Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

A CyclONE City Running Tour(s)

I’ve always loved living in college communities. There’s a unique atmosphere of spirit and support that truly can’t be replicated in any other environment, and working for the university allows me to feel like a part of that community in a very special way. I moved to Ames, IA from Blacksburg, VA (Virginia Tech), and in doing so, traded one enthusiastic college town for another. My undergraduate experience at the University of Minnesota offered a very different sense of community connection due to the size of the Minneapolis area, but even in a city as large as Minneapolis, the Gopher spirit was and still is amazingly strong. My experiences in Blacksburg were incredible, and taught me what it is to be a part of a university community with unrivaled passion and energy. Now that I’ve been in Ames for almost 10 years, it’s clear to me that smaller towns simply make the town-gown relationship that much more intimate, and Ames continues to prove over and over why it is consistently rated as one of the best small towns in the country for a wide variety of economic, social, recreational, and educational reasons.

The latest demonstration of CyclONE spirit has come in the form of 30 individually painted Cy statues scattered throughout the campus and community. Not only are the statues themselves quite beautiful and impressive works of art, but they serve as a fundraising source for various charitable organizations, on top of fostering Iowa State and Ames pride throughout the area. The statues were unveiled just a few weeks ago, and became instant magnets for photo opportunities and scavenger hunts. It obviously made sense to see them all, and running around town was the clear transportation choice. The Ames Chamber of Commerce made the map available, and it didn’t take long for a friend to turn the map into a running route! Over the course of a week, I embarked on two separate running tours of CyclONE City. Throughout each adventure, I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to live where I do, and to have such amazing friends!

 

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Troy Thompson

Photo Credit: Troy Thompson

Interestingly enough, I shouldn’t be surprised that two of my previous homes have also embraced similar public art projects. Feel free to find the Hokie birds next time you are in Blacksburg, or the Peanuts gang statues next time you are in the Minneapolis area! Do you have any fun public art in your community? Have you organized a public art run before?

An Ultrarunner’s (Almost) First Triathlon Adventure

I’ve been to race expos before. I’ve picked up race materials, perused the vendors’ various sales and enjoyed samples of nutrition products I’d most likely never actually purchase. I’m still a bit uncertain as to why companies seem so intent on pouring in as much sugar as possible onto their products, seemingly covering up the nutritional benefit of the other ingredients and making our bodies work for it like a polar bear clawing at the arctic ice in the dead of winter. I’d much rather the fish swim to me, upstream, flying out of the water and into my mouth like a grizzly bear catching salmon. In fact, maybe I’m on to something there. Perhaps the ideal aid station is full of volunteers with bladders full of water, ready to run alongside you while you pull the water from the flexible straw. Nah, there’s something to be said for actually resting for a few minutes in the middle of a 100 mile race, eh? Perhaps I’ll make that suggestion for my next marathon, though. Ok, I seem to have gotten off track a bit. What was I talking about, again? Oh, right, race expos.

I drove down to Des Moines last Friday to pick up my race materials for the HyVee Triathlon. Although many of my friends are fantastic triathletes, I’ve never ventured into the sport. I’ve always said I’d much rather run the full distance than break it up into other activities. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ll run 140.6 miles straight through before I finish an Ironman. More than anything, though, I’ve avoided them because I’m allergic to water. Well, perhaps I’m not allergic in the “break out in hives and go into anaphylactic shock” sense,  but more in the “this asthmatic kid never really learned how to swim all that well and now associates water with fears of drowning, sharks, jellyfish, and other biting creatures I can’t see” way. This may be an irrational fear but it’s my irrational fear and I’m quite comfortable holding onto it. Thus, when a couple (both in the “two” and “married” sense) of friends suggested we compete in the HyVee Triathlon as a relay team, I was interested. All I’d need to do is run a 10K, and I’d get to experience the race-day spectacle that is a triathlon. This was just the sort of adventure I needed to break up the race season, and satisfy my curiosity. Step 1 was then to pick up my bib before the Sunday race. Well, I guess if you want to be picky, then this was step 2 after we registered our little group, “The Team of Earthly Delights”.

