Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mile Run Trail Half Marathon Race Report

Driving North on 11/15 I was upbeat. The overnight rains had ceased. The clouds seemed to be thinning.  The music was bumping. I was trying to convince my bro and racing companion for the day that the trails wouldn't be too bad. (actually a wet rock is a slippery rock no matter how much rain has fallen) But it was not to be.

The light mist picked up and the grey fog settled in tight. Car temperature read 42 degrees. I'm always cold when wearing shorts in 42 degrees.  This brought about the all to common, back-and-forth regarding clothing choice. Hat or no hat? Arm warmers or light jacket? Smart wool socks or thin socks?  I settled on arm warmers, hat, thin gloves, thin socks, and olive oil for the legs. What, you haven't heard of the legend of olive oil Joe?

The race started in the middle of a gravel lot off of I-80 in an area called Mile Run, Pa. There is nothing in Mile Run, Pa but a gravel lot and trees and apparently a trail  half marathon.  Which meant the gravel lot now had some portapotties, orange cones, and a Scheetz truck.

My strategy was to start hot and try not to fade late in the race. I knew it would be almost impossible to pass people once we hit the slippery, rock laden single track. We zipped up a gravel road and I dodged through a few elbows and feet before sliding (some poor soul had already hit the deck in front of me no more than two steps onto the wet rocks) down the embankment and onto the trail. The first 3 miles or so was uphill, technical, and slippery enough to test the ankles. I pushed hard passing one or two on the way up. An older gent in the Brooks Pure Grit floated by me like he was out for a sunday stroll. I eventually settled in with two other runners and we slogged up some hills and slipped back down them. At some point I gapped them slightly but realized I was reefed.....and we werent' even halfway.

I looked back and saw an unfamiliar runner emerging up the hill out of the mist. He too was running with ease but was empathetic enough to assure me he would fade on the next hill (I saw him at the finish looking ready head out for more).

Realizing that my legs needed a break if I was to finish in one piece I settled in and started chatting with Jeff who was wearing the Inov8 X-Talons (I realize now that I am a running shoe geek). He appeared to be able to accelerate at any point but was in no rush to do so. We discussed shoes and up-coming races. It was nice to have some conversation to pass the time and take the mind from the task at hand.

Suddenly, without warning, the descent to the third aid station went from a super fast, smooth, pine trail to impossibly steep. Had I been would have easily skittered into a tree. Jeff hollered and I dug my heels in and shuffled down without incident wondering how some of the poor souls who don't run many trails would fair.

The last 2 mile stretch was downhill, a repeat of the climb at the beginning of the race. With the wetness and mud it looked like a pack of wild hogs had been trampling around looking for mushrooms. I started thinking about bacon. mmm, bacon. Once I came to my senses I realized where I was and that the race was almost over. I was focucsed on short, quick steps as the trail was slick with wet rocks and gooey mud. In my mind I was envisioning the small foot bridge that we clambered across about 1/4 mile into the race. I knew after that there was some incline and then the gravel road to the finish.

As I approached the foot bridge, the foot bridge that I had been thinking about for 2 miles, the foot bridge that was to take me to a nice, smooth gravel road I was surprised to see bright orange tape blocking the pat across the bridge. My mind went blank. All of my visualization went out the window as what I thought would be a finishing climb on the gravel road was not to be. My mind couldn't reconcile that I was not supposed to run across the bridge. What kind of sick joke is this? was all all could think. I ran past the bridge but couldn't see any orange markers.  My brain was so focused on the bridge being my path towards the finish that I couldn't  make heads or tails of where to go. As I was cursing my inability to locate the trail I looked up and saw orange tape fluttering off the trees high above my head and heading straight uphill. This was not a trail, but a jumble of wet rocks and leaves. Those sick, sadistic, race directors! After setting my brain straight I lumbered up and gently padded down and through the madness.

The finish involved sprinting down a large drainage tunnel that must have gone under I-80 and then running back up the gravel road, looking over my shoulder certain someone was sneaking up on me.
I find the finish anti-climactic in many ways. Today's was particularly so. The grey mist was still falling.  A few runners were milling about. The Scheetz truck was getting ready to hand out hot and cold drinks. The large gravel parking lot looked the same as when I left. The clock read 1:56 and change. Good enough for 13th place.

I would be remiss without commenting on the post-race food. Perhaps it was the weather or the fact that this is a fairly new race or maybe I was spoiled after the pizza, bbq chicken, and corn bread at the Dam Half Marathon last fall. The fare included Scheetz coffee/hot chocolate, and smoothies. Alson on hand were turkey/ham and cheese sandwhiches and some sticky sweet donuts. Not exactly quality recovery food.

I pounded a smoothie and immediately got a brain freeze. My wet body went cold so I changed and decided to slam a hot chocolate. After two of those I felt better and then figured what the heck and plowed into some donuts and sandwhiches.

A sandwhich in need of a facelift

A few key additions.

Now this is more like it!

A pleasant surprise in the grab bag was a fold out map of the Bald Eagle and Tiadaghton State forest shared trail system. Something useful for a change. Thankfully they didn't hand out cheesy medals at the end. Unthankfully the obligatory race t-shirt which was supposed to be a small was actually a medium and for all intents and purposes might as well be extra-large. But you don't race for the t-shirt!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Pre Race Meal - Salmon, Spinach, and Potatoes

Pan seared salmon finished in the oven with a chipotle tomato sauce on a bed of baby spinach and crispy red potatoes.

