Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something Completely Different: Ultrarunning & The Lost Generation

George Whitman died last week in Paris at age 98.  I'd spoken with him only once - and for just a few minutes - but he and his bookshop in the shadow of Notre Dame - Shakespeare & Co - had a profound impact on me.  Long a devotee of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and other modernists of the Lost Generation, I'd read much about Shakespeare & Co, so when I found myself in Paris in my early 20's I had to make my way to the store with the storied name, and even though it wasn't Sylvia Beach's original Shakespeare & Co, where Ulysses was first published and a bandaged Hemingway showed off his battle scars from the Spanish Civil War, it was a place that maintained the same ethos and name (with Ms. Beach's blessing, some say) of the original.

On a grey fall day in the early 90s, while buying off-kilter imprints of At-Swim-Two-Birds and Finnegans Wake, I had a chance to chat with Mr. Whitman as he stamped my books with the iconic kilometer zero ink stamp from the store.  The store had just suffered through a fire, and with the smell of damp charcoal in the air, we spoke a bit of Joyce and flame and the literary hostel he maintained in the quarters above the shop.  He was a passionate man who devoted himself to art, to words, to exploration, and to spreading the gospel of all three.

Why write about this here in Run Junkie?  To be honest, I'm not quite sure I can explain it very well.  But laying in bed the other night shortly after Whitman died and Shakespeare & Co was back in the news, I couldn't help thinking about those indelible experiences we all have in life.  Those experiences that really seem to be way points that guide all our future thinking and action.  Shakespeare & Co - and the literature and letters that surround it - is certainly one indelible part of my life - the imagery made even stronger by the literal, indelible stamps from the store in some of my favorite books.

Another indelible part of my life is ultra-running.  I've always run, mind you, and it's been something that has always defined me, but it wasn't until I discovered ultra-running that running seemed to actually tap into the archetype of who I was.  This is crazy talk to some, I know, but there are others out there who know exactly what I'm talking about.

Life is stingy with these indelible experiences, so it's unsurprising that one hearkens to another.  And for me, the death of George Whitman was a reminder that grand moments and experiences in life matter.  Some are made, some are happenstance - but each is a gift to be savored and built upon - something I'll remind myself of the next time I'm out for 8 hours on the trail or on my 8th day trying to get through the Pisan Cantos.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ultra on Three Runs a Week? Sure.

I sit here writing ensconced in the good life of the off season - "You've gained how many pounds already?" one good running buddy asked the other week.  Yet, with dreams of 2012 starting to dance in my head, it seemed time to do a little post facto analysis of my training in the 2011 high season.

After a disappointing and pretty much non-existent 2010 season because of my too-documented knee injury, I thought I'd take a different approach to 2011 that allowed me to keep the knee happy with low weekly miles but let me do what we all love most - going long.

So, for most of the summer I ran only three times a week, slowly kicking up my long runs until I hit respectable distances of 18 - 20 miles. While it made for some rough runs as my slow-to-develop fat-burning chemistry came online, it worked amazingly well, letting me get out on some of the most memorable training runs I've ever had - documented ad nauseum in images on singletrack:photos.
At Foothills 50k Frenzy.

And as the knee showed some resilience, I took the plunge, setting my sites on a late season 50k (my first ultra since Wasatch Front 2009) and kicking up the training just a bit in September.

For the 20 weeks between early June and race day on October 22, I averaged 30 miles/week; 4,400 vertical feet/week; and 3.5 runs/week.  My biggest week ended September 18, with 52 miles, 10,400 ft vert, and 5 sessions - numbers that in the past passed as a recovery week.  Season details in figure below.

For ultra - even for a 50k - it was meager training, but it worked surprisingly well.  I had a solid race and finished feeling strong in 5:23 and 18th overall.  Not contending but not lagging, either.

As a once and (maybe) future mileage junkie, I'm always hoping for more, but I think this past season serves as a great lesson that low miles, if they're smart, can take you a long way toward your goals.