logo-hy-vee-tri

Before picking anything up, I had to attend a race briefing. The amounted to a 15 minute presentation with a representative from the race telling us about the route, transitions, parking, and other logistics. All of this information was clearly posted on the website for anyone to read, but, alas, we live in a culture that doesn’t pay nearly enough attention and certainly doesn’t read what they are given. Can you tell that the academic year just began as well? It’s in the syllabus! The expo itself was very well-organized, and I breezed through packet pick-up. I found it humorous that included in the packet were numbered tattoos to apply to my body. It certainly makes sense if you are going to be swimming because you can’t exactly pin a bib to a spandex swimsuit. However, I was amused at the thought of applying them to myself, along with my bib, just for the run. There would be no question that I was #3646! I was most surprised by the amount of swag I received. It began with a very nice backpack. Interestingly enough, I’ve been searching for a suitable dedicated race bag, and this pack just happens to fit the bill nicely. The bag was even stocked with other samples, including chocolate almond milk, a full bottle of vitamin D (random, right?), a pair of Ironman brand sunglasses, a micro-hand towel, and various other coupons. I was then directed further down to pick up a high quality cycling jersey, as well as a mesh running hat. This haul was a far cry from a single tech shirt, and I certainly wasn’t complaining. I’m pretty sure this is the first race I’ve entered where I received enough swag to balance the full cost of registration!

Since I was completing the running leg, I didn’t need to worry about the logistics of a bike. My friends would venture down the next day, however, to drop the bike off. In the meantime, the logistical nightmare that is an urban triathlon with a closed cycling course was spiraling into emergency road. Recent rains in the area had created some flooding on a portion of the bike course. The HyVee Triathlon also serves as the 5150 U.S. Championships, so they attract elite athletes from all over the world and hand out a rather considerable prize purse as well. Thus, the pressure on the organizers to make sure things go smoothly is that much greater. Unfortunately, these rains meant that they would need to reroute the bike course. More importantly for us, the decision was made to switch from an Olympic distance triathlon (1500 m swim, 40K bike, 10K run) to a sprint distance triathlon (750 m swim, 20K bike, 5K run). The elite athletes would still compete in the full distance, but our race experience would be shortened considerably. Well, I should say that our actual physical activity would be shortened considerably.

This is some quality swag!

This is some quality swag!

In order to get everything ready for a triathlon experience, you need to set out your gear in a transition area before the race begins. Typically this area closes prior to the start of the race so there is no risk of people running into each other. Originally, the transition area was scheduled to be open from 4:30am to 6:30am, with our race beginning at 7:45am. They decided to keep the transition area open during the same hours, but move back the start of our race to 9:00am so that all of the elite athletes (who would start earlier) would be further along and off of the bike course. This meant that we still needed to wake up at 3:00am, leave by 4:00am, drop everything off in transition, and then wait for around 3 hours before our race would begin. This schedule meant I would most likely be beginning my 5K run around 10:30, after standing around waiting to run for 5 hours or so. Although this was far from ideal, I was committed and ready to do what needed to be done. We we racing for fun and not time, so I even considered squeezing in a marathon through downtown Des Moines before my turn came around. It would have certainly made for an interesting story, but also that I wouldn’t be on site to take in the full spectacle of the triathlon experience either.

Unfortunately, an event like this also creates logistical challenges for participants. As a team, we had our schedule figured out perfectly, and my teammates had made arrangements for childcare during the race. The timing of these plans, however, were based on a schedule that had now changed. So, the combination of a changing schedule, a shortened course (and presumably more chaotic, especially on the bike), and at least one rational mind amongst the three of us, meant that we decided not to compete. I was disappointed to have not had my first triathlon experience, but still quite happy with the opportunity to share the whole experience with two great friends (and come away with some great swag!). Although I didn’t actually race, I still got a much better sense of the logistics and chaos that goes into a triathlon. It was all a far-cry from the laid-back attitude of most ultras and ultrarunners I’ve encountered. When it rains the week before an ultra, it just means you’ll be getting muddy! If you aren’t comfortable with the full distance, then just go out there and run until you can’t. Then stop, head back to the start, and we’ll pour you a beer :) Many folks in the ultra community have also tackled Ironman races, and vice-versa, and they are most certainly two distinctly different sports. There is nothing inherently good or bad about the highly organized, logistics-heavy, gear intensive nature of triathlons or the go-with-the-flow, laid-back, just run nature of ultras. They both encourage people to push their limits, and hopefully find joy in what they are doing along the way. I’ll get my triathlon experience in the future. In the meantime, I think I’ll go run 100 miles in a few weeks :)

