Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Grand Adventure - Running Rim to Rim

"Oh shoot, I forgot my Garmin".

We were thirty minutes into an 8-hour drive from LA to the Grand Canyon. Oh well. I guess this one would be run naked. It's not like the lap times would be meaningful. And the elevation chart can easily be found online. I had my shoes, my borrowed camelbak, my fuel, my rain gear. And the expectation of a grand adventure, helped by the forecast of thunderstorms on run day.

I'd been planning this run for over a year, since last year's trek was cancelled by the government shutdown. I was going with a large group of Mountain Goats, but everyone had different plans. Some were doing Rim to Rim to Rim. Some were doing Rim to Rim, and back the next day. Most were just going across once, and at a slower pace. I fell in with two goat buddies who run at about my pace; Julia and Keith - both Boston qualifiers and ultra veterans. We changed up our plan in the last few days and decided to go North to South, meaning we would catch a ride to the other side early in the AM instead of needing one after the run. And we would go straight to our hotel after finishing. And the elevation profile is a little easier. With the forecast of afternoon rain, it turned out to be a great plan.

J and I arrived Friday afternoon and had a few hours to relax, so we headed to the rim for our first view of the big ditch. HO. LEE. COW.


It is one amazing sight, that's for sure. We got lucky with the weather and got some good photos with cool clouds. But after about a half hour, it gets boring. Later, we met up with the Goat group for dinner, and finalized logistics, and then hit our 1940's era "lodge" for a good night's rest.

We were up at 5:15, and out the door by 5:45 for our 4 hour drive to the North Rim. Another goat volunteered to drive there, where he would go down a few miles, and wait for his friends and hike back up with them, and then give rides back that evening. Worked great for us! The drive was beautiful too, as we saw the sunrise and lots of beautiful red rock formations. Also there was a large forest with Autumn colors mixed in with the pines that was breathtaking.

We arrived at 10AM, and the three of us were soon ready to head down the trail. Not a Garmin between us.

From the trail head there, you can't see the canyon, but about 30 seconds later, there it is. Wow. Down we went. It was cool and partly cloudy. Mostly cloudy really. Perfect running weather. Maybe 50 degrees. I was giddy and wanted to run fast. I was literally skipping down the trail over all the little bumps. Since we were going to stick together, I had to wait up for the others every so often. Of course the views were astounding.

Plus the view changed quite a bit. Over the course of the day there were many different types of topography. So it never got boring.
All of these were from the first 5 mile descent. After that it started to rain and we didn't get any more pictures. But there were plenty of great views. The whole trail was just amazing.
Going down was fun and easy. Sometimes the trail was too technical to run, so we had to walk on and off through some rocky parts. But mostly we cruised along. We ran into some of our Goat friends who had started early in the AM on the other side, and were going both ways.  We would stop and chat for a minute. We also saw some hikers and everyone was friendly and said Hi. Spirits were good.

And then the weather started to turn. At first there were just occasional showers and wind. We got a little wet. It was OK. Then at about Cottonwood the wind really picked up and was blowing sand in my eyes. It was brutal for about ten minutes - I was shielding my eyes with my hand and stopping when it gusted really hard. I thought this was the beginning of the storms that were predicted to roll in about 2-4PM. But it let up after a bit and we kept going.

The whole trail was single track, so we would need to announce ourselves to pass hikers. One woman saw us coming and said "Joggers coming through". We cracked up and that became a punchline the rest of the day.

Julia was falling back a little, and told Keith and I to just go ahead. So we rolled for about an hour without stopping down Bright Angel Canyon. This was less steep and went along the river through a tight canyon. Fantastic stuff. It felt good to get some "real running" in. We got to Phantom Ranch about 3 hours after we started. 15 miles in and feeling good. We stopped there to wait for J, and I took advantage of a real flushing toilet. I had eaten a CLIF bar during the run, and my tummy wasn't real happy about it. But after the pit stop, it was just fine.

After we regrouped, we cruised to the Colorado River. The rain was getting steady now so we were pretty wet. We would hear thunder and see lightning flashes occasionally, but it never got too bad. And the temp was in the high 60's so it wasn't too cold. Or too hot either! Pretty damn good actually. We heard it was 100 the day before in the canyon.

The river crossing was fun on a "kind of" scary pedestrian bridge. The river was flowing fast and very muddy due to the storm. Here is a stock photo to show the bridge.
 Grand Canyon 96
And here is the river on our crossing.

