What makes a "blogger" fall silent? Laziness? Check. Lack of time in a busy work, family, and training schedule? Check. Maybe a little loss of single-minded focus? Check. A lack of accomplishments to trumpet. Double check! So, essentially, all of the above.
Anyway, since this is basically my public diary, where more than anything I try to come clean with myself and maybe learn something and just record feelings and thoughts before they fade, the only real loser from getting out of the habit is yours truly. Let's just say the pangs of regret are catching up to me, so maybe it's time! Last year at this time the weekly training blog and more frequent race reports really had me "dialed in" with my training and sense of progress toward Bighorn. I miss that feeling, so here's hoping I can start re-capturing it!
A Quick Summary of Racing and Outings since the Fall
Stone Mill 50 miles (MD) in November: Didn't like the course at all (too flat, too suburban feeling, too smooth), and that probably got into me head. I really slowed in the middle miles, thought I was getting it back, but then had the incident with the too-dim headlamp, and having to wait for another runner and walk with him a couple miles. Threw away any momentum I'd rebuilt. Anyway, in retrospect, I was still building back into shape. With better endurance than speed, by far. The main positive I tried to take away was getting a 50 miler under my belt before year's end and being in one piece physically post-stress fracture. Really the whole fall season was about trying to re-establish confidence that my body was intact enough to get back into the thick of things with ultras.
Bandera 100K (TX) in January: I really wanted to push the envelope just a bit further before starting into Bighorn training again. But at this one I was so much slower than in 2010 on the same course it's not even funny. Something like 2.5 hours. How much are age and ultra-long slow distance (ULSD) just killing my times? Yet somehow my overall placing wasn't that much worse. Much slower field? The mud that slowed things down so much on the first 50K of this "two loop" course? The big drop in temps from the daytime humidity to nighttime chill and wind? I'm not sure. Anyway, I know that things were close to schedule (based on a more modest goal) through 20 or so, really slowed down in the middle (is there a pattern here?), and that I got some oomph back the last 15 miles or so to at least (re-)pass a few folks and feel like I finished on a reasonably positive note. And yeah, the body isn't broken, can still handle 100k in one piece, yadda yadda. But still my time sucked, and when you travel for a race you want to make a stronger showing.
After Bandera, I took about 9 days off to strictly cross-train, and begin the more regular and intense upper body and core sessions I wanted to do before the Whitney climb in March. Mentally, this was my break before beginning Bighorn training. So basically from the end of January through mid-March I felt like I was on a two-track "climbing and ultra" training program. It started out nicely, with a run on ice and snow with Garth and Jackie from Bear Mountain of maybe four hours.
Hike-A-Thong and Febapple 50K in February: The Hike-A-Thong out in Split Rock was a fun and frigid little event. Pretty much everyone, including the hearty band I did it with (Paul, Garth, Lesley, Chip), limited it to one 10.5 mile of the planned "up to two loops" fun run event. The four to six inches of snow and frigid temps and especially wind had something to do with that! It was a nice revelation that right next to Wildcat Ridge there is another cool area to explore on future runs. The lunch afterwards at a local lunch with Garth, Chip, and Brice was another highlight.
It was my third consecutive Febapple, at South Mountain Reservation, and like year one the footing presented lots of challenges for me (snow, ice, mud), and we ran in a light to medium steady rain all day in temps covering around 40. I ran the first two 10.5 mile loops with Lesley, then she bagged it, and I continued solo for the last one. I was disappointed to run like an 8:30 after having a good race last year, but somehow the slop (changing back and forth into Microspikes all day) and just probably lack of much faster-turnover training really had me at snail's pace. While it's convenient for a family visit, the course is maybe getting a little old after three consecutive years?
