Monday, February 22, 2010

Saturday Long Run

I decided to bag my weekend snowshoe double header. I figured snow cover would be thin at best making for poor racing conditions. I was half right, or wrong depending how you look at it. Reports out of Merrimack NH were generally positive with only a few unlucky racers busting cleats at The Horse Hill 7K. The Kingman Farm Race didn’t fare as well since it was a night race giving Mother Nature plenty of time to melt any remaining snow with warm daytime temperatures. It ended up being a trail race. Snow racing in the North East has been pretty much a bust this season.

With snowshoe racing put on the back burner I headed over to Lynn Woods do get in a long four hour run. Just like my last run here I was surprised by the amount of snow on the trails. The dirt fire roads were sheets of ice but the less traveled single track was more runner friendly covered mostly with snow. In some sections it was fairly deep and made for some difficult running at times. I wore screw shoes but I would have had an easier time if I had worn my mirospikes.

I’m planning on doing a 55K training run on my 55th Birthday this weekend so I mapped out a route to would follow for my B-day run. I wanted it to be 17 miles so two loops would give me the 34 I needed for my 55K. I came up a little short at 16.5 miles but it was close enough. Not a bad estimation from just looking at a trail map and marking it up in five minutes. Of course I have no business attempting a 55K run on the limited training I’ve been doing the past three months. Then again, if it was easy, what would be the point of doing it?

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it…

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CW-X Pro Tights - Product Review

After listening to a few friends praise the CW-X tights they’ve been wearing I decided to see what they were all about. Oh, bummer, no freebie here. I actually had to purchase these with my own hard-earned cash. If there are any manufacturers out there looking for product testers feel free to contact me. I love free gear!

From CW-X Conditioning Wear’s Website:

The CW-X Pro Tights unite the major joints of the leg to offer optimum muscular support for activities with linear movement, such as running and Nordic skiing. The patented Support Web(TM) brings the hips, knees and ankles into proper alignment, reducing impact and load to the legs. The Support Web also creates a suspension system for the hamstrings and quadriceps, reducing workload in both the pull and push phase of the running motion. Combined with targeted variable compression to increase circulation and reduce fatigue, your muscles don’t have to work as hard over time and your legs will feel fresher.

Extensive studies show that wearing CW-X tights results in 26% less energy expenditure than running in regular tights and 36% less energy than running in shorts. CW-X’s patented Support Web brings the hips, knees and ankles into proper alignment, reducing impact and load to the legs. The Support Web™ also provides a suspension system for the hamstrings and quadriceps, reducing workload in both the pull and push phase of the running motion. With more efficient strides, your muscles don’t have to work as hard over time and your legs will feel fresher.

My take on the tights:

Putting on the tights is a process in itself. The opening at the ankle is narrow so it’s a bit of a struggle to get these on. You also want to make sure you have the conditioning web properly aligned with your knees and specific muscle groups. The fit in the leg is snug so it involves some gentle pulling and twisting of the material to get them in place. The final task is to get the tights over your butt and hips to waist level. Whew! They call these compression tights for a reason. Once on, I went from a tenor to a soprano! Even if I don’t run well I may sing better.

I’m not really a tights kind of guy but I thought these compression tights would help me during long training runs and post-race recovery from ultra marathons. They definitely delay muscle fatigue to a degree and I’ve noticed I recover faster from hard efforts when I wear the CW-X Pros. My legs feel less tired and achy the day after my 4-5 hour long runs. My only complaint with these tights is that the distance from the crotch to the waist is too short so the tights sit more around my hips than my waist. They also have a tendency to slide down during my runs especially on steep climbs over step-like rocks. Although not a major shortcoming, it can get a little annoying after hours on the trail. I know the fit is correct because I ordered them based on the manufactures precise sizing chart so this problem could be a function of torso length. I have a long torso but if yours is short this may not be an issue for you. Overall the tights are a good piece of gear to add to your collection. The best pricing I have found recently is on for $97 with free shipping.

