good place for a trail run

24 Jul

Like the Blues Brothers in the clip at the top of this post, I’m on a mission from God. However, I’m not getting the band back together. I’m on a quest to conquer the Bighorn 50-mile trail run next spring.

And if you’re going to run trail races, you need to do your training runs on trails, which has proved difficult in my corner of southeast Iowa.

That’s why I nearly jumped for joy when we discovered Lake Geode State Park over the Fourth of July holiday.

The credit for the discovery goes to my daughter, Laura. She’s got a bit of tree-hugger streak in her — that’s a good thing. She enjoys the simple things, like hiking and biking and spending time with family and friends. So during her visit over the holiday weekend, she wanted to take a trail hike with her mother and I, and Laura’s internet search for nearby trails turned up Lake Geode, which is about a 40-minute drive from Keokuk. What a neat place.

This bobcat was recently spotted at Lake Geode State Park.

This bobcat was recently spotted at Lake Geode State Park. Click on the photo to read more about the sighting.

The park features a 7-mile trail around the lake. It’s mostly single-track dirt and rock, has some decent hills and easy creek crossings. At times, the trail is just inches from the lake. At times, it’s a few hundred feet away. Most of the trail is tree covered, which makes it runnable even on sunny, hot, humid days.

The elevation gain/loss won’t compare to the trail in the Bighorns, but for Iowa, it’s a pretty good substitute.

Before this discovery, I had run some trails at Shimek State Forest. But there really aren’t any maintained trails, outside of the equestrian trails. You can run the paths in the winter, but in the summer, they are overgrown with tall grass and twigs. It’s less than ideal.

And we’ve run some trails near Peoria, Ill., where we’ve done a couple of trail races. But that’s a 2-hour drive from home, and really isn’t practical for routine, weekly runs.

Since discovering Lake Geode, a friend also recommended nearby Argyle Lake State Park in Illinois. We’ll give that a try some weekend, too. And we need to check out Lacey Keosauqua State Park

I am so lucky to be able to head out my front door and be on some beautiful, low-traffic roads along the Mississippi River. I have a 20-mile route between Keokuk and Fort Madison that stays off of heavily trafficked roads for all but 4 miles, and much of it is along the river. It has both long, steep hills and some flat stretches. It’s a great road to run.

But running on the trails in Wyoming has driven home the point that I really need to get in more training miles on trails. And with that in mind, it appears now I’ve found some viable options.

 

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9 Jul

Purpose of running

Staying true to your best effort when you know it’s not enough

1 Jul
Rolling down the trail in the early miles of the Bighorn 50 trail run.

Rolling down the trail in the early miles of the Bighorn 50 trail run.

For the first 6 months of 2014, I trained with just one goal in mind: Competing in the Bighorn 50-mile trail run in the mountains just outside Sheridan, Wyo.

When the temperatures in Iowa dipped below zero in January, I bundled up and headed out the door to log my miles. When we took a few vacation days, I rolled out of my cozy bed to get in a run. When I arrived home late one Sunday evening after a long drive across the state, I finished my 20-mile training run after 10:30 p.m.

Needless to say, I had a lot invested physically and mentally in competing in the Bighorns.

So when my race on June 21 finished at 34.5 miles instead of 50, was I disappointed?

Sure, I was disappointed, but I wasn’t crushed.

The muddy, snowy, rocky, broken trails and the constant downhill slope in the early miles took a toll on my quads and ankles. I rolled my right ankle completely over twice, one time taking a spill onto a huge boulder and uttering a few words of which my mother would not approve.

Ready for the 6 a.m. start

Ready for the 6 a.m. start

As I plowed downhill for those first 18 miles, I made friends with a fellow runner who was moving at about the same pace. We were keeping an eye on the clock, knowing that the first time cutoff was approaching. We’d make that first cutoff, I told her, but we weren’t going to have much extra time to spare after that. But between the quads, the hamstrings and the ankles, I thought I was going at the maximum controlled pace that I could manage, even if it wasn’t the pace that I had hoped for. I’m not a great downhill runner, and that was borne out.

