Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cajun Coyote, Thunderbird Moonlight 10km, and a Year's Journey

It is crazy to think that it has been a whole year since I started sharing my running journey on this blog. If I were to measure the success of this year based on racing performances and on miles covered it would be a disappointment; however, this year has meant so much more. Despite injuries, emotional stress, and setbacks with many months devoid of running, I've made countless friendships, discovered a love of rock climbing, and learned more about myself than in my previous twenty-seven years of existence. The love and support I receive from everyone (from my running and climbing friends and those friends that do neither) means more to me than any race result. This year has taught me, that the relationships we have with others and the impacts they create are one of the most beautiful things in life, to be cherished, developed, and never forgotten.

I have also learned quite a bit about running as well, just when you think you have it figured out, you get put in your place. This year's plan was to emerge as a potential threat on the national trail scene; however, this didn't happen. It is hard to maintain such rigorous training and racing when you aren't taking care of your body and the daily habits outside of running are nearly as important as the act itself. Often over-looked important aspects of my training are patience and recovery. I was never patient with my body thus it was never allowed to make physiological adaptations to the stress before I piled more on. I focused primarily on my cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, and lactic acid removal, when equal focus should have been given to bone density, muscular imbalances, and diet. For instance, putting a corvette engine in a go-cart frame isn't a good idea, it won't be long before the torque from the engine twists and destroys the frame. Recovery is another matter, many of you know that I run hard and climb hard all the time. Recovery is equally important as training itself, and you can only train as hard as you can recover.

This year I was not able to race Cajun Coyote. Back in May, one of my biggest goals was to break the two hour mark for the twenty-miler at Cajun. That is still a barrier that will have to stand for a while longer, but I definitely think it is breakable. However, I did have the amazing opportunity to help support others and watch them achieve their goals. I can't understand what compels someone to run 100 miles. The beauty of this race and I guess for any hundred miler is witnessing people go out and run 100 miles based on some unique compulsion. Every year, I stick around near the finish line to see the runners fight the fatigue and pain to make the thirty-hour cutoff time. It is truly inspiring. Congratulations to you all and thank you for inspiring me! It is quite amazing to see what the human will is really capable of.

A week later, I found myself very unprepared but lining up for the start of the Thunderbird Moonlight 10km, the final stop on the Forge Trail Series. Every since I learned of the Forge Series I knew participation was an absolute must. I was very under trained and exceptionally nervous but I had to win in order to win the series. With it being my home trail and at night I stood a very good chance of doing that. At the start a group of us sprinted hard for the hole-shot, my goal was to be the first into the trail to control the race. I achieved this but paid a price for going out so fast. I kept the pace hot for a while to thin the pack out, eventually two people hung on. We dropped third place once it started getting hilly as we were climbing smoothly and quickly. The Fitz, who was in second was pushing me a lot harder than I wanted to be pushed and I was very close to putting it on damage control thus finishing second to tie him in the series. When we hit the second section of the trail, which has more hills and technical track, he rolled an ankle. He was still maintaining but I was waiting for my break. Eventually, that break came when he did it a second time (sorry Fitz, but I wasn't going to stop for you), I took that opportunity to really pour some speed into it and opened up a small gap. From here the goal was simple, just put some distance and hills between us. This worked and I held on for the win and took home the series. What a day that was! I took my last final as an undergraduate, won my last race of the year and the Forge Series! Jeff Beck, you do an excellent job with the series and I love how Forge has created a strong trail running community! Without Forge I wouldn't have an outlet for my competitiveness. In the end, it has been a very exciting year given all that has occurred, but I'm looking forward to the future with anticipation. I'm excited about the possibility of living, running, and climbing in a new place. I'm not sure how much racing will happen next year but I'll certainly be running. I don't know how many of you actually read my posts but I want to thank you all for taking the time to do so and again thank you for all the support and love y'all have shown me, it has been an honor!

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing it must out run the fastest lion in order to survive. Every morning a lion wakes up knowing it must out run the slowest gazelle in order to eat. It doesn't matter whether you are a gazelle or a lion...when the sun comes up you had better be running."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fall Breakthrough

