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Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's dark. Be bright!! --nighttime gear review

It's January.  Probably one of the hardest months of the year to get motivated to run.  With the short days and the cold winters in Va. all of the runners I know are either on the dreadmill, running in the dark, or still in hibernation mode after their fall races.  At least during the work week anyhow.
I am running in the dark.  All this dark running makes me even more anxious for the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, I can't wait to take in the sunlight, and get as much Vitamin D synthesis going on as possible!  But during the week, I am heading out for my runs in the dark.  On each of these runs, I am always genuinely happy to see other runners out logging miles.  However, I am often equally amazed at how many fail to wear any sort of reflective gear, or carry a flashlight!  While it's always fun to feel like a ninja, it's way more fun to NOT get hit by a car while crossing a street on your evening jog.  I would put money on about 80% of runners not carrying or wearing any sort of light or reflective gear.  And sorry folks, but a white tee-shirt does not qualify.
Now since you are reading my blog, I am going to assume you fall in to the 20% category, or you are a family member that thinks I'm a little silly for running so much anyhow.  Either way, thank you for humoring me and your reward is my review on the gear that I rely on to keep me visible when I am hitting the pavement without the sunshine. :-)
My Nighttime Running Essentials
For starters, I recommend that any runner that is expecting to be out between dusk and dawn don a reflective vest.  I recommend the Nathan Sport Streak reflective vest which retails for about $20-$25.  This little investment will make you visible 1200 feet away, is super lightweight (.2 lb), machine washable, and easily fits over any running shirt or jacket.  It also comes in sizes (not one fit all) and the newer versions even have an incorporated waterproof ID information card.  Without reflective gear, a runner at night is only visible from about 200 feet away.  If you like running as much as I do, please wear a reflective vest for those early am and late evening runs.
Next, I recommend a light.  At least one. I carry two.  A headlamp is a great hands free option, and is far easier to get used to running with than you may suspect.  I use and love my Black Diamond the Spot headlamp.  At $40 and available at pretty much any outdoors store it's a great value.  It's also light weight and in "Spot" mode, throws out 90 lumens of light.  Trust me, at 5am, that's a bright path to follow down the road.  I also find that it is light and bright enough for trail racing.  I wore it all night at Western States and didn't notice it at all.  The battery life is also exceptional, although after several hours of high powered use, the light will dim some, and it's one drawback is probably the 4 AAAs it needs to operate.  But in terms of light output, cost, and size, I find it to be a truly essential piece of gear.
Finally, I also carry a flashlight.  I prefer to keep to a small Princeton Tec AMP 1.0 light which fits easily in my hand, and is not uncomfortable to carry in my teeth thanks to the plastic/rubber handle.  The key to the flashlight is that in a really dark spot it gives some extra light, and if you have it with you, it may provide the light you need to change out your main light (headlamp) batteries without being completely in the dark.  Additionally, I like the plastic handle because it is not cold to hold onto in the winter, and the rubber side has a grip or two on it that prevents it from slipping out of your hand in the summer.  The Princeton Tec AMP 1.0 light retails for about $10-$12 and is also available at most outdoors shops.
I rely on each of these products multiple times a week and have had no issues with the quality of any of them.  I hope that all the runners reading my blog find this information useful. If you have had different experiences with the gear I mention, or think you have an even better piece of nighttime running gear, please leave a comment and let me know! In the mean time, imagine how hard core you look running outside on a dark rainy night with a headlamp on.  You. Look. Business.
Happy trails everyone!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Western States 2012 - Race Report

Western States 2012 –June 23/24
               Starting at 5:00 am in Squaw Valley, there was an awesome energy among both the participants and spectators alike.  This race is bigger than Boston for the likes of the subculture of running that is ultra-marathoning.  It is one of the oldest and most challenging ultras in the country.  Originating from a horse race known as the Tevis Cup, this run covers 100.2 miles and includes over 18000 feet of climb and 22000 feet of pounding descent.  The day was going to be much cooler than anticipated – actually down right cold for June, far colder than anticipated temps.  As the clock counted down to 5AM and we were started with a shotgun blast, I began the trek up to Escarpment with a little under 400 other ultra-marathoners.  Where usually people worry about going too fast in a race, the only folks going out hard here were the Elites.  Everyone else set out at a steady hike up the side of the mountain to Escarpment - a 3.5 mile climb of 2550 feet.
