What’s your power song?

9 Jul

One neat feature of Nike’s running app is the ability to add a “power song” — a go-to song to pump you up when your work-out gets tough or you need that little extra boost.

I don’t use the Nike app, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a power song — or two or three or 10.

Most of my favorite running tunes are hard-driving rock songs. I love James Taylor, but you won’t find Sweet Baby James on my running playlists.

The first song on my favorite running playlist is the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” That classic rocks the opening kickoff at many NFL or college football stadiums. And you’ll hear it at many road races, too. But if the marathon I’m running doesn’t take off to this song, I’m ready to supply it on my own.

John Mellencamp is featured prominently on my running playlist, too. “Jack and Diane” always gets the heart thumping, but so too does “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First),” “Your Life is Now,” and “Authority Song.”

For classics, I’ll listen to Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” or the Guess Who’s “American Woman.” Steve Miller makes my playlist with “Jungle Love,” among others. I’ve got some classic Van Morrison like “Brown Eyed Girl” and some more recent Morrison like “Back On Top.”

And, of course, the Boss is on the playlist. “Born to Run” is a no-brainer, but I also really like “Thunder Road,” which starts out reserved but gets rocking before it ends.

I love New Orleans and the music of the Crescent City, so for one marathon there I put together a playlist that featured three NOLA-themed songs every hour. It features the expected — Louis Armstrong’s “When The Saints Go Marching In” and Trombone Shorty’s “Hurricane Season” — along with the unexpected — Johnny Cash’s “Cajun Born.” Man, I loved the passing of another hour in that marathon.

But if I had to pick one song as my “power song” — as I was asked to on a recent episode of the “RunIowa” podcast — it would be John Hiatt’s “Before I Go,” which is the video at the top of this post. It’s not necessarily a hard-driving rock song, but, similar to “Thunder Road,” it builds and builds to crescendo that always helps drag me along. Plus I love the inspiring message:

And I will try, but I will stumble
And I will fly, he told me so
Proud and high or low and humble
Many miles before I go
Many miles before I go
Here I go

What songs always make your running playlist? If you had to pick just one power song, what would it be? Offer your thoughts in the comments below.

Difficult goals are the sweetest and most satisfying to achieve

6 Jul
Cresting the 500-foot climb into Dry Fork Aid Station, I know I'll beat the time cut-off at mile 35 this year.

Cresting the 500-foot climb into Dry Fork Aid Station, I know I’ll beat the time cut-off at mile 35 this year.

In all my athletic adventures, there’s seldom been a time when I didn’t think I could complete the challenge. Finish a triathlon? Just survive the swim. Climb a mountain? Follow the guy ahead and don’t look down. Run a marathon? It’s just a matter of how much it will hurt the last 6 miles.

But a mountain ultra? The distance, the vertical, the altitude, the rough trails? I’ll admit: I didn’t know if I had it in me.

And after failing to meet a time cut-off at mile 35 last year during my first mountain ultra, I really had my doubts.

That’s what made finishing the Bighorn 52-mile trail run this year that much sweeter. This was a goal that took much effort to achieve.

When I first attempted the Bighorn in 2014, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Fifty miles of rocky, rutted, muddy single-track trail? You won’t find that in Iowa. 8,200 feet of climb and 13,200 feet of descent? I’d have to run my training hill more than 100 times to approximate that vertical. I could read about the conditions and the challenges, but the only way to truly comprehend them was to experience them first-hand.

So that first year was a huge learning experience. When I missed that time cut-off, I felt I’d done all I could do on that day. As I climbed the hill into the Dry Fork Aid Station, my quads and hamstrings were shot, and my feet felt like they’d been through a meat-grinder. For the next several days, I could barely walk or climb stairs.

My wife, Barb, pours me some chicken noodle soup at the Foot Bridge Aid Station, mile 18 in the Bighorn 52.

My wife, Barb, pours me some chicken noodle soup at the Foot Bridge Aid Station, mile 18 in the race.

But I learned a ton in that first attempt. Running on single-track mountain trails is nothing like running on the roads. Long stretches of uphill and downhill require extra hill training beyond what I’d ever considered. Time-on-your-feet in training will pay huge dividends when you hit hours 10-11-12-13-14 during a race.

In my company, we set performance and project goals every year as part of the budgeting process. I’d like to set achievable goals — I mean, who wants to come up short? — but my boss always pushes me to set “stretch goals.”

Well, the Bighorn 52 was certainly a stretch. But I can definitively say that reaching a stretch goal makes it that much more satisfying.

♦ ♦ ♦

In the video I posted a few days ago on the race, I said that it takes a village to make an ultrarunner. That’s sure true for me.

I generally run four times a week: twice during the week, twice on the weekend. And on most weekend long runs and on many other runs, my wife logs miles on the trails, too.

I wouldn't have made it without the support of my daughter, Laura, and wife, Barb.

I wouldn’t have made it without the support of my daughter, Laura, and wife, Barb.

Most of our long runs are at Geode State Park, which is about 40 miles from home. Having a companion on the drive is much appreciated. We generally head different directions on the trails, but we’ll pass each other on the trail or we’ll meet up for soup at the car. And those brief meetings help pass the time, too.

My wife and daughter, Laura, crewed for me at the Bighorns this year. It’s a big help to have an extra hand at the drop bag stations. My transitions in and out of the drop bag locations were easier and faster with their help this year. Ultras present a huge physical challenge, but the mental challenge is just as great. And it’s a huge boost to see a friendly, familiar face along the way.

And I had family and friends waiting for me at the finish line. I was elated to meet my two-year goal, but sharing the accomplishment with the people you love brought the experience to a whole other level. I can’t say how much it meant to me to have my family and friends there to support me.

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s hard to say enough good things about the Bighorn races and that part of the country.

The 52-miler starts on top of the Bighorn Mountains, just off Highway 14A, which is along the route to Yellowstone National Park. The race headquarters are in Sheridan, Wyo., a neat town of about 17,000. And the race finishes at the base of the mountains at Dayton, Wyo., pop. 700 or so.

The 52-miler starts at about 8,800 feet, tops out at a little over 9,000 and concludes at 4,000 feet. It follows mostly single-track trails in the backcountry, and the views of the mountains, valleys, rivers and wildflowers are spectacular.

This year is the 23rd for the races, which are run the third weekend in June and now include distances of 18, 32, 52 and 100 miles. The organizers do a very good job, and there’s plenty of good schwag.

The 100-mile race starts in the valley at Dayton, runs to the top of the mountain and finishes back in Dayton. The finishers of that race have some serious trail cred.

Both years, we’ve stayed at the Wyoming High Country Lodge on top of the mountain. If you are running the 50-miler, the lodge is only two miles from the start line. This year, a number of 100-milers had crew members staying there. The lodge is scenic and convenient, your food is included with the room (the lodge is miles from any town) and the managers and staff are great.

If you have any desire to tackle a mountain ultra, I’d recommend this one. It has a distance for anyone, and with enough training and preparation, the races are achievable. Most of the races fill up early, so don’t wait too long to register.

Crew members can see their runners approach the Dry Fork Aid Station from miles away.

Crew members can see their runners approach the Dry Fork Aid Station (mile 35 of the 50-miler) from miles away.

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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