Well, it has been quite sometime since my last post; unfortunately, there is a very legitimate reason for that, which is lack of running. It is hard to write about running when you aren't doing it. Such an unfortunate dilemma. However, things are looking up. Last month, I managed to run a full beast loop every Saturday, a weekly event cherished like no other. This thanksgiving week was my second week to run multiple times in one week. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I run twenty to thirty minutes, then do barefoot strides and form work on the soccer fields. Last weekend, I had a breakthrough run, one of those rare moments where every step feels as effortless as the last. What some call a "flow state," where body and mind are united as one and anything can be accomplished. These moments are rare in sports, especially rare in running. In heavy training periods, I might experience this state once every fourteen runs, the other thirteen runs are usually just miserable. That weekend I managed to glide through a very fast time for a full beast loop. It felt great, a sensation that has long been missed. Personally, there is no better feeling than flying through the forest under my own power feeling smooth and strong and swift as a deer (an animal that I have great respect for, as I have tried to run one down many of times). It is also a good feeling to know that despite all the time off, I haven't lost much in terms of fitness. Being that it was Thanksgiving week, I felt the need to express all that I'm thankful for. We are all blessed and very fortunate to have bodies that allow us to pursue these activities that we are so endeared to. We are also very fortunate to live in a country where we have the security of pursuing our passions. No matter how grim your situation may be, it can be worse. Be thankful for what you have and don't stress over the things you can't control! Hopefully, I'll see everyone at Cajun Coyote (won't be racing) and Thunderbird (will be racing, night race)! Be thankful and happy trails!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 WFHS XC High Altitude Trip

At the end of July, nearly every summer for the past ten years, my former high school cross country team makes a trip to Colorado for some high altitude training. The trip is designed to award those runners who have been training with the team all summer and to foster some team bonding. This year would mark my seventh trip, three as a high school student and four as a chaperon/driver. When I'm healthy and running, my job is to make sure nobody is injured and everyone is accounted for on the trails; however, being laid up with a injury would mean little running and more administrative duties. The following is a recap of the trip.

Friday (08/25):
Departed St.Francisville at four pm.

Saturday (08/26):
Finally just before lunch we make our first stop at Capulin Volcano in New Mexico roughly an hour outside Raton, NM. Capulin is a magnificent spectacle as the dormant volcano rises sharply out of the fairly flat plains and steppes. This is the first run of the trip and is always a shocker. The young kids with their springy legs just take off without a problem after riding in a van for nearly twenty hours. I decided a slow thorough warm up was needed after driving so much and would catch up with them on the trail. The 1.2 mile paved trail navigates the rim of the volcano before dropping steeply down to the crater epicenter. The dry and thin air is always a shock, hurting my tongue and throat, forcing me to spit every few seconds. After running and stopping for lunch in Raton, we continue driving to Meuller State Park outside of Divide, CO. We arrive at our campsite later that evening and begin unloading and settling in. We spend the whole week camping at Meuller, with Pikes Peak ever looming in the background. Our site is at 9,000 ft elevation and the park boasts over fifty-five miles of back country gravel roads and single-track trails.

Capulin Volcano, Crater Rim Trail.

Capulin Volcano, Crater Rim Trail.

View of Pikes Peak from our campsite, this would be one the last times we would see the peak all week because of cloud cover. 

Sunday (08/27):
Today is the first real day of running for the kids. The morning starts off with a brutal run known as Rock Pond Trail. The trail drops steadily for the first two and a half miles till you reach rock pond at the bottom. Then, you turn around and run back up. The kids really killed this run, I was impressed with how quickly everyone finished. My run consisted of running sixteen minutes down and covering the return in fifteen. The rest of the day was a pretty chill day, which everyone needed, especially the drivers. Later that afternoon the kids went out for a thirty minute run by the campsite before the afternoon showers hit.

Sunrise over Pikes from an early morning hike.

Sunrise over Pikes.

I usually spot a herd of elk in this field every year, but no elk this year.

Monday (08/28):
This morning we headed to Eleven Mile Canyon, which is the only flat run of the week. The South Platte river carved Eleven Mile Canyon out of the mountains during the last ice age. The area is absolutely amazing with steep canyon walls lining the sides of the gravel road and river. The river is a gem, having gold medal trout fishing and is home to some of the best sport climbing and bouldering opportunities in the state. Our top runners had an hour run to finish, while the rest went for forty minutes. I joined the top guys till close to twenty minutes then turned around. Previous years, I spent my free time here fishing, very unsuccessfully, this year I decided to boulder instead. I packed some shoes and a crash pad, and enjoyed a few problems. The last problem I found was pretty nice involving two strong and complex moves in succession. I also taught some of the kids how to boulder and enjoyed watching them figure out the route. After bouldering, we had lunch by the river then found a nice swimming hole with a rock to jump from, this would constitute my first shower of the trip. From there we loaded up and headed into Colorado Springs to visit the Air Force Academy. One of our former runners just completed his freshman year at the Academy and gave us a tour. Once back at the camp, the kids had another thirty minute easy run before the rain worsened.

Forgot to take pictures while running, so this will have to do.