We did make the Footbridge Aid Station about 30 minutes before the cutoff. Despite needing to replace the tape on one foot and dealing with some rather troublesome cramps, I hustled out of Footbridge by myself with about 10 minutes to spare.

From there, it was straight uphill for three miles, gaining 2,300 feet in that span. It’s a stretch of trail that’s aptly nicknamed The Wall.

Having met up with my friend again, we hiked and huffed and puffed our way to the top of the ridge at the Bear Camp Aid Station. My friend decided to return to Footbridge, where she could catch a ride back to town. For the next 13 miles, I was on my own.

A pair of runners power-hike The Wall just ahead of me.

A pair of runners power-hike The Wall just ahead of me.

With no one to push me, without the aid of my GPS watch providing information on my average pace and knowing I was already flirting with the next cutoff, it would have been easy to slack off. But I decided I was there to finish in the best possible time I could. I had family waiting for me at the Dry Fork Aid Station — my brother and his daughter had driven up from Casper; and my wife, who has always been there for me during these crazy adventures. I knew that by now my niece would have already passed through Dry Fork on the way to her own strong finish. I wanted to give it my all until there was no more left to give.

So I ran when I could, and I hiked when I had to. But, as my wife would say, I made forward progress.

I hustled out of Cow Camp Aid Station knowing that with 6 miles to go, I wouldn’t make the cutoff.  I wolfed down fried potatoes and 7Up with another runner, and he suggested that we might as well walk and enjoy the scenery because there was no way we’d make it to Dry Fork in time.

But I was still committed to recording the best time possible.  I broke out my music player for the first time and left the aid station with the strains of Bonnie Raitt urging me on. (Love this song, and its reference to “small house under a Big Sky” always reminds me of Montana.) I probably ran the hardest in the last few miles before Dry Fork, knowing I wouldn’t make the cutoff and fearing I’d be caught up in the sweepers.

In the last 13 miles — from Bear Camp to Dry Fork — I passed 16 runners. It wasn’t about a better finishing time than someone else — hell, I was going to miss the cutoff time and be a DNF — but it was a way to measure and push my effort. I  was going to give it my all, although on this day, my all wasn’t good enough to complete the 50-mile race.

Even if I had made the cutoff time, I’m not sure I could have gone on. Maybe a better statement would be “should have gone on.” I know I would have tried, just because I’m stubborn that way. But when I topped that last brutal hill at Dry Fork, there wasn’t much left in the tank.

I fell short of my goal — finishing the Bighorn 50 — but I learned a heck of a lot about the race’s overall challenge, about the course and about myself. And when the third week of June rolls around in 2015, I know I’ll make a better run having put forth the best effort I could in 2014.

My niece Melissa, left, and several other runners cross a stream.

My niece Melissa, left, and several other runners cross a stream.

My plan for conquering the Bighorn in 2015

After a week or so to reflect, I have a good idea what I need to do to get better:

  1. Coming from the flatlands, my quads and calves weren’t prepared for 18 miles of downhill on an uneven trail. My son is a big fan of weighlifting, and I told him those opening miles were like doing squats for 4 hours. To prepare for next year, I’m going to add weight room sessions.
  2. The treacherous footing posed by the mud and snow had me concerned about starting in my Hokas, so I started with my trusty Asics Nimbuses. But these shoes lack the stability in the heel to deal with the precarious footing, and my heel kept kicking out to the side.
  3. I need to run more trails. There aren’t any trails near my home, but I’ll have to make the effort to drive to some or find some races that will give me time on the trails. Iowa trails aren’t the same as Wyoming trails, but any trail time is better than road time.
  4. I need to run more hills. There’s a one-mile long hill on my running route, and I ran repeats there several times. But I need to do that several more times … with more repeats.
  5. And I need to simply run more miles. My longest run was 30 miles, although that was part of back-to-back long days. I had planned a 35-miler, but time lost to injuries kept me from making that run. I need to start my training cycle far enough out so that I can still make a 35-miler or at least two even longer back-to-back runs.
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