Sunday, January 31, 2010

Down but not Out and Vancouver

Some of the joy and challenge that comes with being an endurance athlete is that your physical and at times mental fitness ride an undulating roller coaster through peaks of fitness and troughs of injury or weakness. These large meta-cycles can include months of strength and vigor and are absolutely fabulous when you are in the midst of such a peak, but because there is opposition in all things, there is the other side of these cycles where body and mind revolt and spirit is dampened for a time. This month has turned out to be one of those mega trough's for me. Don't get me wrong, I have had some great runs on the weekends and found many clear days to run, but because of my workload at school and the point I am in my degree everything seemed to pile up this month and surpass a critical point where I met a breaking point and found my mental rigor and self motivation plummeting. My running has been anything but consistent and I have struggled to find that extra oomph that forces one out the door and onto the trails day in and day out.

This last week was my worst yet with almost zero runs to report. I did have to go to UBC to use the electron microprobe this week which included a scramble on Sunday and Monday to prepare for Tuesday and Wednesday in Vancouver. I got my samples together and caught the 7:00 am ferry to Vancouver. I then took a bus with a transfer and found my way to campus at about 10:30. I than spent the following 8 hours on the probe analyzing my experiments. It is fun to be involved in my second Winter Olympics and it was cool to see the various workers hastily making their final preparations to welcome the World's winter athletes. The night was rough as nights away from my family usually are and I didn't sleep much. I was up by 6 and working by 7 at UBC. I finished in the afternoon and then made the 4 hour journey back to the Island (I did see my first pod of wild Orcas while coming back on the ferry, unbelievable!). The following Thursday was spent working on my course work and than it was basically the weekend. I just didn't make time to run.

I am going to stop complaining about this pitiful past month and look into a brighter future. I struggled with finding motivation and inspiration this month, but leave it to a blog from Krupicka to get the lead out and inspire me to get back at a consistent running schedule. In his blog he discusses how he is going to run to the summit of Green Mountain in Boulder Co 100 times in 100 days this year. He is now 30 days in and 30 summits into his goal. This isn't a sissy hill either but a 8,000 foot + frozen monolith on the Western skyline of Boulder.

I don't have the opportunity to hit the base of a 3,000 foot vertical climb each morning but I do have several hills near my home with plenty of steep trails and a good 500 feet of elevation gain. So to take inspiration from Krupicka I am going to see how many summit's of Mount Doug I can sack this Month and then try to break the record in March. So starting tomorrow the 1st of February I will start my copycat experiment and start summit repeats on Mt. Doug. I don't quite know what to expect, but I can't see why I can't tackle 60 summits this month. I hope that I can stay motivated and balance my ever increasing workload so that I can run at least an hour each day. It will be a fun experiment and exactly the type of game and motivation I need to pull out of this nosedive I have found myself in, and get my fitness and strength back. I will have to manage time impeccably and sacrifice some sleep but that is the point, to get me excited to make the changes necessary to get back into the game.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A glimpse of spring, Jocelyn Peak at Gowland Tod Park

Winter relaxed it's frosty grip today and teased the island with a slight glimpse into the impending spring. The weather was brilliant and temps were in the 50's the sun was blazing and if I didn't know it was January I would swear that it was some time in March or April. Hundreds of bikers and jogger's (fair weather wimps) were out in droves. I seized the opportunity to try a new trail out that I have been wanting to run for some time. This is a trail that begins near McKenzie Bight on the Saanich Peninsula and quickly climbs into the Gowland Tod Range that make up the eastern shore of the Finlayson Arm. I discovered this area last Summer with Vye and the kids and knew it would be perfect to run because of the challenging terrain and steep single track trails stretching along the hilltops and overlooking the inlet. It is surprising that I had not ran it yet up to this point. I finally decided to try it today. I chose a destination that would make about a 15 km out and back and would summit a high point know as Jocelyn Peak.

I started out flying down a steep ravine on a wide but muddy trail that hit the ocean at the Bight, I crossed a bridge and quickly climbed up a series of steep stairs, rocks and single track. The trail really didn't level out for almost 35 minutes of running and I found myself pushing with everything I had to run and power hike my way from sea level to over 1450 feet with cumulative elevation near 2000 feet. The trail was well drained and rocky and so mud was not an issue. It was surprisingly lonely on the trail. Once I made the ridge of the Timberman Trail it was smooth sailing to the last climb up Jocelyn peak. I had only passed one small trio hiking back to the Bight along this entire stretch. I felt so secluded I even purposely made noise to ward off any bears that might be out and about. Perhaps it was the jitters that come with running by yourself in the bush with nothing but the clothes on your back and your runners. I am always a little more cautious about animals in the early spring and thought any bear would love the warm weather as much as I was so I wasn't taking chances. The overlook above the Finlayson arm at both Jocelyn Peak and several other lookouts along the way were breathtaking. I wish I had a light camera to run with because today was unreal as far as crisp air and vivid colors are concerned. Once I summited I took 10-15 minutes and enjoyed the seclusion and view.