I'm not sure what 2012 will hold - I'd love to do a 50 miler - but 2011 has been a real gift - allowing me to dip my toes back into the sport I love.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

(Video) Finding Oregon. Finding the West.

I came across this video today thanks to a post by the band, Orgone, and I really found it stunning.  It's a time lapse of landscapes all across Oregon, but I felt that it reached well beyond that and spoke to me, not just as a resident of the Pacific Northwest, but as someone with a broad attachment to the Western wild places.

And while there isn't a step of running in this video, if you've ever run the cirque of an Alpine lake or watched the Milky Way come to life on a nighttime run, you'll feel it's as much about ultrarunning as anything else.

Finding Oregon from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Summer B-Sides: The Almost-Lost Photos of Summer 2011

Over the past week, I ran a short photos series on the Run Junkie Twitter feed that highlights some of the frames I captured over the summer that didn't make it into my singletrack:photos portfolio or on to Run Junkie proper.  Until now. Since there's not perfect overlap between my Twitter followers and my regular blog readers, I thought I'd post them here as well.  Hope they have something to offer.

Summer B-Sides:
Brad and AJW () showing how it's done on Lanes Trail in Sun Valley: 

KB showing why it's called the high lonesome (Devils Bedstead West, Idaho):

Brownie leading the way on the Lake Creek Connector, showing us just how easy it can be: 

Brad and Tizz near the top of the Adams Gulch big loop, wondering where summer went:  

Opening it up descending down Harpers in early summer green (Sun Valley, Idaho): 

Cruising through the Snowyside notch leaving Twin Lakes behind (Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho): 

KB working the "airy traverse" to the summit of Devils Bedstead West: 

Brad getting ready to parachute down to the headwaters of the East Fork of the Big Wood:  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Photo Biathlon and November's Running Times

To anyone who frequents Run Junkie, it's apparent - perhaps painfully so - that I enjoy taking photos on my long runs.  I have little actual technical ability, mind you.  I'm all point and shoot, but I do what I can to try to capture some of those great moments on the trail we all experience - even if it means taking 130 bad photos to get 3 decent ones.

Perhaps the best way to characterize what I do is "photo biathlon," since for the most part the shutter falls either while I'm actually running, or when I've quickly stopped but my heart is still racing.  What I like most about this distinction is that it seems to absolve me a bit when my photos lack the niceties of great trail photography - like framing, lighting, and...focus.

Still, I continue to click away, addicted sometimes as much to capturing images on the run as actually running - a sad state my training buddies will attest to.  But at times it pays off with some memorable frames, like these samples from the summer:  near the top of Johnstone Pass, at Pioneer Cabin, and looking down on Twin Lakes.

Running Times recently did nothing to curb my enthusiasm when they ran a photo I took during last fall's Trail Creek 12k in Sun Valley for their November photo essay, The Wide World of Racing, which focused on the crush of races that always fall between the last weekend in October and first weekend in November.

Sure, it's not a perfect photo, but I still recall how hard I was breathing when I took it, trying to catch up to Medusa & friends as they made their way up the Proctor draw - and all while dressed as a shirtless Tarzan on a 28 degree morning.

Score one for photo biathlon.
Running Times - Nov 2011
Original: Medusa & Friends at the 2010 Trail Creek 12k, Oct 30

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011 Foothills 50K Frenzy

Brad Mitchell (Scott) and Joelle Vaught (Montrail) took the top men's and women's spots, respectively, in Saturday's inaugural Foothills 50k Frenzy in Boise.  Mitchell covered the challenging (6,000 ft of vert), largely singletrack course though the Boise foothills in a quick 4:13, with Vaught coming home in 4:32 to also claim second overall.  Vaught kept Mitchell in her sights through the mile 14 turnaround on Ridge Road, but by the mile 18 Orchard Canyon aid station, he was able to gain some separation - and a couple broken ribs from a hard tumble - and hold his lead through to the finish.  Full results.

