Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A day in the life...

I found this on a great ultra blog I follow and thought it summed up a day in the life of an endurance trail runner nicely. Since I am down with a bit of a chest/throat bug right now and haven't ran since Saturday I find myself obsessing over training strategy and future runs I want to do. It has been brutal focusing on my studies, with the end of the semester nearly upon me I am going to just have to hunker down make it through a couple of presentations, a final, and then it will be a Summer of experiments, data crunching, field work, and running bliss. I can't wait!!! The typical day of an ultra trail runner is truly epic!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Getting to the bottom of this pain in my bottom, and more Leiahdorus

This was a good week for running. I nailed a faster time on the reverse course of Mount Doug, and shaved anther 3 minutes off my best time (54:20). You have to love the spring, where drastic changes in your fitness and times are observable almost every run.

I have had a pain in my butt for over a year now. I have self diagnosed it as Piriformis Syndrome, which is basically when the piriformis muscle is inflamed and clamps down on the sciatic nerve causing all sorts of drama in the butt cheek and down the leg. The usual cause as you read about it, is overuse in challenging terrain. Well since I only run about 50 miles or so a week and only run up and down gnarly-rooty-rocky trails I was able to conclude that my injury is not a result of overuse or strain from running too much in rough terrain. So I turned to the scientific method to actually get to the bottom of this pain in my bottom. Basically I gathered all the observations as to why or when or how my butt hurts to identify the real culprit. Plenty of people run 200 miles a week in much worse terrain than me so clearly it has more to do with my form or biomechanics than the act of trail running alone.


  • It doesn't matter how long I take off from running it always comes back when I start packing on some volume.
  • It hurts when I sit for too long on a crappy chair.
  • My gluteus isn't very maximus (I mean no padding)
  • Speed work on flats makes it worse than hills and distance.
  • Often feels better during running sore after.
  • Only on my right leg.


The observation I really focussed on was it is only in my right leg. That tells me that there is something going on in my right side that isn't happening on my left. Possible explanations are:
  • I am missing a lower right ab muscle due to surgery
  • there might be some asymmetry in leg length
  • I always carry a fat wallet in my back right pocket
So to me any one of these three observations would explain why my right side is more prone to injury than my left.

I tend to notice in science, if there is multiple explanations for a problem, it usually isn't one or the other but a combination of all the possibilities in different proportions. So to summarize I have a pain in my butt (right side only) because I sit in hard chairs at school and in my office (terrible office chair) all day long with a fat wallet in my right pocket, which crushes my muscle and pinches my sciatic nerve. I also use the toilet with a hard seat more than the average person (a gory side effect of not having a large intestine - T.M.I. - I know!). Lastly I have a missing ab muscle in my right side which makes a generally weaker core on the right side and may be manifested in asymmetry in running particularly on long runs when fatigue sets in. All of these problems place stresses on the piriformis and sciatic nerve, which are then exacerbated by running high volume in challenging terrain but even more so by flat speed work.


If I was really taking a scientific approach I would try to resolve one issue at a time such as removing the wallet for a month to see the effect this would have and in this way I could pinpoint the exact problem. I don't have the luxury to experiment on my butt pain for the next six months so I am running a preemptive strike against my pain in my butt.
I am first removing my wallet. Next I am trying to walk around more when sitting for long periods of time (I may even start sitting on an exercise ball). I think I need a padded toilet seat, and a new office chair. Lastly I really need to do core work to strengthen my weak core and particularly ab muscle and back. There are some stretches I need to start doing to fix the existing problem. The final step is using as efficient biomechanics as possible focusing on a neutral pelvis and straight back with no hunching or slumping. This should solve the problem.

I dislike that anytime there is any sort of injury on an endurance runner, the go to answer is too much running on too rough of terrain. I can see if I increase mileage in rough terrain by 40-50% in one week, but when I am doing the same mileage that I have been for a while there is usually a different explanation. I find if I try real hard to think and analyze all of my actions and movements throughout the day, not only when running, that often times the cause is more subtle and usually not related to running per se but aggravated by running. I have already put most of these anti-butt pain measures into effect and have noticed a marked difference in my butt pain already, with my wallet being perhaps the biggest factor (nothing to do with running). I think this stresses how important it is that we are able to analyze and listen to our own bodies. Doctors don't know each individuals daily routine and frankly have no choice but to blame running but we can dive deeper and come up with additional explanations.

