Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Running Thoughts”

Exploring Shenandoah National Park

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again. Living on the east coast certainly has its perks when it comes to proximity to trails. So, when the beautiful epicurean told me she needed to make a trip to the University of Virginia for work, I was eager to tag along and run some trails in nearby Shenandoah National Park. I was able to set aside my dislike for UVA due to my Virginia Tech alumnus status, and embrace my time in Charlottesville, VA.

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We made the 5 hour drive on a Thursday afternoon, leaving me enough time for a shake-out run around campus before dinner with friends. Upon returning to the hotel, I discovered that I had forgotten the cap for my hydration bladder. This certainly didn’t bode well for what I hoped would be an extended trip to the park. I considered duct tape my best option after a quick search revealed no nearby stores with new bladders. I stayed positive, and got everything squared away for a long jaunt in the woods the next day.

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I had planned to wake up early to make the 45 minute drive to the trailhead, but need to wait for stores to open so I could find some duct tape. After my first stop was a bust, I found myself at Walmart and surprisingly discovered a cheap bladder that seemed like it would fit in my pack with some creative adjustments. It certainly wasn’t ideal, and the cheap valve ultimately ended up slowly leaking and wetting out my shirt, but it worked well enough that I was able to focus on the adventure at hand!

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I arrived at the Old Rag Mountain trail parking lot around 10am after a winding but uneventful drive. There was a couple getting ready to venture out on a hike, but the lot was empty otherwise. Temps were in the 30s with a slight breeze and overcast skies, which no doubt kept more people away. Over the course the day, I maybe saw 5 people, and seemed to have the entire park to myself, which was just fine with me! After a few confusing minutes, I found the trailhead and even managed to accurately use a compass to send myself in the direction I had planned. If you know how directionly challenged I am, then you realize what a big deal this was for me!

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The route I had originally mapped out didn’t involve summiting Old Rag Mountain. However, I’d heard more than a few amazing stories and seen plenty of pictures of the views, so clearly I needed to climb! I took the more runnable trail up to the summit with little issue, and bagged some serious elevation gain in the process. The views at all stages of the climb were as incredible as promised, and I was quite thankful I had decided on the detour. I’ll let the pictures tell the story!

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After Old Rag, my next destination was Lower and Upper White Oak Falls. As I navigated my map and the trails I was running, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how well I’d been able to follow the map I’d laid out for myself. This no doubt seems pretty trivial to most folks, but it seemed like a major accomplishment for me. I took in the gorgeous scenery along the way, stopping for pictures and I made sure to pause enough to appreciate the silent, still winter beauty around me, minus the snow that the park had clearly not seen as of late.

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In all, I wandered to the tune of 22 miles or so, complete with over 6,000 feet of gain, which made for a quality training run. More importantly, however, the opportunity to explore a new national park and further remind myself of why I love being out on the trails so much. I probably could have spent the rest of the day and all night out there and been perfectly happy, but my empty hydration pack and lack of additional nutrition made for a logical end to the day. Plus, I had another delicious dinner in Charlottesville waiting for me when I got back. All in all, it was the perfect opportunity for #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 71

The chase continues! It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but that’s what keeps things interesting, right? If you follow politics even remotely, then you’ve had plenty of opportunities to shake your head, roll your eyes, and let out a sigh of sadness, confusion, or utter frustration. It’s about this time of the year that the higher education professional in me begins to feel the stagnation of the semester, as do the students. This is a bit mitigated now that I’m working at the University of Delaware, since the spring semester doesn’t begin until February, but students still get antsy very quickly. I’ve been adjusting to my new schedule this semester, and the changes to my workouts as well. However, the clock continues to count down towards the Umstead 100 so I will continue #chasing42!

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A weekend getaway to Virginia meant some quality time in Shenandoah National Park. 

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Run: It has been an incredibly busy and adventurous two weeks of running and I have the numbers to show for it! I’ve clocked in around 150 miles and 14,000 feet of vertical gain in the last two weeks as my training reached a peak weekend yesterday and today. Getting up early on Mondays and Wednesdays to run a few miles has proven quite the unique challenge but a necessary evil since I’m on campus both evenings teaching. The flip side this semester is that with my Tuesday evenings free, I’m able to make it to the track workouts and get in some speed work, which I certainly missed during the fall. So, not only is the streak alive but I’m feeling really good about my training as I head into a busy spring filled with plenty of work trips and responsibilities, and some exciting races. Did I mention that it was 70 degrees and sunny this weekend? This is normal February weather, right?

