Chasing 42

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Archive for the tag “snow”

The Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth

At any given time, the last 20 weeks or so either feel like they have blown by quicker than I could blink or crawled by at a pace that would make a 3-toed sloth laugh. This weekend, I tackled a sub-zero marathon on Saturday, and then slogged through a snow-covered follow-up run on Sunday. Each had their highs and lows, but they were good training runs and I’m feeling strong. More importantly, this weekend marked my last long back-to-back weekend, which means I now have the long-awaited joy of tapering! Did I say joy? Maybe I meant disdain. You see, the psychological and physical aches and pains that tapering, combined with a long and intense training season, bring, seem to have grown to proportions I haven’t experienced before. This obviously led me to wonder if there might be more to my extended tapering pains. The result is a theory that will no doubt win me accolades the world over, so I guess y’all should feel honored that I’m sharing it with you first!

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Aside from the vehicle-induced aches and pains I recently incurred, I’ve noticed that the phantom wandering pains that typically arrive during my taper period came much earlier this time around. I probably started feeling various issues about 5 weeks ago, and they’ve been flowing through my body ever since. My right Achilles was acting up, and then it was my left forefoot, along with both of my knees at various points, and my groin before that. I’ve monitored all of these issues, and they’ve gradually dissipated and then disappeared altogether. However, they seemed to begin around the time I really started to look forward to my upcoming trip to Arizona and Across the Years. I’ve written before about battling the injury gremlin, and this most recent ongoing battle led me to wonder if the fact that everything was happening earlier had anything to do with the increased distance I was running. I mean, I will be attempting to run longer than I’ve ever run before, and the entire race experience will be brand new. I’ll be stepping into uncharted territory, much like all of my other running firsts. Perhaps my body knows this, and it began making me hyper-aware of every ache and pain that much earlier as a result.

I think winter is finally here.

I think winter is finally here.

Over the last two years, I’ve pushed myself harder and further than ever before, and my endurance has certainly increased. My recovery time has also decreased, which has been a welcome development, especially considering my consistent back-to-back long runs on the weekends. As a result, my outlook on various distances has changed along with my goals, which is to be expected, I suppose. This has led me to contemplate the recent exponential growth of my tapering conundrum. It would seem as if the more I increase my race distance, the earlier my taper gremlin emerges to start whispering sweet nothings in my ear. In general, you can think about this Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth like this:

Taper Graph 2.1

Now I should be clear that my sample (methodology) is one of convenience (me) and these results may be limited to my own well-being (limitations). However, it seems fairly clear at this point that the longer the race, the longer the tapering aches and pains. This wouldn’t be horrible, except for that fact that I’m still only tapering for the next three weeks, which means I have been left to deal with the drawbacks of a taper, while still logging long distances. This hardly seems fair! If a graphical representation hasn’t made this new, highly scientific discussion clear, I will also include a more detailed explanation (discussion). Ultimately, I think I can work through the following race distance stages.

Stage 1 (Half-Marathon): I’m ready and feeling good- let’s go!

Stage 2 (Marathon): I could sure use a massage, but let’s knock this out!

Stage 3 (50K): I think my knees could definitely use the rest.

Stage 4 (50 miles): My back, knees, and shins are definitely feeling the training, but I’m ready.

Stage 5 (100K): Thoughts of seeing a PT or podiatrist creep in a few times a week.

Stage 6 (100 miles/ 24 hours): Those thoughts are happening daily. Can I just taper in the hospital to be safe?

After what can definitely be called an exhausting training period and academic semester, I’m definitely ready for my taper, as well as a bit of rest before January hits. Ultimately, I know the various aches and pains come with the territory, and I’ve put my body through a lot lately, so it has earned a more relaxed schedule. My endurance is up, and I’m as ready as I’m gong to be for this race, so focusing on the planning, organization, and nutrition will gladly fill my thoughts for the next three weeks. In my free time, perhaps I can shop this “law” around to various scientific journals. This publication showing up on my vita would definitely turn some heads!

Race Recap: Living History Farms 2013

I should probably use the term “race” very loosely when describing this iconic Iowa off-road running event. However, what this race lacks in a traditional sense, it more than makes up for in a crazy, friendly, energetic, history-filled experience! This year marked the 35th anniversary of this piece of Iowa culture and history, and I couldn’t have been happier to don my superhero mash-up costume, and toe the line with close to 6,000 of my closest friends!