For me, the race was a bit of a triumph, as it marked my return (if just) to ultrarunning following a two year hiatus after a rough fall on my knee just before Wasatch in 2009.  To be honest, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to toe the line again at marathon-distance, let alone anything beyond. But, as my injury was kept at bay by a very conservative approach this season, I was able to stitch together just enough long-run miles to make a hard 50k both possible and enjoyable.  And that's exactly how it turned out.  It wasn't a barn burner, but I was able to come through the finish feeling strong in 18th (5:23).

Though the Frenzy was a first year event, it came off with the clockwork precision that many seasoned races could only hope to have, and it's a great addition to the fall racing schedule in the west.

Some photos:
6:00 am start.
First 90 minutes or so via headlamp on pretty buffed out trail.

The Run Junkie at the high point - Ridge Road turnaround.
Descending Ridge Road, making the way toward top of Robie Creek.

Idaho traffic jam.
Hard to beat open country in the last third of race.
Joelle Vaught - First (2nd overall).
Brad Mitchell - First Overall.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Autumn Short List: Adams Gulch Big Loop

Hard to believe it's come to this:  whittling down the list of envisioned long runs to those select few you have a realistic chance of getting in before the snow falls. No matter that it happens like clockwork every year, it's always disappointing to have to table those great plans until coming seasons.

One run that made the short list in these closing days - and one that got pushed off the list last year - was a trip around the Adams Gulch big loop in Sun Valley.  One of my favorite runs in the area, I love how the route quickly leaves the populated lower gulch trails for the solace of true backcountry, with soft singletrack and great views of the Boulders and Pioneers.

A quick photo tour from yesterday's outing with Brad and Tizz.
On the Connector between Adams Gulch and Harpers.  Dry grass.  New snow up high.  Autumn.
One of many great overlooks.  Trying to figure out exactly how we got here.
Evergreen holding court, as Brad passes through.
Curvature: Cruising the ridge, not too far from the top of the climb.
Things are looking up...
...at this.
Long shadows on new snow in the Castle Rock burn.
Tizz questioning my nutrition choices.
Where's mom?  We kept on the move.
Coming off Lanes trail.  Fall in full swing.
Back to the now-full trailhead.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

RJ Review: Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running"

"Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness."
"Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day."
"To exaggerate a bit, it was as if by completing the over-sixty-mile race I’d stepped into a different place."
Last week my wife couldn't contain her excitement about the English language release of Haruki Murakami's new 1,000 page novel, IQ84.  It's swept Japan and, given the buzz in the lit world, is set to do the same in the US and England.  Though I try to keep up on things literary, I admit the IQ84 phenomenon passed me by, but Murakami's name did ring a bell, and a quick Google search reminded me why. He wrote a non-fiction book on running released a couple years ago, called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Intrigued, I downloaded it to my Kindle and started clicking away.

At just under 200 pages, it was a quick - and I have to say enjoyable - read.  Murakami writes from the viewpoint of a dedicated mid-packer who simply loves to run and whose running suffuses his life, influencing his writing and driving his thoughts.  It is a portrait I dare say most people reading these words can fully connect with.

The majority of the book revolves around blog-like essays on his training for and running of a number of road marathons (including New York and Boston), with some triathlons thrown in, and one 100k ultra, which gets set up as the book's antagonist - one possible reason the author's previously un-assaulted love affair with running begins to fray.  (Anyone who's suffered through a bad 100k plus can hardly blame him for doing so.)

What was very strange to me as I made my way through this book was how often it seemed to echo my views of running and my running life.  From his time in Boston and Cambridge spent running by the Charles River, to his drive to excel even when well behind the lead pack, to his views of the relationship between running and writing - this seemed like a book I could have written - if of course, I were a smart, dedicated, and accomplished novelist.

Yet, this familiarity was in some ways a disappointment of the book.  As much as I loved to see myself in the pages, the book didn't transport me to a higher place.  Great essays - those by EB White or Adam Gopnik, just to name two - will take you from a place you know and lift you up to reveal something grander than you'd previously considered.  And given Murakami's reputation, I admit to expecting that sort of experience.  But it wasn't there.

This may not really be fair, of course. He says in the afterward that the book should be viewed more as a running memoir than a true collection of essays, and it does have that feel to it: A tap-tap-tap of thoughts on paper that mimics the sound of a marathon stride.

