Sunday, March 28, 2010

Back to Brighton

I was in Park City this weekend for my wife's Rowmark reunion and one of the events on our schedule took us to the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon, and I couldn't resist driving up to the Brighton ski area to see what it looked like in the daylight after a short drive, rather than in the middle of the night after 75 miles on foot during the Wasatch Front 100. (Enlarged photo).

Given where it comes in the race and what follows, Brighton and its nondescript A-frame is a signal aid station - the venue for much tragedy and triumph.  As my pacer that day, AJW, wrote in one of his blog posts: "Brighton eats runners for dinner!" And it certainly took a bite out of me that night, but thankfully not one so big that I couldn't rally on to the finish.

A couple Brighton-related excerpts from past blog posts:
And the night of Wasatch, I actually did my best-ever washerwoman impression heading out of Brighton at mile 75. If I wasn't the personification of someone slowly turning into a tree, I don't know what I was. Just ask my pacer - and the four people who passed us.
From 100 Miles with James Joyce: My Foos Won't Moos

After the seven mile traverse of the ridge that oscillated between 9,400 and 9,900 feet, we took the long-feeling, but not really that long, descent to the Brighton ski lodge aid station (mile 75).
It was here things came a bit unglued. While Andy was seeing to his energy needs (something like 8 of the renowned Brighton hash brown bars!), I got weighed one last time (down 5 on the day) and Brad loaded up my pack and bottles, knowing more than I did at that point what I needed. I grabbed a cup of soup, and we left the chaos of Brighton for the remote trip up Catherine's Pass to Point Supreme (mile 78; elev 10,400 ft). Still in view of the lodge, the queasiness that started to come on as I gathered my things together, crashed over me and all my energy vanished. It wasn't pretty. Clutching my cup of soup, trying to take in whatever I could, AJW took the lead at what had to seem to him like a sub-glacial pace. For the first time since the early going, I was passed by a couple runners. But, we went with it and just kept moving forward and after about 15 minutes, my stomach settled and the few calories I was able to get in primed the energy pump, and once again we were able to move ahead at a pretty steady pace. It was a true relief.
From Race Report: Wasatch Front 100 Endurance Run

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Go-To Run, Proving Ground, First Sign of Spring: Carbonate Mountain

You can have your crocuses, your Easter eggs, your spring solstice.  For me, the real first day of spring is when the snow's cleared enough that I can run the full length of the Carbonate Mountain trail.

Spring officially broke yesterday.

Now, among the small but stalwart ultrarunning community here in the Sun Valley, Idaho area, Carbonate (aka Carbo) holds a special place, so the meaning of its full opening reaches beyond a simple switch of seasons.  It's always the first real climb to clear in our area after a long, snowy winter in the Rockies; and while it holds some decent vert (1300 feet) and OK distance (5 miles roundtrip), it's not on its own the epic outing most ultrarunners need, so we practically live on its hillside late March to early May, doing lap after lap, relishing the bare earth and hard fought miles as we wait for time to clear other trail.

In April of last year alone, I ran to the summit 21 times in 8 different sessions.  And I know friends and training partners AJW and Brad Mitchell closely matched or exceeded that.  With all this time and all these laps, the trail imprints itself on your unconscious and your muscles.  You know by heart nearly every stone, every turn, rise, and sagebrush, every time split.  You know three minutes into it what type of day it's going to be, yet even on those leaden-leg days, you can bank on long experience with the hill to carry you through to your fourth repeat.

And doing so, you'll rarely be alone.  Laps on Carbo mean company.  Part knitting circle; part endurance smackdown, part comedy club, the group sessions are always loud and always fun, even as your eyes cross chasing Brad, AJW, or Mike Stevens up on the eighth climb in two days.  It was during many of these group sessions that I learned what it really took to be an ultrarunner.