Tuesday (08/29):
Today's schedule was going to be a tough one. Yesterday afternoon we were supposed to run up the nearby Raspberry Mt; however, afternoon showers made the run too dangerous. Raspberry Mt is a tough run consisting of three uphill miles to the summit with a vertical gain of 600ft per mile. Once at the top, the views of the surrounding area are beautiful. I chose not to run Raspberry as we were running one of my favorite trails later that afternoon. Instead, I gathered up my climbing gear and hiked almost to the summit only to have enough time to climb one rock before needing to return. It was a nice easy crack that ran up almost 15-16ft. I had a little time to sit on top and soak in the view before heading back down. Once down, we headed into Colorado Springs for a trip to the Olympic Training Center. After the tour there, we went to Palmer Park in town for our evening run before heading to a minor league baseball game. Palmer Park is one of my favorite places to run because of the terrain. It is very similar to running the red rock out in Moab. Its comprised mostly of sandstone formations and the trails are very technical. I love flying along the technical rocky terrain, taking wild risks and lines between rocks. It almost feels more like an interpretive dance than actually running. Once alone, I zone out and imagine that I'm an ancient Indian messenger covering the ground as fleet of foot as possible. Palmer Park never fails to disappoint on the fun meter either. Last visit, a few of us thought the trail was so good that we shouldn't turn around at fifteen minutes and continued to run for well over an hour nearly getting lost in a thunderstorm. That year we also met a mountain biker in the parking lot who was on planet marijuana and thought it was "totally rad" (best completely stoned surfer accent you can think of) that we were about to trail run out there. This year right in the beginning of the trail I made a wrong turn and see a shirtless guy standing behind a girl whose head is only visible because of a large rock. Well, I continue to run until catching up with all the kids who are stopped on a large rock outcrop. Mind you they are all incoming freshman, I notice plenty of red faces, lots of giggles, and they keep asking me how the view is. I couldn't understand what was so funny until one of the older chaperons says, "Shane, two people are f------ over there!" Sure enough, that couple I passed earlier is completely nude getting it on, full on legs in the air up over the guys' head getting it on and not the people you want to see naked, trust me. I think this made the highlight of the trip for the kids until we arrived at the baseball game. One of the promoters at the game is going around asking for people to sing in front of everyone, of course all the kids are going nuts and one of our guys gets selected to sing a Justin Beiber song. It was by far the worst singing I have ever heard but at least it made the crowd go nuts. The game never started because of the rain and we barely made it back to camp because of flash flooding.

Templeton Trail, Palmer Park, Colorado Springs

On top of the mesa at Palmer Park, Colorado Springs

Templeton Trail, Palmer Park, Colorado Springs

Wednesday (08/30):
This morning's run took place at Rampart Reservoir for our long run and last official run of the trip. Last trip (two years ago), we were unable to run Rampart as a large part of it was burned in a forest fire. The whole trail around the lake is sixteen miles and offers beautiful views of the lake with gently undulating terrain. The trail starts off winding through fur and spruce forests then opens up into once aspen covered meadows. There was something about the place that resonated with me, despite seeing charred trees everywhere the lush under growth of the aspen meadows were full of blooming wildflowers and young trees demonstrating the ability of nature to survive hardship and flourish, much like an injured runner in time you will flourish again.  Eventually the trail reached a creek that flowed into the reservoir and after following this trail for sometime, it was time to head home to get warm and dry before the rain really picked up. That afternoon we had a tour of Peterson AFB and checked out the museum there.

Wildflowers on the trail.

Burnt trees but fresh undergrowth. 
Trail at Rampart Reservoir

A side trail following the stream at Rampart Reservoir.

Rampart Reservoir.

Thursday (08/31):
Today was a guided whitewater trip with Arkansas Valley Adventures. One of our former runners and trip members loved it here in Buena Vista so much, that after graduation he moved out here and became a river guide. Thus, we typically use his company even though he no longer works for them. In years past, we do the Pine Creek/Numbers run or the Royal Gorge but with a much younger group, we decided to do Browns Canyon. Browns Canyon is a great intro to rafting because you only do a few Class III rapids, so it is great for families with young kids. After a full day of being on the water we went back to camp to pack up all non-essential items to be ready to leave for Pikes Peak in the early morning.

Friday (09/01):
Everyone was up at 4:40 am and breaking down tents, loading up the trailer and vehicles, and getting breakfast. By 7:00 am we had the kids at the Barr Trail trail-head and heading up the mountain. Unfortunately, with all the terrible rain we've had on the trip we knew the conditions above treeline weren't going to be good, so they would only be running to the Barr Camp (halfway up) this year. After dropping the kids off, I found a place to park the truck and went looking for a real breakfast and bathroom. We stopped at Good Karma coffee shop and had some delicious coffee and breakfast. After poking my head around in Manitou Springs, I decided to seriously consider some relocation possibilities in the near future. I loved the quaint little town which is similar to Asheville, NC but much smaller, more like St. Francisville. Its also similar to Asheville, as the town has your typically dirty hippies living in the park and your abundance of hipsters, but with Barr Trail and Manitou Incline within walking distance, I think I can deal with hippies and hipsters. After picking the kids up three hours later, we loaded up in the vehicles and headed for the summit. Above treeline conditions quickly worsened and soon became white-out conditions. On our way down visibility was about ten feet in front of the car and we were dealing with a wintry mix of sleet and rain. Finally, the kids understood why we didn't want them summiting in this weather. After reaching the bottom we picked up the trailer and started the drive home, reaching St.Francisville Saturday afternoon.