Monday, February 15, 2010

TARC Run - Take Two

After falling on the ice last Sunday I didn’t do much running during the week. Two short runs during my lunch hour and that was it. I hoped to salvage the week by getting in a long run with the Trail Animals on Sunday. On my way to pick up Kevin he called to tell me he tweaked his back.  Snow and ice covered trails of Blue Hills is not the place to be when you are nursing an aching back. He needed a little convincing to stay home. Kevin made the right call and decided to do a road run in the city instead.

I arrived at the base of Great Blue Hill early and thought about getting in a climb before Bob and Steve showed up. I wisely waited in my truck with the heat running. I would be getting abused by the hill soon enough. Why push my luck. Bob and Steve rolled into the parking lot at the same time and prepared ourselves for the task at hand.

View of Houghton's Pond from Great Blue Hill.

This is a tough hill to run and it’s even tougher without first doing a warm-up. Bob said, “The first one is the warm-up!” so off we went. I noticed right away I wasn’t feeling as good as I did last time I ran this workout. When I mentioned I was hurting to Bob and Steve they both said it was because we were running much faster than last time. That made me feel much better, NOT! On the second repeat I could feel my stomach churning and about ¾th up the hill I had to pull over to the side of the road to hurl. I guess the effort was harder than I thought. Or maybe it was too much lobster and shrimp the night before.

I was happy with two sets but Bob said we had time for a third. Oh, goody! We ran about 1/4th of the hill and power-hiked the rest of the way. It’s a skill you need to hone if you run ultras. Total miles for the repeats were just over five. We jumped in our cars and drove over to the Houghton’s Pond area to meet up with the rest of the group. There was a good sized group waiting in the parking lot. Not as many as my last TARC run but still 11 total animals turned out. The plan was to run another 20 miles on some of the easier trails in Blue Hills. We were staying off the Skyline trail since it would be too dangerous with all the snow and ice on the ground.

Why are we climbing snow and ice covered rocks?  Because we are animals.

Our fearless leader of the pack.

Trail Animals on the hunt for fresh trails.

There was about 1-2 inches of soft snow on the ground but not too much ice. I had my screw shoes and they gave me good traction most of the time. There was still some slipping and sliding around but not enough to make it annoying, and tiring. I was feeling sluggish for the first hour which is normal for me. After the first hour passed I started to get into a rhythm and was feeling pretty good. About seven miles into the run, and after we ran through a frozen swamp, Norm stopped to take a pee. Chris said he would wait up for Norm if Steve and I wanted to continue with the group. We said we would wait too. While we waited for Norm the three of us also decided this would be a good time to take a pee break. While we were taking care of business Norm sprinted past us so he could catch up with the rest of the animals. Thanks for waiting Norm!

The Trail Animals have a saying for these group runs and it goes like this. “No animal with be left behind.” I guess that doesn’t apply to three guys taking a pee because by the time we were finished there wasn’t a trail animal in sight. Chris said he knew the way so I wasn’t worried about getting lost. Unknown to us, Bob decided to change up the route along the way and we never caught up to them again.

Before the pack left me in the dust.

About 8 miles into the run Steve said he was really hurting and wanted to turn back. Steve ran the Frozen Fat Ass last weekend on the Cape. He ran 34 miles in soft beach sand with a 30 mile an hour head winds and wind chills below zero. Then he did a 15 mile trail run on Saturday. On Sunday, he got up at 3am to lift weights before coming out to run the hill repeats with me and Bob. And now he said he’s tired. What a sissy! Maybe Steve is human after all.

Knowing Steve’s uncanny ability for getting lost I decided to head back with him as Chris continued on to chase down the group. Steve had a trail map with him so we managed to work out a short cut back to the cars. That is after I took the map away from Steve. I’m not sure why he carries one with him as he clearly has no idea how to read one. At least he had the good sense to bring it with him. I did not. Our route back was about four miles long so we ended up with 12 miles for the run.

