Monday, October 7, 2013

Bear 100 Race Report

Every year I look for at least one challenge that scares the hell out of me. Usually, it's a race or goal that there is a really good chance I won't finish. The Bear 100 has this in spades. On the course profile, I saw a 3,400’ climb from mile 0-5, long, punishing, relentless ascents and descents, and an average altitude of 7,500’. So a few weeks before the race, I registered for The Bear. Let's get to Utah.
Alaina, Cody pup, and I drove out through Wyoming after work late Wednesday, looking for a place near Rock Springs to park the Element and sleep in the back. At 11pm, the snow started falling. It was September 26th. Light snow turned to a blizzard so heavy it felt like we were driving backwards. Eventually we made it to Green River, WY, where our search was aided by a cop who pulled us over for a brake light out (or because we looked shady driving around aimlessly at 1am), and he told us about a pull off at the edge of town beneath a tower of rock. Thanks dude!

Driving in snow. In September
The next day we made it to Logan, Utah and met up with Kim and her husky, Tucker. We went for a tuneup run on a “family friendly” trail that was actually a 1,200’ climb with precipitous ledges and incredible vistas of the aspen thick canyons. I couldn't wait to race. Afterward, we headed to packet pickup and then drove to the race start and camped there. As soon as it was dark, I was asleep in the back of the Element, snuggled in my mummy sack next to Alaina and Cody. It was going to be a great race.
Wasatch Mountains with my family
Rolling out at 4:30, I got some food in my stomach and a little coffee, but 6:00am came quickly, and I was running to the start line. Everyone was off, and I was sandwiched in the middle of the pack. Weaving my way to the front, I spotted Karl Meltzer's signature Speedgoat logo on the back of his shirt, so I tucked myself behind him and waved goodbye to my conservative race plan. Wouldn’t it be cool to see how long I could run with the Speedgoat? Wouldn't it be awesome to shed the Conservative Case plan and roll the dice on a long race? I NEVER do that! Go for it!
So I started in the top-5 and stayed there comfortably on this first 5 mile climb, running the less steep stuff, and power hiking toward the top when the grade turned painful. We reached the first snowy section around 7,600’. First light was peeking around the mountains, and the pines were frosted like pieces from my childhood model train set. A shirtless guy finally realized it was freezing and put a shirt on, and the pack chatted as we admired the fall/winter beauty.

At the summit we were running through a cloud, with recently burnt landscape around us, and some people falling back. I was probably in 4th or 5th, running smoothly over the snow (something I have a lot of Michigan experience doing) and waiting for people to start running past me now that it was flatter. They finally did, and I’d run and chat with people as they came by, settling into my pace.
Heading up to Logan Peak. Photo Credit: Chris Beck
When I reached the first aid station at mile 10.5, my body realized it was getting super cold. At 8,500’ there was less tree cover, and the snow was blowing off the ground. I thanked the volunteers and headed out, reaching the first point on the course where markings were missing. I waited for the next guy to come up and then joined this great group of two other guys, Andy and Cody, who were terrific company if a bit too fast for me on this steep downhill section.

So, by the first aid station, we have the defining features of this race: incredible beauty, steep/technical hills, questionable course markings, and the cold.

The miles and time flew by running with these guys, sharing snippets of our lives. At the 20 mile aid station, our pack of three split up, and I was all alone. The race started feeling long, with 10 more miles until I’d see Alaina and Cody for the first time. I popped in the music, happy to knock off the miles over a long slow climb, exploring a great new mix of Savages, Surfer Blood, Mikal Cronin, and some old favorites like The Smiths and Richard Thompson. My legs were warming up but my hips felt stressed, and the hydration pack was tearing into my shoulder. I couldn’t wait to shuck it.
Entering Cowley Canyon AS. First time I'd see Alaina and Cody
Coming down the dirt road descent to Cowley Canyon, I saw Kim and Tucker taking pictures, so I gave a big smile and thumbs up. Alaina took my pack, gave me a handheld, and got me into my Boston Marathon jacket. I picked up the pace with the added warmth and kept a solid effort going into the open meadows of single track. Aspens were changing colors all around me and my race was coming around too.

Finally the trail went downhill and I found my downhill legs. I was flying. I caught up to the guy ahead of me, who had put distance on me on the flatter stuff, and I blasted a gap on the downhill. I went into the next aid and saw Alaina, who had her game face on, getting my bottle and nutrition changed pronto. This section was an out-n-back, so I saw I’d put a couple minutes on the guy I’d passed. I felt awesome!
Beautiful fall colors. Photo: Kelly Agnew
More climbing now. The songs were charging me up and I was moving really well. I hiked uphill, running the less steep grades, and I passed a guy who pulled away very early. I’m no gambler, but I understood what it was like to be up at the card table. You can’t lose. And if you do lose a hand, the next card is yours. Like Leonard Cohen says in "The Stranger Song", I “was watching for the card that is so high and wild he'll never need to deal another”.

I caught a couple more guys and suddenly I was 3rd with Karl next. I laughed because no way was I catching him. I was running really well on the uphill and flats, but the downs were starting to ping my IT band. I’ve not felt that old injury in over 2 years, but here it was at mile 45, already grumbling persistently. Shouting at the pain, I ran downhill well and put gains on 4th and 5th place. I hit Temple Fork AS and Alaina and Kim had crewing down to a science. They swapped my bottles and I was out of that joint. 

I was downing Ensure at each AS, eating gels and Chomps along the way and everything was grooving. Except for my knee/IT. I even took a Tylenol. Never a good sign. The IT was tightening up and even my stretches were doing nothing for it. After leaving this Temple Fork, it was a long slow climb in shoe-thick muck with cow pies everywhere, and my movement was slow. I was happy to go uphill and give my IT band a break, but when I hit the crest of the hill and started heading downhill I was slowing. 

The trail was snow covered -- all around a gorgeous pine forest -- but I could NOT run downhill. My knee screamed in pain. I’d hop up and holler out in pain and this was only mile 48. My race was unravelling. At Leadville Silver Rush 50 miler I’d never felt this pain, but here it was, a clear and present danger. I hobbled downhill and a guy passed me. I wished it were me making a move. 