Tailwind Nutrition Review

For most of the summer, I’ve been using Tailwind nutrition as my go-to nutrition source during most runs over 10 miles, and I thought I’d share some thoughts. Tailwind kept popping up on various ultrarunning blogs and websites that I follow, and I’m always on the lookout for the most efficient nutrition solution for what I can only describe as a finicky stomach. I’ve mentioned before that I have given up on all sports drinks, and most GUs and Gels don’t sit well in my stomach either. The sugar just seems to be too much for me, and I always end up with a few unplanned pit stops. So, I was excited by the idea of an all-in-one nutrition product that I could dissolve in water and drink throughout my entire run.

tn-logofinal

I typically carry some sort of portable hydration solution, whether it be the incredibly comfortable and economical Simple Hydration Bottle (love this bottle!)  that frees up my hands during shorter, faster runs, or my Salomon pack, which sustains me for most of my long-distance training. Tailwind offers a pretty exciting product that has the potential to eliminate the need to carry around additional GUs, chomps, bars, and electrolyte pills or tabs. Since I’m already carrying water, this seems like a no brainer…on paper. However, did Tailwind come through and lighten my load without lightening my stomach?

It has absolutely come through! I’ve been nothing but impressed with this product. It truly does offer the complete calorie + electrolyte + hydration solution. The taste, portability, ease of mixing, and easily digestible nature make this product my new go-to nutrition solution for training runs and races.

My order even came personalized with a hand-written thank you note!

My order even came personalized with a hand-written thank you note!

Taste: I ordered the berry flavor, as this is usually my first choice with any new product. I was initially skeptical after tasting so many different artificial berry-flavored sports drinks and flavored waters. However, the berry flavor was light, smooth, and refreshing. It was not overpowering, and it mixed with the water so completely that I would have never guessed it had been a powder. They recommend approximately 1 scoop per 12 oz. of water, but I’ve added even more for some added calories and it still mixed cleanly like a champ! They sent me a small package of the lemon flavor as a thank you for my first order, and I had the exact same reaction. I usually hate lemon and lemon-lime flavored drinks (why is it ALWAYS lemon lime at aid stations?!), but the Tailwind lemon was just as smooth, light, and refreshing. I’m looking forward to tasting the mandarin orange as well.

Portability: I’ve been able to carry it around with me in several different formats. When I want to pack extra on self-supported runs, I simply portion it out into ziplock bags and carry them in my Ultraspire Quantum waist belt. It’s really easy to empty the powder into my empty water bottle and fill it up at a water fountain around town. I’ve also simply brought along the entire bag and left it in my car so I can circle back at various points, very much like you would do with a drop bag during a race. I plan to drop empty water bottles with the Tailwind already in them as well, which should make for a quick transition. Tailwind even sells individual pouches for ultimate portability!

Ease of Mixing: What can I say? It takes minimal effort and dissolves quickly and completely. You’ll never have a gritty aftertaste or see it settle at the bottom of your bottle. Cleaning your bottle out is as simple as if you were only using water.

