Monday, May 31, 2010

Motion Pictures: Choosing a Camera for the Trail

As my oft-chagrined training buddies can tell you, it's rare for me to hit the trail on a 2-plus hour run without my camera. Even if it's a route we've run dozens of times, I feel that each long outing, however seemingly routine, is rich with moments worth capturing. And although I'll never be in the same class as Glenn Tachiyama or Greg Norrander, I've taken some shots I've really liked over the last few years (see below) and learned a few key things about choosing a camera that could help out others looking to take their first shots on the run.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Your camera will break (or get left at a trailhead or carried away in a river or trampled by a moose).
This is just a fact of life. Under the best of domestic conditions, digital cameras live an endangered life.  Get them out in the wilds and in cold, wet, or sticky hands that belong to someone who's been running for anywhere from 2 to 30 hours and it's amazing that they make it back to the car any single time.  Which is just to say, don't spend so much on a camera that you'll be disappointed when force majeure separates the two of you.  You can be sad that you've lost such a great camera that you'd gotten attached to, but you should never be disappointed because of what it cost.  For some people, this will put the limit at $100, for others much higher.

Choose picture quality over most other options.
We're out on the trail with our cameras so we can capture great moments, so you should do so with a camera   that takes great photos.  In general, this doesn't mean the camera with the most megapixels.  It means cameras with great optics and electronics.  Apart from testing a number of different cameras, this means spending some time on the web divining from reviews and sample photos where certain cameras in a given price range fall on the quality spectrum.

Be wary of too many moving parts.
With a trail camera, simplicity is often best.  Moving parts are just asking to be jammed with dust, mud, water, or exploding gels.  I lost a fantastic camera to the red earth of Moab at the 2009 Red Hot 50k when I dropped it in a couple inches of superfine dirt.  While it had a soft landing, the telescoping lens mechanism filled with the dirt and stopped fully opening or closing. It was a complete loss. Its replacement has a permanently flush lens, which still has optical telephoto, and I can be a bit more confident that the camera is just that much more field-ready.

Don't be swayed too much by waterproof and shockproof cameras.
The growing number of waterproof and shockproof cameras is heartening for those of us looking for  something durable, and they may be good choices for some.  Overall, though, they seem to sacrifice too much for the ability to drop them off a tall boulder or dunk them in the local swimming hole.  While they are beginning to reach toward the sweetspot of price, quality, and size, right now they just don't seem to fulfill enough of the other important criteria to make them great choices.  When buying my latest camera last year, I decided against this category largely for image quality reasons. But the slight bulk, and high cost could easily be deal-breakers as well.

Don't worry too much about size.
Almost any of the current crop of point and shoot compact cameras on the market are small enough to carry on a long, long run without becoming burdensome.

Decide what's most important to you.
Are you an image quality person?  Durability?  Cost?  Size?  Everyone has their own special algorithm when deciding what camera to settle on.  For me,  quality comes first, followed by durability and size - all of which must settle within the "throwaway" price tag of $150 - $200.   The great news is that the choices are better than ever, and the starting point is higher than it's ever been.  Almost any name brand camera that costs over a $100 will take decent photos and come with some good bells and whistles.  Pay a little more and you'll have a bit more flexibility to choose exactly what you want.

Right now I use the Nikon Coolpix S52c, which I've been pretty happy with - taking it on Coyote Two Moon 100k, the Bighorn 100, and a number of training runs. It's fairly small (but not tiny) and true to all the Coolpix cameras, takes pretty nice photos. My previous camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5) took amazing photos, due in large part to the Leica lens, which was also its downfall in the Martian Moab dust.

Some photos from the past couple of years.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

2010 Pocatello 50 Miler Scuttled Mid-Race by Nasty Weather

A brutal weather system that brought freezing temperatures, snow, sleet, and white out conditions caused the Pocatello 50 miler to be stopped mid-race today, as many runners from the lead end to the tail end of the pack found themselves lost. The race started under decent but threatening conditions, which turned about 90 minutes into the race into challenging, and ultimately dangerous, conditions when course flagging in the upper elevations became buried under many inches of snow or difficult to see because of white out. 

Lead runners were pulled at the mile 32 Mink Creek aid station, while others were pulled at the mile 17 City Creek aid.  Reports from the field were that some groups of runners went well off course and had to make their way as best they could back to the closest aid station. Race directors were accounting for all runners.

Under the best of conditions - last year's inaugural race was run under sunny skies and 80 degree temps - the Pocatello 50, with its challenging terrain and 14,000 feet of climbing, is one of the harder races on the ultra calendar.  Today it met the only thing that could best the course itself - the weather.

Many thanks to Brad Mitchell and AJW for first hand reports from the field. 

See all Pocatello 50-related posts

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TI Chronicles: Cr@p

Crap.  It's finally come to this:  6 weeks off. 

