Sunday, October 26, 2008

Storm Scuttles English Fell-Marathon and Strands Runners Overnight

This story has had some pretty good play in the media this morning, but this short clip of the conditions at yesterday's Original Mountain Marathon is still worth a watch. Though up to 25 runners were unaccounted for after some hard looking by officials - as the runners sought shelter from the brutal conditions - all have been found safe and sound as of this morning, if a little cold, wet, and tired. Kudos to those who toed the line, showing true ultra/fell running chutzpa.

For a collection of media coverage of the story, visit

Friday, October 24, 2008

Photo Guide to Trail Runs in Sun Valley: Adams Gulch Trail - Harpers Loop

Although I should probably be resting my knee more than I am, I also feel some urgency to get some time on the local singletrack before things shut down for the winter. So, this morning I headed out on one of the classic loops in the Adams Gulch area near Sun Valley, Idaho: The Adams Gulch Trail -- Harpers loop. Although mileage estimates seem to vary a bit depending on who you ask, careful totalling from a 2005 Adventure Map put it at about 17 miles (including the Sunnyside and Lane's spurs, see below), with about 2500 feet of climbing.

I also used the run to pilot test a new feature for Run Junkie: photo guides to the Sun Valley area's best trail runs. Inaugural effort below (or click for full size photos/slideshow).

See all Photo Guide entries.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are There Risks From All That Vertical? Maybe

Life may begin at 10,000 feet for many ultrarunners, but it looks like the brain may begin to slowly break down somewhere above 14,000 feet. A recent, small study in the European Journal of Neurology (abstract) showed that experienced high-altitude mountain climbers had subtle, detrimental changes to brain anatomy that controls motor skills after trips to Everest and K2. And while results of neuropsychological tests given to the climbers didn't change before and after their summits, a pretty big percentage of the climbers--all of whom had at least 10 years' climbing experience--actually "failed" the tests, meaning they didn't meet the low-end cut off for normal.

What does this all mean? It's hard to say given the very small sample size of the study, but with ultramarathoners' propensity to go high and go long, it'll give our friends and family even more evidence that we really aren't quite right in the head.

(photo by e.berg used under Creative Commons)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Low Miles. Big Week

I only ran three times this week, but it seemed like a big week nevertheless. First, I finally saw one of the great, athlete-focused physical therapists here in town about the nagging pain in my right knee, which just hasn't been getting better despite a pretty easy training schedule since Teton August 30 (previous post). His diagnosis was much better than the degenerative joint disease I'd feared: simple tendonitis likely caused by my "impressively" tight hamstrings and only mildly more flexible quads. The prescription: some easy running and a regular series of three stretches. Having worked with my kind before, he knew anything above a "Keep It Simple, Stupid" routine would never find purchase.

So far (now all of 5 days in ), I'm adhering to the plan, and although the stretching seems to be irritating things more than resolving them, I'm going to have faith that things will turn favorably over the next number of weeks. After all, he's helped athletes an order of magnitude more accomplished and injured than I.

Second, AJW and I got out for a fantastic 18 mile autumn run through Fox Creek, Oregon Gulch, and Chocolate Gulch on Sunday. The weather was ideal, the scenery spectacular, and the conversation, as always, entertaining. With frigid temperatures and snow upon us any day, runs like this are just gravy before a long winter of logging miles on icy pavement. They also remind me how lucky I am to live in an area filled with amazingly close in -- yet quickly remote -- backcountry trails and that's populated with a small, but fervent group of accomplished ultra runners (author excepted).

Finally, I had an epiphany about the '09 season around mile 10 during that Sunday run, thanks to some great and insightful conversation with Mr. Jones-Wilkins. My plan's been to try my first 100 miler next season, but I've been in a quandary over which one. They seem either front-loaded in late spring/early summer--where it can be hard to get the training miles because of the snow-pack here in the mountains; or they're back-loaded in late summer/early fall--where, frankly, I worry about training motivation, since my season's starting early with the Coyote Two Moon 100k in mid March.

Banking a bit on a lighter snow year than 2008, I made the decision to try to parlay my fitness from Coyote into an early season attempt at the Bighorn 100 in late June (assuming I can get in). Knowing myself and seeing how my motivation drained a bit in August this year, it seems like I should tap into that early season verve where you're often just thankful to be running on dirt rather than ice. That I'd be able to get in some big runs on Fridays while my boys are in school also assuages some of the concern about sending my wife over the edge with big runs on both Saturdays and Sundays, leaving her too often in solo survival mode with our banshee boys for hours on end.

To tempt fate (and my wife) even more, I'll probably put my name into the Wasatch lottery as well, just in case Bighorn goes well (or for that matter horribly wrong).