               Less than halfway up the climb it began to sink in that the race is more about enduring than finishing fast, especially if this is your first time taking aim at 100 miles, as it was mine.  About 1.5 miles in the wind picked up substantially and the gusts must have been without exaggeration upwards of 40 mph.  I couldn’t hike straight.  And then around mile 2, the hail started.  Driving wind, fog, and hail – this was the story for the first part of the race.  After 55 minutes of strenuous hiking I reached Escarpment.  After another short, but extremely steep climb I was over the ridge and on the backside of the mountain running on the most beautiful single track imaginable and finally semi protected against the biting wind.
Heading into Duncan Canyon AS - The volunteers were amazing!
               The next 7 miles to Lyon’s ridge, is a bit of a blur.  I felt great. The run was beautiful, and for once I felt like I hadn’t started too fast.  I reached the 10.5 mile mark right at 2:20. Not bad considering the first hour was almost exclusively hiking.  Miles 10.5 to 23 were a quite similar.  No snow on the course due to the dry and mild winter, and some amazing trail and beautiful landscapes.  That plus the amazing aid stations well stocked with chicken broth and Oreos were making my day – even if the temps were in the 30’s, the hail stuck around a bit, and I couldn’t see the valley from the high elevations due to the fog. 
               Then around mile 24 or so I began the trek up to Robinson Flat, mile 29.7.  This marks the end of the first 1/3rd of the race, the first weigh in, and the first point at which I would meet my sister, Kristi, to restock, and change socks.  Somewhere on those miles, maybe around mile 26 is the first real creek crossing.  I misstep and fall in.  Entirely soaking the left side of my body and completely zapping my energy and focus.  After several minutes of being upset at myself for falling and hiking / running towards Robinson I finally regain my mental game, but my hand is frozen and I notice both of my hands are swollen.  Finally, after 6hrs and 44min I reach Robinson Flat.  Still averaging my anticipated pace, things are looking up.  And then I weigh in.  Lucky for me the girl misreads the scale and records that I am only 3 pounds up from my starting weight; I’m actually closer to 5.  Knowing that this plus my painfully swollen hands that look like balloons means that I am retaining too much water and salt, I make a mental note to watch my sodium, and lower my fluid intake while the weather is still cold.  Then I head over to meet my sister for a change of socks.  Dry socks when you’ve already run 30 miles and are soaked and freezing can make you feel like a million bucks.  After some help from Kristi, since my hands aren’t working too well, I am ready to go.  At 11:51am I check out of Robinson Flat and am determined to make the next segment go better than the last 6 miles.
The next segment goes pretty well.  It’s very runnable.  I’m starting to warm up, and the swelling in my hands is beginning to decrease.  I’m feeling pretty good and the downhill doesn’t seem to be beating up my quads too badly.  Until I hit the two steep canyons -   two extremely steep, technical, downhills.  Each followed by an equally steep uphill with minimal flat between.  The steepest part of the canyons is a couple miles of knee jarring downhill into the first canyon followed by 36 switchbacks to get back up to Devil’s thumb on the other side.  After this climb, I know the steep trail and hills are really beginning to wear on me.  Somewhere in here I hit 50 miles around 11:30, too slow to meet my dream of 24 hours; but definitely still on pace to finish.  I make it to the bottom of the second Canyon, and give in to the fact that I’m going to spend a bit of time bandaging my foot at the top of the next climb, as all the steep downhill has obviously caused some serious damage to one of my toes. But I start the hike up to Michigan’s Bluff with gusto after stopping for watermelon and animal crackers at the bottom of the final canyon, Eldorado Creek.
After 2.7 miles of climbing and 7 switchbacks later, I see asphalt for the first time all day.  I have reached Michigan’s Bluff, the weather has finally warmed up to a nice 55 or so degrees, and I again meet my sister for a new pair of socks and a change of shoes.  Upon taking off my shoe, I realize that I was right about needing some foot attention and hobble over to the medical tent as my toenail is detaching from the base, and has caused a massive blister.  OUCH!  After what seemed like an eternity of poking, lancing, and taping I am on my way again.  I tell Kristi that I will see her in about an hour and a half at Forest Hill. Who knew blisters could be so incredibly painful!
Heading into Michigan Bluff Aid Station at Mi. 55
The next 7 miles are uneventful and eventually after 15 hours and 13 minutes, I make it to the 100k mark that is Forest Hill.  Here I pick up my pacer, Greg, a guy from San Fran that digs ultra-running, and has volunteered to run with me for the last 38 miles.  Man am I happy to see him!  We meet up with Kristi to grab headlamps and head back to the woods.  After updating him on how I feel – hiking is solid, flats and moderate downhills are still runnable, steep downhills have beaten down the quads pretty good, and I’m in good spirits about the race in general, we continue pressing on.  He’s a good distractor telling me about his recent trip to Spain and Italy, and how he got into running.  He’s also extremely motivating and patient as I start having a similar blister situation on my other foot and have to see the podiatrist a few more times before the end of the night.  And as the sun sets, Greg becomes my second set of eyes for rocks and roots on the trails.  Eventually, even with our pace slowing as the clock ticks on past midnight, and I really begin to feel the effects of the hours and the miles, we reach Rucky Chucky, the infamous river crossing and mile 78. 