Nestled on several acres of undeveloped natural habitat just outside Des Moines, Living History Farms was created to as  “an interactive outdoor history museum which educates, entertains and connects people of all ages to Midwestern rural life experiences.” For the last 35 years, folks have been running this cross-country race which resembles many of the trail races I’ve done far more than a high school cross-country meet! This was my 4th time participating in this event, and it lived up to expectations as always. From the beginning, the organizers sum up the race with some common questions:

Will it be cold? Probably!

Will I get wet? Probably!

Will I get dirty? Probably!

Do I need gloves? Yes!

Exactly how far is it? 7 miles

I arrived around 8:30 and parked, with plenty of time for the 9:00AM start. In previous years, I’ve gotten down there earlier for some tailgating, but it’s been a busy fall season, and planning was minimal. I believe it had warmed up to 10 degrees by the time I got there, which was clearly balmy by November standards in Iowa (in actuality, the temps were unseasonably cold, but they seem to do that a lot!). I found some friends on the trek from the lot to the starting line, and took in the scenery as I made my way to the giant corral teeming with costume-clad runners. One of the best parts of this race is the fact that runners dress up to the extreme, sometimes more elaborately than even the most extravagant Halloween parties. The temperature is never a deterrent for exposed skin, but plenty of folks find costumes with a bit more fur for warmth. I could spend an entire post dedicated solely to the diversity of costumes, and they truly make the race. When else is slogging through creek beds and corn fields in a giant yeti costume acceptable? Ok, so maybe filming one of those documentaries would be an exception, but I’m still convinced that Bigfoot is legit!

Cold and ready to run!

Cold and ready to run!

The “gun” went off at 9AM, and the packed crowd surged forward. Now, I indicated earlier that it was a bit of a stretch to call this a “race”, and that is mainly due to the mechanics of squeezing thousands of people onto a very narrow path. Unless you are at the front of the pack and take off sprinting, you are going to do your fair share of walking and dodging other bodies along the route. Needless to say, this would not be the place to be during the Zombie apocalypse!

I warmed up fairly quickly once I started moving, and proceeded along the snow and ice-packed trail. You spend the first few miles winding through relatively open fields, and then the fun begins. As you hit the wooded portion of the course, you are greeted by the first of seven (or eight…I lost count) water crossings. I made the mistake of bothering to try to stay relatively dry by walking on walks across the stream, but the ice-covered rocks had other ideas, as did the next stream, which was wider, deeper, and only about 50 yards further down the trail. In previous years, these water crossings have ranged from bone dry to completely flooded. The water levels weren’t insane this year, but certainly high enough to get me nice and soaked up to my knees or so.

Super Hero Mash-Up!

Super Hero Mash-Up!

Running on cold, wet feet isn’t high on my list of favorite activities, but somehow I always find myself enjoying it during this race. We made our way up and down steep, dirt-covered hills, sometimes moving up under our own foot power and other times relying on ropes to pull ourselves up and help those around us along the way. Part of the enjoyment of this race is truly the friendly environment. Everyone is out there to have a good time, and always willing to lend you a hand to help you up our down, no matter how muddy you might end up in the process. The ground was actually cold enough this year, that even with a light dusting of snow, the dirt stayed pretty solid and held the mud at bay.

The entire route twists and turns for seven miles, but it always seems to be the quickest seven miles I ever run, despite it actually being the slowest seven miles I’ll ever run. This year was no exception. As I reached the last water crossing and pulled myself up for the final stretch, it hardly seemed like I had been out there for over an hour already. Everyone was cheering and reveling in the delight of a wonderful romp through the woods as we crossed the finish line. There were even medals this year to commemorate the 35th anniversary, and then we headed up to the excellent post-race spread for various delicious snacks. The cold reality revisited me fairly quickly and I was ready to take off my soaked shoes and socks and thaw out my hands, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling the entire drive home. Another enjoyable LHF off-road race is in the books and I can start planning my costume for next year!


But I’m Not Thirsty! Winter Hydration

It is perhaps perfect timing for me to be thinking about hydration and longing for the hot summer months as a winter storm bears down on the entire state of Iowa. As I’ve discussed before, thinking about hydration comes pretty naturally during the summer months when you feel like you can’t possibly drink enough water to keep up with the sweating, and you wish it was socially acceptable to run naked just so your core temperature was a bit lower. Ok, perhaps running naked would present its own challenges, but you know what I mean. However, when winter sets in, the temperature drops, the snow falls to the ground, and the wind cuts through me like a knife (at least in Iowa, where there is nothing to break it!), the last thing I’m thinking about consistently is hydration. I guess I’m just much less likely to feel thirsty when the snot is freezing to my face 🙂 However, at the point where I’m not feeling the need to hydrate, I need it even more!