 We got to hike/jog a little ways along the river before heading up. Looking up, it seemed utterly ridiculous that we would hike out of this thing. It made no sense to consider the whole climb, so we just focused on keeping moving, one step at a time, and eventually it added up to 4,300 feet. And that was the easy trail!

This chart approximately shows our trek, except we went from right to left. I felt kind of bad for the people going the other way...


The last 7 or 8 miles going up took over 3 hours. There was no running. There was no jogging. Well, maybe a few steps here and there. But we hiked hard. There was very little stopping and resting - maybe three times in three hours. We passed a lot of hikers and only got passed once, near the top. It was relentless climbing. And it was steady rain most of the time. We were soaked through. I was getting pretty chilly when we took a brief stop and I added a jacket (which only kept the rain out briefly). I started to worry about hypothermia. But once we got climbing again, the exertion warmed me enough that it got better.

The muscles were sore now; Butt, quads, calves, and my PF started complaining again. No blister or chafing problems at all though. The trail was mainly puddles and stream. We crossed maybe a dozen little streams but none were more than 2 inches deep. The water coming off the red rocks and dirt made the puddles all look like tomato soup. And we saw lots of chocolate waterfalls a la Willy Wonka. Or maybe I was hungry.

A couple times we heard rocks coming off the cliff. And one three-foot boulder rolled down to within about ten feet of me! Nature is fun!

The rain and mist meant we didn't get the long views on the way up, but it was still amazing climbing up the canyons. We would look down, amazed at the heights we had just climbed. I tried not to look up, because it seemed like there was always 1,000 feet of sheer cliff above me. But the relentless moving eventually conquered it all.

As we got into the last 1/2 mile, I got a little finish line adrenaline and pushed the pace ahead of my companions. It seemed like forever, but finally we saw civilization and the finish. 23.4 miles, Six hours and 55 minutes, and we were done. I just went across the whole fricking Grand Canyon, bitches! Holy crap!

It was about 5PM, getting chilly, still raining, and now we all started shivering uncontrollably. We headed to the nearby Bright Angel Lodge to get inside, found some other hikers/runners to chat with, and toweled off and got a little warmer. Then we took a shuttle bus the last mile to our lodge where we could take the best hot shower ever.

So, this trip was perfect! So much beauty and adventure. No injuries or problems. The rain wasn't great, but I think I prefer that to high heat any day! And the first 15 miles were fantastic fun. I'd recommend the Rim to Rim to anyone. Can't say I'm eager to do R2R2R however. That seems crazy.

Now it is 3 days later. My muscles REALLY hurt for a while, but I think I'm recovering today. I think I'll go for a run tonight. 10K race coming up on Saturday...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Loop Magic Comes to Erie

The Presque Isle Marathon at Erie is known for being fast, and has the highest % of BQs of any marathon. And with Looperstar PegLeg in the area, it has become a key Loop destination race. Originally I signed up for the Full, with a plan to get a BQ and join all the cool kids running Boston next year, and to be there for Peg when she got her first BQ, to complete the coaching journey we started last year.

Well, Peg got hurt and had to bail. And I got through the NYC lottery, and didn't think I could be ready in time anyway after coming back from my own downtime, so I switched to the half, so I could save myself for New York.

Here is the course map. One 'lap' around the peninsula is exactly 13.1 miles. Marathoners did it twice. It is a beautiful park with lots of trees for shade, and some nice beach views.

I came in Friday night, but first I took advantage of my 3.5 hour layover in Chicago, and had a quick dinner date to meet Rushourunner. She is a former Loopster who does her own blog now (iheartpikermis.com) and I've been a fan for years, so it was great to meet in person and talk running, sports, books and beer. We are going to meet again in February for Ragnar Florida (still looking for more runners...).
Then it was on to Erie, and the start of the Pigfest, er, Loopfest. Seriously I ate like a pig all weekend. Started out with this when I arrived.
And later there were cinnamon rolls and eggs Benedict and pancakes and cheeseburgers...

Saturday the whole group hit the expo together and toured the course. It was quite breezy, but we hoped it would be better on Sunday (it was). So much fun to hang out with runners.


Later the whole group got together for an awesome Italian dinner and shared Loop love. I got to meet a few new Loopsters; BurgRunner and AppleSauce and Kribbit. So now I have three new friends. Plus it was great to see old friends that I hadn't seen since Flying Pig or Rehoboth or Marshall. Felt like one big happy family - the kind of family that gets along, laughs a lot, and cares about each other.