Slowly, I made it down to Tony Grove aid station, my bones starting to feel the death rattle of the cold, overcast, windy 30 degree weather, and I saw Alaina and Kim. I was so relieved to see them, but also scared and cold and in pain. I took another Tylenol. I’d drank little and eaten less. My stomach was starting to hurt from the effort, cold, and extra calories to stay warm. 
My crew at Tony Grove
I headed out. I was now walking the flat stuff. My knee was killing and I was shaking from the cold. Reduced to a limp, I was overusing my right leg. I started getting passed by a few runners, but I was in so much pain that I no longer cared. I just wanted to find a way to the finish. Forget the race. This is no longer a race, it’s an endurance event. Forget my place. This is about overcoming my demons and problem solving my way out of this situation. 

I hobbled slowly to Franklin Trailhead at mile 61 and saw Alaina again. She was there every single time. She was my angel. It was so cold out, and turning late afternoon, I could feel the dark cold of night approaching, cloaked hood and all. I got on the ground and used the foam roller. Nothing helped my knee. I stretched a lot, did all the tricks I learned from the PT, but it was futile.

I left the aid station, heading uphill, where I could hold a very good hiking pace from all our 14er hiking this summer. I listened to a podcast about an epileptic musician who went under the knife for a surgery that could destroy his appreciation for music. I cried like a baby for a mile. Lose my ability to hear music? That’s hell. 

The sun fell. Cows stomped out of my way. I moved on, getting passed on the flat/downhill sections, holding my own on the climbs. Then it was truly dark. I was on a dirt road that was losing a lot of elevation. There were no course markers, and I was afraid I’d gotten lost. Eventually I saw a light. A headlamp. Way off the road. I called out, 'Are you part of the race?' The voice answered, "NO! But keep going downhill, you’ll see the aid station!"

I hate thinking I’m lost. But I made it to the aid station. A 10 year old boy who was volunteering with his dad saw me and said “it must suck to run 100 miles!” Oh man, I must really look like shit. There was no crew at this aid station, which I'd forgotten, so I got the hell out of there before I could feel sorry for myself, crossed a large river on dark rocks, and started climbing slowly. The night was setting in. I started getting used to the knee pain, and it wasn’t getting worse. You know, just blistering pain with occasional moments of blood curdling screaming. 
Cold. Mountains. Pretty.
I’d made it up to a field of sage on top of a mountain, and then I lost the trail markers. I was wandering into the woods, over the sage, scouring the snow for the telltale Hoka tracks of the leaders. Nada. I got so cold. This ridge was all exposed, wind ripping, absolutely nothing else up there. I could see maybe 50’ in all directions, no lights anywhere on top of this mountain. I wandered around in every direction for 15 minutes until another runner came up the mountain, far from where I was wandering. It was the lead female and her pacer. I thanked her for showing me the way back to the trail and headed down the loose rocky pitch. 

As the trail evened out, the markers were sparse once again and the way unclear. I stuck with these two as we looked at her pacer’s phone with GPS coordinates. First we went down the road, then turned back and went up. This was silly. No way should three people together get lost. Finally we spotted a marker pointed toward Beaver Lodge.

Beautiful Cold. Photo: Chris Beck
Feeling pretty defeated coming into the Beaver Lodge aid station, Alaina and Kim once again made me feel like a rock star. I felt like the Keith Richards variety. They treated me like Justin Timberlake. Alaina got me into the warmth of the lodge to check in, and I thought about how hard it would be to leave this Ogygia with its Calypsos. Such lovely heat blasted in, with hot soup, food, volunteers, warmth, light, warm air, and the absence of blowing wind. Warmth. You get the point. But it was time to leave.

Alaina led me out to the arrows into the cold cold night of wind and poor course markings. Ah well, must keep moving. Such dark cold lonely hours. I switched over from podcasts to music and sang along with The Mountain Goats into the frosty woods. Mentally, I was staying in this thing. Physically, not so much. The trail turned to mud once again and I slogged up with my trusty power hike. Yes, I was walking this one in, but it was a hauling hike.

As the very late hours set in, my stomach growled for food. But the thought of eating my gels made me nauseous. My body was so cold that it was burning extra calories to stay warm, and my blood was being torn between protecting my organs and going to my legs to keep moving. It was definitely not going to my stomach to absorb food. I took one pull on my gel and threw up violently on the snow. I bent over and poured out several hours worth of fluorescent nutrition into a fresh white pile of snow. It melted right down to the dirt. I stared at my mess and smiled. Time to move.

A sign in the woods welcomed me to Idaho. I kept going uphill. For 5 miles. I finally got passed on the uphill. Damn, I’m really losing steam. A small band of hearty mountain people stoked a fire at Gibson Basin AS mile 81. I ate some potato chips, refilled my water, and headed into a ferocious headwind on a frozen tundra. The blasting arctic wind at 8,500’ sheared through all my winter layers. I looked for a tauntaun to crawl inside. Hoth is a vicious land. 
What the trail looked like in daylight. Photo: Chris Beck
The trail went downhill and I crossed a creek into Beaver Creek AS, where another campfire was blazing, and Alaina was there. I sat in a chair in front of the fire. Ice cubes tumbled from my throat as I mumbled jibberish. I zombied over to the car and got inside and blasted the heat. Alaina put a sleeping bag over me and Cody snuggled on my lap. I probably wasn't getting out again. I begged Alaina to let me nap for 15 minutes. I put on three layers of winter running jackets and napped. When I awoke, I was ready to finish. 

