Sunday, November 30, 2008

Recommended Reading

I can't imagine there are very many people who read my blog who don't also read Jill's blog, and thus don't already know that she recently published a book called "Ghost Trails." For the few who do not know this I highly recommend checking out both her blog and her book. She's 100 times the writer I am and she is much more motivated about taking pictures of all the beauty that surrounds us here in Juneau, and therefore her blog, unlike mine, is actually entertaining on a regular basis.

I just finished reading her book two days ago, and even though I knew the outcome of the story it was still very fun and exciting for me to read. I often have people ask me details about what it was like to attempt the Iditarod Invitational last year and why I want to do it again this year. At least now I can just tell them to read her book for more of a sense of this than I could ever provide. Jill and I had a very different experience out there, but I was out there long enough to begin to see how harsh, intimidating, unforgiving, and addicting this race is. Reading Jill's book made me realize just how much more I will hopefully learn out there this year. If you're at all intrigued by the Iditarod Invitational or any similar events in which competitors push themselves to such extreme levels of pain, isolation, and independence I think you'll enjoy her book. And if you order it directly through the link on her blog you can request a signed copy if you're interested in that kind of thing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tapering Blues

Tapering for a race has never felt very normal for me. Typically I will hit my peak of training about 10-15 days before a race and then I will make an effort to cut back gradually until finally cutting back severely the last 2 or 3 days before the race. I never have too much of a problem with the severe cut back just before the race but the slight cut back in training that I started about 5 days ago now is always a bit uncomfortable. It always feels weird to be in this limbo state of training in which you are still putting a lot of time and effort into it but much less so than you were just a few days previously. I find it harder to put in a 15-17 hour week of training like I might do in the early stages of a taper then a 20+ hour week like I typically do in the midst of my training. I guess it's just hard for me to cut back my training but still feel like I'm moving forward toward an ultimate goal to be as fast as possible on race day. With a big race just a week away I know that it's better for me to be doing the 75-90 miles per week that I'm doing right now rather than the 110+ that I was doing a couple weeks ago but it is a little hard to cut back that much and not have a sense of moving backwards. All week this week I had been planning to take a day off but I just kept going out for a run everyday because it felt like taking a day off would be "slacking" off (not to mention that I just wanted to get outside and run each day). Finally today I actually got myself to agree to the off day. It felt kind of nice to take the day and do some other things, but it sure is going to feel nice to get back out for a few hours tomorrow. In reality I'm not sure how much of a difference I can really make in my race performance with only 7 more days, but eventually here as I do more races I hope to become more comfortable with the whole tapering process, because right now it just feels way too contrived and out of place on the heels of my previous 5 or 6 weeks of training.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Alaska Ultra Runners Rule

A couple of my fellow Alaskan ultra runners went down South this past weekend and once again represented Alaska very well in ultra races. Evan Hone placed 4th in a 50k in the mountains near Malibu, CA and David Johnston placed 25th in the JFK 50 miler in Maryland. 25th place doesn't sound that impressive until you remember that the JFK 50 has about a thousand finishers! Congrats guys.

It's no secret that Alaska has (and has had for a long time) some very strong mountain runners. Races like Bird Ridge, Mt. Marathon, Crow Pass Crossing and Matanuska Peak Challenge are some of the most competitive and difficult to win off road races you will find anywhere in the country. In the summer of 2006 I ran what felt like a pretty good race at Bird Ridge and I finished 9th! The only time since college that I've been beaten by 8 people in one race. That's 4 times as many people than have beaten me in all 6 of the ultras I have ever run combined!

The quality of Alaska's ultra runners however is much more of a secret. We only have a few ultra races up here so a lot of runners who might otherwise run 4 or 5 ultras a year end up just running 1 or 2 because it takes a lot of time and money to travel to a lower 48 race. As far as I can tell Alaska has had a handful of runners travelling to the lower 48 for ultras for quite some time, but I think the level of success that Alaskans are having in ultras is higher than ever right now. This year alone 3 different Alaskans have won four 100 mile races! I would suspect there are just a handful of states whose residents have won more 100 milers than this. Especially impressive when you figure that Alaska has only 650,000 people! There are at least 5 or 6 states in the country whose residents would have to win every single 100 miler in North America to perform at the per capita rate that Alaska has this year.

