Saturday, December 31, 2011

Playing Hookey

Sometimes having a Friday off is a real treat, even if it does mean I have to work on the weekend.  Everyone else is at work, and you kind of feel like you're playing hookey out on the town.  Or, in my case, since I don't like going into town, it means having the trails all to myself.  

I packed up my awesome hydration pack, the Ultimate Direction Wasp, and headed out toward the Arb with camera in my front pocket and plenty of GU gels to keep me going.  I promised myself that I'd just run to enjoy myself, no specific workout or distance or time required.  I planned on going for anywhere from 10-15 miles, however my legs felt, and snapping some shots of my favorite local trails along the way.  

Started things off in the Arb, where the trails were slick from the snow and rain, but those conditions produced this atmospheric fog that made the place seem alive with magic.



The Arb is chock full of hills, and though they aren't long, after a couple loops your legs begin to feel that incessant pounding of constant ups and downs.  

I finally started listening to the audiobook of Born to Run by McDougall, and though I have some major issues with his writing and a few of his claims in this book, I loved hearing him talk about Ann Trason, the legendary ultrarunner, and her philosophy that distance running is all about getting to know yourself.  That's what this run felt like.

Love that green of the valley floor all year round.

If you click on the Fairy Woods pic, you can see the mini troll and fairy huts that kids have build near the base of these pines.

Eventually I'd run all the best trails at the Arb, so I decided to explore Cedar Bend park, the oldest in Ann Arbor, and I discovered some new trails and some wicked hills.  These trails haven't been maintained much in recent years, so everything feels really raw and old, which it is.  

Not many people want to run or hike on trails along ravines or up washed out trails, so it's also the most empty park I run in.  In essence, it's everything I want in a park: tough, steep trails, near to my house, with no one else out there.

This ravine goes straight down to the Huron River, and in the Winter you get these incredible views of the very bend in the park's name.

Cedar Bend used to have a road through it, but that's been closed for decades, so now it's become a wide loose stone path (not pictured) that meets a dead end road with trails coming off it.  I was up on this road, looking back into history when suddenly I realized I was 10-20 feet from this group of deer.  So, naturally, I took some pictures of them, afterward realizing I'd invaded one deer's privacy as she was relieving herself.  D'oh!


It was a great day, topped off by a stop at Leslie Science Center, where I chatted with this Peregrine falcon in one of the outdoor cages.  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Max Joins the Crew

From Thanksgiving to Christmas we had the distinct pleasure of watching our friend's Australian Shepherd, Max, while his owner was hopping though the islands of Indonesia.  She was probably kicking back the equivalent of a Corona while we were freezing our tails off on this run, not that we minded much with these fun pups along for the run.

Stinchfield Woods -- owned by U of M but open to the public -- is where we ran in some of the first snow of the season in early December.  Needless to say, this winter has been weak in terms of snowfall and bone numbing cold, but I'm sure it'll make up for things come February and March.  

Andrea has consulted the local dog whisperer, *ahem* Alaina, many times while raising Max, so he knows the same commands and is as well behaved as our rascal.  Which was awesome because we knew we could have both of them off leash in these deep and rarely used woods.

Stinchfield Woods doesn't allow hunting, which makes it an awesome find for running, but we still put these hi-viz jackets on the dogs so we could see them.  I love Max's playful bounding run, which you can see here with his paw so high off the ground.  He loves life, is far less serious than Cody, and has amazing endurance for a 2 year old.

I always make sure to run through the gravel pit, pictured above, which I think was used for mining at one point in this land's history and now makes for quad crushing hill repeats, as I'm about to test out.

The walls of the gravel pit aren't terrible high, maybe 100 feet at most, but they're steep enough to turn running into hiking toward the top.

This is one of my favorite pictures, with the winter light cascading through the old pines and both dogs tired yet still having the time of their lives.  Oh, and I'm a wee bit happy to be there too.

Those are my trail scouts right there.  Most of Stinchfield looks more like this, with dense woods and trails that are a bit overgrown since the park is both remote and difficult to find parking.  But that leaves it just for those that want to be there the most.  Namely, the Case family.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Run 100 Miles?

This morning after my daily run, I was enjoying a cup of yogurt and mentioning to Alaina that the Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run was still open for registration.  We tossed around the idea that they were probably just accepting lottery applications.  There's no way you could sign up for this iconic race in the heart of the Colorado Rockies just like that, on a whim.  I'm sure you have to qualify...or something.

Being a curious sort, I filled out the online application, answering medical questions, shoe preference questions and finally credit card information.  And there it was.  The big green* SUBMIT button.  I looked at Alaina and she was smiling like a crazy person.  What was I doing?  