Probably the best runs I did in the last few months were training outings. First was a solo run of about 5 1/2 hours on a gorgeous February day in the Palisades, where I churned out about 23 miles at an unexpectedly steady pace of about an average of 13 minutes. I somehow just "got in a zone," walked very little, had very minimal stoppage time, and just pushed it like I hadn't for a while. I needed that one to re-inject confidence after Febapple! And then at the very end of March the second half of what turned out to be a six-hour run from Gate Hill Road in Harriman with Garth. He had turned into a hiker with his knee issue, and told me to forge ahead, and then suddenly I was able to pick up the pace and get into a groove after a sluggish first few hours. After a quick stop at the car to complete the out and back of about 4 1/2 hours, I went out in the other direction for what ended up being another 1 1/2 hours. Again, that wonderful, difficult-to-capture "amped" feeling of being loose, moving well, really in tune with the trails, and in this instance moving as well on technical stuff as I had in a while. In both instances, of course, I was feeling the benefits of warmer days and the absence of snow and ice, which I love in some ways but which tend to turn the runs into grinds as I'm so dependent on getting into a good rhythm (which, truth be told, happens more often for me when I'm running solo--guess that's how I'm wired, but I also do better when I'm totally concentrated on the trails and what I'm doing).
March: Whitney Cancellation and Tammany Substitute
A couple weeks in a row I did long training hikes with my fully weighted new Osprey pack on a Thursday (hill repeats in Palisades, and then a climb up south side of Bear Mountain) and then long trail runs with "the guys" on Saturday. Along with the weekly yoga, twice-weekly upper body/core, and weekly leg sessions and four other weekly runs. It caught up to me (duh!), and for a week or so I was feeling a little tired, wondering a little about overtraining syndrome, and also if I was coming down with something. But really feeling like I didn't want to sacrifice climbing training for ultras, or vice versa, so basically being pigheaded!
Finally on the Friday before I was to leave the next Wednesday for Whitney --which I basically had spent six weeks getting together all the gear for, ordering online, trips to EMS and REI, trip planning, etc.--I woke up with a fever and aching head. I already had my pack ready for my last planned training hike, at Delaware Water Gap/Mt. Tammany for that day. The chickens had come home to roost. While the doctor said it was only a virus, I could probably climb, and gave me a preventive antibiotic, I layed low and essentially did no training for, I think, 3 days. The fever was gone but it was achy head, congestion, cough, and I just felt really weak. My first and only cold of the winter.
That Sunday Mihiret came down with a fever, perhaps picking it up from daddy. After a trip to the pediatrician as I stayed home with her on Monday (start of my spring break), continued last-minute packing and shopping, and considerable fretting over what to do as I wondered if she would get better with her on/off fevers and cough and congestion, on Tuesday morning I had to make the call to cancel the Whitney trip only 24 hours before departure. I had my new pack and all my gear mostly packed and sorted, my last-minute list, another climber from the trip I was supposed to give a lift from Las Vegas airport whom I only let know two days before...and it all left me with the most horrible sick feeling in my gut to see a trip I'd first booked in August and really been dreaming about for months fall by the wayside. But there was no choice, and it was a no-brainer decision. Responsibility called, it was clear Mihiret was going to be home for a few more days if not rest of the week (as it turned out), and we had no backup system in place to take care of her when home sick from daycare in this particular situation. Fortunately, I think trip insurance will help me recoup some of the expenses.
It was one of those instance of life events jolting you back into perspective about what's top-priority and what's optional. This trip fell into the latter category, obviously! It made me feel good and valuable to step in and play nursemaid and get Mihiret back to health. But we both had a little cabin fever from being shut in all week and I was still recovering from my cold and fitting in runs as I could when Esperanza could come home early to spell me. So not the way you might choose to spend your spring break, but such is parenthood!
This climb was important for me to "get back on the horse" after a two-year absence. I was supposed to do a climb in Washington State in 2011 in what turns out to have been the summer of our adoption of Mihiret. I've never cancelled a planned trip so gladly! But I still fret over being able to get back to an activity that still has a big hold over my imagination and that I know only gets tougher as I get older. Anyway, the last few weeks I've been focused on trying to find a "plan B" climb for the summer, and I think I've found it in Mt. Shasta. Stay tuned!
