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Saturday, October 12, 2013

TRI-ing to stay healthy!

A year ago, I was sitting on my hands anxiously waiting for the fourth Thursday of November -  and not for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving day marked the first day I could try to start running again after sustaining a fairly severe pelvic stress fracture. Once Thanksgiving came, I started what seemed like an eternally long road back to fitness.

Now I should probably note that I had been pretty stubborn about going to the doctor. (I was having pain that was affecting my activity level in July and didn't get it diagnosed until the first week of September.) Had I not played the self diagnose game this process probably would have been a lot shorter! So lessons number one and two today: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! AND if you think you are injured GO TO SEE THE SPECIALIST! (They have these nifty tools that can see things inside of X-ray and MRI machines.)

Ok, back to getting fit. This process was SLOW. I was trying to be very careful and was doing any exercises or activities that I thought would help me avoid a repeat injury. I picked up Yoga in January, and after a few sessions I could feel my muscles getting stronger and more flexible and being able to better support my posture, running, and climbing. This seemed like the perfect addition - until I pulled my lower back during a  class in February and spent several weeks shuffling about, understanding for the first time in my life what it is really like to have real back pain. You know the kind of back pain that wakes you up at night back pain. Lesson number three: KNOW YOUR EDGE - just because the guy next to you can get into a pose, doesn't mean you can or should!

In March a friend of mine recommended I take up triathlon as a good way to encourage non-impact cross training and reduce injury. After consulting two other friends (who happen to be on the board for the DCTRI club) I was quickly convinced that this was a solid idea.

With enthusiasm I jumped in the pool, started cycling, and adding a few Brick workouts (Bike/Runs) and two-a-days to my routine. I quickly did my first duathlon, and then another on some serious hills in Strausburg, VA and realized I loved every second of it! When the event photos came back from the Strausburg Du, I realized I was grinning ear to ear in every one! I didn't have my usual road-race grimace of embracing the suck. Nope, I was genuinely THRILLED!  The only other race photos of me that capture this much joy of sport are my trail ultra photos.
Strausburg Du - 1st in Age Group (out of 1), 6th Female!

Not only was I enjoying the multi-sport thing; but the biking was REALLY helping my running. My knees didn't ache, my speed was improving, and my periformis always felt GREAT after a bike ride. In fact, bricks are now my favorite workouts, because my body feels so good after a long bike ride. And for some reason, after 2-3 hrs on a bike, I can bang out 10 miles at a quicker pace, and with less effort than I can otherwise.

Also, I realized that with my typical running schedule (5 days a week, and no real distance other than the weekends), fitting in the biking and swimming wasn't all that difficult and gave me something to do in the evenings when I would have otherwise been chilling in front of the computer or partaking in more happy hours than are perhaps necessary. So I embraced the triathlon, and over the summer saw it pay dividends in both my health and my running times.

By the end of July when I curtailed my training to focus on selling the house and moving to Houston, I had set two huge ultra PRs in the 50 K and 50 Mile distance, and placed 16th overall in both races. Not only that, but I actually surpassed my 50K mark en route to my 34 minute 50 Mile PR. All of this with lower mileage on the feet due to amping up the biking and little to no speedwork. What the what!! I was sold. In addition, I did my first real Triathlon too - an Olympic distance tri. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience as well and banged out a sub 45 minute 10K after a 1500 meter swim and a 25 mile bike. My run split ended up being the 3rd fastest female run split of the day. Talk about feeling happy!

Just finished my 1st Triathlon!
In addition to all the awesomeness noted above, one of the best parts of this triathlon experiment is that for the first time in several years - I finished a season of racing without any significant injuries. I will definitely continuing TRI-ing in the future, and am already signed up for my first Ironman next September - Ironman Chattanooga. I highly recommend any runners consider adding some biking and swimming to their routine.

Happy Trails!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coopers Rock State Forest Trail Running

While the Government shutdown continues to keep our National Parks closed and inaccessible, this weekend might be a great time to visit some of those fantastic State Parks.  A personal favorite of mine is Coopers Rock just outside of Morgantown, WV.  Granted, I am a bit biased since I grew up less than 10 miles from here; but it REALLY is an excellent place to run, hike, bike, climb, picnic, or just be outside.
Wild and Wonderful at Coopers Rock - View from Raven Rock
This park contains over 12,000 acres and is well known for it's rock climbing and bouldering and hiking trails. With it's location just off of Exit 15 of I-68, it is perfect quiet oasis for an early morning trail run as well.  The trails here offer incredible variety, from hilly to flat and technical to smooth dirt path and fire roads offering running paths suitable for all abilities.

When you enter the park, it is a 3.5 mile drive to the Overlook (or main) parking lot near the concession stand/store, picnic tables, and restroom facilities.  From here it is pretty easy to hop on any number to trails. As you are facing the concession stand, the trail off to the left will jog you down to the overlook.  This is a heavily used short little trail; but is worth the trip if it's your first time at Coopers.  If you look over the hill to the right of the concession stand, heading that way will take you towards Rock City, the Rattlesnake Trail and the Rhododendron Trail - all great areas to explore if you are doing a shorter run, or wanting to loop several different trails together for a longer run.  Rock City and the Rattlesnake Trail are again some of the more heavily used trails due to their parking lot and facility proximity.

If you head back up the road you drove in for just under a mile, you will find Raven Rock trail on the Right, just off an old fire road that is blocked by a metal gate.  This is, in my opinion 1 of the 2 must do trails at Coopers.  The trail from here is about 4 miles out and back with the summit at Raven's Rock at the halfway point.  The majority of this trail is very rocky and you are pretty much always gaining or losing elevation the entire way.  A little under a half mile to the top, the trail narrows to a single dirt track and goes steeply up hill. While getting to the top will require a little bit of work, the views from the top nearly parallel the views from the much more traveled Overlook, and you will see far fewer pedestrians en route.
Trail heading back from the top of Raven Rock

Another view from Raven Rock
Once returning to the main park road from Raven Rock, you can simply cross the road and will find yourself on the Roadside Trail.  This smooth dirt path runs along the main road from the Overlook parking lot to the first parking lot in the park. This is a great shakeout trail after the rocky and hilly terrain of Raven Rock.

If you follow Roadside trail as it winds along a short distance off of the main route you enjoy some very smooth double and single track that gently winds along until eventually spit you out on the advanced ski loop that goes sharply to the left.  A short ways down this path you will come to the Reservoir Ski Loop off to the left again.  This is the other portion of Coopers that every runner should explore. A nice undulating and sparsely used single track that winds back into the forest and eventually comes out at a little pond.  This trail is so peaceful and serene that it is easy to loose track of time and just enjoy the trail and the air.  If you continue on past the pond you can take several of the paths to weave your way back towards the parking area; however, please be mindful of how far east you are trekking and what trail you are on, as making a left on Ridge Trail is your last chance to loop back before heading to the edge of the park on Mount Chateau Trail.  The Ridge Trail will eventually meet up with Rock City and Rattle Snake Trail.

For more information on the trails of Coopers Rock please go to the official website and download their trail map.  Or click here and here.

Get out and enjoy the some of the state parks and trails this weekend everyone.  Coopers Rock is just one of many places folks can find some respite from the crazy world in which we live.

Happy Trails!

**A few words of caution:
1. Coopers Rocks is open for hunting.  So please wear bright colors if you head out during hunting season this fall.
2. A second word of caution, Rattle snakes and Copper heads are common here, and I have seen both in the area.  But if you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone. :)
3. Dogs are welcome! Please keep them leashed and clean up after them! And if bringing a dog, please be mindful of note 1.