Just as I'd started to gain some fitness and log some decent miles in hopes of a late season pairing of White River and Cascade Crest, the knee took a bad turn, and it was nasty about it.  It'd be fine one day.  Ornery the next.  Not only would it not let me get in the miles I needed but it also started to sap my love for running.  I stopped feeling that freedom and release that goes with time on the trail when more often than not I had to be thinking about the state of the knee.  "Is that stiffness?"  "Is that pain?"  "Will the pitch of this section of trail make it feel better or worse?"  "Can I run today?"  "Should I run today?"

Really, it all became too much.  Time to try something new.

Originally, I was scheduled to get a cortisone shot the middle of next week, but decided to cancel.  Even if the needle magically cured whatever is going on with the miasma of scar tissue and IT band where I struck my knee this fall, my time goals for the season would still be compromised. I've just missed too many months, and too many miles. So, despite being an advocate of western medicine and its related corticosteroid injections, I decided I might as well try one last non-medicalized approach to things.   Six weeks of largely inactive rest.  I'll swim a bit.  I'll go on some easy hikes.  I'll stretch and roll and ice.  But it'll all be pretty nominal, with the main goal simply being time to heal. 

If all goes as planned I'll be back to a slow build up at the end of June.  And even though it'll be one halting mile at a time, I'm already looking forward to those short runs on dusty trails.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

2010 Titus Van Rijn (TVR) One Hour Distance Classic - Sun Valley Edition

The turnout alone was spectacular, add in sunshine, temps in the 60s, and relatively calm conditions, and it set up to be a great day on the Wood River High School track for the 2010 running of the Titus Van Rijn One Hour Distance Classic - Sun Valley Edition.  Nineteen stalwart runners toed the line in the 60 minute timed test, nearly doubling the combined number for the previous three years.

The early running played out pretty much as it does every year.  Jokes on the line and around the first corner. A little talking over the first mile or so, then just a silent dance with one's aerobic threshold for the remaining fifty minutes.

Brad Mitchell (La Sportiva) took top distance honors making it 15,500 meters (9.63 miles).  Andy Jones-Wilkins took runner up (14,850 meters; 9.23 miles) in his now-storied fish shorts, the wearing of which caused Patagonia and La Sportiva to disavow any sponsorship ties (photos below).

On the women's side, Liv Jensen took top distance with 12,960 meters (8.05 miles), which currently places her third on the all-time TVR list.  Julie Cord took second spot on the day, with a solid 12,429 (7.72). Full results below.

In the end, no dreams were shattered, some PRs were set, and there was much rejoicing with Black Cherry Soda and lite beer.  A great time all around.

(click to enlarge photos) (more photos here)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Verte Libre: Of Roots and Ridges

My first thought was to wish for my camera, but that was wrong.  It could not have captured what I was seeing - the lone ten foot fir whipped by the wind until it rippled and waved and looked as if it'd unearthed its roots and was spinning in place.  It made me think of Orpheus, his music so magical that the trees wrenched themselves from the ground and danced and followed him until he calmed them back into the earth.  Struggling up past the tree, the wind stealing my breath, it felt like it might reach out and touch me, but like the thirty or more times I'd passed along this ridge, that didn't happen.  Still, I was happy to continue on, unearthed and running.  Only now can I hear the music.  

Vert Libre: free-form poetry and observations from the trail

Saturday, May 1, 2010

TI Chronicles: The Hope & Change Edition

As the calendar alerts on my computer and phone have been reminding me, I was supposed to be shirking my soccer coaching duties and deserting my family this weekend for a trip down to Michigan Bluff for some big training on the Western States course. That Western isn't happening for me this year is no longer news, though I did finally let the RD officially know last week that I wouldn't be coming, and I'm actually happy not to have to squeeze in my trail work over the next two weeks, since snow is still covering most of the area singletrack.

Apart from the reminder that I'll be missing Western, the past couple weeks and especially the last couple days have been trending in the right direction for my knee and the prospects of actually getting a race in this year.  To honor the fickle gods of injury, I am not saying that things are going great and that I'm out of the woods, because I'm not.  But, the knee has shown some decent improvement lately, and yesterday I actually got in my longest run since Wasatch.  It was slow and it wasn't epic - 21 miles with 4300 feet of vert - but it was something I'd call a real distance, and my knee held up very well and still feels pretty good today - the day after.

Race LogoA couple months back, I set May 1 as my "reality check" for toeing the line at the Cascade Crest 100 in late August. If I wasn't running consistently by then, I reasoned, it was time to lop it off the calendar. Well, it's May Day, and I'm running consistently (if not horribly far) and if things keep trending as they are, I have an outside shot at that 100 mile tour of the Cascade Mountains.

So, I'm going to take it day by day, keep stretching, rolling, and icing, and set a new reality check date further down the calendar.