Sunrise as we headed for Pikes Peak on Friday Morning.
Overall, I thought the trip was an incredible success despite dealing with rain every day and having a few days of non-stop rain all day. I was also happy with how much my legs let me run and incredibly proud of how well the youngsters ran during the week. If you have never been to the area, it should be on your running bucket list, especially Barr Trail as I personally believe it is one of the best and most beautiful trails in the country. If you want to see more pictures, particularly of Barr Trail and Pikes Peak summit, check out one of my Facebook albums from previous trips.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Struggling for Balance

                I have decided to back out of the US Mountain Running Team Qualifiers this year. It was a tough decision to accept but one that must be done. For those that don’t know, I’m chasing my dreams and one of those is making the US Mountain Running Team and representing my country. The first half of this year has been challenging both mentally and physically for me. Balancing training, injuries, school, work, and family issues, I’ve been left stressed and exhausted, feeling as if I’m hanging on a weak branch above turbid waters. Despite all the setbacks, I’ve still managed to get some mediocre training in and keep my win streak alive. Since Hell’s Hills, I have only run two miles. Instead, I have been spending a lot of time pool running, swimming, and biking; accumulating around six hours of cardiovascular exercise and two to three hours of core, strength, and balancing workouts each week to maintain fitness. I’ve also noticed a change in my mental attitude towards running. I firmly believe that if something is worth doing it is worth doing correctly and giving it everything you have. However, you must find a healthy balance so that you can enjoy life, and this is where I tend to struggle. I love running, training, racing fast and hard, but more often than not I allow it to consume every aspect of my life. This leads to me missing out on many things and strains my relationships with others. Around this time last year I embarked on a journey, to see how far and fast my legs could take me. While, I have many goals associated with this journey, I must learn that these goals are not the important part but that the journey itself is what will truly be remembered and failing to do so by focusing solely on race times and finishes will ultimately leave me hollow and regretful.

                So, why have I been taking time off? For the past two years, I have been plagued with shin pain only on my right leg. For the longest time I suspected the causes to be poor form and biomechanics, over-training, lack of rest, and poor shoe choices. However, I have recently become more aware of what I do outside of running and training. I have noticed poor posture, too much sitting, and leg pain while driving. On my daily commute to Baton Rouge, I finally realized how much strain driving was putting on my right shin. For the past few months it has especially hurt when driving, so I decided to do a little research. Turns out I’m not the only person with this problem as driving for prolonged periods of time (my commute is approximately two hours daily, minimum of five times a week) can cause enough pressure to separate your shin muscles from the bone thus causing shin splints. Now, I’m not saying this is the total cause but I believe that in combination with excessive training my leg has just never been able to recover. If it were my shoes or excessive mileage I should experience pain in both legs but in the past two years regardless of weekly mileage or shoe type, I have never experienced any pain in my left shin. Another reason is that in the past three weeks of no running, I should expect to see improvement in the injured area, but unfortunately my shin hasn’t improved; fortunately, the tender spots on my tibia bone have disappeared completely. The reason I decided to forgo USMRT this year was primarily because I felt this injury was preventing me from running the weekly mileage I felt necessary to compete at a top level. Each month, I have had to spend three weeks running low mileage with pool workouts in place of tough interval sessions in order to get one decent week of training in.

                So where is my running future heading now? As mentioned earlier, my views towards training are beginning to change. I have realized over these few weeks that there is more to life than being able to run really fast or far but instead focusing on overall athleticism. I’d like to be able to swim, climb, bike, paddle, and run as long as I would like any given day. Ultimately, my journey is about adventure, but why limit my adventures to just running when I can experience so much more that life and nature has to offer. Realizing this, I now understand that I’m not just in love with running but with movement and this can be expressed just as beautifully by more than just running. I got hooked on running because it is the simplest and most liberating of all forms of movement requiring little to no gear. I will still keep running as the primary focus but will also train for overall athleticism so that when any chance arises to go on an adventure I will be able to thoroughly enjoy it by moving to the best of my abilities and perhaps pushing my limits. While, I still have some fast running time goals I would like to achieve, I’m currently feeling the urge to start running more ultra-distances. I will never give up running because I love it and it makes me a better person. I must focus on finding a healthy balance though so I can enjoy more of what life has to offer. In the end, just enjoy your ability to be able to move, many don't have or lost that ability, so cherish it!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