I would have liked to have gotten in the full 20 but looking back it was probably best that I turned back when I did. I ran out of water early on and it would have been a struggle to go the whole way without hydration. I filled up my empty water bottle with snow and stuck it inside my shirt. I thought my body heat would melt the snow and I would have some fresh cold water to drink. It may have worked if I was out there longer but I got nothing but a cold stomach for my effort. Overall it was still a good day. Five miles of hills and 12 miles on snow covered trails.

11 photos from Sunday's TARC run added here.

Rest up Steve….

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Bunch Of Dumb Decisions

My plan for Sunday was to wake up early (5am) and head to Blue Hills for another TARC run. I really enjoyed last weekend’s workout with the animals (3.5 miles of hills repeats followed by 4 hours of trail running). Well, things don’t always go as planned. I overslept, and since I didn’t prepare my gear the night before knew I would never get there on time. Instead, I decided to stay local and do a long run in Lynn Woods.

Last weekend, the trails in Blue Hills had only a dusting of snow and scattered patches of ice. I assumed the trails in Lynn Woods would be about the same so I left my screw shoes and Kahtoolas at home. When I arrived at the entrance to the woods I was surprised to see the ground covered in snow. I should have driven home to get my screw shoes but I didn’t. It was a decision I would later regret.

I started my run on a fire road that was solid ice. I did my best to stay off the ice and run on a light covering of hard snow on the sides of the road. The fire roads here get a lot of traffic from dog walkers, xc skiers and snowshoers so the snow gets packed and frozen. The rain and subsequent below freezing temperatures we’ve had turned them into a skating rink. I hoped the single track trails would be in better shape. They weren’t.

About 90% of the trails were covered in snow and ice. Of that, I estimate about 60% was hard snow and runnable. The rest was ice that required a slow shuffle or walk depending on the grade of the trail. I had planned to run about four hours but after two I decided it was unwise to continue. It just wasn’t very safe. I was pissed at myself for leaving my screw shoes at home and not being able to complete my run.

I had less than a mile to go when I came to a downhill section that was nothing but ice. I should have bushwhacked my way around the trail but I didn’t. I saw there were enough exposed rocks above the ice to rock hop my way down. I made it down slowly and unscathed and I guess I must have let my guard down. I jumped off a rock onto what I thought was a safe spot but I didn’t notice it was covered with clear ice. Both feet went out from under me and I was falling backwards onto my butt. I reached out to break my fall and jammed my hand hard on the frozen ground. The pain was intense and I thought surely I must have broken my wrist.

After yelling every curse word I could possibly think of I examined my wrist and hand. My wrist was painful to touch around the entire circumference. My fingers we numb and tingling but I could move them. I could also bend and turn my wrist so I figured it must not be broken. I walked the final half mile out of the woods and when I finished my wrist was feeling a little better. Perhaps I dodged the bullet. Later that day my wrist was getting more painful with each passing hour. My wife suggested I go to the ER to have it checked out. The last thing I wanted to do was spend 5 hours in the waiting room of an ER. I decided to wait and see how it felt in the morning. I iced and wrapped it before going to bed.

Well now its morning and my wrist still hurts, my hand is swollen to double its normal size and my fingers look like sausages. Should I go to the ER for an X-ray? Probably, but I’m not. I work in a hospital and I’ll see my primary care physician when I go to work tomorrow. If I need an X-ray I’ll get one done there in a fraction of the time compared to going to the ER today.

It looks like I won’t be running for a while. My wrist hurts like hell when I swing my arm (yes, I tried it already) and running with my arm in a sling would leave me with only one arm to break my next fall.

Damn, dumb decisions!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

January In Review

My training in the first month of 2010 was split between trail and snowshoe running. Early in the month there was good snow cover so I focused more on shoeing. I ran two snowshoe races in the first two weeks. One went well, the other not so much. I broke the cleats on both shoes during the second race and didn’t get back on them for the rest of the month. Not that I could have if I wanted to. The rain came soon after my last race and washed most of the snow away.