As I finally reached the crest and started descending down a nice smooth dirt road into the final aid station at mile 92, a headlamp approached from behind. I heard this thick German accent ask me, “are you quads, like, completely blown?” I cracked up. ‘Uhhh, how could you tell, man?’ He said he’s been coming to this race for 3 years from Frankfort, Germany, trying to get the Wolverine Buckle for finishing under 24 hours. This year he was finally going to get it. He had an hour buffer so far. Which meant, happily for me too, that we had a shot at the Wolverine. After he shuffled past me, I found my finish. I was going to go sub-24. I had something to race for again.
Wish I could've run this section in the daylight!
Into the final aid station, I sat over the fire and tried to get feeling back into my body. I had 2 hand warmers in my mittens (with shells) but my hands were freezing. Damn Reynaud’s! A volunteer warned me about the steep grade going up to mile 95, but I had no idea it would be this steep. Twice I lost my balance on the snowy pitch up, which had to be 25% grade or more. I had no idea how an ATV could get up this. At the peak, I could finally envision the finish. I was at the highest point on the course at 9,200’ and it was time to descend. Forget my IT band and my knee, forget the deep chill, forget my blown, overloaded quads and hips. Just fall downhill. And that’s exactly what I did. 

I dug deep and passed 3 people those last 5 miles. Not that I cared about my place at this point. That game was long over. But still, it was a nice reminder that I could finish strong after such very low points. The trail kept getting steeper. My quads were trashed and still they galloped down this mountain. I needed to get this over with. I hopped from side to rutted side of the trail, trying to find a piece of land that wasn’t pitched and loose. I hit the dirt road at the bottom and found my flat running legs. I refused to walk the flats. I would run to the finish of the Bear 100. I made a couple turns and there was the finish. I heard Alaina’s voice calling to see if it was me. I hollered yes! Then I ran into the silent finish area. It was 5am. And I finished the Bear 100 in 23:13 for the Wolverine Buckle.
All smiles at the finish.

The Bear made me very hungry for another 100. I know I can crush this distance. I rolled the dice on an aggressive game plan and it kinda fell apart, but I finished sub-24 on a very tough course. Next time I'll probably go back to the Conservative Case plan, but I have no regrets about this race. I took on a challenge that scared the hell out of me and I trained on harder terrain that I ever have before. I love the mountains more than ever. And the adventures have only just begun.


Plaque and Wolverine Buckle

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pearl Izumi Trail N2 Shoe Review

                                 

The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 is my first experience with PI shoes, though I've been very happy with PI apparel, such as their tri shorts and singlets. These shoes caught my eye at last month's Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k here in Colorado, where it seemed like ~40% of the runners there had either the N1 or N2 trail shoes. I was wearing the flashy but entirely-not-protective-enough Salomon S-Lab Senses for the race. As it turns out, the Golden Gate Canyon trail is composed of loose, broken, sharp rock that feels a lot better with cushion and a strong rock plate underfoot.

Golden Gate Canyon Trail
After the race, I started looking for a protective, cushioned, lighter weight, everyday training and (possibly) racing shoe with a 6-10mm drop, because 4mm offset taxes my calves and lower leg tendons, especially with the 2-4 mile long climbs that I have been enjoying lately. Running Warehouse specs the N2 stack height at 27mm-17mm, but with the rocker technology, they feel like a 6mm drop shoe. Depending on your running style, they might feel as low as a 4mm drop and as high as 8mm in other shoes. At 10.5 ounces, I thought they would feel sluggish, but not nearly as much as similarly weighted, but much clunkier shoes, like the Saucony Xodus or Brooks Cascadia.

The first time I tried them on, I noticed how tall I stood. It's a lot more cushion than my other every day shoes, Salomon Ultras and Senses, and Montrail Rogue Flys. This cushion is what I was looking for, but it made me feel a bit unbalanced, and my first few trail runs were cautious, as I noticed the shoe torquing laterally a bit when I'd land on a jagged rock. That said, there was no pain at all from the rock, as the ESS rock plate protected the point from penetrating, and the firm cushion in the midsole absorbed much of the weight of my impact. Like with any new shoe, the ride took some getting used to, but now I feel wholly confident in how well they will respond to various surfaces.

The N2's are fairly stiff if you take them in hand and bend them from heel to toe, but the rocker offsets this, as I've found a very smooth heel to forefoot transition while running both uphills and downhills, and I can keep up a quick cadence while grinding out those long climbs.

The inside of the N2 is comfortable with no seams chafing my feet. I feel confident that I could run a 50 miler without fearing for blisters. However, concerning the shape of the shoe, I have a very narrow heel and slightly narrow forefoot, and the PI shoes tend to be wider in both these areas, with the N2 as no exception. I've noticed that my feet will slide around (mostly side to side) if I wear thin socks, but with thicker Smartwool socks my feet stay in place. I've considered sizing down to a 9.5 for future PI purchases -- I'm a 10 in all other running shoes -- but I think my toes would bang up against the box.

The N2 carbon rubber outsole has been far more durable than the Senses, Ultras, and Rogue Flys, and it's probably on par with the Saucony Peregrines. However, the N2 lug pattern far outshines all of the aforementioned shoes, as I've been on sharp, technical, rocky trails and have yet to slip with these. They do occasionally slide sideways a little on sandy, downhill switchbacks.

Today I ran at Golden Gate Canyon State Park again, on many of the same steep, rocky, technical trails that are part of the race course, but this time I had my N2's for protection, and I found that my calves were far less tired on the climbs, my feet didn't hurt at all, and I could totally bomb the downhills, my favorite part about running mountains. The N2's are quickly becoming my favorite go to trail shoe for both technical as well as buffed out trail runs. For a marathon or 50k trail race, I might go with something lighter and less protective, but for my next 50 and 100, I'd be hard pressed to find a better shoe than the N2.