Digestion: This was the biggest test for me. How would it sit in my stomach? My sugar intake overall is now so low that I can barely stomach the taste of sports drinks because they are so sweet. Tailwind has such a light taste that it’s more like drinking water with a hint of berry to make things interesting in your mouth. I’ve used it exclusively for up to 6 hours thus far, and am happy to report that I have not once had any GI issues! I feel full, hydrated, and energized, and my calorie consumption seems to be more consistent as well. It’s easy to forget to eat at times, but you are always drinking.

nutrition information

nutrition information

Of note is the decision by Tailwind not to include protein in their mix. They reviewed quite a bit of research, and determined that most of it indicates no benefit to a carb + protein mix, and that furthermore, protein can hinder the absorption of carbohydrates, as well as being hard to digest. They now offer a version with caffeine, which I haven’t tried yet but will probably give a chance as well. The cost per serving comes out to be less than you would spend on other solid nutritional products as well, so you will end up saving money in the long run, which is always nice! Tailwind is also naturally Gluten Free, which makes the epicurean happy. Overall, I’ve been completely won over but how well Tailwind works for me. I’ll be putting it to the ultimate test during the Mark Twain 100 in a few weeks as well, so stay tuned. We’ll see if it’s still keeping my hunger at bay after 16 hours on the trail :)

Reflections on My First 90+ mile Training Week

When we left for the North Shore, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to hike as much as I wanted, let alone trail run. I was delighted to be able to dispel my doubts with some wonderful trail time. When we returned, I knew I needed to refocus my training in a sustainable way as I ramped up for the final few weeks of intense training before a two-week taper. The time off left me questioning how my body would handle the longer distances, but I knew I needed to find out before getting to Missouri and toeing the line for the Mark Twain 100. Thus, I dedicated the last week to a “slow, steady, and long” mantra and put my legs to the test. I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

As I’ve gotten more and more tuned in to the trail and ultra-running community, I’ve become more aware of the training schedules of many of the elite athletes that I admire. It seems as though I’m constantly reading about 100-120 mile training weeks being rattled off as though it was a normal part of life. For them, I suppose it is a normal part of life, eh? Those numbers still seem amazing to me, especially considering I still only have one 100-mile finish to my name, and my training weeks still hover more consistently in the 50-70 mile vicinity. Obviously, everyone’s body performs differently and is able to handle different amounts of stress and distance. I know how important it is to listen to your body and get a feel for when you’ve pushed yourself too far. This is something I’ve been working on rather consistently for the last several years, but I know I still have plenty to learn about what my body can accomplish.

We arrived back in Iowa on Sunday afternoon, and I began to give my upcoming training week some thought. Pacing, or more specifically, slowing down, has not been my strong suit in longer ultras, and it has predictably come back to bite me in the ass. Thus, I wanted a chance to force myself to slow down and put on some slower than comfortable miles. This week was my chance to work on pacing and endurance, and see just what my legs had in them at this point in my training regime.

irunchallenge

My weekly runs typically involve some speed work and hill work, with more repeated shorter runs. This time, I decided to push further during the week, and I committed to running four consecutive half marathons during the week. These four runs would force me to aim for around a 10:00 min/mile pace, and think more intentionally about form and nutrition. The weather fluctuated throughout the week but my legs held up beautifully. After each run, I still had plenty of gas left in the tank (as I should), and I didn’t feel the need for any recovery time. More importantly, I nailed my pacing goals, with overall paces within one second (or dead on) each time. What was even more exciting for me was I would be heading into my weekend long run(s) with 52 miles already in the books. This was by far the most miles I had ever tallied during the week, and it was exciting to know I didn’t feel any worse for the wear.

Although I was feeling good, I continued to be realistic about my weekend goals. I headed out to a groomed trail to meet some friends for a comfortable early Saturday morning run. The temps were comfortable, but the humidity was out in full force, and I was soaked fairly quickly. Humidity seems to sap my energy and weigh down my legs more than just about any other uncontrollable factor. I clocked in 20 miles on the trail, had a wonderful time chatting with friends about life, the universe, and running, and decided to break for a shower and some nutrition. It was a good opportunity to dry out, change socks, and squeeze in a little rest.

The most important aspect of ultra-training seems to be learning how to run on tired legs, which is why back-to-back runs are so important. Thus, I was delighted to meet up with some friends in the afternoon to join them for a run. This was their last large training brick in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin, so they entered the run after 115 miles on the bike. I love chatting with them about the similarities and differences between triathlon and ultra-running as sports, both in terms of the training and culture. It’s also a joy to have friends to understand the demands of ultra-endurance activities on a personal level. Our runs are always comfortable, and fly by no matter how tired we are from already running, cycling, or swimming. Well, they might have just gotten out of the water, but the only water I’m interested in incorporating into my workouts is the cold water I pour into my hydration pack!