The six of us staying at Peg's house laid out our flat runners and tried to sleep a little before the 3:30AM wake up call.

We eventually found each other in the dark before the 7AM marathon start. We got to wish our 4 marathoners good luck, and then get ready for the 7:30 Pikermi.

I came into this race feeling good and ready for a fast one. I hadn't run a half under 1:40 in over two years, so I was looking forward to seeing how close I was to my 2011/2012 form, when I ran six halves in the 1:33-1:35 range. My somewhat conservative goal was sub 7:30 pace, or sub 1:38. But I felt I had a chance to get close to 1:35, and my over-50 PR of 1:34:46 if all went well.

RunnerGuyMark had a sub 1:35 goal, so I thought maybe I could chase him too. But I figured he would probably be ahead of me. I wanted to start conservative around 7:30-7:45 and negative split.

The start had pace signs for 7 minute, 8 minute, 9 minute, etc, and people lined up properly! It was very smooth with no dodging or weaving, and I comfortably locked in to pace and followed a group of runners at the same speed. Mile 1 was 7:28.

The course was virtually flat, but it seemed like it was downhill more often than not. The weather was perfect, the trees were pretty, and we were just cruising along. Miles 2 and 3 were 7:23 and 7:20. It wasn't easy. I was working, comfortably. But it wasn't too stressful either. We hit the turn around where I saw Mark about 30-40 seconds ahead of me. Well, he's moving right along, but who knows. Maybe he'll come back to me.

At this point a guy passed me and I decided to go with him. I picked up the pace and followed him as we started picking people off. Now I was working. It felt like a race, and I started to wonder how fast I could push it since there was still 9-10 miles left! Miles 4-6 were 7:08, 7:13, 7:10. Pretty close to 10K pace! I was focused and running hard and just hoped my body could keep it up. I had faith in my endurance that I had built up.

I tried to spot Mark's red shirt up ahead for the rest of the race, but never saw him again. But plenty of other red shirts gave me people to chase! In mile 7 I started to tire a bit, and thought I needed to dial it back a little since there was so far still to go. Still pushing, but kind of maintaining. 7 and 8 were 7:17 and 7:19.
By now I knew sub 1:38 would happen and I was close to 1:35 pace if I could hang on. But I was slowing and nervous. We started to pass the slow marathoners and catching and passing people did help with the motivation. Mile 9 I was near 7:30 pace and wondering if I could just keep it sub-8 the rest of the way. Came through in 7:26. Several people passed me.

And that kind of pissed me off. I'm used to doing the passing. I decided to latch on to them for a while, and picked it up. And my mojo returned. Within a mile I had re-passed a couple guys and was back in racing mode. Mile ten was 7:14, and with only 3 to go, I could accept more discomfort. I kept my foot on the gas and caught some more guys. Miles 11 and 12 were 7:14 and 7:15.

I was hurting now. Like you are supposed to hurt in a race. In the last mile my quads started to stiffen, my form went to hell, my shoulders went up, and the grimace came on board. Probably because I was pushing even harder. Mile 13 was the fastest of the day at 7:02.
We turned for the finish with about 1/4 mile to go, so it was time to give it all up. The finish took forever to appear, but finally I could hear the cheers of Peg and Kribbit and saw the finish. And then my body said "I'm done" and I started to dry heave 10 yards from the finish. Luckily nothing came up and I crossed the line and heaved some more. I was sure I was about to leave a pukey mess in the finish chute, but I lucked out. I could stop and recover and breathe, and eventually returned to normalcy. The last .12 was 6:02 pace.

Time to hurl

Final time: 1:35:14 (7:15 pace) It was good for 4th in my AG, 65th overall of about 1000. And I was ecstatic!


I tried to jog a little but my calves were spasming and my quads were rocks, so Mark and I walked over to mile 19 to see JJ and Roger go by. Then we met up with Peg and planned our MJ strategy. Mark would take her from 19 to 22 and then I would pick her up after that. Which meant I basically had to make my way back the whole last 4+ miles. But after some rest and water that didn't sound too bad. I needed more miles anyway...

Running the last 4+ miles with MJ was so much fun. We all know those last marathon miles are tough, and I was happy to distract her, keep her motivated and share in the BQ glory. She was on track when we started, with a good buffer. We ran about ten minute pace for a few miles, a little slower after that, but she never walked or stopped. My legs worked again, and it felt good to be out there on the course, minus the suffering.