'Wait a second' I said.  'Why am I doing this?'  
"Because you've been thinking about doing a 100 mile race for a while now"
'Right, and this fits everything I want in a race.  Mountains, trails, great time of year.  Will you pace me?  Be in my support crew?"
'Of course!'


And there you have it.  I'm registered for my first 100 mile race.  I feel like a kid on Halloween, all sugared up and spinsy.  The distance scares the crap out of me.  I watch videos on youtube of previous finishers and I get all teared up.  I want to tell everyone I see about this insane adventure, but I'm holding back, not wanting to seem braggy.  At this stage, I have nothing to brag about anyway, aside from being dumb enough to want to run that distance. 

Tomorrow I begin running with new purpose and a big kick in the keister for motivation.  I believe this is the most difficult endurance challenge I've ever taken up, but it's also the most passionate I've ever felt about an event.  It's going to be one helluva great ride.

*may not actually have been green

Mid-land Half Marathon Race Report

The Backstory:

Here’s where I’m at. All I wanna do is run.

I wake up to visions of quiet, dark roads and trails all to myself, watching the sun rise over a frosted ground, and hearing the first birds of the day sing me good morning.

At work I escape the drone life by planning out my next run route and dreaming of being out in the woods again. When I get home I have to resist lacing up my favorite shoes and going out for a second run. Sometimes my will breaks and I’m out in the dark running again.

On a training run, I was listening to Christopher Moore’s book, Lamb, and something stuck with me. Essentially, it’s the idea that you drill something every day over and over, so that the action will become natural, spontaneous, without being diluted by thought. Joshua, aka Jesus in the book, says compassion is this way. He goes on to say love is not something you think about, it’s a state in which you dwell. And running is starting to feel this way too.

But I do need race goals to keep me going. My first ultramarathon, the Huff 50k trail race, is in a month, so I’ve been building my running mileage up to ~70 MPW. And it’s time to litmus test my fitness. Plus, I’m a sucker for a great deal, so when I saw this half-marathon for only $25 bucks, which included pair of gloves, I couldn’t resist.

Event warmup:

The race is in Midland, a little postcard town in the thumb of Michigan. On my way into registration the morning of the race, I chatted with this guy in a Kenya hat for a minute. Nice fella with a beautiful accent who I’d later see passing mile 7 when I was at mile 5, on pace to a 1:08, 1st place finish. Huh? I thought this was a low key race! Amazingly fast. 


Back at the start, all these rail-thin, track star looking dudes crowded up to the front. My dreams of a high overall place were drifting away like smoke rings from Alice’s caterpillar. I must’ve eaten the wrong side of the ‘shrooms to think I could keep pace with the real runners, even at a race with only ~300 athletes.

Sure enough, a pack of 15 quarter horses burst off the line and never looked back. Knowing I had to run my own race and see what I had left at mile 9, I ran a steady 6:19-6:24/mi for the first 5 miles. This put me precisely into no man’s land. I was way behind the leaders and only able to pass a few early faders who weren’t running consistently enough to draft off. Thankfully, the rail to trail we were on was entirely forest lined, so it shielded from the 10 mph wind.

After the turn around at midpoint, I started feeling really smooth, like my legs were gliding under me without thought. I kicked it up to 6:15/mi and started hearing shouts of encouragement from the runners going the other way. I cheered them back and used the positivity to channel strength in moments of weakness.

The bigger mileage I’ve been investing paid dividends in miles 10-13 as I started reeling in three runners who’d had gaps on me since the start. I was hitting 6:10/mi with a strong effort, but not redlining, and as I saw their outlines grow closer, I knew that I if I could pass them I’d be in the top-10 OA. It was exactly the motivation I needed and felt great to pass them so late in the race.

Quickening my turnover and remembering those early morning sessions at the track gave me enough strength to run hard through to the finish line, which showed an impossible 1:21:31. I had no idea a 3 minute PR time was possible today and couldn’t have been happier. What a great day for a run.

Post race

Warm down:

I congratulated the top finishers, stretched out, grabbed a delicious gyro from a corner pizza shop, and then went for a 20 mile bike ride on the same trail system we ran on, after the last racers had finished. Love this trail system and it was a perfect-o day, so why not?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chicago Marathon

The story goes like this: boy grows up hating sports and loving books and music.  Boy becomes man and gets fat.  He takes up triathlon to lose weight, and in turn, falls in love with running.  With no natural talent, he works hard to get faster and overcomes injuries.  After a few years, he has some personal success and feels like a rock star.  The End...sort of.