Total Miles: 139
Best Week: 40
Longest Run: 18.6
# of Runs: 22
Avg. Run: 6.3
# of Races: 2 (snowshoe)
Race Miles: 7

I ran 52 miles more this month when compared to January 2009. I’m off to a decent start.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Trouncing Trails with the Trail Animals

I skipped another snowshoe race this weekend but it gave me an opportunity to meet up with the Trail Animals for their weekly TARC run. I’ve been thinking about joining in on one of these Blue Hills runs for months but the 7am start time usually scared me away. Trail Animal extraordinaire, Bob Crowley decided to move the runs to 8am to encourage more participation and it must have worked. 15 wild creatures decided to leave the comfort of home for a frolic in the frigid air.

Bob was starting out an hour earlier by running hill repeats up to the Observatory Station atop 635 foot high Great Blue Hill. Knowing I’m in serious need of hill work and knowing Mish, Kev and Steve would be there, I decided to bite the bullet, get up early and head for the hills. The climb to the Observatory is on a paved road approximately 0.9 miles long. The climb is constant and steep in some sections so there’s really no place to ‘rest’ on the way up. I worked the up hills fairly hard but not all out. I knew I had another 16 miles of hard running after this. I took it easy on the downhill not wanting to torture my PF any more than necessary. Thankfully, we only had time for two sets but it was plenty for my first hill session. I’ll be back for more. Sure beats the dreadmill!

Weather Observatory

After the short drive to Houghton’s Pond we met up with several more animals and headed off into the woods. I didn’t know any of the other runners there and they didn’t seem to know one another either. That didn’t matter to any of us. We were all assembled there because we all shared the same passion for running rugged trails under any conditions. Bob led the way and we followed like baby cubs. I think he was the only one in the group the really knew the trails well. Blue Hills is a large park and the trail system is a bit confusing so it pays to have a leader.

This is a fine mess you've gotten us into. (Episode of Lost)

Most of the trails were covered with a thin layer of snow. Some sections were icy, some were bare. Overall conditions were good and I didn’t use any traction devices. I don’t think there were any spills which is always good especially on rocky trails. After an hour of running half of the group decided to return to the cars for various reasons. Seven others, including myself decided to press on. I was looking to get four hours on my feet so I was just getting warmed up. Since none of us knew where we were going we stayed on the Skyline trail. It’s the best marked trail with large blue rectangle blazes. It’s also the most difficult many with rocky climbs and descents but also great views of the surrounding area.

Rock riders

I'd rather be here than there.

Three of the faster runners led the way while four of the slower one (that’s me) followed. They were good enough to wait up for us so we wouldn’t get lost. Actually, we could keep up with them on the flats (of which there were little) and the descents. They were strong climbers though and it was hard to maintain contact with them on the up hills. At the top of one climb the four tortoises stopped for a five minute break to soak up the sun on a warm ridge. We joked that we would never see the speedy hares again. Much to our surprise they were waiting for us a few hundred yards down the trail.

Too fast for this old man.

When we neared the parking lot three more runners dropped while four of us pressed on to climb Great Blue Hill to the weather station. We ran into some very icy trails where an ice axe and crampons would have come in handy. Steve mentioned Streph would have liked this section. We thought it safer to detour through the woods and avoid the ice flow. Once we reached the station we headed back in the same direction. It was much too cold to stand around in the wind at that elevation.

Ice axe and crampons would have helped on this trail.

After a slow and careful descent on the icy trail we were back to the parking lot and our cars. After about 5-10 minutes of conversation we retreated to our vehicles for some warmth. It was a very enjoyable run and I got to meet several new animals in the process. I’m going to try to get out to Blue Hills more often for these run. The terrain is much more challenging than my usual stomping grounds and running long with a group makes short order of the many miles.

Still smiles after many miles.

More TARC run photos here.

Here’s to another sunny day!
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