Floated right over these rocks with the Trail N2


Specs from Running Warehouse:

Weight: 10.5 oz (size 9)
Stack Height: Heel (27mm), Forefoot (17mm)
Available Widths: D=Medium
How It Fits (based on width D) 
  • Sizing: Standard running shoe length
  • Heel: Medium
  • Midfoot: Medium volume
  • Forefoot: Medium
  • Toe-Box Height: Low
  • Arch Structure: Medium
  • Shoe Shape: Semi-Curved
INTRODUCTION
The EM Trail N 2 is a minimum feature, minimum neutral trail shoe designed for racing and daily training. it is built with a semi-curved shape.
CUSHIONING
  • 1:1 Energy Foam in the forefoot cushions the foot on impact and returns energy back to the runner for a resilient ride.
  • 1:1 Energy Foam heel crash pad cushions the foot on impact and returns energy back to the runner for a resilient ride.
MIDSOLE
  • E:Motion is a EVA foam that offers a ideal balance of cushioning and support.
  • Dynamic Offset is a new midsole shape that works with the foot as you travel through the gait cycle, delivering a smooth responsive ride. 
UPPER
  • Seamless Upper improves next-to-foot comfort, offering a supple, sock-like fit that moves with the foot.
  • Bonded Toe Cap protects the foot from hazards on the trail.
  • SBR Tongue resists water absorption without sacrificing comfort or breathability.
  • Ortholite Sockliner provides amazing step-in comfort and long-lasting cushioning.
  • Strobel Last with the upper stitched to full length fabric for a comfortable underfoot feel.
OUTSOLE
  • Carbon Rubber Trail Outsole provides multidirectional traction and durability.
  • Flow Line follows the patten of the gait cycle.
  • ESS Rock Plate consists of hardened foam that protects the foot from sharp rocks and stone bruising.



Monday, March 18, 2013

SOD: Phosphorescent -- Song for Zula

"Song for Zula" lunges straight for the heart, sinks its soft teeth, and does not stop tearing for a full 6 minutes and ten seconds. And that is only if you can resist playing it on repeat. That's not something I've been capable of lately. It's the second track on Phosphorescent's 2013 album, Muchacho, which comes out on 3/19. Stream the album on NPR First Listen.

I love it when an artist (Matthew Houck is Phosphorescent), takes this much care in his lyrics, clearly writing them first, but shapes them to work so effortlessly in the melody. Song for Zula is a gateway to Muchacho, an album I think will take weeks to fully discover. I'm looking forward to the journey.

Some say love is a burning thing, 
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as fading being
Just as fickle as a feather in a string
See, honey, I saw love, you see it came to me
It put its face up to my face so I could see
Yeah, then I saw love disfigure me
Into something I am not recognizing


Friday, March 15, 2013

Stinchfield Woods Trail Marathon

Friday off work! Perfect opportunity to run long at Stinchfield Woods, my favorite hilly single track trails. Stinch features no hunting, no bikes, and (somehow) no mud this time of year. There was some ice, but the trails were overall so firm that I ditched my Salomon Fellcross at the car at mile 11 for my Montrail Rogue Fly shoes, which are much lighter. Maybe spring has finally arrived in the SE corner of the mitten state.

At the start, I topped up my Ultimate Direction Wasp hydration pack with GUs and water, and I loaded the iPhone with podcasts from NPR All Songs Considered, KEXP, and Sound Opinions for company. Good thing too, since I saw only one other person out there all run. I did get to see a barred owl up close, as it flew right across the stretch of trail I was running, not ten feet from me. I tried to sneak up on Owl through the brush, but I was loud and clunky and Owl flew off before I could snap a picture. But I stopped plenty to take other pictures of this strange UM owned piece of land that reminds me so much of the Dharma Initiative from TV's Lost.

After two hours of running I wasn't sure I could make it up and down these hills for 3-4 hours, for the 35F temps and cloudy skies were pressing in on me, but after clicking off some faster miles, I could smell marathon distance and went for it. I ran much stronger from 18-23, and continued dropping pace throughout the whole run, finishing very strong. I'm really happy that my fitness is at the point where I can knock out a trail marathon without it totally crushing me and even negative split.

Run stats: 2,200 feet of vert gain over 26.42 miles with 3 hours 32 minutes of tough trail running.


Gravel Pit from the top


Older defunct telescope tower


I call this the roller coaster


Working satellite dish


Bottom of gravel pit. Far wall is fun for climbing.


Pine scented trail running on gravel roads

Garmin Connect file:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

SOD: Cayucas -- High School Lover

Spring is coming, or so I've heard. This brings the promise of trail running and shorts. It only follows that I've been looking for happy music recently, and lately I've been missing the combination of humor and pop sensibility that was so great in the Clinton-era releases by Beck and Weezer. When I heard "High School Lover" by sleepy seaside town, San Luis Obispo, California band, Cayucas, it immediately put a smile on my face and there was much dancing.

Cayucas will be at SXSW on Thursday, March 14 at 3pm on Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SOD: Josh Ritter -- A Certain Light

This is a damn good breakup song. Although Josh Ritter is singing about his recent divorce, "A Certain Light" will speak to the sixteen-year-olds who have had their hearts broken for the first time as much as it does to those facing the end of their marriage. But there is an absence of bitterness here. Instead, there is a sense of looking forward without dismissing the past, the pain, and the love lost. Josh Ritter's latest record, 'The Beast in Its Tracks', comes out today, March 5.

Some of my favorite lyrics:

"My new lover sweet and kind / The kind of lover that one rarely finds / And I'm happy for the first time / In a long time"

"And she only looks like you / In a certain kind of light / When she holds her head just right"

"It's been winter for a while / The north winds will cut like a baby child's / It was hard to think her smile / Could bring the springtime"



Listen to the album in full at NPR First Listen, and listen to an entire Josh Ritter concert from March 4, 2013.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snowblast Trail Run in Ann Arbor

Last night (2/27/13), Ann Arbor got pounded with 5-7 inches of wet, heavy, late winter season snow. It rained, it sleeted, and then it snowed, resulting in sagging trees, downed power lines, closed schools, and in general, a trenchant mess.

It also made for beautiful trail running. Beautiful, that is, for about an hour and a half, at which point my legs were shot, my face was tired of low branches scraping it, and my head was soaked from heavily falling clumps of snow.

I ran nearly 11 miles, and it took almost 2 hours, but it was one of the most difficult and rewarding trail runs I've ever had the pleasure of finishing.

