Sunday, April 18, 2010

This Is Just to Say....It Must Be the Third Sunday in April

Bare trail, spring fever, and good legs seem to bring out the worst in me.  For two years in a row now - on the third Sunday in April - I deserted good sense and ran much longer than I'd told anyone I was going to. I just could not ignore the Siren song of another lap of Vorberg Gulch in 60 degree, sunny weather.

Last year, this inspired me to write a poem inspired by William Carlos Williams' classic non-apology apology - This is Just to Say (Ultrarunner's edition).  Below it's reprinted verbatim, because, well, it applies as much on this third Sunday in April as the last one.

Friday, April 16, 2010

TI Chronicles: Vorberg Gulch In - Pocatello 50 Out

We've finally hit a stretch of warmer weather here in the Wood River Valley, and however haltingly, more trail is starting to open up - buoying the spirits of even this semi-jaded (read: injured) runner.  This week I was able to do a recon run of the Vorberg Gulch loop, which starts or ends (depending which direction you run it) with the much discussed Carbonate trail (posts).  It's about eight miles with about 1500 vert and for being a stone's throw from town has some truly fabulous and very remote-feeling ridge and singletrack running.  If AJW is to be believed (and those of us who know him, know this is rarely), the counter clockwise Vorberg loop seems to have been cut with spring Western States training in mind.

While I can't speak to that, I can say that it was really great to get out  this week.  The knee held up pretty well, even with some quicker descending and some speed work, and getting first spring tracks on bare trail is like no other feeling (see slideshow below).

With the knee, though, still far from perfect and my mileage totals in the "recreation/fitness" category, I pulled myself out of the Pocatello 50 yesterday.  I'm finally reaching the "acceptance" phase of things, so it wasn't as tough as some previously missed milestones; feelings were more of abstract loss rather than very pointed frustration.  It was a great experience to be part of the inaugural Pocatello 50 last year (my 60-second race report).  It's one of the special ones on the calendar, and if you're looking to run a hard 50 with some big guns, don't miss it.

No update to the Injur-o-Meter today (see previous).  All things in steady state, poised to move soon, I'm sure.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Amy Palmiero-Winters Honored with AAU's Sullivan Award

Capping off what has been already been an amazing year, ultrarunner Amy Palmiero-Winters was honored by the Amateur Athletic Union yesterday with the James E. Sullivan Award "for her outstanding athletic abilities and accomplishments in her sport as well as sportsmanship, leadership and character (on & off the field) in her lifestyle as a whole." (AAU Sullivan site).

Among other impressive results, the 37 year old Palmiero-Winters won the Arizona Road Racers 24 hrs (130 miles), Ultracentric 100M, and Heartland 100M -- and all, it needs to be noted, with a below the knee prosthetic (more results).  

She is slated to be on the line this June in Squaw Valley for the Western States 100.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Shaft: Dog, SUV, and (Nearly) Person-Swallowing Mine

As is abundantly, and possibly by now irritatingly, clear these days to anyone who follows the blogs or training logs of ultrarunners who call the Sun Valley area home, April running revolves around Carbonate Mountain (Carbo).  Basically, it's the only bare singletrack with decent vert for miles around, so as I said in a previous paean to Carbo (here), we live on its slopes mid March to early May. 

It's a great tester of a climb (3 miles with about 1350 ft), yet, apart from the rocky ridge near the top and the 360 degree views that affords, it's pretty nondescript trail.   However, one feature that draws my attention almost every time I see it and no matter how hard I'm breathing, is the abandoned mineshaft at the summit. 

It's got a diameter of about four yards at the mouth, goes nearly straight down, becoming increasingly narrow, with a perceived but yet no clear bottom in sight. Sitting completely unprotected and unmarked right at ground level - and this time of year hiding under a thinning crust of snow - it begs for visitors.  And has had some over the years.

This morning, one of the runners in our group (not AJW or me, figure it out if you want) nearly took a notable misstep onto the  mine's crusty cover.  And last year, the dog of one of our running buddies had to spend a cold lonely night in the rocky shaft after falling through.  She was rescued the next morning a little cold and hungry but otherwise in good shape. 

Most entertaining is the hapless driver in 1996 who endo-ed his Blazer into the top of the shaft and, in addition to the humiliation, had his cassette tapes stolen from his stranded vehicle by hikers much less kind than my running friends and I.  How he even drove up there is a mystery to me.

(Click image for larger view)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sound & Singletrack: Audio Imprints on the Trail

Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain.
-The Waste Land; TS Eliot
I've been thinking about this post for a while now - the way the trail and my iPod leave a deep imprint on my memory.  I don't know why it's taken me so long to write, but now that the premise has fought the test of time, it seemed like it deserved to be written up.  

Like a lot of runners, I do a lot of my solo 3+ hour runs plugged in to my iPod.  It's not so much to dissociate from the intermittent tedium of the run, because I've found that running without the iPod can be just as enjoyable as running with one.  What I really plug in to the iPod for on my solo long runs is to catch up on my  worlds.  The worlds of politics, entertainment, literature, spirituality, and sometimes even music.   As a typical  ultrarunner who juggles work, family, home, runs, and sometimes sleep, it's hard to fit everything in to a week that I'd really like to.  My long runs are one time where I can spend largely guilt-free hours indulging my curiosity.