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Nature’s beauty rarely disappoints. 

Thought: Don’t worry, folks, climate change isn’t that big of a deal. There’s nothing to see here. The strange weather patterns, melting glaciers, and disappearing species are a perfectly normal part of the natural world.

Well, at least that seems to be the messages many of the financially motivated, administratively inept and otherwise corrupt members of our new governmental regime would have us believe. It’s absolutely unbelievable to me that despite the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating the impact of humanity on the global climate, we are still debating it. We are still arguing over putting in place measures to preserve the dwindling natural environment around us, secure the clean water sources that give us life, and protect the species that keep our ecosystem in balance. We should not need to host data collection parties to preserve scientific research before it disappears from government websites. We should not find ourselves needing to protest the destruction of our environment by corporations seeking to irresponsibly develop protected lands in an effort to make money by producing goods that nobody needs in the first place. Don’t start lecturing my on the nature of capitalism, either. This isn’t capitalism. The benefits (if there are any) do not outweigh the costs. Those in power continue to demonstrate their inability to act in favor of the greater good, and not what’s good for their re-election campaigns.

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Appreciation and action go hand-in-hand. 

The more time I spend on the trails, running and hiking, the more I think about how fragile the beauty around me truly is at the hands of man. The gorgeous mountain top views, flowing streams, and rushing waterfalls have been around for millions of years, existing in harmony with the flora and fauna they support. It’s sad to realize that in the blink of an eye, our species has managed to destroy so much of that beauty, and replace it with concrete jungles and fossil fuel pollution. I know I have a role to play in that, as a consumer, and as a steward of the land I explore, but it’s hard not to throw up my hands in disgust. It’s hard to fight when what you believe is so seemingly logical and rationale, and yet pushed aside in favor of fleeting notions of personal wealth and comfort. Sometimes #chasing42 feels like chasing my tail. Still, we must continue to #resist!

Daily Chase: Vol. 70

January was a bit of a blur in many regards. The University of Delaware offers a 6-week winter term for students, of which a small percentage partake and an even smaller percentage are on campus. The result was an incredibly calm, quiet, and productive month that was nothing like the rest of the year. I’m typically juggling quite a few projects, so January was a wonderful opportunity to get a lot of uninterrupted work done, as well as tackle some meetings that would typically be much more difficult to schedule. Since I wasn’t teaching yet in the evenings, it also meant a much more consistent and easy-to-follow training calendar. The consistently mild temperatures meant I was able to really start the year off right, and my 325+ miles in January are proof positive of that. I know things will be getting much busier beginning on Monday with the start of the Spring semester, but I’m ready to return to a more fast-paced schedule. I’ve always been someone that thrives when I have more on my plate, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the buffet line on Monday!

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Run: It was another solid, consistent week of training, helped in part by the fact that I finally put together my training plan for the first 6 months of the year. Although I love to just go out and run, I know that I need to be a bit more regimented with my schedule so I don’t burn out, and I can truly enjoy the races I have coming up. This past week was my last opportunity for Monday and Wednesday evening runs for a few months, as I’ll be teaching those evenings during the Spring semester. This likely means attempting to get up early to squeeze in a run before work. This is a prospect I am far from excited about and uncertain as to how effective it will be. All I can do is try, but waking up is already a challenge during the week! After some sound advice, I made my way over to the UD football stadium earlier this week, and was pleased to find out it was open and I could venture in for a very rewarding stadium stairs workout. I followed this up with the first of six club hill workouts on Thursday, and my climbing was in solid form heading into the weekend. I capped off a solid week yesterday with a strong 27-mile effort on the trails at Brandywine Creek State Park, and I couldn’t be more happy with how well my legs are feeling. It’s time to hit the semester running and #chasing42!