2014 Forge Racing Hell's Hills 10km Race Report

After returning from northeast Tennessee on Tuesday, I decided to take it easy this week because of my long stint in the mountains and to taper for Hell's Hills in case of some stiff competition showing up. Unfortunately, my legs were pretty beat up from the mountains with tender spots reappearing on my tibia. Fortunately, I rarely feel pain when running; it is just tender to the touch can cause some pain when pushed and at rest. My main concern is that it could develop into a full blown stress fracture. This situation has been plaguing me for some time and is now the primary cause of my insufficient training. I've been running consistently but not training consistently. I think its due to a number of reasons. First, not taking enough time off after Thunderbird to allow my body to heal. This is difficult to do in Louisiana because most places are experiencing a brutal winter filled with snow in December but here it is the best time of the year to be running. Conversely, the summer would be best to take off here but everywhere else it is prime racing time. In the future, I plan to pick up an activity like cross-country skiing or maybe just get on an elliptical for a month to get some adequate cardio in without the impact of running. Secondly, I pushed it too hard last week. Forty-five miles in a week might not sound like a lot but doing it in the span of five days and in the mountains was just too much. After coming off a very solid fifty mile week, I should have ran only 35 miles, but every time I'm in the mountains I just want to tear it up! Mountain miles are much more difficult because it is either up or down the whole time and the long descents are really what hurts my legs.

With all that being said, I traveled to Ruston on Friday feeling very un-confident but knowing I was in the best shape I could be in given the circumstances. I stopped at FitRight Active in Monroe, LA, on the way to use my gift certificate from winning the half marathon last year. I managed to upgrade my watch which was still in use thanks to Maureen's ingenious use of hairbands. I picked up a basic Soleus watch, which has six timers so I can really customize my fartlek workouts now. I arrived around three that afternoon and the anticipation was starting to build. I really love Forge Races for a number of reasons and feel honored to be sponsored by Forge. Jeff and Brenton do a great job of exposing people to different trails all over the state and some surrounding regions. For instance, I would have never known about the Lincoln Parish trails, Homochito, and Chicot State park without them. They do a great job of incorporating the whole state in the Forge Trail Racing Series. Another reason and possibly the best is the camaraderie, everyone treats you like family. It is great for me because I don't always get to attend the weekly Ales and Trails because of my training schedule so it is very awesome to see everyone and hangout before and after the races. I also spend the vast majority of my time and runs by myself, so when I get to see friends I don't stop talking sometimes. After the rain temporarily subsided we all helped Jeff setup the start/finish chute before the rain picked up again. It was a fun night because everyone decided to sleep inside the building that was being used for race registration and merchandising, etc. due to the rain. So the camaraderie was high, as if we were at an adult summer camp. Also, this race has special meaning for due to a few reasons. Last year, I won the half marathon here and it was my first official and out-right win since my senior year of high school. Secondly, the trails are just amazing. This race is an actual trail race with the vast majority of the race being on technical, hilly, but fast single track trail that is designed and maintained immaculately.

Finally, the rain lifted just before the race on Saturday morning leaving a light mist in the air and cooler temperatures; unfortunately, it made things very muggy even though the sun wasn't beating down on us. Even without sun, the ability for your sweat to evaporate is still poor so your body is just as likely to overheat. The trails were still in decent shape despite all the rain but were slick and soft in some spots. I went out a little quick to put a comfortable amount of space between myself and the chase pack. The good thing about Lincoln Parish trails are that they double back over themselves in a few spots so you are able to get a look at your competition and get an idea of where they are in relation to you. I was able to quickly establish a good lead and forced myself to leave it on cruise control but still maintain a focused pace forcing anybody to work really hard to catch up to me. I planned to burn it down around 25-30 minutes in but decided it was unnecessary today. I ran very controlled and relaxed while cruising through the course. If anybody decided to chase me down, I planned to drop the hammer and really make them hurt. However, nobody ever caught up and my lead continued to grow. I was really hoping for a very hard and fast effort but overall was happy to finish up without any injuries or unnecessary stress. I was also very happy with my time considering I didn't put in maximal effort. So, this race was good for building some confidence and making me realize that despite the setbacks, I'm in better shape than I thought. I raced in Scott Sports Trail Rockets which is basically a racing flat with serious grip for the trails. They performed incredibly well, not once did I slip or lose any traction on any part of the course, which considering the conditions was pretty good. Another great thing about Forge Races are the post-race activities. While, I'm not the biggest beer drinker, mostly because I get white-girl wasted after one beer, they have some of the best craft beer brewed by Brenton Day, Kyle Cassidy, and Bobby Love at every race! Also we had some delicious jambalaya made by JP! Plus, there are great prizes if you place and great raffles in case you don't. I got another gift certificate to FitRight Active. When I returned on my way home today to get some new socks for Maureen, the guy working there was laughing because Friday I half jokingly told him I might be back with another one. All in all Forge Racing failed to disappoint, their races are incredible and I feel lucky to be a part of the team. Thanks guys and keep doing what you do! I also want to thank everyone that helped make this weekend such a great experience! If you have never done a Forge Race definitely make it a priority to try one, you won't be disappointed!