This taper week I was reminiscing about my first run three years ago.  I had lived in Michigan for 9 months. I was mountain biking a little, but I said that I would never do the crazy stuff tri Alaina does.  I am not an athlete and never would be.

My first run was a "terrible beauty". Alaina invited me to run a mile with her and I reluctantly agreed.  We went out at a 10 m/m pace and my heart gurgled  from my chest to my throat and ejected some leftover tar from my smoking days.  Getting to the first 1/2 mile point took forever.

Remember in Temple of Doom when Mola Ram rips the heart out of that dude's chest and sets it on fire?  That was this first run.  At the end of the road, just before the golf course (which now doesn't even constitute my warm up), my whole body was exhausted. I turned around and let her go on.  I was both inwardly happy about the fact that I could run at all, and outwardly disappointed that I couldn't just go out and run 10 miles on day one.  I haz the dum, right?

I'd like to say that each run got a whole lot easier, but they didn't. I ran at a 10-11 min/mi pace that was a whole-body sufferfest for 1-3 miles at a time.  And this was for a long time.  When I finally did start going faster, I got ITBS. But by that point, I knew I was in love with running, so I started my battle with that st00pid band. And eventually, I won.

Forward to 2011.  I raced eleven events this year, four of them being half-Ironmans, and it was a breakthrough year.  I set a PR in every distance I entered and won overall for the first time at a trail half-marathon.  After my last Half-Ironman of the season, I dedicated my time solely back to my true passion.  Running.  I read Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning 12/70 plan and modified it down to 8 weeks, nailing nearly every training run, peaking with 2 x 70 mile weeks and a 22 mile long run with marathon pace worked in.  My goal was a sub-3 hour marathon, which was a stretch goal considering that I should’ve been on a marathon-specific, 12-18 week plan for that.

During taper week, I cut my volume 50%, carb loaded for three days before the race, slept 8-10 hours a night, and didn’t have too many drinks.  It was horrible.  I was moody and irritable from breaking my happy habits, but knew I had to be in perfect form to reach sub-3.  and a huge thanks to Alaina for putting up with my crap!

Come race day, I was ready to rip it.  My plan was to run even splits, no matter what everyone around me was doing.  A guy near me in Corral A had a wristband saying, “Relax, Breathe, Focus”.  That became my mantra for the day.  I needed to fuel perfectly, so I brought a small bottle of my training nutrition, GU brew.   The harder part was disciplining my normal mentality of ‘rock and roll -- go out hard as hell and hold on.’

Just before the gun, American marathon record holder, Ryan Hall, came running out and joined the other elites, pumping up the runners in our corral along the way.  Pretty cool.  As I looked around, most of the guys near me had pace bands on with the time and miles on it, chatting with each other about their goals.  I heard them say "sub-2:50, trying for 2:40", etc.  It was a little daunting.  As soon as the gun went off, swarms of people started absolutely killing the pace.  I looked down at my watch, trying to hold back and saw 6:20s.  Too fast, dial it back.

I quickly stopped caring about everyone else’s race -- this was my day.  My Garmin was way off, perhaps because of the tunnels and the tall buildings, so I just hit lap at each mile marker and looked at the time.  Might as well have been a $10 watch for all the good it did me.  :D

The first 4 miles of most of my training runs feel like I'm aqua jogging with Wilford Brimley.  This was no exception.  Hips were tight, calves were sore, ankles twingy.  Staying relaxed, I figured I’d settle into a groove after that.  But I continued to struggle with turnover.  Running at my goal pace took a concerted effort that I was having doubts about maintaining.  Breathing was easy though, which calmed me and allowed my mind to settle.  I've never done a big race like this with the insanely loud crowds cheering the entire time, so I soaked that up when I was feeling good, but mostly I focused on form and running at my own goal pace.

The energy from the aid station volunteers was amazing.  Each neighborhood, from Chinatown to Little Italy, had dozens of volunteers from that area out on the course handing out Gatorade, water, bananas, and gels.  I loved the sense of niche communities coming out together to form a whole Chicago.

Finally by mile 8 I started feeling strong.  Maybe it just took that long to shake the taper rust off and warm up.  From 8-12 there were some waves of crappy feeling as the 3:00 pace group passed me by, but I stuck to my ticking watch time, which kept showing me at 6:51 every mile, so I knew the pace group was going out too fast.  Relax, breathe, focus. Run your own race.