But how do I drink the water in the first place?

But how do I drink the water in the first place?

There are a number of considerations to keep in mind during the winter months with regard to hydration:

1. You still sweat– This is probably the hardest fact for me to remember at times! When I’m out in the cold, my core temperature warms up eventually, and even my fingers and toes find some heat after about 6 miles, but I never have the reminder of sweat dripping down my face. It’s not until I step inside out of the cold that I realize my base layers are soaked pretty thoroughly.

2. Lower humidity The cold hair is typically much drier, unless it happens to be precipitating. This means you are at an even greater risk of dehydration.

3. Access to Water- During the summer months, I can head out for most of my runs around town and not even bother bringing a water bottle. Our community has a wonderful park system, and water fountains are everywhere. However, these fountains are obviously turned off during the winter months so the pipes don’t freeze. I still have the option of stopping at gas stations and other retail locations, but my overall access to water is much more limited. Carrying it becomes that much more important!

4. Water freezes- I know you are shocked by this revelation in science. When the cold sets in, the ability to drop water along the route or even carry it with you becomes compromised. Carrying water doesn’t do you much good if you end up with a block of ice in your hand after 45 minutes! Now, adding sugar (as in most nutrition beverages such as Gatorade or Powerade) does lower the freezing point of the liquid, but I try to stay away from sugary energy drinks, especially if there is some sugar in my solid nutrition.

5. Your blood thickens- As the temperature drops, blood viscosity increases. This means your heart is working harder to pump blood to your limbs, and you risk not getting enough oxygen to your extremities. This makes hydration, and the use of electrolytes that much more important!

I’m certainly much more likely to stay hydrated if I remember to bring water with me, as opposed to designing a limited route that stops at the various locations where I still have access to water. This year, I’ve been using the Salomon pack below for most of my long runs. The bottle is insulated, which means my water never freezes, and there is plenty of storage room for all of the nutrition I need, no matter the distance. You can find plenty of insulated water bottles online as well, and incorporate them into the gear you already own/use.

Salomon Pack

Salomon Bottle- 2

If you are looking for some more information on winter running, you can check out these resources below, courtesy of HowStuffWorks:


Remembering the Run

Do you remember the first run you ever went on? Do you remember what prompted you to decide to start running in the first place? Perhaps  you didn’t enjoy it initially but after one amazing run, you were hooked.  Perhaps the weather was beautiful, or you saw a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Were you all by yourself, did someone drag you out the door, or did you head out with a group of friends?

Now, when the euphoria wore off, why did you decide you go back out for a second run? We’ve all tried plenty of things once to be adventurous, and then decided they weren’t for us, but this was different. I raise these questions because I think it’s really easy to forget the answers after you’ve been running for a while. I’ve only been at it a few years, and I still need to remind myself what got me hooked in the first place, so I’m sure others that have been at it much longer than me are doing the same thing.

During the winter months, the theme of so many running-related stories is about survival. We are thinking about how to survive the snow, the cold, the ice, the treadmill, illness, darkness, and boredom. In the process of going on the defensive during the winter months, it seems pretty easy to treat running as something to get through and move on, but you miss out on whats around you when you are preoccupied with getting past it!


I can admit that I have been guilty of heading out on a run with a “must get it done” attitude, and I know I haven’t enjoyed those runs as much. I also know that I’m far from being a fan of the winter months, especially in the midwest, and I don’t enjoy the extra work involved in layering up just to get out the door. However, I want to always remember what an amazing gift it is that I have the chance to lace up and head out in the first place.