Kuebler Langford Nature Area


Silver Huron River


White out in Bird Hills


Sagging pine across Bird Hills trail


Bird Hills pines standing tall

Almost a foot deep in Kuebler


Protect your face, stay low, keep running


Top of Hilltop in Kuebler


Ravine posts in Bird Hills

SOD: Jackson Scott -- The Awful Sound

I keep digging for info on this dude, but brass tacks is that Jackson Scott has a damn fine psych-pop tune in "That Awful Sound". I listened to this track 5x after the first play and kept discovering fresh bits that I liked about it: the practically implied drums, the MBV wash of electric guitar at 1:28, and the warbling pitch at 2:13 like the singer's about to go into a freak out but instead shuts the song down at a mere 2:26 of pop economy. More, Mr. Scott!



Monday, February 25, 2013

SOD: The Modern Lovers -- Roadrunner

The Modern Lovers, Pavement, Guided by Voices. I've only listened to them for the past three years, but I feel like I've known them since I was 14. If I could go back, I'd have discovered them earlier. Maybe I've invented the nostalgia, but I think that listening to bands from another era is about connecting with songs regardless of time.

Roadrunner plants itself in my head on many long runs, road, trail, and races of any kind. The lead singer, Jonathan Richman, sounds like he's walking a slack line, ready to unhinge from ordinary life at any moment, lose his shit, and start freaking out...if it weren't for pop music. He's so obviously in love with pop, rock, and music at large that it becomes his catharsis, his introspection, his dance all at once. The man can ride the slack.

Dang, I've fallen so in love with this song that I can't write about it. Jus' listen?



SOD: James Blake -- Retrograde

Speaking of meteors flying into the earth's atmosphere, enter the video for James Blake's gorgeous new single "Retrograde" off his soon to be released record, "Overgrown". In the video, a blazing light falls to earth  while a lone motorcyclist arrives at a house and discovers people frozen in time inside, as well as a woman giving signs before the meteor hits.

The images work because Blake's darkly somber voice often sounds like someone who floated off alone into space to write songs about his life on earth before plummeting back to pick up where he left off. And the chorus isn't far from those isolation themes: "I'll wait, so show me why you're strong. Ignore everybody else. We're alone now."

Nothing tops the lush keyboard build 3/4 of the way through the track, rises to near explosion, and then sighs away as you can finally let go of that breath you've been holding. 



Monday, February 18, 2013

SOD: Johnny Marr -- Upstarts

Johnny Marr is not a name I expected to see in music headlines in 2013. To be clear, I love The Smiths, and liked Marr's work with Modest Mouse and The Cribs. Yes, I'm a Johnny Marr fan. But he's never released anything as a front man, so I had low expectations for Marr's first solo record, "The Messenger", which is currently streaming free on Rolling Stone.

"The Right Thing Right" opens the record with a Brit-pop banger that's in line with Achtung-era U2 vocals and Oasis' unstoppable pop force. The song is a damn fine opener. The next two songs continue to push angular sonics with catchy hooks, and then comes "Upstarts".

"Upstarts" kicks hard with a signature Marr riff, followed by a brash vocal delivery that Nick Lowe would be proud of, singing "Ohhhh, I feel it comin' round / I heard it sounds the good life I know". The lyrics aren't quite up to the level of production or instrumental performance, but this is a guitar rock album first and foremost, and at that it succeeds. I'm surprised and excited to give "The Messenger" a lot more plays in coming weeks.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Race Report: Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50k


Hang out with ultrarunners for 30 minutes and you’ll probably realize that they are the worst (best) influences. Race names and distances get rattled off in casual conversation -- Western States, Hardrock, Pine to Palm, 31 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles -- as if they were the names of Grammy winners. This kind of chatter lights a fuse in the brain leading to a single thought, “must register for next ultra.”

As endurance fiends, speedsters, and purportedly reasonable people, Jon Clinthorne and Scott Breeden are, in fact, pro dealers. They sling endorphin like crack rock in Biggie’s day, and I find myself responding “gimme the loot!” when they bring up a race. So when these two started peddling the Louisville Lovin’ the Hills 50k to me, I knew I’d be buying.

The course was originally designed by ultrarunner, Eric Grossman, who must have sought out every quad crushing hill in 20 miles of Louisville for this course. LLTH has had some course changes since he left the race director position, but the race remains one of the most difficult and beautiful 50ks in the country.
5,500 feet of elevation gain





Our band of runners gathered in Louisville and enjoyed a pre-race meal at Za’s Pizza on Bardstown Rd, which is a great Louisville neighborhood for finding food, drinks, and shopping. I never feel more relaxed than when I’m with running friends, for the conversation is always good and spirits high. The Bell’s Hopslam they had on tap didn’t hurt either.

Morning of the race, after a geriatric breakfast -- Ensure, bowl of cereal, and greek yogurt -- I was ready to run. Packet pickup was right at the race start, making for a very low stress pre-race. I skipped around to warm up in the 30F temps and made a last minute shoe choice of Rogue Fly over Peregrines because the possible muddy conditions were actually frozen and firm. The race director, Cynthia Heady, shouted out directions from atop a picnic bench to the 250ish runners doing the three different races (6mi, 15mi, 50k), which all started at the same time. Becky was doing the 15mi, and Scott and I were doing the 50k.

Feeling skippy. Photo: Jon Clinthorne
Someone yelled GO and we ran down a wide gravel road, good for seeding yourself in the pack before hitting the single track. I hung back from Scott and the leaders and found good company with Becky for a few miles before she started absolutely crushing the steep switchback hills, and although I could sort of keep up with my power hike, she was flying on the flats too. Go Becky go! We ended up going back and forth and running together for a while with some runners who were up for some smiles and laughs.
L-R: Becky, Me, Jeff, Scott. Photo: Jon Clinthorne
I was glancing at bib numbers for 6/15/50k people, and some 15mi runners were passing me along with a couple 50kers on the flats but I reminded myself to keep it easy early on. There was plenty of race to catch them and I had my secret pow hike for the late climbs.