Weather report is up to .90 inches of rain tonight with lows in the low 40's. Rain on Saturday ending in the afternoon. Blah. Hoping the rain moves through quickly as the race starts at 10am.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

50 miles? You're Crazy!

Why on earth would anyone want to run 50 miles? It's a fair question.

I don't have a good answer.

I do know, however, that some of the most enjoyable parts of my week occur early in the early morning as I run up the ridgeline in the day's first light. I have yet to dread my long training runs and the chronic tight achiless tendons and achy knees that I was experiencing have faded. My body is adapting and getting stronger.

What do the experts have to say? As always the answers vary widely.

David Horton suggests that completing an ultra can be the most "rewarding, enjoyable, exciting, and fullfilling moment" of one's athletic career. He says, "before your first ultra you should announce to everyone that you know what you are doing to hold yourself accountable" and relates that many ultra runners are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. He suggests that one must have "desire, discipline, and dedication" to train for and succeed at finishing an ultra and that the enjoyment and excitement of completing the race will make the effort worthwhile.

Robert Lyden in the book Distance Running has a different perspective. Regarding running ultra marathons or participating in long distance triathlons: "From a long-term perspective, the benefit of these activities for athletes is questionable, since severe trials of this kind can threaten their subsequent motivation, fitness, and health. If you want to participate in ultra events make sure your reason for doing so are positive. The body with which you have been blessed is the only one you will ever have".

He makes a point. I know many runners who hobble around a good majority of the time, myself included. I've seen what competitors look like at the end of an Ironman/Ultra and the days following. It isn't always pretty.

Lyden confronts the obession with marathoning head on when he says, "the vast majority of recreational runners are best advised to forgo the marathon" and compares a full-effort attempt at running 26.2 miles akin to a surgery that will require a month recovery. The marathon, he says "tends to conjure up images of dreaming the impossible dream and beating the unbeatable foe, but the truth is, there is nothing especially sacred or noble about this distance".

Lyden continues with the exact opposite approach from Horton. He claims the statement "I'm running a marathon" is a cry for attention. He relates that running a marathon is not therapy, but can be an outlet to aviod facing problems head on and that the transcendental moments of running are not superior to any other activity in which an individual "cultivates excellence". 

Tim Noakes in the 4th edition of The Lore of Running suggests that runners should have been running for at least 1 to 2 years before competing in an ultra. He says, "only after running your fastest possible times over 10k should one consider entering marathon and ultra marathon races".

Race date is only six weeks away. I may not have a good reason for racing. I may run my body into the ground. Time and training will tell.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Summer Sunday

It's March. The sun is shining. The air is warm. The grill is blasting.

I've got Jamaican jerk rubbed chicken finished with a spicy honey barbecue glaze for a double dose of grilled flavor goodness. Add grilled sweet potatoes, some greens, and it might as well be full on summertime.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Corned Beef and Deconstructed Colcannon

I forgot about Saint Patrick's Day. As I was passing a few hikers on the AT this morning the bright green t-shirt on a female hiker reminded me that I don't have any green running clothes and I forgot to put my short ribs on cure.

With apologies to Michael Ruhlman (I have yet to purchase Charcuterie) I reached for the industrial feed lot, cryovaced, corned beef. It's a shame really.  My grass fed, grade A quality short ribs are in the freezer just waiting to be cured. Unfortunately,due to my failure to plan I was forced to take the road most travelled. At least now I have a taste/texture baseline to compare my future efforts of "corning" my own beef. Will there be a big difference? We will see.

After a successful day of trail running, scrubbing the deck, and gardening it was no problem to eat a few plates of this wonderful dish. Sadly, there will be no cabbage or potatoes for leftovers despite the Colcannon recipe suggesting it will serve 4-6. It really only served 1 wannabe ultra runner and 1 normal person with some leftover corned beef for tomorrow. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Summer Grilling........Two Months Early

Grass fed chuck-eye steaks. Salted and peppered.

My grill is cheap and flimsy.


Medium rare with mashed sweet potatoes and avocado, salsa, sour cream mix.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Sirloin Tip Roast with a Horseradish Mustard Sauce

Sirloin Tip with a rub of cumin, hot Hungarian paprika, and horseradish

The complete dish: Sirloin tip with horseradish mustard. Pan seared cauliflower with a tomato chipotle glaze. Red potatoes with a bacon, egg, and chipotle dressing. Cabbage slaw.

Time to Plant

The moon is right and the spring fever is starting to build. It's time to get the seeds started! I've filled my planting tray's with potting soil and rigged up a light above the bathtub. Usually I plant the seeds and think to myself, "I'll remember what I planted where". Yeah. Right.

So this year I made simple planting markers out of tape and toothpicks. So far so good.

As usual I've purchased more than twice the amount of seeds that I could hope to squeeze in my modest garden plot.There are too many interesting varieties and I just can't help myself. A few that I have high hopes for this year include:

Corno Di Toro Rosso Peppers, Yellow Wild Strawberries, and Red Siberian Tomatoes

Japanese Suyo Long Cucumber, Tequila Sunrise Peppers, and Trombocino Rampicante Squash

As soon as the ground dries a bit I'll be sowing spinach and lettuce. Also on the spring list of garden chores is to build a few cold frames with the windows I found in the alley a few weeks ago.