A week from now, I’m going to be relaxing on a sunny beach in Trinidad (or more likely, hiking through a rainforest), and I got all of my travel vaccinations last week. This is my first experience with international travel, so I didn’t exactly know what to expect. After an hour and a half in the travel clinic, it was hard not to be worried about everything from dengue fever to diarrhea, but I remained positive. In addition to the yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis A, and flu shots, I also received a pneumoccocal vaccination. For most folks, this isn’t a bad shot, but in 1% of patients, in can result in high fever, along with aches, pains, and chills. I won the vaccination lottery 🙂

I spent most of this past week on the couch with a fever anywhere between 100 and 103. I’m pretty sure that the most productive thing I did for three days was move from the couch to the bed. Now, I should mention that I’m really bad at being sick. I hate not being able to get things done and not having control over my time. Thus, that fact that I couldn’t run all week was really frustrating for me. I know I should have looked at it as an excellent recovery period for my legs and enjoy the rest, but I just couldn’t. The fact that I woke up three nights in a row lying in a pool of my own sweat after my fever broke didn’t help either!

Not my friend!

Not my friend!

When Saturday morning arrived, and I was feeling well enough to head out for a run, I was as happy as a kid in a candy store. I planned to take it easy and keep a somewhat slower pace so as not to overdo it, but I was just happy to be out there. I ran the first leg by myself, and felt this overwhelming excitement and sense of joy with everything around me. I felt my foot falls, listened to my breath, thought about my gate, and just took in the world around me. Then I met up with some friends for the next leg and it was wonderful to reconnect with everyone. Saturday mornings were already one of my favorite times of the week, but it was that much better this week. After having so little human contact for 4 days, it was great to be around people. I had some great conversations and formed some lovely memories to add to the mix. After we finished our loop, I headed back on the third leg of my run to complete my morning training.

When I got home, I realized that I felt that same new and exciting sense of joy that I felt when I fell in love with running the first time. The fire has been burning for quite a while now, but the spark was relit and renewed. It brought back all of the memories of my first run and of my journey. In the process, I was not only reminded of why I run, but that I never HAVE to run…I GET to run. I am always thankful for that.


Seasonal Transitioning

Fall is definitely in the air, and with it all of the wonderful smells and flavors of the season. This time of year also means transition for me in terms of the daily aspects of life and running. Although I overall really enjoy autumn, I started thinking a bit more intentionally about just how different things become as the leaves fall off the trees and the air starts to nip at your nose. Here are a few of my observations:

Would anyone like to come over and rake the yard?

Nutrition: We’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a weekly bounty of vegetables from a wonderful CSA this summer. Alas, our share of the veggies is coming to an end this month, and with the drastic weather conditions over the summer, I have a feeling it’s going to become much more difficult to find reasonably-priced fresh produce that hasn’t been over-treated with pesticides and left to sit in a warehouse for too long. However, autumn also means the emergence of one of my favorite flavors- pumpkin! You can bet it will be finding its way into breakfast smoothies, breads, coffee, pizza, and just about anything else I can work it into on my plate.

Even more delicious when you fill them with custard and bake them!

Clothing: Generally, I like being able to pull out my fall/winter wardrobe. However, the need to add increasingly heavy layers of running insulation is not high on my list of likes! I’m still fully committed to running outside all winter, regardless of the weather, but that doesn’t mean I need to like the extra work involved. Gone are the days when I could be ready and out the door in 5 minutes!

Time & Mileage: I’m now tapering for my 50-miler at the end of the month, so my weekly mileage is decreasing quite a bit. Although I plan to do a 50K in November, I’ll still be pulling back some over the winter. I would like to keep my base high enough that I can move right into the spring race season, but I’m still going to have a bit more time on my hands, especially on the weekends. This is probably a good thing if I’m going to write a dissertation this winter though 🙂

Daylight: The combination of shorter days and evening runs means I’m going to be spending more and more time running in the dark. I’ll be prepared with my reflective materials and headlamps, but the cold chill of the dark is never as enjoyable when you are trying to crank out 10 or 12 miles, is it?

Extra House Work: I’m convinced that our home is a magnet for every leaf on every tree in the neighborhood! There are many ways to get a good upper-body workout, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting my workout with a rake in hand for the next two months! Does anyone want to come jump in a big pile of leaves?

Endless piles…if only we could sell them!

It’s Official…I’m a Yankee Runner!

The Civil War for my running persona is over. Just as they did 150 years ago, the South has raised their white flag and surrendered to the might of the North. It was a hard-fought battle, and the South certainly had it’s fair share of resources and advantages. However, in the end, the North was simply overwhelming.

I got back from a mid-week 8-mile run this morning, and when I left at 8:45AM,  it was already 81 degrees outside. By the time I returned, it was 87, and the heat index made it feel like 95 degrees…at 10AM! I certainly enjoy a good sweat, and there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with being drenched in your own sweat. It’s as if your body is assuring you that “yes indeed, you worked your ass off!”