I don't know when I became such a hermit. Anyone who knew me in my late teens and early twenties knows I was anything but an introvert, but in the last 5 years I find I tend to prefer solitary and almost lonely circumstances to social environments, I don't even necessarily prefer to have company while running. I even feel a bit awkward like I don't quite fit in, in any situation that involves more than two people. My passions and intensity in which I pursue them tends to be way out there and that may be why I often find myself alone. I have often thought that perhaps as you make your way further along the educational progression line you begin to find it harder to make the same meaningful connections that were so easy earlier on in life. Perhaps it is just me, and my ideas on education have little to do with it. I know my dad was quite solitary keeping to himself and I often found him lying in the dark listening to music or in his chair reading, and he always hiked by himself. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Perhaps because I have his genes and observed him when younger, his introverted behavior has taken root in myself. This may be why I find endurance trail running so appealing. It gives me an opportunity to be alone with my often fragmented thoughts and to focus and clarify them while having meaningful and even epic experiences in amazing places. I enjoy the sound of my feet on earth and rock and I have done some of my best research and writing while flying over miles of trails on Vancouver island. All of the extra oxygen associated with respiration and release of various chemicals in the body may help to nurture the thought process as well. Just some thoughts about my case of "Hermititis" I had while on the lonely trails today.

One thing I didn't plan on is dehydration. I quickly became parched in the drier and warmer weather than I was used to. After I had been running for over an hour my thirst level went through the roof. I could tell that I had lost some electrolytes as I began to have some small aches and pains that I usually link with dehydration. The entire run back to the car I was really wishing I had carried 32 ounces of water. The return run was all down hill and so it went fast enough that I ended up being fine, but if I was hydrated and had some fuel I would have ran much quicker on the way back. I will keep this in mind for my future runs in the park.

It was a delightful run and I will definitely incorporate this new trail into my training regime. This type of trail and terrain is perfect for improving my endurance and building my legs and lungs for the future endurance goals I have. This trail is also part of an unofficial race know as the Full Monte and "Half Monte" (50Km and 25 Km respectively). I think I will give one of them a try this year.

Below is a video I made of the same run but a little after I wrote this article enjoy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

SEM - Hills - and some Special Needs

Yesterday found me training on the scanning electron microscope (SEM). This is a great instrument that has the ability to take detailed images with up to 800,000 magnification which is on the scale of nanometers. This is one of the most advanced SEMs in the world, so part of my training allowed me to image some parts of a 1mm long beetle and also a chunk of lung. It was cool because I always have been interested in the very small and I am completely curious about everything. I could probably sit there all day taking images of anything and everything at various magnifications if I could. Unfortunately I am primarily using the device for it's EDX or X-ray to ID elements in the mineral phases I grow, so I won't really be able to take great pictures to show off, but none the less it is a great opportunity to dive into another microcosm. I love playing with 1 million dollar geeky toys.

Beetle's foot magnified about 700 times (the beetle is 1mm long).

This is the ball joint to the same beetle's antennae. This is magnified 1500 times.

Here is a chunk of lung magnified 60 times, showing the air passages and the alveoli.

Since I enjoyed running Mount Work over the weekend so much I decided to run Mount Doug this week. Today I cranked out a 40 minute workout, which was way more fun and playful than it was a tough workout. I ran a combination of trails that I have never spliced together in this combination before and found it to be an absolute blast. I am not in "Mount Doug shape" by any means but hope to improve on my terrible fitness. I fear I have lost a good portion of leg muscle and stamina from this roller coaster of a Fall. I had a bit of a "near faint" and had to sit for a minute and let my heart's pace maker figure out the correct pulse, but not a minute later I was barreling down the south side of Doug. I really love the downhills. They are by far more challenging than the ups because they are so fast and really get the adrenaline pumping. It is amazing how tough the downs are on your quads, they just scream after a few minutes of fast downhill.

A fall photo of Mount Doug (unfortunately not my photo but from a flickr user, but I couldn't find his name to credit the photo - sorry anonymous).
Aerial map with trail overlay of the Mount Doug area taken from a GIS project by Brianne Ranta.