After a 6 mile loop, I came through the start/finish area and was greeted by hearty cheers from Alaina, Cody, Jon, and Hillary. Around the 10 mile mark I'd caught up to Becky who was climbing a hill behind another 15mi guy who was super happy and positive. I passed on the uphill and kept moving, passing some 50k guys on another uphill. I thought I was in 6th or 7th now and feeling really good. The pain was lurking, but quiet.
Finishing the first 6mi loop. Photo: Jon Clinthorne

Around a few more bends, I ran up to a couple 50k guys. I started talking with Jeff Yoder who turned out to be a friend of Scott's. We shared stories and he was awesome running company. Jeff remarked on staying on top of nutrition, so I downed a couple gels. I had 6 gels with me, 3 in my handheld bottle and 3 in my shorts. There are periods in every race when I fall behind on nutrition and these times rarely coincide with aid station locations.

After a road crossing we were climbing yet again and I started pulling away from Jeff. My legs were feeling really strong on the climbs and my power hike was groovin. I hit the ridge on the Siltstone trail and took in the beauty. The views on both sides of the ridge were awesome, the ground cascading away and the lumpy horizon visible through the naked trees. Long dry grasses grazed my calves and the wind rushed over them with a shhhhhhhhhhh. It seemed I was all alone up here.

Every time the course's relentless hills started chewing into my legs and lungs and I wanted to slow down, I thought to myself, 'what if this is the last race I ever get to do?' With Jon sidelined by injury for this race, that mantra kept me in the moment, focused on this incredible experience and how lucky I was to be here.

The trail pitched back down to Scott’s Gap aid station, so I refilled my bottle and started up a steep, washed out climb that began a 3ish mile loop. I caught a 50k guy that I hadn’t seen since the start. We wished each other good running and I tried to keep up the pace and create some distance. The vistas opened up and there was large rock underfoot, reminiscent of last year's Smoky Mountain run adventures.

Back at Scott's Gap aid, I started the out-n-back section where runners heading out would be passing. Runners were telling me "good job" and "nice work" and I returned the encouragement. The level of camaraderie out there was incredible. "2nd and 3rd are just ahead!" many shouted, so on top of Siltstone, I tried to keep up 8m/m pace on the flatter stuff and bomb down the descents.

I finally saw the 3rd place runner, Harvey Lewis, at the Welcome Center with a few miles to go. The closest I got was at an aid station, but then he took off up the hills and I was cramping in my quads, groin, and hamstrings. If I pushed any harder I risked cramping to the point of walking, so I kept running where I could, pow hiking the steep climbs, and running right on that razor's edge.

As I climbed another 200'+ hill at mile 30, my legs were collapsing, nails surging into my quads, and I was breathing like a horse. Harvey was out of sight around a few corners.  At the top of the hill, I saw the RD who said I had one1 mile to go. Ok, I'm sure that was the last hill. NOPE. The trail went down to the dam and then came the final pitch upward, a 230’ hill over the last ¼ mile. I could see Harvey again up the switchbacks, but he was too far to catch. So close!

So happy to be done! Photo: Clinthorne
I crossed the line in 4th place overall at 4:42 and gave Scott a slap and then got an awesome greeting from Alaina and Cody pup. I was totally spent and couldn’t believe my legs hadn’t seized up. I went into this race with a 50 mile race mentality because I knew how hard it would be, and this race lived up to its name and reputation.

LLTH is well organized, perfectly marked, and attracts incredible runners for competition. I’d definitely head down there again. The RD said Ultrarunning Magazine would be covering the race, so I hope this brings even more runners down to experience the beautiful and challenging trails.

Scott Breeden won the 50k, destroying the course record in 4:07. Jeff Yoder finished 7th overall in the 50k. Becky Boyle won the 15 mile race and also set a course record. Katie Yoder earned 3rd OA in the 6 mile race. Jonathan Clinthorne, Hillary Woodworth, Alaina Neary Case, and Cody kept everyone in high spirits all weekend. This was an incredibly fun experience that will keep me smiling for a long long time.

Me, Becky, Scott, Alaina, and Cody. Photo: Clinthorne

Thursday, February 14, 2013

SOD: The Knife -- Full of Fire / A Tooth for an Eye

The Knife, a Swedish electronic brother-sister duo, have three records under their belt: The Knife (2001), Deep Cuts (2003), and Silent Shout (2006). Now they're set to release Shaking the Habitual on April 9 in the US. The fact that this album is getting so much buzz is testimony to the band's stellar output thus far. Seven years between releases would be a death knell to lesser groups.

They've released the first single, "Full of Fire" with accompanying video, which I still have yet to figure out. The track is almost 10 minutes long and it's been tweaking out my running lately. 

The second single is "A Tooth for an Eye", a Caribbean infused, six minutes of head noddin' and groove locked pleasure. 

"Full of Fire":

"A Tooth for an Eye": 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

April is the Coolest Month

April is stacking up to be an incredible month of music and racing. Follow the links below to hear the tracks that have been released so far from these upcoming records.

Albums set for release in April (ranked by my giddy level):
4/2: Telekinesis -- Dormarion
4/22: Phoenix -- Bankrupt!
4/8: James Blake -- Overgrown
4/9: The Knife -- Shaking the Habitual
4/16: The Thermals -- Desperate Ground
4/2: Caveman -- Caveman
4/2: Flaming Lips -- The Terror
4/30: !!! -- Thr!!!er
4/15: Iron & Wine -- Ghost on Ghost

Races:
4/15 -- Boston Marathon

My first Boston Marathon! In 2010 I qualified at the Monumental Marathon with a 3:10, hoping to run Boston in 2011, but Monumental was a week after Boston unexpectedly filled just 8 hours after opening, so I was shut out. In 2011, they dropped the qualifying time to 3:05, so I ran the Chicago Marathon in October 2011 and qualified again, this time in 2:58. It's been a 2 year wait, but I'm finally going.

Hopkinton, Heartbreak Hill, Wellesley girls, Beardsley vs. Salazar, Boylston, I can't wait to run this legendary course.

4/27 -- Leona Divide 50 Miler

Mountain running! For which I'll be terribly under prepared but who gives a damn! It's going to be a blast. I mean, SoCal in spring, surrounded by top runners vying for Montrail Ultra Cup series points, hanging out with friends I haven't seen in far too long, man this race weekend is going to kick ass.