Check!

Check!

The sun came out and cooked us a bit more than the early morning haze, but I still made it back home feeling energized and excited to have logged another 12+ miles. My shorter run on Sunday was a relaxing way to end the week, and the 7.5 miles I logged felt great, although the heat and humidity was beginning to wear me down. I had thought about the possibility of breaking 90 miles earlier in the weekend, but had put it out of my mind. My goal was simply to push myself and log some quality training miles. However, when I uploaded my data and realized I had hit 92.3 miles, I was ecstatic! Now, my goal is to once again run even further than this in a 24 hour period, so I am fully willing to celebrate in moderation. However, this week still seemed like a milestone to me. I proved to myself that I could log the big training week, and that my legs and body were at a level of fitness that could sustain those distances.  I may never log repeated 120 mile weeks, but I’ll keep tackling my goals and setting new goals along the way!

On Reconnecting with the Run: North Shore Adventures

“What’s true for us as individual humans is true for the civilization we create:
a sprint culture, seeking ever greater speed and power in all things cannot endure.”

- Ed Ayres, The Longest Race

There is no finish line. Our fast-paced society has certainly taught us to be goal-oriented, always striving to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, and a host of other qualities that our individualist, Western culture values. When we cross that finish line, whether at a race or in the board room, we immediately turn our attention to the next finish line. All of this is to say that we create artificial targets for ourselves because we think we need them to feel happy, satisfied, and successful. I’m certainly guilty of this, and I”m sure many of you are as well. I am continually setting goals for myself, whether they be running or academic-related. I’ve convinced myself that my identity is shaped by whether or not I achieve those goals. In some ways, I suppose these beliefs have become a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to be better than ourselves, or that we shouldn’t derive a sense of satisfaction in achieving something new, exciting, or extreme. We should always take pleasure in those moments. However, I’m realizing, more and more, that we need not define ourselves by those moments. Doing so robs us of the enjoyment that the journey brings, the benefit of the physical and mental growth we receive along the way, and the relationships we build in the process. Who would have thought that a brief injury and a yearly camping trip would have produced such insight, eh?

As you may recall, I managed to injure my back rather successfully a little over a week ago. A subsequent trip to the physical therapist revealed that my issue was in the pelvis, which has apparently decided not to twist forward when I bent over. Not surprisingly, this is quite painful. My pelvis was out of alignment, in part from the injury, but also from extreme tightness in my lower back, and persistent leg issues related to a small length differential. This injury caused the epicurean and I to worry about not being able to embark on our yearly, rejuvenating adventure to the north shore of Lake Superior for some camping, hiking, and disconnecting. Fortunately, my mobility improved in the days following the injury, and we hit the road for Split Rock State Park as soon as I finished my PT appointment. My back was still a bit tender, but I could walk, and was confident that I could get around in the woods with limited difficulty. We had stumbled upon a backpack site in the park last year and immediately fell in love with it. We reserved it as soon as we got home last year, and were excited to revisit this peaceful, secluded oasis nestled on the shore of Lake Superior. There’s really nothing quite like feeling as though you have the whole lake to yourself! It was a short hike (less than a mile) from the parking lot and camp office, yet far enough away from everyone else that we felt as though we had the forest to ourselves.