Still, it's an engaging rhythm, and I could hardly put the book down until I was finished with it.  Murakami certainly isn't an everyman writer, but he is close to being an everyman runner, and it's great to have a book that is essentially a paean to the passionate mid-packer - to those who rarely win races but whose passion and love for the sport is no less rich and no less grand.

More RJ Reviews

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Agony and the Agony: 33rd Annual Baldy Hill Climb

Today was the 33rd Annual Baldy Hill Climb in Sun Valley, Idaho - A true all-comers affair that doesn't seem to favor athletes from any one sport.  All you need is to bring a will to suffer and, if you want to be at all competitive, a training regimen and VO2 max in line with the past, present, and future Olympians who always toe the line next to you.  The course is 1.9 miles straight up the Warms Springs run on the Sun Valley ski hill, climbing just under 3,200 vertical feet and offering no where to hide.

Michael Tobin of Boise - at age 48 - took top honors in the men's division in 37:08. Chelsea Holmes of Ketchum won the women's side in 42:36.  Full results.

My race was more modest. I finished in 47:03, about 20 seconds slower than my PR in the event, set in 2006.  And I felt pretty solid throughout, but, I had trouble pushing beyond the hard-but-within-myself level.  Any time I really worked to pick up the pace a bit, I shot quickly into the red zone and had to dial it down so I wouldn't blow up and limp home in 60 minutes.
Lost in the pain cave. Exit, 1,000 feet up. (this & top photo: KJB)
But, 47 is respectable.  I'm generally happy with it.  It's two minutes faster than a good training effort a week ago, and fully seven minutes faster than an attempt two weeks ago. So it would have been unreasonable to have expected much more.

To cap the day off and to get some extra miles, I took the long way down to the base, following the 11 mile Broadway/Warm Springs trails from the top.  After the single file sufferfest up, it was an easy, sunny, and beautiful cruise home.
Cruising home. Fall in the Castle Rock burn.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meta-Post: Run Junkie on Flotrack's "Run Junkie"

I've had a few false starts to this post - opening sentences rightfully abandoned for either lack of clarity or richness in sniveling.  For example:
#1  After posting a few tweets on this topic over the last few days, none of which found any purchase on the collective interest (sample), I should probably have heeded the people's choice and just let it go. 
#2  I can't say I don't feel a bit put out by Flotrack (www.flotrack.com).  
Finally, though, I think I came up with a good opening that definitely didn't bury the lede:

What the hell?  Flotrack snaked the name of my site for their new Run Junkie video web series.  

And that pretty much captures the facts and my feelings.  Initially, I had thoughts of waxing nostalgic for losing the originality of my site's name, for taking time to build the "brand" only to see Flotrack's Run Junkie bump up immediately against my Run Junkie in Google search rankings.  But that all seemed somewhat petty - and more than a little bit sad.

Though the name sharing could sew some confusion in the marketplace, in reality each Run Junkie comes from a different running world.  They're covering track and field.  I'm covering mostly trail and ultra.  They're a video series.  I'm mostly static content.  They're a touchstone of running news.  I'm a niche site (to spin it kindly). They're young and vibrant.  I'm.....Well, I think the point's been made.

Who knows, I could even garner a few extra visitors from those distracted trackies mistakenly clicking on the wrong Run Junkie link, and it's not like they're sullying the Run Junkie name.  The Flotrack content is good.  It's infectious.  And the hosts strangely look a bit like I did in my college days.

When it comes down to it, though, I guess what truly irks me is that in my few tweets on the topic (they follow @run_junkie), they haven't even acknowledged this Run Junkie's existence or better yet offered me one of their very cool RJ t-shirts (see it here) as a peace offerring.