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Thought: I have declared that this is the season of downhill training. I know, after quite a few experiences, that the downhills are the bane of my existence late in a race, and I’m determined to have more strength for those late race downhills this year. This means I’ve been hammering the downhills during my hill workouts, and pushing upward more methodically. It’s a strange reversal for me, but it seems to be working already, based on yesterday’s long run. I can only hope that my quads are ready for the Umstead 100 in April and Laurel Highlands in June. I have every intention of training hard so I can push those downhills while I’m #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 62

It’s election day, and I’m doing my best to put off permanently attaching my eyes and heart to the news coverage as the citizens of this country decide on the fate of democracy. It’s been a long, chaotic, vitriolic, and drama-filled election cycle, unlike any before it, and it almost seems surreal to have gotten to this point. It’s been close to 600 days since the first candidate declared (his) intent to run for president, and things have gone from unbelievable to downright preposterous as the campaign dragged on. I think it’s safe to assume that many folks are feeling some fatigue, so I hope you are exercising your right to vote, and then taking every opportunity to #optoutside and put a few miles between yourself and the frustration that may have been simmering just below the surface!

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Run: First and foremost, the streak is still in play as I near the one year mark! After taking some time to ease back into longer distances, I’ve been slowly building up my training again, and decided to start adding a bit of speed work back into my weekly routine. Needless to say, after about two months of LSD running in preparation for the Grindstone 100, my legs were a bit confused when I asked them to go fast again! I had registered many moons ago for the Operation Warm 10K at Winterthur on the 23rd because I obviously couldn’t pass up a chance to run a race in such a beautiful place. The epicurean volunteered at the race, so we made a morning of it. I had done 20+ on the trails the day before, so I figured I’d make it a heavier weekend and see where my legs were at two weeks out. I ran the 6 miles from home to the start of the race, and then rested a bit before the start. Although this was the first year of the race, it was amazingly well-organized, and drew a crowd of over 1400 runners. They released us in waves and I had every intention of making it an easy training run, but the adrenaline got the best of me as it typically does, and I decided about 100m into the race to push it and see what I had. I’ve run at Winterthur enough to know just how hilly it is, so I knew what to expect, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to test my legs. After a 6:47 first mile, my legs were screaming a bit, but holding up fine, and I kept pushing for the next 5 miles, up and down the undulating course. I thoroughly enjoyed the run, and felt surprisingly in control for how fast I was going. I pushed it up the final climb towards the finish and crossed the line in 45:08 (7:19/mile), which was good enough for 37/1400, but still only 14th in my age group! 🙂 Afterwards, I ran back down to hang out with the epicurean for a bit and cheer on other runners, and then took off to run the 7 or so miles home. I was definitely feeling the effort by the time I got home, but I proved to myself that my legs were fully recovered. The following week was incredibly busy at work, so my runs were a bit more rushed, but I made up for on the weekend with two more fantastic runs, as well as a wonderful hike at French Creek State Park with the epicurean and the dogs. In all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well my legs have adapted to daily running, and I am looking forward to keeping it going!

Thought: Everyone has had a bad race, right? Our friends are quick to remind us that there will be other races, that it doesn’t define us as a runner, and that we have plenty to look forward to and many other races to experience. I wonder what would happen if we took this attitude in other areas of our life? Instead of dwelling on past failures, arguing ad nauseam about previous mistakes, and resurrecting the past, what if we looked ahead to the future, and asked each other what we learned from those mistakes? The campaign rhetoric during this election cycle has focused so much on previous incidents, and so little on the ideas and actions that either candidate possesses for leading our country moving forward. I know at least one candidate has legitimate, well thought-out ideas for how to move our country forward, and it’s unfortunate that those ideas will not determine the fate of this election. Now, I’m certainly not saying we should ignore the past. Obviously, there are glaring differences in the past actions of our two major party candidates, and those past indiscretions in large part make them who they are, but history isn’t changing. We can read it, hear it, and then move on to the history that is yet to be written. I’m relatively happy with how my most recent training block turned out, and it left me with some amazing memories, but I’ll be looking forward now. It’s time to focus on the next run and the next race, and use the past to help us all keep #chasing42!