As grateful as I am to my body for the reminder, however, I’m fairly certain that I’m capable of sweating without oppressive heat and humidity bearing down on me as if I was running through a pool of wet concrete. This is not an environmental condition I will ever acclimate to, nor is it one that I can adjust my running routine or wardrobe to compensate. Alas, a person must run with at least a minimal amount of clothing in order to avoid various legal ramifications, not to mention the strange looks from passersby. With the possible exception of the new CoolMax clothing from Columbia, all of our innovations in sports science have yet to yield a way for me to be truly comfortable running in temperatures above 80 degrees. It’s just the way my body is programmed. Sunblock may prevent the sunburn, properly hydrating may keep me healthy, and light-colored clothing may have some minmal impact on my overall comfort, but until they invent a skin-tight temperature-regulating ice suit for running, I’ll still hate the hot temperatures!

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a super hero 🙂

Now, clearly I’m still running and I’m sure there is a part of you that’s saying to yourself…”suck it up!”. Don’t get me wrong- I AM sucking it up and continuing to train, and running earlier in the morning or later at night to avoid the worst of the heat. However, I still find myself longing for the cool fall days, the rejuvinating spring days, and even the chill of a February morning. The reality is that at least in the winter, I can add layers and provide myself with enough warmth to be relatively comfortable. Granted, it was a mild winter this year, but I’ve run year-round for the past three years now, and I will gladly take a 0 degree day that forces me to wrap myself in layers of thermal Under Armor over a 90 degree day that leaves me wanting to strip down to a thong and running shoes, stopping just short of peeling off my skin to try and cool myself off. I prefer cold weather. I can adapt and dress accordingly for cold weather.

I am a Yankee runner!

Race Report: 100% Irish For A Day 10-Miler

In America, everyone becomes Irish on March 17th. The irony of that in the context of our nation’s history is not the topic of this post. However, I truly am 50% Irish, and love this time of year. Aside from the excuse to eat delicious food and drink delicious beer, it also seems to mark the start of the race season in the Midwest. The weather is finally nice enough and organizers can convince enough people to come out to run and enjoy the weather and the road.
I’ve been running outside all winter with some wonderful intrepid friends who continue to brave the winds and cold of Iowa so this race ended up being quite the change. We were on our way out East for vacation and flying out of Minneapolis, which just happens to be one of my favorite places to run. As luck would have it, the 100% Irish For A Day 10-Miler was scheduled for Saturday with a fantastic route around the Minneapolis lakes. Needless to say, it was a perfect first race of the season for me!
I needed 3 hours of running (for my previously mentioned ultra-marathon), and our hotel was only 4.5 miles away from the start of the race, so I decided to run to the starting line, which turned out to be a great choice. It was already 45 degrees and sunny when I walked outside, and the quiet city streets of downtown Minneapolis made for a wonderful warmup run. I arrived early at the start, and the festivities at the Lake Harriet Bandshell were well under way. They had hot cider, water, and fire pits to greet runners and guests prior to the start, and the energy of excitement was in the air. Minneapolis has a fantastic and committed running community, and it was wonderful to see such a wonderful turnout for the race. By the time the gun went off and I crossed the timing pad, I had already logged 7 miles, and my legs felt great.
The route took us around the lakes on closed off roads, with water/gatorade stops @ miles 3.5 and 7. The volunteers along the way were energetic and encouraging, and the crowd of runners spread out nicely as the race progressed. The route wasn’t overly hilly, but still provided a nice challenge at times. As has been the case in Iowa, the winter in Minnesota has been unseasonably warm, so there was no snow to speak of along the route, and the roads were uncharacteristically free of potholes (give the weather time!).
I ended up finishing right around 1:30 as the announcer called out my name as I crossed the finish line (thanks to a timing pad a few hundred feet before the finish tagging my chip), and I headed back for some snacks and water. Now, it was an Irish race, and would not have been complete without a cold pint. Finnegan’s Irish Ale was there to help! Any race that ends with free beer is a good race in my estimation! The race was USATF-certified, and they had each mile marked, as well as several timing clocks.
As I headed back to the hotel to shower, and head to the airport, the sun shining on my face and sweat building up, I was fully content with a great start to the race season. If this race is any indication, it’s going to be a great year!



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