Just after 13 I saw the early faders.  You know, the ones who had been doing the big bad wolf impression in your ear back at mile 6.  The clock showed 1:29:xx at 13.1, and everything was falling into place.  These next 7 miles were my favorite, running through Greektown and Chinatown, where the neighborhoods look like Sesame Street and all the happiness makes you think Mr. Hooper and Big Bird are just around the next corner.

My rhythm was chamois butter smooth now, as I remembered all those mid-week 14-16 mile early morning runs that laid the foundation for this race.  In fact, I brought my iPod but didn't listen to it once, and I'm one who LOVES listening to music on my runs.  It was all about focus.

At mile 20 I really started thinking about the finish, but not in a 'someone please make it stop!' kind of way that I'm used to.  My mind was like a flip book of running memories, flashing images of rainy runs, hot runs, trail runs, runs with Alaina, inspires from friends, and seeing my family at IMLP last year.

Note: 6.2 miles is a long way at the end of the marathon.   Dozens of athletes around me saw their goals fade away in a pile of cramps and sore muscles.  I know this because I've been there this year.  Groin and hamstring cramps have slowed me late in races so I remembered to finish my salt sticks and take Gatorade and water at each aid station til the finish.  By 22 it was time to see what was left in the tank.  I picked the pace up a few secs per mile, still playing it conservatively because I feared cramps, which would lose me minutes rather than seconds.

And then the race was all before me.  I was the one passing people.  I was not fading.  I was running strong to the end, though still within myself.  A couple of people around me made their moves too so I paced off them until the bridge at mile 26.  And for the last 1.2 miles I averaged 6:29/mi.   All those trail runs lifted me up the bridge passing bunches of people.  Then the track workouts kicked in as I gunned it down the final meters and saw the clock in its finals seconds of 2:58.

As I crossed the mat I let out a yelp of joy and a fist pump.  This time not collapsing into a heap like at the Indy marathon.  I did it!  I had a perfect day and executed so well it would've made Texas DOC proud.  I grabbed my medal, got my pic taken and grabbed a cold beer.  The perfect finish to a perfect day.  I chased and captured my stretch goal, qualified for Boston by 5+ minutes, getting my revenge on their rejection slip last month.

I wouldn't change a thing.  I ran my race and followed my plan.  Next time I can take a bigger pace risk in the last 6.2 miles but I needed to get this goal first.

Alaina's Cyclocross Win

Fall means cyclocross season around here, so Alaina started this high-intensity competition at an event called Linden Cyclocross Race in Fenton, MI.  In bike racing, you get ranked based on previous results, so you can move up from Cat-4 to Cat-1 depending on how fast you are.  

Since she hadn't raced this season, Alaina was in the C-Women category (aka Cat-4).  I was getting over a sinus infection, so I had the Cody Bear and a couple of cameras to try to catch some of the action.  But getting a good pic of that speedy girl is no small feat.  

Right from the start of the C-Women it was clear that Alaina would have one really close competitor.  Cody and I chased Alaina around the course and cheered for her, which for the pup meant trying to herd her through the barriers.

See, it's hard to get a good shot of that speedster, especially when she's accelerating through the turns and pulling away from the 2nd place woman.

By the third of four laps, she had built a solid lead and it was clear that she just had to maintain a decent speed to take first place.

After she crossed the finish line in first place we ran over to congratulate her.  Alaina was interviewed over the loud speaker by the announcer and it was video recorded by the race organizers.  I caught it on video too, but haven't been able to upload my video to my blog yet.

It was a fun fall morning for the Case family.  Hopefully I'll be able to jump into the action next race.  Big congratulations to Alaina on kicking tail and winning!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stinchfield Woods

I had what must be the most fun I've ever had on a run today in Stinchfield Woods. That place is heaven. I explored every single trail they had. To crib a Tom Waits lyric, "I've never felt more alive or alone".

These are old woods. My favorite sections, which would pop up almost without warning, were the old pines that smelled like Christmas and had no brush beneath them, just a long bed of soft pine and firm sandy soil to run on. This joint is HILLY. Definitely the hardest trails I've ever run on because the climbs are long and you're constantly going up or down.

The pic is from what I call the "rim trail" (although NONE of these trails are marked in any way) because you're running along a 100' cliff which you can see in the background. This goes down to what looks like a very old gravel pit, a wide open circular space with cliff walls all around it. This place is pure magic I tell ya.

After an hour of running I heard in the disance, "MOOOOOM!" cried over and over again, so I followed the sound down a trail unfamiliar until I found the 9 year old boy, Logan, lost in these immense woods, looking for his mom. I calmed him down, gave him my cell phone to call her, and waited with him until his mom and 2 border collies came running down the trail. His mom said she told the pups to "find Logan" and they went charging down the trail. Good dogs.