Yesterday was a long 11 mile easy run (when I say easy I mean effort not necessarily the course or distance since the course I chose was brutal). I wanted to run 13-14 but it got dark on me and I had to bail because I didn't have a light. I made an effort to run easy and go up and down the hills as smoothly as possible. After my usual 7 mile mark I found I had tons of reserves and ran very well the last four miles including my fifth summit of Mount Doug for the night. I really love the 1.5-2 hour runs. I should be logging 3 hour runs right now for my long runs but I am a bit behind due to school. I can't wait to start injecting much longer runs into my week.

Spring is in full bloom on the mountain and I find it super refreshing and motivating to run through cherry blossoms and delicate neon green foliage. I really love the spring. I think that running anywhere in the spring is just about as good as it gets ( I especially love running the deserts in the spring, a green lush desert is just such an oxymoron). It seems that my fitness usually finally starts to come back around about this time of year, as I am ramping up for epic Summer runs.

For this post I decided to throw in a song by Leiahdorus called "Wake". I describe a bit more about this group in a earlier post here. It is just a chill song I really like.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Some speed work, Easy/Lucky/Free, and a PR on the MDGB reverse course

Thursday was supposed to be an easy run. I thought that because it was supposed to be chill I would run the reverse course and enjoy some variability. My legs were still knackered from the previous day's hard run and PR. I tried keeping a strong pace from the start but the legs were already burning. When you run the MD gutbuster in reverse you start out with a steep assault of the southeast face of the mountain. I gave it everything I had and was tasting lung by the top. I realized that my body wanted to try and set a PR on the reverse course even though it was supposed to be a rest day. I am not one for following schedules or regiments but instead prefer to have my routine dictated by my body and my mood. I let my legs start spinning down the steep south face and began to really push my speed.

I have a small side note here in that it amazes me how many people have 3 and 4 large dogs and without fail the dogs have no concept of stepping aside and a good 5 times this week I had to come to a complete stop to get around dog blockages. I am an animal lover and have no issues with dog walkers but it does throw off your flow when you are trying to eke every bit of speed from your body. I realize it is just a part of the experience and I have to not be so selfish with what I term to be "my trails".

After my circumnavigation of several Grey hounds, Labradors and Great Danes I got back in my groove and began a longish climb to the base of little Doug. I hit my stride at this point and really made some tracks. After summiting the little diorite glob, I had a nice downhill stretch to the base of the bedrock buster. The final summit of Doug went smoothly and I couldn't run the full hill but seriously power hiked it. After the last summit I just had another two miles of easy downhill and single track. I finished up with a 57:30 which was almost 4 minutes faster than my first reverse course attempt. I feel my fitness is slowly coming around from my terrible winter due to the issues I had with my syncope. I was super happy with two PR's in two days and every night I was able to sleep peacefully knowing I put everything I had into each run and never sandbagged.

Yesterday my old running partner flew into Victoria after spending two weeks of running in Hawaii. We decided to do a 3 mile speed work drill together and catch up on things since he moved to the Mainland to take over a practice in December. The weather was perfect and we started out a little slow and even though my legs were knackered I really felt my cadence speed up within 5 minutes of running fast. I lead most of the run for 2 and 3/4 miles. Rob mentioned my form has improved drastically since we last ran together in December. That was good to hear that my mental effort and struggles with improving my running form have paid off a little. He kicked it in high gear right at the end, and I was spent, and couldn't quite keep up with him the last quarter mile. I finished 2 seconds behind him. Not bad, considering I had already ran 45 Km up to that point with 6,000 feet of elevation, and I have not done any real speed work in Months. It was fun to talk to rob and it was the first time I had ran with anyone in 3 months. I do miss having someone of similar ability to push me and force me to do speed work and run a little faster. That competition amongst running partners is a powerful tool to improve running ability. He heads back to the mainland and I will be once again a solo performer. I do like solo running though and must admit I prefer it most of the time.

I have had some Bright Eyes on my mind lately. I had a song playing in my head during my reverse course of Mount Doug called "Easy/Lucky/Free". It is a mellow song but has a cool almost surfer treatment with the guitar. I really like another song by the group that has great runability but I will save it for another post when it is playing in my head. I think the title of the song can be used to describe several aspects of running. Running really is easy, you just put one foot in front of the other quickly. It comes naturally and almost always happens within a few days of learning to walk (at least with my kids who only have two speeds, running and sleeping). I like to run easily and keep things very uncomplicated with no set distance or regime. I think that I am lucky that I discovered the fantastic treasure that is endurance trail running. Everyday I feel I accomplished something, I get to see the Pacific Ocean from the Summit of Doug and I get an hour or two with nothing but my thoughts and fresh air. Not only am I healthier but I am happier. Running is indeed a treasure each runner should cherish and find themselves lucky for the discovery. Lastly running is free and makes you free. It costs little, at least the way I do it. Sure you can dump thousands into clothes, shoes and races, but I have one set of shorts and shirt that I wear regardless of weather, and use my shoes until they are falling off my feet, I am too poor to enter races so I make my own events. Nothing is more freeing than pointing yourself toward the forest wall and then exploding into a fast run with nothing in the world but you, the wind in your hair, and the trail. Nothing is as easy, or lucky, or free!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hard Earned PR!