Today as I was cruising down the south side of Mt. Doug "Special Needs" by Placebo popped up and I was happy to have it accompany me to the bottom of the hill and through the waterlogged trail that circumnavigated the base turning me back to the North. This is a great song and has been one of my favorites from the band for years now. It reminds me of some of my early trail runs up Mueler park in Bountiful, and hot dusty workouts on fire break, and also some of my first runs on Mount Doug. It was nice to listen to today and recollect where I have been with my running obsession, and dream big as to where I am taking it in the future. I will include this live version from Germany in '06. The music video disabled the embedding, but is cool as well, albeit steamy. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mount Work Workout and Kingdom of Welcome Addiction

I took a small hiatus from blogging for several reasons. First, I had lower leg injuries and so I had to take a small hiatus from running while things healed up. Second, the new semester is fully underway and I am slammed with school. The first week of the semester wasn't too bad but since I have had about 5 assignments in my high-temperature thermodynamic and kinetic class. This is a great class and I am really enjoying all the lectures and assignments. It is nice to finally have enough background education under my belt to finally see how igneous processes really behave in nature and what actually drives them, so many of my questions are becoming so much clearer now. That being said it is the type of course that requires a good chunk of time to fully understand the concepts. I also am TA'ing again even though I didn't think I was supposed to. It is actually good because I love teaching and we could use the cash but it does take another 7-10 hours a week. I will be spending several days training on the SEM (scanning electron microscope) and next week will be in Vancouver analyzing some experiments. This will be busy for sure this semester I really need to find a balance so I can keep running.

Last week I was still running on bad legs and attempted a go at Mount Doug. I started out and within 3 minutes turned around to go home, but by the time I got home my legs were feeling better so I turned around and ran to Mount Doug. I got to the base of the mountain and my legs said "NO MORE". I tried running home but that didn't work either, so I stopped off at a nearby friends home and called Vye for a lift home. That is the first time I have ever had to do that. I decided to take 5 days to let the legs heal and alas today they felt great so I decided to run Mount Work the 450 meter tall mountain in the picture above (Photo by Daniel Fergusen). Work is a fantastic training ground for the rough terrain trail runner. It has rocks, puddles, elevation and roots. It is my idea of the perfect running terrain. You can really feel the legs being worked on the way up and down and the lungs scream the whole time. It is the type of playground that really improves fitness rapidly and was the exact type of change my running regiment needed.

This was a great run and really reinforced the fact that I am built (or just mentally built) for steep rough terrain and not long boring roads and flat trails. I enjoyed the steep rocky ascent so much that I was sad when I ran out mountain to run up. I must admit I am a little out of hill climbing shape but I aim to remedy this right away. My previous few months have been spent taking it easy on fairly flat and boring runs and perhaps these boring runs have killed some of my motivation, but today as I was cruising down this muddy technical trail I fell in love all over again and I am recommitted to focusing on my trail running even if it means driving to some trails to increase my variability and reduce boredom. I can't think of anything I would like more than running for 24 hours in rough (and more importantly mountainous) terrain. I feel that I excel in the mountains and my strong legs and light (albeit wiry) upper body is a good ratio for handling the grinding climbs and thrashing descents. I am now going to focus more on time spent in rough terrain than distance. I feel when I am worried about distance I shy from the technical stuff because I can't cover as much ground in the same period of time, but now I really don't care, running the mountains is what I am passionate about. If you can't tell by this post I had a marvelous time grinding up Mount Work today. A song came on that I have previously discussed this Spring, but since it lit a fire for me as I started a really technical and rocky portion of trail it seemed to be the theme of today's work out. The song is by IAMX and is the song that the album is named for "Kingdom of Welcome Addiction". This is a great song with strong buildups and a powerful melody and beat that seems to propel me over the rocks and through the ankle deep mud. I highly recommend this album and felt it the best of 2009 like I assumed it would be back in Spring.

I am including an album version of the song and also a little gem I found on youtube. The Secret & Dark acoustic set in Berlin is great but in this version of the song there is a (presumably drunk) fan who gets so carried away in the music that her singing actually overpowers Chris Corner and finally at 4:45 Janine from the band tells the girl to "shut up" after several previous failed polite attempts to quiet the crazed fan. I think this was hilarious to watch. Don't get me wrong, I love people who get into their music, and even I (with my horrible voice) have found myself singing at the top of my voice in various venues, but the point here is to use tact when choosing the volume of your singing at each show. If you are in a large arena or stadium venue, then by all means belt it out, you can't even hear your own voice, but in an intimate acoustic venue perhaps a smaller voice that the band can out-sing is perhaps better than trying to outperform the artists. Just a funny side note to a great song and band -- I wished I could have seen this show live.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sore Legs and Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Today started yet another semester, and I am taking yet another course. It is a great course and fantastic instructor. I will definitely enjoy it but I am scrambling to review and re-learn calculus, thermodynamics and kinetics. After this course is through in early April, I will only need 1 more course (unless I can convince my committee to drop it) and I will be finished with course work (forever??). I have attended University for so long and for so many semester's it sometimes feels like it is going to never end, but like any long run I know it will have to eventually come to an end. I do enjoy it and will likely be sad when it is over. Good thing there is always a Post Doctorate degree!