The Rucky Chucky river is low enough this year to be crossed on foot with the help of some amazing volunteers and a cable to help us stay upright during the crossing.  The water feels like an ice bath on my quads, and comes up to the middle of my stomach.  It is refreshing on the legs, but very cold at the same time.  Once across, we towel off as best we can and start the 1.9 mile hike to Green Gate. 
At Green Gate, we see Kristi for the last time until the finish, and slowly squirm out of our wet clothes and into dry shirts, jackets, compression socks, and a final pair of fresh shoes and socks.  At 12:34am we head off down the trail, ready to endure the last 20 miles.
Although I had been tackling the whole day by getting to the next aid station, from here on out the next aid station became a goal versus a midway point.  All of the nighttime aid stations were lit up like little cities in the forest, and the volunteers were amazing.  The one that stands out the most is Brown’s Bar, mile 89.9.  We hit this aid station right around 5am, and the next segment might have been for me the toughest part of the entire race.  It was certainly, one of the slowest.  I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted at this point and had been downing everything from Mountain Dew to 2x Caffeine Gu packets and even coffee to keep moving – this in itself became difficult as at some point during the night I started becoming nauseous which forced more walking and more slowing.  Thinking that perhaps my salt intake was finally going in the other direction, I tried righting the situation with salt, that didn’t seem to help. I also tried eating less, eating more, drinking more, drinking less, but nothing seemed to really cure it. So I just kept moving slowly towards the goal.
At some point the sun came up.  I think I was still on the segment after Brown’s Bar.  And at some point after that we finally finished this segment and I realized that if I didn’t start making it hurt some, it was going to be a long morning.  I think with the sun, I finally got a little energy back maybe; but either way I started jogging more eventually making it to No Hands Bridge, and I knew that with a little over 3 miles left I was going to make it.  And once I reached Robie Point at 98.9, I thought I might tear up a bit.  And I think I would have, had I the energy to do so.  And then finally, Greg and I reached the track.  And Greg being as unassuming as he is, split off and I ran, and actually ran somehow, the last 200 m, managing to pass a guy on the track and finishing my first 100.2 mile race in 27 hours 17 minutes and 29 seconds. 
I didn’t ask Greg why he didn’t run in with me; but I think it was just another example of how incredible of a pacer he had been over the last 12 hours.  How his only goal was to get me to finish.  I felt really fortunate to have him as a pacer, my sister on the course for me, and all of the amazing volunteers over the course of the race.  I could not have done it without them.  But with them, I managed to accomplish something that a few years ago seemed impossible, and for several years had been my goal – I had finished the Western States Endurance Run, and had covered over 100 miles of difficult trail without stopping in a little over a day.  And now, I cannot wait to start training for another one.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Direction

I did a lot of reflecting over the Holidays, and have come to the realization that my blog needs to take a new direction. I still fully intend to post on my ultra training efforts, failures, and successes. But if I am going to increase my digital footprint, I want to do it in a way that is beneficial to the trail running community at large. By doing this, I am hoping to create a beneficial trail running resource for trail and ultra runners.
To make this shift, my blog posts will begin to include trail reviews, gear reviews, and race reviews, as well as my success and failures at tweaking all aspects of my trail running such as nutrition, mileage, cross training, etc. As I continue getting back on my post-injury training cycle, I think the net effect of this shift will be two-fold. I will post more, and I will subsequently train more on the trails that drew me to ultras in the first place.
As I post more, I will slowly start categorizing and archiving my posts so that over time my blog becomes another resource for all the running geeks like myself that need to know exactly what the terrain and distance is of the trail they want to cover for their Saturday long hauls. It will hopefully also be a resource for nutrition and gear reviews, as every running geek loves gadgets.
To start getting my blog moving in the right direction I will be posting a few old race reports in the next couple days. Additionally, I hope to have something new up, perhaps a first gear or route review, by the end of the weekend.
Until then, I will say that I am happily working my mileage back up, and have just about settled on my 2013 racing calendar which should give me more than enough training to start on.
I hope everyone has a Happy, Healthy and Runderful New Year!