I have been trying to set a new PR on the Mount Doug course since the 54:18 I set on the 26th of February, and today I finally smashed it at 52:57! I started the run feeling a bit leaden and heavy and had some sore spots in my chronic injured right hamstring and also in both lower legs (the usual aches that come with the consistent increase in trail mileage). This was supposed to be a hard run and I felt some doubt creeping in that I would not even be able to run 57:00 tonight.

I then reflected on an article in the New York Times about Matt Carpenter. Carpenter is very likely the best mountain runner to ever live. He has the highest VO2 max (a gauge to see how well the body processes oxygen) ever measured in a human save one (Carpenter's is 90.2 compared to Lance Armstrong's VO2 max of 81). The guy is a machine and I would like to make a "Titan's of Trailrunning" post dedicated to him in the future when I free up some time. In this article it mentions that Carpenter's training philosophy has always been "to go out hard, and when it starts to hurt, try even harder".

So I took Carpenter's simple advice and got down to business of getting this PR I wanted. The first summit felt forced and wasn't great. I was huffing pretty good and could feel my pulse in my neck and head. After my first summit I noticed my splits were a bit slower than my previous PR from the 26th. I knew I needed to make up some ground. I bailed off the Northwest face of Mount Doug onto the bedrock buster, a steep glacial scoured and exposed rock chute that is perhaps one of the most technical spots of the course (really bad when it is wet). I cruised on this section and made up 22 seconds on the downhill. I next summited the much smaller Little Doug and I was just hating it by the top but I put everything I had into it. Once I summited I realized I had gained another minute putting me spot on to my previous PR splits.

Now I knew that I could get a PR if I really pushed on the last half of the course. I took a deep breath a bailed off the south side of little Doug. I hit the next portion of the course which is a pretty gradual downhill grade for almost a mile. I struggled a bit on this portion of trail and the legs were tired and heavy and the lungs were not doing their job (I have had an upper resp. infection for over two months now). I finished the section of the course spot on with my previous PR's splits. I had one more big summit of the mountain, a final descent, and then a bit of flat sloppy single track to the finish. I kept repeating Carpenter's mantra in my head and when I began hurting I kicked it up a notch. I reached the summit and was a bit light headed but quickly caught my breath and screamed down the final slope. I reached the finish and stopped my watch and did a double take to make sure I had read the 52:57 right. I couldn't believe it, I had struggled for 12 days to even get near my previous PR, but tonight I passed it up by over a minute and a half. I guess Matt Carpenter knows what he's doing when it comes to winning and setting impossible course records on some of the most rugged and highest elevation marathons and ultras in the world.

I had some Frozen Plasma songs in my head tonight. FP is a synth group from Germany and could be considered futuro-pop. The song I am posting is a song called "A Second Of Life". It is kind of a dark and haunting song. Honestly the lyrics and mood of the song had nothing to do with tonight's run it was just in my head. I couldn't find any good videos to post for this song. Several versions had 9 minutes of watching people's digital avatars from some computer game wander around in some nerd environment. Another had clips from some vampire movie, so I ended up choosing this short version with a video of some fog and boardwalks and a forest. It was my best option for this post. Like I said the song has been in my head lately and though I don't expect many people to go nuts over it I think it is a cool song with a haunting vibe.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Easy 7 miler and some 7M3 - Devil Boy

Tonight was an easy run so I did a simple 7 miler at Mount Doug. It has been very cold this week and possibly colder than it has been since early December but that being said it was still 4 C or 45 degrees F. We even saw some snow flakes yesterday though they didn't stick around long. My focus tonight was just to run easy and run light with as little impact as possible and to run at a nice speed where it was easy to keep my breath. I accomplished my goal and was really amazed at how easy it really felt. I hardly broke a sweat or got out of breath even on the uphill. I was tempted to turn up the speed but with many more miles and summits lined up for the week I decided to take it easy like I had planned.