In many ways, Carbo's my madeleine. There wasn't a single race last spring or summer where I didn't use it as a major part of my mileage buildup or a timed test of fitness.  So when I'm fighting up the craggy ridge to the mineshaft summit or descending toward the pioneer-days cement foundation, it's hard not to think back to, hard not to feel, the sensations (as European bike racers like to say) of those training days, those races.   And in these early spring days, they can come on in a crush.

Yes, we all have our special trails, our go-to trails.  But there's something about Carbonate that seems to make it a bit more remarkable than a favored, easy-access run.  I want to call it transcendent, but I know that may be over-reaching.  Yet, the way it sits at the nexus of time, community, passion, grit, and memory, it seems to be a distillation of the qualities that draw us all to ultrarunning in the first place.  And if ultrarunning isn't a transcendent experience, I don't know what is.

A Spring Tour of Carbonate - March 23, 2010

Looking toward the rocky ridge from the trailhead

Buffed out singletrack 

All runnable, but some steeps

Room to let it run and season the quads

The trail can blur on some repeat days

Rough in the draws

The flag. True summit about three minutes beyond

Coming down from the summit. 
Still looks like winter

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TI Chronicles: The "Knob," the Second Opinion, and Solar Therapy

I've come to call it "The Knob," the Quato-like protuberance on my knee that showed itself a number of weeks after a very hard fall I took in early September, 2009, on the Vorberg Gulch trail.  My immediate concern back then was toeing the line at Wasatch four days later.  And while that went off without a hitch (at least as far as the knee was concerned), Quoto The Knob, seemed to be lying in wait.

The orthopedist I saw today for a second opinion, built on my previous exams, and felt pretty strongly that the genesis of my knee pain came back to the injury from the fall, which was right at the insertion point of the IT band.  The Knob is doing something to string the ITB too tight or to alter how it tracks over the knee or something else altogether.  Makes sense.  Of course, he couldn't reveal any pain no matter how much he twisted and stretched and prodded, which makes things maddening for someone looking for some solid answers.

So it's no real surprise that before I get a definitive plan of action, there needs to be at least one more expensive test and possibly a bout with a long, steroid filled needle (don't tell WADA).  For now, though, I can run a bit as long as I don't anger the knee too much.  And keeping up my IT band stretching and rolling certainly won't hurt.

Then there's solar therapy, which I'm hoping will work wonders.  The extended family is off to warmer climes for a week this Friday, where I plan to get in some easy runs in the soft, warm air and not worry about much of anything, except for tackling one ultra-worthy task:  Richardson's tome, Clarissa.

Little change to the Injur-O-Meters, save a small boost in attitude ahead of vacation week.

Read all of the The Injury Chronicles.

Friday, March 5, 2010

TI Chronicles: Injury and Beyond

In the natural history of running injuries, I've now crossed into phase IV - recurrence - also known as the backslide, or using pyschological metrics - despondency (mostly joking; mostly).

After charting some good rebuilding following a largely run-less winter, things descended quickly last week, with my knee turning to stabbing pain sooner and sooner on each successive run.  And while I can't say I'm surprised, since I hadn't really let myself look too far ahead, it was still a jarring turnaround.

The shock has brought some things to light.
  • The knee injury is more serious than I'd considered, and it's time for some heroic measures to figure out what it is and to get it fixed if I want to salvage any part of the 2010 season.  
  • Western States is almost assuredly out.  If all the time off this winter didn't fix the issue, and the knee is now worse than it was in November, it seems pretty clear that I won't have time to resolve the problem and then build up enough to toe the line come June 26.  It's hard to even put that down on the screen, and I haven't cancelled my hotel reservation yet, but the writing on the wall seems clear barring an otherworldly turnaround.  
  • I need to write regularly about my experiences, observations, and possible insights as I work through this injury.  Hence, The Injury Chronicles.  
The goal is not to validate my whining and sniveling by slapping a label on it.  Rather, it is to explore the injury side of my running life (which may have a little whining and sniveling), much like Run Junkie proper is used to explore the running and racing part of my running life.

Stay tuned for more TIC, or avoid it altogether.  You've been warned.