Snuggling with unicorns is what makes you fast. Photo: Kyle Cassidy
At least he won't have to worry about wild animals getting him. 
The start. Photo: Jeff Beck

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another Week in the Mountains

Since the knee injury it has been tough getting in both quality and quantity mileage. The previous weeks left me with sore shins and tender spots that left me worrying about possible stress fractures. So, I started taking it easy on the workouts by not running as hard and doing at least one intense workout a week in the pool to minimize the pounding stress. However, the week before last was a major breakthrough because I was able to get in two solid workouts and 50 miles on the week. This week, I'm heading back to the mountains in TN to spend the week with Maureen.

Sunday (5/18): Day off. Traveling to TN.
Monday (5/19): 9 miles.
In the morning, I took Maureen up to Carver's Gap on Roan Mt. We did some hiking mixed with running when she could handle it. The elevation was a little much for her because she was still recovering from being sick for a week. However, we still managed to get in two miles. That evening I headed to Buffalo Mountain Park, which is a very short drive (maybe five minutes) from her apartment. Buffalo is really nice because it offers technical single track with eight miles of trails and other secrets waiting to be found. I have been finding it difficult to learn the trails here. At home we basically have the option of choosing between three trails in the Baton Rouge Area, then each trail is basically a loop. Here, it is very different. Every place is comprised of tons of small sections of trail that you have to learn to link together to achieve your desired distance for the day. I take the approach of just running without planning or carrying a map. I like it better this way for a few reasons, you never know what you are getting into or how long it will take and if you get lost, just turn around. There is something about this approach that leaves you on edge the whole time and keeps your nerves firing. Sometimes, a trail run like this turns into a microcosm of real life, you feel like your flying out of control in some places, and other times you feel as if you are slowly sinking in mud. Just like real life you never know when these times will occur or how long they will last, but just like the run, you have to push through.
Tuesday (5/20): 10 miles.
I returned to Buffalo Mountain in order to thoroughly learn the trail system. This day I ran all the trails and then some. After running uphill for a mile, I was able to experience a beautiful view from White Rock (picture below). The highest point on the trail system is only 3300', but it is definitely enough for a flat-lander like myself. Between today and yesterday, I learned my technical downhill running needs work. So, I focused on running the downhills confidently and fast and working the switchbacks hard to make sure I was moving through them as quickly as possible.
Wednesday (5/21): 11 miles.
Today, I went with Maureen to work and we toured some nurseries in Sullivan County, after which we headed to Warrior Path State Park bike trails. This trail system is pretty incredible and boast some of the most immaculate trails I have every ran. This was the only run that I actually considered a "training run" because it was much flatter which allowed me to open it up. I started with a twenty minute warm up, then ran forty-five minutes at a 6-6:30 mile pace, then twenty-five minute cool down. I got terribly lost near then end because I was running way to fast to read signs or figure out where I was going. I really recommend this trail system; imagine Lincoln Parish Park trails with rocks and big boulders and a few more hills.
Thursday (5/22): 7 miles.
I returned to Buffalo Mountain in an attempt to get an easy and quick five mile run in and take some pictures of some native orchids I found blooming. However, it turned into an hour and a half run that left me scrambling up and sliding down mountain sides as I found a very old trail and was just to curious to see what was at the top. The day proved interesting as I found three species of orchids, I've never seen. One of which is very stunning. I was also able to collect some genetic material that I could use to expand my research grant. Running on Buffalo after a heavy rain really made me reminisce about my time spent working and running in the mountains and cloud forests of Costa Rica. All the lush vegetation, mountains, rocks, and heavy humidity.  Later that evening Maureen and I headed to Asheville, NC, to do some camping. We camped at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area which is in the Pisgah National Forest. It is a trail runner's wet dream with all the trails everywhere!
Friday (5/23): 8 miles.
If you love plants and trail running do yourself a favor and go camp at Lake Powhatan. Camping was enjoyable but tough because every time we started cooking the rain would pick up. After breakfast we set out for a nice little trail run together then we headed back to camp after three miles so Maureen could switch to the mountain bike. I just couldn't believe that I could camp in the middle of the woods and have her ride next to me while we went down a gravel forest road leading to the NC Arboretum. It was an amazing experience for me to have my girlfriend cruising next to me while enjoying the mountains and getting into a the arboretum for free! Apparently, it was free to enter through the back by hiking, running, or biking, and on top of it, once in we had more trails and gravel roads to explore. She certainly enjoyed killing me on the roads by making me run way to fast but I got her back on the uphills. After, touring the gardens and viewing the amazing bonsai collection we headed back to pack up the camp. Then we headed to the Farmer's Market in Asheville and went to a climbing gym in downtown to get our bouldering on.
Weekly Total: 45 miles