Tonight's run was less than fantastic. My lower legs are still quite sore, from originally being sore and than running a marathon. I just ran for 30 minutes as a result. Once again mother nature was working against me, and I was running through 10 cm deep puddles in freezing horizontal rain. My shins and calves were crying but I actually had an alright time, up until a new student asked me for directions. It is funny that there was 40 people around, and she decides to stopthe runner who is nervously checking his splits, for directions. I am only kidding, I didn't mind helping a fellow student, after all it wasn't that long ago that I was a freshman in University worrying about where to find my next class and looking extra nerdy and extra nervous. Perhaps tomorrow my run will feel better but maybe my legs will just keep getting worse. I hope they get better, I am trying to take it easy but still running.

A song that played tonight and caught my attention, which I know everyone is aware of was "Tonight Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins. This is a great song and I love the video. It was a nice piece to listen to as I was being battered by wind and rain and I almost forgot I was soaking wet and cold. When I first saw this video I had no idea what the video was about and thought it a little weird (but keep in mind I like weird things so I liked it), but later I found that it was a remake of an early (1902) French silent film called " A Trip to the Moon" or "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" and then I liked it even more. The director thought the artwork on the Melancholy album had that Victorian feel and noticed that it was similar to aspects of this early film. To make me like the video and song even more I found out the lead actor in the video is Spongebob! This is always a nice listen and I like to connect with my mid-90's musical roots now and again. I am including a link to the S.P. video and then the embedded silent film. Enjoy!

Apparently I can't embed "Tonight Tonight" here's the link. Tonight Tonight

Saturday, January 2, 2010

26.2 mile New Year's Day run and some Mew

I decided to bring in the New Year with a bang and run 26.2 miles just for fun. I wanted to start at 6 AM and finish by 10 but Vye and I stayed up talking the night before way late. So I decided I would run it in the afternoon. I had about a 500 calorie breakfast and hung out with the family and then it was time to hit the trails. I got all geared up and it took a minute to psych myself into running because it was cold and rainy. I slowly urged my body into the first 4.3 Km loop of the chip trail. Surprisingly, my body was revolting and I had absolutely zero motivation and my legs hurt. I took the 31st off from running in anticipation for this marathon and still just wasn't feeling it. Lap 1 came and went and same with lap two with little change. Both legs were sore and I just was barely tromping along. Lap 3 felt good and my legs loosened up and finally I was running along without any issues. Perhaps the first two laps were so poor due to my own knowledge that this was going to be a long cold rainy day. After my rocky start the next 8 miles flew by and were quite effortless and enjoyable. I took a breather at the 13 mile mark and ran home to get a drink and eat another couple 100 calories. I surprisingly can eat about anything during long runs with zero repercussions. Perhaps having no large intestine is a blessing when it comes to fueling on long runs. I started my second leg of my marathon in a full downpour. It was now only 45 minutes before sunset and there was still a long ways to go. Up to the 18 mile mark things felt good and were not to difficult. After 18 miles I began to feel the muscles in the legs and core breaking down from fatigue. The sun set and it began to really rain. I was now completely soaked to the bone and after almost 2 and a half hours of running in the rain my body was chilled. I knew that the next 8 miles were going to be tough. I sucked it up and just took the run a little at a time. Up to 21 miles I felt OK but could tell I was getting knackered. From mile 21 on I only was able to keep my body moving with pure will power because I was tired and cold. I feel if it wasn't so wet and cold I would be fine. Some of the puddles I was running through were now ankle deep and cold water came pouring over the top of my shoes with every step. Then the fog came in and made it really challenging to see the trail or the puddles and made everything that much colder. I finally rounded the last corner and hobbled to the end of the 10th loop to mark 26.2 miles. I was super stoked I finished under the circumstances and it was a nice shining moment to kick off the New Year. I hope my next 26 miler will be a little bit easier. We will see. This morning finds my knees a little sore and some slight discomfort in my hamstrings and calves but other than that I am just a little more tired than usual. I may take today off to recover but should be back at it tomorrow. I really didn't have a particular song stick out in my mind other than the first one that came up on my playlist. I have really been digging a Danish Indie band named Mew. The song is called "Comforting Sounds". It is a really chill song but kind of pretty and nice to start a marathon to. It is so easy to start running too fast early on and so it is nice to run to something slower to force your pace to slow down. If I am trying to crank out a really fast lap I like a song by Mew called "Am I Wry? No". I will include both so you can get a feel for both the slow and the faster stuff. Tell me what you think.