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Although I felt up to traveling, I was still uncertain as to whether I’d be able to enjoy the hiking and trail running that I had been so excited to experience. We arrived late on Wednesday and quickly set up camp before nestling into our tent for the night as the northern sun gave way to the full moon glistening on the glassy waters of Lake Superior. There’s really no substitute for the white noise of the lake as the waves break on the shore. We awoke the next morning and decided on a comfortable hike on the nearby trails to get our bodies moving. This first test of my mobility proved to be a success, and a lovely morning hike was just what we both needed to feel the stress leave us in waves. After lunch, I decided to test my body and head out for my first trail run. I hadn’t run in 5 days, which was the most time I’ve taken off all year, so I was equal parts anxious and excited to lace up my Altra Lone Peaks and tackle the beautiful single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail. It wasn’t long before my legs remembered why I loved trail running and this particular spot in the world so much. There’s truly nothing that compares to finding yourself in the fortunate position of choosing between beautiful wild views and technical single-track that forces you to keep your mind and body focused on the task at hand. This was just the run I needed. Although it had only been 5 days since my last run, it has been a full year since our last trip to Lake Superior, and I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend. The trail greeted my with all of its rocky, rooty excitement and joy. Interestingly, I forgot to pack my Garmin, and although I had my phone stowed away in my pack, I was still running solo. This made the reconnection with my footfalls, balance, and breathing all the more enjoyable. I had a general idea of where I was going, and knew I had to be back for dinner. Other than that, however, it was just me and the trail. There was no finish line.

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top :)

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top :)

That 12-mile trail run propelled me into subsequent adventures. The epicurean and I tackled some challenging hikes, and I was able to follow them up with more running and exploring. The elevation I tallied, relative to my everyday miles, was a not-so-subtle reminder of just how flat Iowa is, and now much more intentional I need to be about seeking out the vertical. I was able to explore some new sections of the Superior Hiking Trail this time around as well. I think I fall more and more in love with the trail and area each time I lace up my shoes. Following the coverage of some of the major ultra-running events throughout the summer (Western States, Hardrock, Speedgoat, etc.) has left we dreaming about the mountain trails in the Western U.S. This trip North reminded me of what I still have available in my own “backyard” and left me grateful for the opportunity to explore it with my best friend.

So many options!

So many options!

I’m not going to go into great detail on my specific hikes/runs, but will instead let the pictures speak for themselves. At some point during each outing, I had to make the arbitrary decision as to when to turn back towards camp. It was simultaneously tempting and encouraging to know that the trail kept going, even if I didn’t. There was no turn-around point, no cone marking the half-way point, and not signs counting down to the finish. There was just the trail. It’s important to remember that running can be one of the most amazing life-long activities, and I truly hope it is just that for me. I’ll always set goals for myself, and I know there will be more setbacks in the future. However, as long as I can, I’ll continue to lace up my shoes. I’ll continue to force myself to hold back in those opening miles, to focus on my endurance, and to remember…there is no finish line.

Exploring Temperance River State Park...

Exploring Temperance River State Park…

The top of Carleton Peak.

The top of Carleton Peak.

There aren't too many climbs like this in Ames!

There aren’t too many climbs like this in Ames!

NorthShore2014-7

Goodnight, Lake Superior...We'll see you again next year!

Goodnight, Lake Superior…We’ll see you again next year!

Mandatory Rest

This past weekend was one of highs and lows. I began the weekend on Friday with a long morning run. The epicurean and I were heading up to Minneapolis early on Saturday morning, so I knew I needed to get my long run in beforehand. I met up with a friend and we tackled the pavement at 6AM. On our way back to drop him off before I kept going, we ran into another friend, so she hopped out of her car and joined us (I love running friends who are always up for some miles!). After dropping her off, I continued on for my remaining miles and finished quite content with my 30 miles for the morning! There’s no better way to start your day than with an energizing run and a cup of coffee to follow :)

Definitely an upgrade from my days at the Metrodome!

Definitely an upgrade from my days at the Metrodome!

On Saturday morning, we headed up to Minneapolis to catch our first live European futbol match! Manchester City was playing Olympiakos in the International Champions Cup at TCF Bank Stadium. As a U of M alumni, I had early access to tickets so we jumped on the opportunity! It was strange being back on campus after so many years (I’ll keep you guessing as to just how many) and the changes were a bit shocking. This was also my first time in TCF Bank stadium, which was truly exciting. It is a gorgeous outdoor stadium, and truly a stellar environment for U of M football, as well as a variety of other events. The stadium will be even busier this coming year, with the Vikings playing their home games there while their new stadium is being built. In some ways, it was a bit ironic that my first visit to the stadium was to watch a European futbol match, but I loved every minute of it. The sun was beating down on us, but it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day, and we were only a few rows back from the field. Both teams put on a fantastic show, and Olympiakos eventually won on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw during regulation. It was an amazing experience, and a great way for both of us to ease the despair over the World Cup being over!