My thoughts were mainly focussed on my studies today and I thought a bit about magma differentiation and the effects of melt composition on element partitioning. Pretty heavy stuff to be focusing on during a run but I find my easy runs allow me to think more about school and other complex subjects that require my full attention. When I am really running hard I only have the brain capacity to tackle the trail and have to completely focus on the run and so other thoughts are pushed aside.

Today I had some old school Seven Mary Three playing in my head. The song that was blaring in the old noggin is called "Devil Boy" and is one of my favorite from their debut album American Standard. I have loved 7M3 since they saw popularity in the mid 90's with "Cumbersome" and "Water's Edge". I think many people stopped listening after the first album but the band has continued to create great music with many albums released since then. They are really a southern grunge band, though that is a bit of a generalization. I love the vocals and guitar riffs. They are still around and making music and playing various venues. I have also included a song from a more recent album called "Last Kiss" to show that they still make great music. Neither video is recorded in great quality but I think they are both still awesome to watch. I like their bearded look it is pretty sweet. "Last Kiss" is a great song and I like the rocky feel of it. I definitely have many fond memories of American Standard and the music of 7M3 has accompanied me throughout most of my adolescence all the way to adulthood. They often were playing as me and my brother slowly drove up many forgotten back roads in the Uintas as we pursued various treasures. For some reason that first album reminds me a lot of our prospecting trips in South Fork, Noblett's Canyon, and the Red Creek areas. Very nostalgic stuff for me. They release MP3's from their site (7MP3's) for free and I grab those whenever I can.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Transitions and The Sun and the Rainfall

I ran well today, felt strong and was motivated a little more than usual. I was able to push myself extremely well, and had it not been for the downpour I found myself in for the duration I very well may have had a personal best. It was perhaps the strongest I have ran uphill all year. So while I was chugging away I couldn't help but think I was approaching some sort of transition with my physical fitness, and as I thought about it more I think I am at a crucial transition in my life.

While thinking about my past, I realized that my physical, mental and spiritual activities have been on two year cycles for most of my life. I find that I tend to have major transitions and shifts in my entire ideals and also new discoveries about myself about every two years. For instance the last two years have been an extremely important phase of my life consisting of me figuring out my body, and settling into a running routine, and discovering why I am running. The two years prior to this current period I was still recovering from surgery and was not well enough physically or mentally to take my running to where I currently am taking it. This period has also been a time where I have adjusted to being a graduate student in a different country and I have laid a strong base for my understanding of the geosciences and grown immensely in my field. I have also made changes to diet, and have significantly changed my attitude and mentality towards life, and eliminated much of the negativity that I had built up over the years from the many challenges I was faced with. So really this last two year period has been a time of discovery and growth where I have found out many truths about myself and what it takes to make me happy. I really have had a great two year phase.

I find myself now nearing a new transition and it feels as if I am at the cusp of something even better with all aspects of my life. I feel that the previous two years were really just laying the ground work to set me up for a new and very strong direction. I feel that if I am able to breakthrough and push myself with my school, running, and family I could really achieve some amazing personal goals and live a healthier more meaningful life. The trick is making the breakthrough. I feel that it is approaching but that there will be a significant amount of work and desire needed to push me over the cusp. I hope that this breakthrough is real and I am not just wishfully thinking. I look forward to what the next two years of my life will bring and all I can say is I know it will be great because I will not accept anything less. I now know why running makes me so happy and what aspects of it I will allow me to obtain the most meaning from the experience, I know where I am heading with my thesis work and I know what needs to be done to contribute meaningful insights into the geoscience community, I know what type of diet works best with my body and leads to the most energy and quality of life, I know where my attitude and spirituality need to be to allow me to find the best balance and joy, and lastly I know what each member of my little family loves and is interested in and I am devoted to helping each pursue whatever it is they are currently interest in. In short if I can stay motivated and focussed on implementing these recent truths and realizations about my self and really apply what I have found I feel I can have an amazing next couple of years. These were my thoughts as I was running tonight. I hope this post doesn't sound too lame, self-righteous or self-promoting but instead that it relates how I was feeling tonight, and portrays my biggest concern that I take action and not sit on this information.

Well tonight saw me running in a full downpour but it was amazing because the southwestern sky opened up to let the setting sun filter in through the forest and there was a juxtaposition of moody clouds and rain with a cheerful spring like sunset. So the next thing that pops in my head is a song by Depeche Mode called "The Sun and the Rainfall". Easily in my top ten. I decided to put in a great remix of the song by Dominatrix and I think it is a great modernization of the classic song by DM. Enjoy!