The course profile makes me want to puke with excitement. Five climbs between 500' - 2000' for a total vert gain of almost 9,000'. I can taste the lactic acid already.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

SOD: Youth Lagoon -- Dropla

"You'll never die / you'll never die..."

That's one helluva chorus to Dropla, the first single off Youth Lagoon's upcoming Wondrous Bughouse. I'm fascinated by the way the "you'll never die" line is repeated over and over and how it morphs into different meanings the longer you hear it, from a hopeful plea to a deflated dream and through other stages of disillusion. And then when singer Trevor Powers draws out "you weren't there...when I needed" during the buildup, man it just kills me.

Wondrous Bughouse lands March 5. If this first single is any indication, that record is going to be solid. Powers says he's “becoming more fascinated with the human psyche and where the spiritual meets the physical world.” I hope he means the record will have more songs like Dropla.

Hopefully they will tour around here. I caught them at Pitchfork Music Fest in July 2012 (video from the festival below), and they have a very strong live show. Powers' voice carries extremely well live, and the band is tight. 






Monday, January 28, 2013

SOD: Dan Deacon -- True Thrush

It's gotten very cold the past few weeks in Michigan. Wind chills in the negatives, plenty of snow, tough running conditions. I had plans to run 100+ miles per week the last two weeks but conditions limited my mileage. 3 hours running would normally garner 22+ miles, but with all the sliding around, I was only getting a fraction of the mileage for the time. 

Mostly it's been fun. Snow is soft when there is good footing, so the downhills are great to blast down. Hardly anyone else is out there, so you have fresh powder to track. I saw a fox in The Arb and deer in Cedar Bend, just me and the forest creatures. The snow dampens all other sounds, so you seem to have the world in your hands out there. But it's tough to keep going. So I've turned to new music to keep me motivated through the 2+ hour runs. 

Along the way, I've discovered Dan Deacon's LP 'America'. Electronic music, not dance necessarily, but with a range of influences and interests, from Philip Glass to Can. I happen to love both ends of this spectrum, so I totally dig his music. It takes on a language and soundtrack that perfectly matches the long, snowy runs that are so much enveloped in your head and at the same time connected with the harsh world around you.


Monday, January 21, 2013

SOD: Ty Segall -- Thank God For Sinners

Thank god that garage rock still exists and is still this good. Ty Segall is playing the local Ann Arbor dive bar/music venue, the Blind Pig, on 3/7, and I can't wait to drop into that crowd, throw some elbows around, toss our fists in the air, and jump around until we're senseless while this band churns out loud guitar music.

Segall's music output over the last 5 years is overwhelming. He releases at least two albums a year, so it's hard to know where to start. This song is off Twins (2012), and is probably the best door to his expansive house of music.

The NSFW video gives me the oogy feelings all over and the end is satisfyingly disgusting.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SOD: Telekinesis -- Ghosts and Creatures

The new Telekinesis album, Dormarion, will come out in a few months (March?), and if this lead single, "Ghosts and Creatures", is any indication of its direction, this album is going to be a welcome shift in sound for Telekinesis. 

Michael Lerner, who is the man behind Telekinesis, has written dozens of tunes that can be described as pure pop goodness on previous releases, but this song is much darker, almost suffocatingly so. The keys at one end sear and the other end rattle and buzz, pulling the song apart and driving its satisfying resolution.

The lyrics float over the top, so you only pick up on some of the striking images: a ship on a lonely sea, something being electrified, another thing being cut down. It's not clear exactly what he's talking about, but the song carries a very strong sense of longing and desperation. Which always makes for a great pop song.




3/19/13 Update. Telekinesis released this brilliant video for the song, wherein Lerner falls in love with a girl stuck inside an old computer.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Race Report: Yankee Springs 50k Trail Run

How could a race plan this good possibly go wrong? It's like going to the thrift store for an '80s theme party costume. Shoo-in.

Step 1 - Rent heated cabin at race site for the weekend with running friends.
Step 2 - Run a 50k trail race
Step 3 - Celebrate with food, bonfire, and booze.
Step 4 - Run more trail the next day and invite Cody pup along this time.

It's bulletproof. Even if the rustic cabin that sleeps five is 10' x 20' and the beds sink like hammocks. Even if the temps are in the 20s. You're with good people who like to run! Boom, win.

Putting the rustic in cabin life
Tim, Julie, and Jon arrived Friday night and set up gear in the cabin. Jon and I enjoyed some pre-race drinks, and then headed out with Cody into the night to test our shoes on the trails. Discovery: the trails were hard packed with runnable snow, so no yaktrax on the Peregrines. Tomorrow would be a fast day.

Admission: I hate race morning until the start gun goes off. But here, waking up an hour and a half before the 9am start, rolling out of bed, and knowing the start is only 1/8 mile away is fantastic. Total stress killer. We headed to the start 20 minutes before the gun, met up with a crew of BTers -- the fantastic Kimm, Kathleen, and Dave -- and then some people I'd never met IRL and tried to warm up the sticks with some butt kicker drills.

The RD yelled "GO" and we took off. Jon and I were among the lead pack until the first trail crossing where someone yelled "wrong way!" and we all tried to turn back, but I was on ice, so I slipped and hit the deck. Ok, nothing hurts, keep running. Jon took the lead up the first hill, and I followed. We were moving very quickly. 7:00/mi on the downhills and only a little slower on the up. I knew it was too fast, but I was so relaxed, breathing felt great and so did my legs.

After a mile, the snow-covered gravel road hit the single track, so there was plenty of space early race to seed ourselves. Jon pulled away after a few miles and I convinced myself that I needed to run my own race and slow down to a pace that I actually had a snowball's chance in hell of holding. After a few more miles, a guy passed me like Hermes (swear he had winged feet) and took off after Jon, seeing that I wasn't interested in keeping contact with the leader.