I hope this match is the first of many!

I hope this match is the first of many!

We stayed with my parents that evening, and then headed back early on Sunday morning. We needed to get back so we could pack and prepare for our yearly camping expedition up to the North Shore of Lake Superior. We look forward to this trip every year, and this year is especially exciting because we reserved a rustic, isolated hike-in campsite right on the shore with beautiful lake access. We stumbled across it last year while on a hike, and completely fell in love. Well, once we finished pulling out the camping gear and got most of our things organized, I packed up the items we wouldn’t be using and began to bring them back down to the basement. Then, as I was lifting a tub of gear, I felt a sharp and instantaneous pain in my lower back. I cringed in pain, and almost immediately was unable to stand. The epicurean rushed in and helped me to the living room, where I laid down on the floor with my legs in the air and felt wave after wave of pain rush over me.

All of a sudden, horrible thoughts came rushing into my head. What about our camping trip? What about our hikes and my trail running plans? What about my race in September? I have a training schedule to stick with and my race is so close! The emotions were pretty strong and I felt horrible for potentially ruining our yearly camping trip. For the rest of the day, I laid on the couch, and dreaded having to get up for any reason. I would gingerly shuffle across the floor, and randomly collapse into the epicurean’s arms to support myself because my back pain wouldn’t allow me to stand. I haven’t had many injuries in my life, running or otherwise, but this was definitely the most intense pain I had felt in quite some time. On top of that, I realized very quickly just how critical this area of your body is to all normal functioning. You can still get around with an injured foot, arm, wrist, or knee, but your back really holds everything together (duh!). I tried to avoid the pity party and think about worst-case scenarios but my mind has a way of conjuring up some rather elaborate images and scenarios. It was bad enough that I wasn’t able to go for my Sunday run, but I was worried about running at all in the next few weeks, as well as stressing out about our camping trip.

Enough said!

Enough said!

The rest of the evening was an exercise in minimalism. I focused on breathing, moving as little as possible, and being present in the moment so as not to send my thoughts into a tailspin. I slept on the couch that night since I clearly couldn’t make it up the stairs (better that than getting banished to the couch, eh?), and slept very little. I woke up the next morning, and my back had relaxed some, and I was able to walk, although quite gingerly. I made an appointment to see the doctor and kept my fingers crossed that it wasn’t as bad as I had considered. In the lower back, it seems that it is typically one of three things. It could be a pinched nerve, a slipped or herniated disk, or a muscle pull/strain. I was hoping for the latter of the three, and my own self-diagnosis suggested a muscle strain as well. Luckily, the doctor confirmed my suspicions. He prescribed a month of physical therapy, as well as some muscle relaxants. Over the last 24 hours, I have steadily improved, and have been able to get around much easier, so my progress has been steady. I’m still committed to our North Shore adventure, so I’m hoping my body will agree with me!

After today, it will have been 4 days of “rest”, or at least no running. This is the longest I have gone without running all year, and I’m certainly starting to get antsy. I’ve been saying for at least a month that I needed to scale back my training miles a bit, so perhaps this is the universe telling me to take it easy and not overwork myself. I’m hoping this period of mandatory rest will be just what I need to finish my training schedule strong and conquer the Mark Twain 100!

In Defense of Nice Things

I originally titled this post “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and then saved it in my drafts folder so I could return to it when I was ready to document my thoughts. However, the more I thought, the more my approach to the topic changed. I began to consider the realities of “nice things” and this topic in general, and I now find myself convinced that the reality is a far cry from the popular headlines. You’re no doubt wondering what “topic” I’m referring to, however, so I should probably back up.

Such natural beauty!

Such natural beauty!