More loopsters showed up in the last few miles, until with 1/4 mile to go she had 6 "younger" guys surrounding her. An awesome entourage of encouragement! It was the highlight of the weekend as she closed in on her BQ and we all celebrated Loop camaraderie. I sprinted ahead at the end to alert the people at the finish, and there was much rejoicing.

Then we all hung out in the beautiful sunny morning, ate from the ample food buffet, and checked the results and shared stories.
 As we headed out, we took a dip in Lake Erie.
lake 3
lake erie
Later there was celebrating and eating and drinking and football and it was just the usual wonderful Loopfest shenanigans. Can't wait for the next one.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Good Vibrations

Just more good news from the beach!

Marathon training is going great - right on schedule. No injuries to talk about here!

Just finished my first 50-mile week in two and a half years, my longest run in 15 months, and my pace continues to drop. It's all good right now.

So last week started with a Monday long run on Labor Day - 18.2 miles which went very well despite warm temps. I averaged 8:16 with the last 12 at 8:04 pace.

Wednesday I went to the track group and did 1 mile, 2 miles, and 1 mile at Pikermi pace, with 2 lap rest periods between. My paces were 7:16, 7:19 for two, and 6:58. There was another two mile at the end, but I skipped it. That was enough work.

Thursday I was back out for 7 easy, but I felt pretty good and had a nice progression run.
Saturday was another long one -19. It was a little bit cooler (66), and there was some cloud cover, so the heat was not really a problem. I always start my long runs with five miles on the wood chip trail and go out slow and let my body ease into marathon pace. The 6th mile goes over a big hill to get to the beach, and then the rest is flat and fast and I try to maintain marathon pace.

I felt pretty good right from the start - more rested than I was Monday. And I love my Hoka Cliftons! The pace was a bit faster than normal, so I figured it would be a good day as long as I didn't bonk. Sure enough, by the time I hit the beach, the pace was dropping below 8, and I felt strong. Just cruising along.

I ran with one guy for a few minutes and chatted about upcoming marathons. And then I talked with a group of women marathoners at a water stop. TWO! I talked to TWO different strangers! That's a PR for me.

Anyway, I got a bit tired toward the end, but the pace held (with the help of water stops every 1.5 - 2 miles). Finished strong and happy and started thinking BQ thoughts...


Last 13 averaged 7:54!

And just to show off, here is my weight chart for the past 4 years. The two peaks were for my runner's knee and PF downtime. The last time I was this low was when I BQ'd in 2012. And Monster month is still coming up!

But now it is rest week as I taper a bit for the Erie Pikermi on Sunday. Looking forward to hanging out with some cool Loopsters, and seeing how fast I can cover 13.1.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Plenty of Laborin' on Labor Day

I had a great weekend.

It started on Saturday. My mountain goat group got together for a special adventure trip. Fifteen of us drove up the coast to Ventura, and took the one hour boat ride across the Santa Barbara Channel to Santa Cruz island.
The island is uninhabited. It is all national park or reserve, with a small campground and a visitor's center, and lots of trails. The fog cleared as we arrived, and it was a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the natural beauty.

DW came along for the ride, and rested on the beach as the rest of us started our 2 1/2 hour tour of the island. We would cover 11.5 miles of ups and downs and cruising along cliffs. Plenty of stops for pictures and re-grouping and re-hydrating. It was a leisurely pace, but there was plenty of work to do climbing a few of those hills. And there was no shade the entire day.
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Eventually we made it back to the harbor, and I headed directly for a dip in the ocean. The cold water felt so good! Then we all had a potluck picnic lunch and just enjoyed the rest of the afternoon before our boat came back for us at 4:00. It was great to get away from cell service and the city and enjoy nature and running.
Sunday I rested because I had 18 to do on Monday. It would be warm again - like all my recent long runs, but I got up earlier this time and got out the door just after 7AM. My legs were still heavy from Saturday, but I just needed to get the miles in, and having tired legs was just a bonus!

My last few long runs ended with some bonking in the heat. But not this one! The early start, plus two GUs and frequent extended hydration stops helped. I was tired, but slipped into marathon pace anyway, and was able to maintain it all the way to the last mile! 8:04 pace for the last 12. Kind of surprised myself. It did wonders for my confidence, and now I feel much better about tackling 26.2 in 9 weeks.

Looking to do 19 next weekend before a short taper for the Erie Half the following week.

More good news; My weight dropped below 150 for the first time in two years. Optimal weight! And I am ready to declare that the Plantar Fasciitis is officially gone after almost a year. All systems are go! Let's see how long this can last.