An Open Response to Female Runners…from me

“An Open Letter to Men from Female Runners” has been making the rounds on my own and many other folks’ social media feeds. Runner’s World re-published it, which drew even further attention to the article. Make no mistake…this is an important message, and one that more men need to hear, and more women need to feel empowered to make on a regular basis. Women should feel empowered to share this message without fear of reprisal, without fear of being told they are over-reacting, or being told to calm down. This fear is real, and we created this fear. This feeling begins when we wrap girls in pink blankets and boys in blue blankets, continues when we reinforce stereotypical gender roles and communicate to girls and women that their worth rests in their bodies. Not their bodies as active instruments of achievement, but passive instruments of visual and physical pleasure for men. This fear is reinforced when we teach girls to carry their keys between their fingers, use the buddy system, cover their drinks, and cross to the other side of the street when a man they don’t know approaches. I am certainly in favor of safety, but putting this responsibility in the hands of women alone ignores the problem. We shy away from teaching boys and men to respect men and women equally, and to be quite blunt, not to rape!

photo credit: Jen Benna

photo credit: Jen Benna

This is such an important message. Sadly, this is the reason that I intentionally avoid solitary women when I am out running. I take as large of an arc around them, cross to the other side of the street, and at the very least yell “on your left” as far back as my voice will carry me, and speed up when I’m passing a woman to make it clear that I’m not stopping or slowing down. I always smile and say hi, but avert my own eyes. I hate that I have to do that. I hate that I need to assume any woman is going to be fearful of me, without even knowing who I am. It doesn’t matter that I just launched a campus-wide sexual assault and misconduct awareness campaign, that I proudly identify as a feminist, or that I teach Women’s Studies courses, give workshops on diversity and inclusion, and research sexuality and gender. It doesn’t matter that I firmly believe I have a responsibility to act proactively to end sexual misconduct, or that I reach out to get more men involved as active bystanders. It doesn’t matter that I grew up in the Midwest and everything about me is “Minnesota nice”. On that dark street or trail, I’m a nameless man and my identity gives a woman running the other way reason to fear for her safety.

I’ve been attached on the street before, been harassed by passers-by in cars and had homophobic slurs hurled at me, but I still don’t know what it’s like to constantly be on guard. However naive I may be, I still feel comfortable heading onto the trails before the sun rises, by myself, with only my headlamp to light my way. My mind might conjure up images of animals jumping out to attack me, but ultimately I still feel confident enough to not wait for the sun to come up or to join the rest of the group. Many women wouldn’t make that choice, and I hate that. It infuriates me that I live in a society where common sense human decency has not yet been normalized. It infuriates me that the female runners I know and those that I don’t can’t have the same meditative running experience that I have so often. There is no feeling quite like it, and I’d give anything to be able to extend that opportunity to every woman who has ever feared for her safety while out running. However, I know I can’t, so my work continues. In the meantime, I’ll always be “on your left” from a quarter mile away, chasing42.

Sustainable Training: Knowing When to Walk Away

I expected this post to be a post-race recap following a great running weekend at the Cayuga Trails 50 Miler in Ithaca, NY this weekend. However, my body had other plans. I went out for a regular mid-afternoon run last Sunday, and the sun was finally out, which was glorious. However, my brain is clearly not in summer mode yet, especially with the persistently overcast and rainy weather we’ve had for the past month. Thus, I excitedly slipped on a sleeveless shirt, but neglected the sunscreen. This was most definitely a running fail!

Three hours later, and I was feeling great after a nice long run and a solid overall weekend of running. I helped the beautiful epicurean with some garden work, and then went inside to shower off and relax for the evening. No sooner had I taken my shirt off then the bright red glow of my shoulders and arms nearly blinded me!

I gingerly showered, although my arms weren’t all that sore yet. The heat, however, was radiating off of them with enough force to power a jet engine. I’ve had sunburns in the past, but have learned my lesson enough to slather on copious amounts of sun screen. The heat and sun simply took my pale, Northern European complexion by surprise.

It took about 2 nights before the full severity of the burns sunk in, and it became clear that these weren’t merely surface burns, but rather solid 2nd degree burns. My shoulders began to blister, which was of course made worse by the fact that I kept my #runstreak alive each day and the sweat simply had nowhere to escape my body. The nausea and flu-like symptoms set in at about the same time, and by Thursday, it became pretty clear that I was not in race shape.

Baxter had the right idea this weekend.

Baxter had the right idea this weekend.

I absolutely hate canceling race plans, and I’ve been looking forward to our camping trip up to Ithaca for the last month. However, I have to honest with myself and listen to my body. The Aikido ninja epicurean referred to this as sustainable training, and that is a very appropriate phrase. Sometimes it’s important to push through the pain, and other times it’s just as important to recognize when to pull back, let your body heal, and live to run another day. There will be other races, I will be running Cayuga next year, and we were able to cancel our reservations with minimal penalty, so all is well on that front.