Smooth, hardpacked snow, just a little icy:
Photo Credit: Ben VanHoose
A few miles later I glanced back down the trail to see who else is holding steady at 7:15/mi average pace. Only one guy back there in blue, so it looked like we'd be duelling it out for 3rd and 4th. Aight, keep the effort easy, breathe, talk to this guy, maybe make a friend. Turns out, dude in blue -- Noah -- is running the 25k! Hooray! I told him that was the best news I'd heard all day.

He was great company, so we chatted for a while about trail racing and miles clicked by super fast. The pace slowed since we were in the hilly back half of the 25k loop. I was almost to the 13 mile point when we hit this section with switchbacks and I could see other runners. Oh damn, time to kick it up. I pulled away from Noah and ran solo the rest of the race.

Me and Noah past 6mi aid station manned by Ben VanHoose:
Photo Credit: Ben VanHoose
Came into the start/finish mile 15.5 at 1:54. On pace for a sub-3:50. Hmmm, that's a lot fast. I swapped out my one just-finished bottle at the drop bag area, though I should've had a separate handheld with full bottle ready. I fumbled and lost 30 seconds getting the new bottle into my handheld with popsicle fingers.

I decided early-race to keep 10 mile splits on the Garmin. It seemed like a manageable distance to attack mentally. First 10 miles I was doing great, and by the next 10 miles I'd only slowed 5 seconds per minute per mile. I'm definitely bleeding pace, but it's not a hemorrhage. Put a tourniquet on that shit and let's start racing.

Photo Credit: Ryan Heidenfeld
At mile 21 I hit Ben's aid station and was feeling pretty dehydrated. I couldn't decide whether I needed my bottle filled, the thoughts wouldn't congeal, so obviously I really needed water. Took down some coke and gatorade and left with a full bottle and promised myself I'd drink often and finish that bottle. Ben said I was 4 minutes behind Jon. Didn't mention the other guy. I thanked him and pressed on.

The mileage and time were going by really slowly now. I was trapped in my brain with hurting legs, elevated heart rate, and no distraction. I wanted my ipod so bad right now! Why didn't I bring it?! Don't panic, just keep thinking, 'less than 8 miles, just one Huron River loop. You've done this a million times. You're not 23 miles into a race, you're on Huron parkway, running downhill on your favorite stretch of road.' It was a band aid. And the blood was starting to seep through.

A couple that was hiking the trail told me I was in 2nd place. Wha?! What happened to the two in front? That definitely lifted my spirits, but I know you can never trust what people tell you out there. Hang on, keep pushing it. I wondered for a spell whether this much pain was actually healthy for a person. I sang Kishi Bashi's "Bright Whites". Nothing helped. I was in the pain cave.

I wanted to throw my Garmin into the woods so I'd stop looking at it and seeing the pace shuffle backwards.  Less than 3 miles to go. Where was the surge of energy I'd stashed in my tights? Spent it long ago. Thought I was running on credit, but I always pay cash on the trail. And the green was gone.

The last mile, with its final, sinister little pitch upward, didn't give me any energy either. My legs were done, my bottle empty and gels kicked. I left everything I brought to this race out on the course. As I crossed the finish I shouted, 'Am I done?' I was half serious, half not so with it. I collapsed with hands on knees, awash with happiness and pain. I saw Jon and congratulated him on the win -- and the course record!

I got 2nd place overall! How did that happen?! And a 24 minute PR with a 3:50, just 30 seconds shy of going under the course record. That's 7:25/mi average...where in the hell did that come from?!

Neither Jon nor I knew what happened to the other guy who had taken off ahead of Jon on the first loop. Several minutes later the front runner in question, Jordan Lafreniere, came through and told us he got lost and couldn't get back. Damn, that sucks.

I picked out a sweet Montrail toque as my prize and snow globe award then headed to the cabin for warm dry clothes, celebratory whisky + beer + food. We cheered runners as they came through the cabin campground and told race and running stories. This is what it's all about. The hard work is over, the proof is in the pain, and now we celebrate.

Tim came through the camp with a strong finishing kick and we gave him hearty cheers. Then it was off to the finish to catch Alaina. She was beautiful. Just finished her first ultra. So happy for her!

Alaina on course in her first ultra:
Photo Credit: Ryan Heidenfeld
We all went to the main cabin lodge for delicious chili and two roaring fireplaces for more running stories, joined by Dave Potter and then Ben. Lots of stories and ultra talk. Man, I love this scene.

As the light faded, we moved to the outdoor bonfire pit, roasting food, celebrating with drinks and talking to cabin neighbors. Yep, this camaraderie keeps me racing.

We capped off the weekend with a 10 mile out-n-back the next day with Alaina, Jon, and Cody on the gorgeous, hilly back half of the course, going easy and stopping to enjoy the views we'd missed during the race. A fresh covering of snow was a nice treat too.

I highly recommend the Yankee Springs races. They're well organized, the events start on time, it's a fast course with some hills, and you're on awesome trails with a mix of pines and old growth hardwoods, and almost all of the course is single track. I'd definitely race here again.

Happy Running!
Jon, Me, Cody, and Alaina after our tenner

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

SOD: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis -- Thrift Shop

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's 2012 record, The Heist, has been on heavy rotation in my ears for the past month, and the horn jam, Thrift Shop, has been blasted early and often. 

And the video is hilarious. It's the first video I've seen in many years that's actually as good as the song. I laugh my ass off every time I see Macklemore in the thrift shop jumping from beat up couch to couch wearing a fluffy long coat.  In slow motion. 

The rap duo is on fire right now. They've been selling out shows for months, both US and in abroad (dang, I missed them at St. Andrews in Detroit). The Heist has sold 200,000+ copies. Damn good sales for today.

I love the horns on this song, and the dopey "what what?" at the opening over tinny casiotone sounds makes the actual beat and horn line drop in heavy and sound crazy. I probably wouldn't listen to a whole record of Thrift Shop type songs, but the record has sober, introspective moments as well, making this song all about the fun.

Fun times:
Your grammy, your aunty, your momma, your mammy
I’ll take those flannel zebra jammies, second-hand, I rock that motherfucker
The built-in onesie with the socks on that motherfucker