So, this all led, ironically, back to Mt. Tammany (yeah, where I supposed to do the training hike the day I came down sick). That weekend I was supposed to be climbing the highest peak in the continental U.S. was the second running of Mt. Tammany 10 (topping out at a more modest 1,700' or so!), and Garth and Lesley (of whom I'd spoken its graces after doing it last year) were heading out. I found out it was still open, registered on Wed., and threw myself into the distraction and diversion of having something fun to do outdoors, and being able to leave home for more than an hour for the first time in like a week!
In the event, I felt reasonably good on loops one, three and five, struggled on the even loops (without the benefit of that half mile of road back to the start/finish to break it up), and really felt it on what turned out to be my last loop. Cramps were coming on during the early part of the 1,200' climb from inadequate hydation, I was taking extra steps to catch my breath higher up, and then I felt particularly slow and awkward on the upper part of the descent, which was snow-covered and became icier and slippier as the day warmed. While I told myself toward the end I was capable of heading out for one more loop and coming in within maybe 1 1/2 hours, 28 miles still would have been less than my goal of equaling last year's 32 miles in 10 hours and change (50K or bust you might say!). And with Garth injured in the car and sitting there for hours, I had a convenient excuse to cut it short! At least I could feel satisfied it was my longest outing since Bandera, and that I was mentally back into a narrow focus on Bighorn and ultras, with the Whitney episode and mountaineering training parenthesis behind me. Takeaway: Juggling ultra and climbing training isn't as straightforward as it looks!
That brings me, finally, to Fool's Rogaine last weekend out in Wawayanda in NJ. My first foray into orienteering, and a real blast and learning experience! With Lesley and Jeff teaming up and giving us advance advice on gear and strategy, Garth and I threw our lot together as "Nifty Fifty." I went out to Palisades on Thursday two days before and with Garth on Friday to try to get the hang of the map and compass thing. We sort of ended up with a de facto system on race day where he carried the official maps with the controls we had to go after and took the compass bearings (our choice, not knowing their point value, hence the "fool's" aspect). All while I worked off the Trails Conference map paying attention to the landmarks in the terrain we could use as checks on our navigation.
It turned out reasonably well, and we really had fun out there on a nice day. We got like eight controls for 300 points out of the 32 potential controls. Only missed entirely one we shot for that a bunch of other teams missed and turns out to have been mis-marked by the organizers. There was one we were aiming for that we ran past the likely location as we lacked landmarks and a good bearing on a fire road and didn't want to risk heading back for (you had to get back in 6 hours or got points deducted for each minute late).
It really was a workout, and fun to be bushwacking, scrambling at times and sometimes even on all fours, constantly manuevering over, around and through branches and downed trees and over rocks. You're not just going through the forest, you're in the forest! In the end, we covered 10.2 miles by my GPS, but I've never worked so hard to cover that many miles, except in a mountaineering context! It was also revealing and humbling--a couple with Long Island accents dressed like casual walkers who seemed to never be in a hurry yet be getting to controls as fast as us with superior sense of direction; a pair of older women in their later 60s or so with walking sticks moving efficiently through the dense brush; and the true adventure racing animals (solo or in pairs, male and female) who were running through the dense brush and moving with great purpose and passing us by like nothing as they moved toward each well-hidden control as if it were a blaze on a marked trail! New sport, humble beginnings!
From what we gather, this was strictly entry level, but plenty challenging, and in a cool area we hadn't been before with lakes, streams, steep little mountains, swamps. I think it's fair to say we got hooked on the sport, intrigued to learn more, and in my case more eager than ever to get a mountain bike and learn some paddling skills to be able to get the full experience. I think this AR/orienteering stuff could be a nice complement--and mental break--from ultras and trails to keep it fresh and interesting, maybe doing a couple AR/orienteering events each year.
Ok, no grand or pithy ending here, just a work in progress. Still active, still motivated, hopefully moving forward, trying to figure out what works..and keep it fun and fresh! Oh yeah, and as I look back, hey, I've been fortunate to be traipsing through a ton of cool locations in the last few months pack on back and feet on (and off) trails, some of them new for me, with gorgeous views, great company, two changes of season, and lots of cool memories. Not half bad, actually!