I might not be able to shake that gross feeling in my stomach (different from the one that led to my vomiting!) when I think about not racing this weekend, but I know it’s the right decision. I was still able get out and find ways to push myself this past weekend, but I also took the time to make sure my body isn’t beat up and fighting itself the entire summer. There is a lot of pride in ultrarunning when it comes to pushing limits. We talk about the pain cave, and digging deep. We post memes that state “A DNF is better than a DNS”. All of these cultural attributes can make it easy to get sucked into ignoring your body, and I certainly admit that I’ve been guilty of that in the past. However, it’s one thing to push through the pain and discomfort that running for long distances can cause, and quite another to ignore actual injuries and risk more permanent damage.

Brandywine Creek State Park is quite lush and green after all of this rain!

Brandywine Creek State Park is quite lush and green after all of this rain!

I want to be running for the rest of my life, and I want to be finishing ultras long into my twilight years. That means sustainable training is a must. Of course, not racing this weekend also means I’ll be looking at upcoming races this summer and fall and working on finalizing future plans! Registering for races while ill is like shopping while hungry. Danger, Will Robinson! Wherever the path may take me, I’ll continue #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 43

Spring has finally arrived on what appears to be a more permanent basis, and the urge to run only grows with each passing beautiful day! I can say with some degree of certainty that I’m spending considerably more time thinking about being outside running when I’m not outside running, and more time muttering “just one more mile” to myself when I am outside. When the sun is shining, the winds are light, and the temperatures are mild, the call is just so strong. The light beckons me outside and makes me think that anything is possible, and it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s also delightful to see more people outside enjoying the weather and being active after spending so many long, solitary, dark, cold mornings by myself while the few folks away simply drove by in their cars and shook their heads in disbelief. Our one year anniversary in Delaware is fast approaching, and I’m excited to see what adventures the spring and summer bring for us both!

Spring is in the air!

Spring is in the air!

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Run: I’ve found myself running more and more two-a-days as of late, not simply for the added exercise, but because I wanted to spend more time outside. This past Sunday afternoon was no doubt the highlight of the past few days, as I spend several glorious hours out on the trails at Brandywine Creek State Park. If it wasn’t for life’s actual responsibilities, I’d probably spend all of my days out on the trail, and work remotely from a camp chair, soaking in the sun, sounds, and energy of the outdoors. I’ll have to settle for taking it in a few times a week as the #runstreak continues with gusto on a collision course with summer!

#trailporn

#trailporn

Thought: Yesterday was the Boston Marathon, which meant I was rather distracted by race updates, photos from friends, and the general energy that comes with the event. It’s even more exciting for me now that I’m living relatively close, and I’ll hopefully travel up there next year to spectate and take in the experience. I may not be running it anytime soon (not without a 20 minute marathon PR), but you can bet I’ll be enjoying it. That question of qualifying seems to be a constant back-and-forth for many folks. The race has emerged as the go-to bucket-list item for so many people as of late, and although my heart belongs on the trails, I certainly understand the draw. What I don’t understand are the folks that make counterfeit bibs and run the race illegally. It’s a sad statement on our society that the marathon needs to remind folks not to post photos of their bibs on social media, lest they are copied and printed out by cheaters. I suppose I just don’t understand what someone would get out of the experience if they didn’t qualify in the first place. For so many folks, their training all year revolves around that “A” race that will give them their qualifying time. Many people work for years towards that goal, and the marathon itself is simply a celebration of that accomplishment. There is a sense of pride in wearing that medal around your neck, and putting on that distinctive Adidas jacket, but you get none of that if you cheated to get there in the first place. If you are putting on a show, you can only be doing it for people who don’t really know you anyway, since anyone who knows you as a runner will no doubt know you never qualified for Boston. That’s simply not the kind of information you keep to yourself after a race. So, who are you really trying to impress, and is it really worth it once you get caught and are banned for life from ever actually reaching that dream? I’d go out and ask someone these questions myself, but I’m not going to be joining you on a run anytime soon if you think cheating your way into Boston is a good idea 😉 Everyone is #chasing42 in their own way, and as long as they are true to themselves and recognize that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, then I’ll always be your biggest cheerleader!

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