Of course, this all depends on the health of that nagging knee. But if I've learned one thing from my experienced running buddies, it's that good seasons begin with good planning. And you adjust as you need to. I'm beginning to get excited about the prospect of it all.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On the Run: Vorberg Gulch in Pictures

Left without a camera on each of the most amazing runs of the past season, I vowed to not let it happen again and finally replaced our broken point-and-shoot with a Panasonic Lumix FS5 from Costco. Ten megapixels with a classic Leica 30mm lens, it's nice enough to take good photos but light enough for the long haul and cheap enough to not feel a horrible loss when it breaks on a good tumble.

I took it out for a test run this morning on the local Vorberg Gulch--Carbonate loop, a great eight mile run with about 1200 ft of climbing that feels remote but is basically right on the edge of town. Developing technique notwithstanding, it seems like it'll be a great camera to chronicle those epic backcountry runs of '09 and beyond.

Friday, October 10, 2008

On the Run: A Warm Bottle Morning

You'd think coming within twenty yards of a snowy-racked bull moose or even passing a deer hunter on one of the most popular hiking/running trails here in Hailey would have been the red-letter event of my Friday 17 mile run. But, neither of these could quite beat out filling my bottles with warm water that morning, which I did haltingly since it seemed to truly put an end to the '08 season and begin the concatenation toward -10 degree, pitch-black snowy morning runs.

Two hours later, though, as my bottle valve started to freeze on the wind-blown Carbonate ridge, I knew it'd been the right move, even with all the baggage that went with it.

(Depiction of moose encounter by Cash Dart, age 6)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

RJ Review: Inov-8 Roclite 320

The leaves are falling, and it's just a few short weeks (days?) before snows blanket all the backcountry singletrack that has defined running life the past six months -- which is one way of saying time is short to really stress test some new shoes before the dark, cold days of winter.

One such shoe I've really been putting through the paces this late season is Inov-8's Roclite 320 (retail $94.95). Inov-8 is a UK-based company that has made its name producing stripped down, responsive mountain-running shoes with aggrevise soles and low profiles. Lacing up a pair of their light trail shoes (like the Flyroc 310 or the Mudroc 280) requires a bit of re-education of expectations. They don't strike the ground like most people are used to and can be a rough ride at first, leaving you with sore ankles and knees, but those who can work past such things are rewarded with a nimble shoe that can descend like no other. Admittedly, though, these stripped down flyers aren't for everyone, especially those who find themselves running a mix of trails and roads.

And it is for these folks that Inov-8 seems to have developed the Roclite 320. If the Asics Gel Nimbus and the Inov-8 Mudclaw 280 married and had a child, this shoe would be it. While it has the extra cushioning and substance of a fairly chunky road shoe, the Roclite 320 maintains the Inov-8 lightness as well as the aggressive sole and low profile that make ready work of rocky trails and gnarly descents. The solid toe bump protection of the 320's is extra gravy, especially for those of us who make a habit of jamming our toes into any and all manner of rocks on the trail.

The major drawback of these shoes is the stiffness. Although the sole is pretty much the same as those used on the lighter, very flexible Inov-8's, when it's integrated into this beefier incarnation it gets a tad inflexible. This makes them not quite as responsive, and not quite as fun, as they could be. And I found on very steep downhills the stiffness made my feet slosh forward more than normal, even after repeated tweaks to the lacing.

One minor (and purely cosmetic) drawback of the 320's is that they lack that inimitable Inov-8 style. While they certainly aren't ugly shoes, they don't have that engaging, new paradigm look of the rest of the line.

The bottom line: If you're looking for a light, responsive trail running shoe that is great on descents and can do some comfortable road miles, give the Roclite 320's a try.

More shoe reviews on Run Junkie (shoe reviews).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Relax, Just Do It

As I write this my stomach is starting to cramp.  It's not from anxiety about tonight's vice-presidential debate, the financial meltdown, or even the five slices of pizza I just ate.  No, what it's from is the simple thought of my recent DNF at the Teton 50 from stomach issues.  And while I believe a lot of the problems I had at Teton arose from some sort of mild stomach bug, I also believe that my inability to relax in the days before and during the race certainly didn't help things. To whit, my current psychosomatic gastric cramps.  

So, it's no wonder that I read with relish this morning Gina Kolata's piece in the New York Times on the importance of relaxation in athletics. If nothing else, it helped me realize how little attention I pay to maintaining a quiet mind and relaxed body while running.  I guess it's one more thing to add to the burgeoning list of off-season tasks.  I'll try to remain calm about it.