Buffalo Mountain Trail

Buffalo Mountain Trail

Native Deciduous Azalea on Buffalo Mountain

Buffalo Mountain Trail

Pink Lady Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule) on Buffalo Mountain

White Rock on Buffalo Mountain

Bottom of Roan Mountain

Maureen flying downhill, at the bottom of Roan Mountain
Previous Training Weeks
It has been a while since my last post but if you're interested here is what my training has been looking life since my last TN trip.

Sunday (4/20): 5 miles. Easy then strides.
Monday (4/21): 10 miles. 2 mile warm up and cool down. 6 mile tempo @ 6:18 min/mi average pace. (shin pain)
Tuesday (4/22): 5 miles. Easy. Core Workout. (more shin pain)
Wednesday (4/23): Pool Workout, Mileage equivalent 10 miles. 20 min warm up and cool down, then 12 X 1:30min at quarter mile intensity effort.
Thursday (4/24): Day off.
Friday (4/25): 4 miles. Easy. (shin pain, felt tired and weak)
Saturday (4/26): 6 miles, around seven flat pace (felt better, less shin pain)
Weekly Total: 30 mi run, 10 mi pool

Sunday (4/27): 4 miles. Easy. Core Workout. (very tired, shin pain)
Monday (4/28): 10 miles. Pool Workout. 20 min warm up and cool down, 50 min progression run, increase intensity every 10 minutes.
Tuesday (4/29): 4 miles. Easy.
Wednesday (4/30): 9 miles. 2 mile warm up and cool down. Fartlek workout with 4 X 1:30 min @ mile pace (1:30 min jog for recovery), then 2 X 3:00 min @ 5km race pace with 1:30 min recovery jog, the 4 X 1:30 @ mile pace again.
Thursday (5/01): 4 miles. Easy. Core Workout.
Friday (5/02): 4 miles. Easy.
Saturday (5/03): 10 miles
Weekly Total: 35 mi run, 10 mi pool

Sunday (5/04): Day off.
Monday (5/05): ~7 miles. Short speed (pool). 20 min warm up and cool down 16 X 1 min at quarter mile intensity effort with 30 second recovery. Core workout.
Tuesday (5/06): 6 miles. Easy.
Wednesday (5/07): 8 miles. 2 mile warm up, 3 X 1 mile, 5:29, 5:33, 5:53. Felt fine on the first two repeats then felt awful. Today was the first day I spent working in the sun on my feet all day since the semester started so I think that had something to do with it. Training is much easier when you are in school all day. Three mile cool down.
Thursday (5/08): 4 mile. Easy. Core Workout (very tired)
Friday (5/09): 7 mile. 3 mile warm up and cool down, with 8 uphill sprints ~100 meter in length. These are designed to be very fast and are meant to increase leg turnover by forcing the brain to fire nerves not normally used.
Saturday (5/10): Day off, younger sister's college graduation in Mobile, AL.
Weekly Total: 25 mi run, 7 mi pool

Sunday (5/11): 5 miles. Easy.
Monday (5/12): 8 miles. 2 mile warm up and cool down. 8 X 400 meters, Average 1:12. then 6 stadiums. (Had to cut short due stomach issues)
Tuesday (5/13): 4 miles. Easy. Core Workout.
Wednesday (5/14): 8 miles. 2 mi warm up and cool down. 4 mile tempo @ 6:22 average, 10 short uphill sprints.
Thursday (5/15): 5 miles. Easy
Friday (5/16): 6 miles
Saturday (5/17): 14 miles.
Weekly Total: 50 miles

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Roan Mountain Photos

As promised here are some photos I took while running on Roan Mountain. All of these were taken with the camera on my phone. Enjoy. As I said earlier these photos do not do it justice!

Northeast Tennessee Spring Break

After running Forge Racing's Faint of Hear 4 miler this past Saturday, I caught a plane bound for northeast Tennessee. Maureen recently accepted a nice job up here, she is the new Nursery Crop Specialist Extension Agent for a thirty-three county area, basically the northeastern third of the state. I have been really looking forward to this trip because I would be visiting for more than just a day.