And doing this, I lean toward great public radio and the full-breadth of its shows, like:  On the Media; Left, Right, and Center; Car Talk; Fresh Air; Slate Daily Podcast; Frontline.  Occasionally, I'll throw an audiobook into the playlist and maybe even some music.

What I've found strange over the years, is the mnemonic effect this audio has had on my runs.  There are certain sections of trail that I can no longer run these days without thinking about a particular bit of audio that I was listening to when I ran it on one particular day.  I have no idea why these linkages occur and why they seem so permanent.  I can only guess that long runs have become so much of who I am, and are also times where my senses are so alert and wide-open, that it's only natural that there will be moments when things come together and flash themselves into the psyche.

There are probably a score of examples I could come up with - even more once the northern singletrack opens up and I get back on them after a long winter -  but these few are most rich in my mind and seem interesting enough to share.

Carbonate Mountain and The Iliad - Book VIII.  I was running a triple eight mile loop that began with a climb up Carbonate Mountain in first light. Looking for something different to listen to in my big build up to the Bighorn 100, I bought the audiobook of The Iliad and came to the beginning of Book VIII with the opening line:  "Dawn.  Saffron light over all the earth."  The line was so beautiful and the timing with the first light of day so perfect, I can't run that opening section of trail in the early morning without thinking of it.

Bullion Gulch and On the Media (Oct 30, 2009). This instance put a huge lump in my throat even as my heart raced at 160 bpm on a steep climb out of Bullion Gulch, one of the first times I'd been on that new cut trail.  The story on On the Media (story) deconstructed the decision by a Chicago TV station to air the horrible beating death of 16 year old honors student Derrion Albert who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The huge imprint this story left on that trail reminds me every time I'm climbing out of Bullion Gulch of  both the tragedy and the transcendence of life.

Adams Gulch Big Loop and Car Talk (July, 2009).  While I can't remember the specific episode, whether it was the one with the professor whose students peed in the air vents on his hood, or the one where the mechanic fixed a guy's nagging car seat problem in 12 seconds (for 50 bucks), I can't run one of the short ridge sections on the second half of the Adams Gulch big loop (cw) without channeling Tom and Ray.  I have no good explanation.

Harpers Trail and Ray of Light (Madonna).  In case it seems I'm only moved by the spoken word, Madonna's title track from 1998's Ray of Light is an inescapable companion every time I run the Harpers descent into Lake Creek.  One summer day a few years back, the dance-track rhythm synched so perfectly with my stride that I haven't been able to escape it since, and that's actually been a good thing.

Of course, I could go on:  The Big Bag of Money episode of This American Life and Democrat Gulch; a World Economic Forum episode of Planet Money and Lane's Trail heading back to the trailhead; the interview with True Blood actress, Anna Paquin, on Fresh Air and the trip up the valley on a clockwise Adams Gulch big loop; and my strange encounter with a strange little dog near Independence Creek while listening to Furr by Blitzen Trapper, and which I previously chronicled, here.

They are memories so ripe sometimes it's hard to describe, and I suspect they'll just keep piling up as long as I'm lucky enough and fit enough to hit the trails for hours on end.  Like messages from the collective unconscience, I just accept that these memories will be there and that they may actually be there to teach me something I don't quite understand.  Whether I'll ever stop long enough to figure out what that is, is an open question.

(Photo by Andrew* under Creative Commons)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

TI Chronicles: M-R-I Have No Idea What's Going On With My Knee (Updated)

Editor's note: Snivel filters alerted my good sense and had me revise my original version of this post, which went to press last night for a few short moments, but is here revised with, one hopes, a more digestible tone.  "Really?," you might say.
Well, I had the long-anticipated MRI of my right knee last week, and I have to say that the past seven days have generally been positive.  The MRI showed no serious issue with my knee - like a meniscus tear or fracture.  I've been able to run one of my go-to training routes, which also inspired me to write a reflection of its larger meaning (see post); and I've been running free of major pain, if only with mid-20 mile weeks.  So, all-in-all, not too bad.  

Still, there have been some downsides to the past week, and they have some of the same qualities as the positive side.  I'm still mired in 20 mile weeks with a knee that's on a hair trigger, and the MRI, while negative, also didn't show anything that was readily fixable, so from a prognosis standpoint, I'm pretty much where I was three months ago.

This means the 2010 season is heading very very quickly toward a complete loss, which is pretty disappointing - to put it more lightly than I'm actually feeling it.  Yet, it's not the end of the world. If it comes to it, it's just one season, and my MD has a plan.  I'm supposed to slowly ramp up my miles until the knee starts hurting regularly again, which we both agreed wouldn't take too long, then inject some numbing agent and cortisone in the base of the knob on my knee to see if that helps isolate the problem and maybe even arrest things enough so they start to heal.  Given the negative findings on everything else, it's a sensible approach.  

Of course, the midst of an issue is no place for context. So this is just a snapshot of my feelings at this particular time.  It'll be interesting to look back and see what course things actually took from this point on.

With negative findings and little progress the past three weeks, all measures in the Injur-O-Meters have taken a hit, most notably in attitude and prospects for CCC.  Rock-O-Meter still high.