This post was sparked by recent reports that Grand Canyon officials would be reconsidering access policies to the national park when they release an updated back country management plan this fall to deal with overcrowding issues. Now, I’ve had a R2R2R run on my running bucket list for quite a while, and love reading reports from other ultra runners who have made the journey. I’ve spent time obsessing over routes, tips, gear suggestions, and timeline recommendations. I’m pretty sure I could attempt the run tomorrow if I actually had the time and money to get to the Grand Canyon tomorrow! Thus, this news obviously made me perk up and pay closer attention to the discussion.

It sounds like the number of hikers and runners descending on the national park has been steadily increasing, and the current infrastructure just can’t handle the numbers. This is not surprising since most of the structures were built over 100 years ago. The park rangers are hearing more complaints about the increasing numbers, and are being forced to address problems resulting from visitors who aren’t adequately prepared and suffer any number of ailments or predicaments as a result. There has also been an increase in trash left around the park, which also creates more work for rangers and other park staff. These problems are no doubt exemplified by various problematic scenarios involving large groups of unprepared visitors that visit the Grand Canyon as a park of tour packages.

Plenty of land to explore.

Plenty of land to explore.

Now, it goes without saying that poorly prepared, inconsiderate, or otherwise destructive visitors should not be acceptable, regardless of their intent. However, let me bring to the forefront a few points worth mentioning.

1. The line between “runner” and “hiker” is clearly very murky, so it’s hard to say you are running, fast-packing, or hiking in the park.

2. There will always be outliers. There will always be sensationalized stories of situations involving individuals who do not represent the majority of participants in any given activity. Runners are all too familiar with the random rude folks in an otherwise open, caring and supportive community.

3. Attempting a R2R2R run doesn’t just happen. Even the most experienced trail and ultra-runners take time to plan out details, just like they would for any other race.

4. If you are attempting a R2R2R run, chances are you’ve run a few ultra and trail events before! I’d venture to guess that very rarely does a recreational runner just wake up one day and decide that want to traverse the Grand Canyon twice, over 42 miles.

5. Trail and ultra-running is built-in part on the principle of “leave no trace”. The same is true of committed hikers and fast-packers. We know how important it is to be good stewards of the land we have the privilege of exploring on foot, and we want to keep it as pristine and beautiful as the moment we ran through it. (if you are rolling your eyes or shaking your head in any way, please see #2)

Recently, however, it seems that there has been a particular “backlash” against runners (broadly defined). Articles are popping up everywhere complaining about behavior or generalized (read: stereotyped) personality traits that happen to describe some runners. I’m really not sure what is motivating people to decide runners are worthy of their scorn and the time to chastise, especially considering all of the other complete stupidity that exists around the world on a daily basis. I could suggest that there is an element of self-loathing involved, linked to the obesity epidemic that our country is currently experiencing, but I’d probably get chastised for that. Thus, I’ll refrain.

I should add that the Grand Canyon is just the next in a line of national parks that are limiting access to runners and others. I followed the Badwater 135 very closely this past week and was amazed by the endurance and athleticism of everyone who toed the line this year (side note: I WILL toe that line some day). This year’s race was especially interesting because the course was altered due to the moratorium placed on special event permits by Death Valley National Park’s new superintendent. There was quite a stir when the announcement was made, and the race director has taken everything in stride and should be commended for his continued service to the running community! The race went off beautifully, but the new route has certainly changed the history of the race.

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

All of this is to say that I completely understand and support the movement to protect our natural resources and update national park policies to reflect changing trends in community behavior. Many of our natural resources are dwindling and our national parks, along with the wildlife and plant-life, are constantly being threatened. Not only do many of the shelters and other facilities located at many of our parks need to be updated, but people visiting these areas need to take the time to educate themselves on proper etiquette and behavior so we can maintain the beauty that defines these spaces. Limiting access and eliminating events may ultimately prove necessary for the continued preservation of these spaces. However, for the time being, I would hope that committed and passionate runners would not be excluded from the experiences one can only have in these spaces. We are a considerate, responsible, and thoughtful bunch. Embarking on these various experiences is simply the final step in a series of unique and personal commitments. As runners, we understand the responsibility to be stewards of the land, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Every time we hit the trail, clear a path, and explore the natural beauty around us, we prove that we do deserve these nice things. We truly appreciate them.

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