Sunday (04/13): 9 miles
Since we both had the day off we headed up to Bays Mountain Park north of Kingsport. We both planned to run for an hour or more and would be sticking together for a while before I would take off to get some extra distance in. I loved the park because it was a mix of both rough gravel roads and single track trail, don't get me wrong, I love single track but sometimes you just want to open it up. After we split I did exactly that but quickly realized I was pretty tired for yesterday's hard effort at the race. Most of the trails circle a large reservoir but some of them run the ridges of the surrounding mountains. Starting at the lake, I turned onto Fire Tower Trail to discover it went up and up, but that's what I'm here for right? It was here that I realized how tired I am and how much work I have to do before USMR Championships. Other than being completely exhausted, the gravel road on the mountain ridge was quite enjoyable with nice views on every side. Eventually, I dropped into Chestnust trail which was amazing, immaculate single track running relatively flat mid way up the mountain. The trail was just too nice to not run fast, so I dropped the hammer and started running mid to low 6s. Sometimes I just can't help myself. While tired, I was really satisfied with the afternoon. After running, we had a picnic by the lake then went hiking and did some bouldering together.

Monday (04/14): 10 miles
Maureen had to work this morning so after dropping her off, I went to Persimmon Ridge to get in a few miles. Frankly, Persimmon Ridge is pretty boring and sketchy because part of the trail runs behind a berm for a shooting range. Still, its not terrible and is a great introduction for the mountains as its a mix of gravel road and pretty easy single track. Not to mention lots of wildflowers and native orchids! I planned on three loops but was really tired, so I settled for two loops with some fartlek intervals (minute on minute rest) on the uphills and gravel roads. That afternoon we headed to Buffalo Mountain Park. I really loved the trails here because they were steep and dangerous with steep drop offs on either side. I regretted not bringing the camera to get some pictures so I'll have to go back. We found a really steep and technical mile long downhill that I just had to bomb even though we were supposed to be running together today. In the process, I tweaked the same ankle that I hurt at Faint of Heart, not a sprain or roll but just enough to make me feel it every step but the rush of running a technical downhill fast and slightly out of control is just too good to pass up!

Tuesday (04/15): Day off.

Wednesday (04/16): 12 miles
Originally, I had planned to run Roan Mt. on Tuesday as I would be in the area already but we were hit with lots of rain and really cold weather that I didn't bring gear for. The higher elevations got plenty of snow and sleet with temperatures hitting twenty-one degrees at 3000ft. After I dropped Maureen off at work, I headed to Roan. Initially, I was a little upset as there was no clear trail from bottom to summit like there is at Pikes Peak. So, I drove up to Carver's Gap (~5600ft) and got on the Appalachian Trail for some higher altitude running. It was pretty surreal running on the AT. Plus, the scenery was amazing, lots of snow and ice everywhere! Words, nor will my pictures do it justice. I choose to run in the balds to the left of the trail head as they offered better views. Balds are an interesting ecosystem, it is basically an alpine grassland with very sparse tree cover. After running the ridges on Roan, I ran a section of the AT that started dropping in elevation pretty quickly. This section of the trail was covered with thick mud, after falling on a steep downhill, I was covered in it. I continued running down for almost an hour when I realized that I had to run back up through the mud! After stopping to eat some shot blocks, I started the return. Slipping and sliding all over the place I finally made it back up in nearly the same time I went down. Today was a reminder of why I run and why I run trails, while its definitely not the highest mountain I've ever run it was still special. Every mountain is unique and challenging in different ways, but they all humble and inspire. (Note on pictures: These are but a few, I'll do a separate post with nothing but photos from Roan.)

Thursday (04/17): 6 miles
Unfortunately, it was time for us to start heading back to Louisiana so we thought a quick run in Knoxville would be appropriate. First, we stopped at the Knoxville Botanical Garden then headed to Haw Ridge to hit some trails. Haw Ridge was highly recommend to us by Jeff Beck. Maureen had previously ran there and also enjoyed it. The trails were very maintained and we initially ran around the lake which was flat and very welcoming after a long week on rugged terrain in the mountains. This section of the trail was beautiful with the trail winding along the edge of the water. After some time we turned and started running into the the interior of the park which quickly turned hilly. I was very impressed with Maureen's running, her seven weeks living and running in the mountains has turned her into a stronger and faster runner as she was able to hang with me for an hour. The only problem we had with Haw Ridge was a lack of trail markings. In Louisiana, you typically only have one option and at most of the places we ran this week you have lots of trails to choose from in one park so it can get a little confusing.

Friday (04/18): Day off

Saturday (04/19): 8 miles
Ran an easy eight miler on the flat at the sports park. My shins and legs needed a break from all the big hills and mountains. All in all really happy with the week. I would have liked to run more but I'm supposed to be creeping back into my usual mileage and some parts of my legs aren't agreeing with this; however, in due time I'll be back to where I was before. In the meantime, I will keep the mileage around 40-50 miles a week but focus on doing quality speed work.

Weekly Total: 45 miles