To see what this site's up against, here's Flotrack's energetic Run Junkie episode 2:

Watch more video of Run Junkie on flotrack.org

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Winter Replay - Eiger Speed Ascent (Video)

The link to this video made the rounds this winter, but I had to take another look at it with summer coming to a close, and the snow getting set to fall before too long.  Ueli Steck free climbs the Eiger in 2:47, in nothing short of amazing fashion.  The videography is great; the climbing is great, but what I'm always astounded by is how fast he moves once he hits the snow fields.  It's worth a viewing if you haven't watched it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Photo of the Week - "Reflection at Sawtooth Lake"

Crossing the northern cirque of Sawtooth Lake on the way to Observation Peak; Sawtooth Wilderness; Idaho

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Crumbling Will or Smart Racing - Today's Harriman Trail 10 Miler

There's a scene in the fantastically campy 1985 bike racing movie American Flyers (montage) where Kevin Costner's character - in leather hairnet, mustache, and the twilight of his pro career - shows his younger brother a video of the imperceptible moment in a previous year's stage race when he lost his drive - where he essentially handed the win to someone else.

I was thinking about this scene on-and-off this morning as I made my way through the Harriman Trail 10 Miler.  While on paper I had a great race - finishing 5th overall and only a handful of minutes down on the winner - I was left wondering about my will - not to win, per se, since that's rarely a chance I have, but to suffer and to excel.  

What really brought this issue into relief for me was the lead woman who paced off me for much of the race.  Now, she was suffering, and to a much greater degree than I knew I was. Yet she hung in there, huffing and puffing, right on my heels, until the last couple miles, where she barely lost contact.  

Despite a few surges, and a few tests, I just couldn't put myself through that today.

And maybe it was simply smart racing.  A hard, uphill 10 miles is on the edge of my fitness with the reduced miles I've been putting in, and one of my main goals was to race hard but also not to blow up and have the wheels fall off.  So I was constantly doing the self-checks - taking stock of all the sensations to make sure I had the legs, lungs, and energy to finish well.  

I accomplished that, which feels great - but not without concern that something's changed inside, that I've turned some corner when it comes to the will to excel, that I've become Kevin Costner in American Flyers.  The horror.  The horror.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Singletrack Minds #4 - 'The Group Run'

[click to enlarge]
Any resemblance to runners past or present, real or imaginary, fast or slow, is purely coincidence

Monday, August 22, 2011

Annals of Summer: Photo of the Week - "Steri-Pen Meditation"

"Steri-Pen Meditation"
90 mindful seconds at Pot Creek, filling up and sterilizing ahead of the climb up Box Canyon

Monday, August 15, 2011

Annals of Summer: Photos of the Week - "The Long View" and "Miner Thoughts"

Travis, AJW, and Brad dropping like stones toward Miner Lake
A little HDR work, as the trio overlooks Miner Lake

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Annals of Summer: When M9's in Town, We Run.

Summer's been much kinder to me than I would ever have predicted in spring.  Though my weekly miles haven't been that big, I've been able to get a nice string of runs in the 3 - 6 hour range and in some astounding backcountry. That said, my knee was ready for a rest this weekend - a preemptive strike before forced time off came to the fore.

Ahhhh, the best laid plans.

The Sun Valley crew got the word mid-week that our prodigal son, AJW, was making a 36 hour trip back to the Northern Rockies, so there was nothing we could do but break out the maps, exchange some proposals, and set the 4:00am alarms for a Saturday run.   And that's just what we did, with a great dawn patrol outing around Prairie Lake, Norton Lakes (lower & upper), and Miner Lake.

It was as fun as always - rehashing storied runs and sharing new rumors, all while trying unsuccessfully to keep pace with a peak fitness Brad Mitchell. And the knee wound up performing like a champ.

There's always time to rest after good times with fast friends.  

AJW (aka M9) at Prairie Lake
Miner thoughts: Brad, AJW, and Travis ruminating on the steep drop down to Miner Lake
Dropping in

Monday, August 8, 2011

Singletrack Minds #3 - 'Running'

Annals of Summer: Photos of the Week - "The Twins" & "Water Over Rock"

Coming off of Snowyside Pass looking through the ages at Twin Lakes in the Sawtooth National Forest; Idaho.

Nearing Snowyside Pass from Toxaway Lake; Sawtooth National Forrest; Idaho.