Here's the Garmin Connect file of where I ran, how far, how high, etc.  I'm just playing with it for the first time.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Sort of Homecoming

Getting away to tropical Delaware for a long weekend was one of my best ideas of the year.  Caught up with family, met the newest littlest one, Liam, played with Rachel and Jacob, day tripped to Lums Pond, and even got some solid marathon training in.

Really hard to top that kind of action, unless you're counting Alaina's weekend, where she won overall amateur female at Syracuse 70.3 and has a chance to get her pro triathlete license!!!  She'll get a blog of her own for that one.

This is the wee peanut, Liam.  We had some tummy crawling time and big gummy smiles.  He's a cutie.

Family baseball time in the backyard.  Jacob could play ball all day long and never tire.  And he knows his Phillies on TV.  Much fun.

Apparently I hadn't cleaned out my ears in a few weeks, because Rachel sees carrots growing out of them.

Lums Pond has one sweet disc golf course, with a some field holes and some woods holes very well maintained.  Eric and I played a full 18, both throwing some mean disc, and then Mom joined us for a few holes.  

 Get low, Eric!  

We did some kayaking on Lums Pond, which is really more like a small lake.  Saw great blue herons, turtles,  and a big white bird whose name I don't know.  On the water, time and cares float far away.

Great Blue Heron

Pretty turtle

I heard a splash and a big belly laugh behind me after I got out of my kayak, which could only mean one thing.  Eric's foot fell asleep while we were out, so he stepped down and collapsed in soggy heap.  Funny stuff.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Woodstock Trail Half Marathon

I WON MY FIRST RACE! Totally stoked writing this right now.

Last night we went out to this Cuban place for fritas (burgers w/ fries inside) and batidos (coconut shakes with rum) and wine. My kind of pre-race, yah.

It's been raining for like 3 days straight now, including this morning, so the trails were sloppy, slippery, sometimes ankle to knee deep puddles of muck. And it was an absolute blast just as I imagined it would be. My limbs have never torqued like they did today.

Started out really easy for the first trail section, just soaking in the experience of my first trail race, hanging maybe 15-20 people back, but I found my rhythm pretty soon and started picking people off. I wasn't trying to get to the front, just to pass the next person and see how I felt. I hit this one nazty puddle and my shoe stuck but my legs kept going. D’oh. Yeah, using the shoes with quicklaces was not my finest move.

When I got to the flat, loose gravel rail/trail section, I could see the four leading runners and I started tapping out a really steady rhythm choosing to run in the grass for better pushoff, surprised to see a 6:30/mile pace on my watch. Gradually they got closer when one guy turned off early before the out-n-back! Wha? Down to three.

I passed the next two guys running together (only one more left), and when the first place guy got a drink at the aid station I took the lead! Uh, this is pretty cool. I went through the turn around and kept a steady pace and got tons of "good job man!" from runners going out which felt great.

Back in the woods trails I settled into a more comfortable pace and went through countless sections where there was no firm trail left, just standing water and mud. Sometimes it was like this on the hills and you had to skate-run with absolutely no traction, especially on my road running shoes. I lost another shoe in the mud and had to go retrieve, all the while thinking I was hearing the slapping wet sound of the second place guy behind me. Don’t look back, just keep going.

The trail got a little crowded with ultra runners doing 100 milers, 100k, 50 milers, 50k runners sharing parts of the course. Next year, that WILL be me.

I promised myself I wouldn’t look at my watch until I was nearing the finish, so when I looked down to see 7.6 miles on my watch I had an OH SHIT moment. Only halfway there, and I can’t hold this effort. So I dialed it back on the hills and waited for the guys behind me to catch me, but no one came.

At mile 10.5 the Race Director was in the woods telling me to do one more loop of 2 miles then go to the finish. I couldn’t believe I was still in first. This was the most beautiful section of trails I’ve ever run in. There were huge pine trees all in rows, with mist coming from the ground and soft pine needles covering the ground. It was like I was hallucinating. Maybe I’m still in bed dreaming, and I haven’t started running yet. No, the pain in my legs is for real.

The last half mile I felt so good, taking my first win with no one anywhere near me and holding the lead since mile 5 or so.

I crossed the line with a fist pump and saw Alaina cheering me on. So happy to have her there with me.

The only thing I'd change about this race is my equipment. I should've worn tri shorts and race singlet to avoid the soggy heaviness when racing in rain. Also, need trail shoes and no quicklaces.