Anyway, there is a point to all this bragging about Alaska ultra runners. The point is that our ultras might be pretty small and pretty low key by lower 48 standards, but they are incredibly scenic and challenging races with a handful of very talented runners. If you've ever thought about coming up here for an ultra I highly recommend it. And if you think it's not worth coming up here because there won't be enough competition in the race, you might want to think again. You may get up here and find yourself in a race with only a few dozen other runners (or in the case of the Resurrection Pass 100 this year 5 others), but you can just about be guaranteed that there will be at least a few who will give you a pretty good run for your money... even though you might not recognize their names.

These are the 4 ultras up here you might want to check out (you should be able to find links to each of them in my sidebar):

Little Su 50k
Susitna 100
Resurrection Pass 50
Resurrection Pass 100

Friday, November 21, 2008

You Don't Want To Step On One Of Those

There are a lot of porcupines on the trails around Juneau. I have a fear that I am going to step on one when while running sometime. It's very common to come around a corner and not see one of them right in the middle of the trail until I'm just a couple feet from it. They move slow, but when I come this close to them they usually do scurry away pretty quickly and climb up the closest tree they can find. Sometimes I need to yell or throw a little stick at them to get them to move off the trail. Today I came across a really stubborn one. This guy just wouldn't move and there was no space around him on the trail. As I was looking for a stick to throw at him this huge clump of snow suddenly slid off a tree above and landed dead center on top of the porcupine. That got him to move away pretty quickly... at least once he dug himself free of the mound of snow he was trapped under for a few seconds. Sucker.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Muscle Fatigue

It's funny how at times muscle fatigue can seem like a bottomless pit that you'll never be able to pull yourself out of, but other times the same feelings can feel like such a positive, easy to overcome thing.

My muscles were feeling quite tired all day today after logging almost 50 miles in less than 24 hours over the weekend. In my 10 mile run before work and in my bike ride to and from work it was very clear that my legs just didn't have much energy today. The thing is though that it kind of felt good.

All day I had an unexplainable comforting feeling about my muscles feeling so tired. I think part of it may stem from basic feelings of satisfaction from putting in a very solid 5 or 6 days to lead up to this fatigue, but I think even more comforting is the feeling of being quite tired out but also feeling "strong" at the same time.

It's a rare feeling for sure. Generally if you're muscles are tired out you feel very weak, but I've noticed a few times in my life, when I'm in really good shape, that I can get myself really good and worn out but still feel very strong. The distinction between the two is hard to explain as the actual feelings in the muscles aren't that much different.

When I was biking home from work today my leg muscles felt pretty near the same as they did my last 2 days in The Great Divide Race when my muscles were so weak that they were basically useless. Today though, despite almost identical feelings in my legs I would not characterize them as weak in any way. In some ways what I felt in my legs today made me even more optimistic about the shape I'm getting myself into than last Friday's run when I felt nearly as fast, strong, and flexible as I ever have.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One Of Those Days

I quite likely won't win my next race, but I thought a lot today about how exciting it is to run in a race with over $15,000 in prize money. Even if I don't win any of the prize money that goes to the top three finishers it's going to be pretty exciting to be a part of an event where that type of reward is on the table.

People always want to know what I won after I come home from a successful race. At this point I break into the description of the plaque or trophy and before I finish am interrupted with, "yeah, but how much money?" I think it's hard for most people to understand why you would run 50 or 100 miles if you weren't going to get a cash prize for winning. For me it's always been kind of the opposite: I can't imagine why you would run so far for anything other than the enjoyment of doing so. I think most ultra runners would agree with this. I don't imagine there would be that many more people racing ultras even if most of them had cash prizes (I think the fact that there is still space available in The North Face 50 is pretty decent proof of this). There's already hundreds of marathons nationwide with cash prizes. Why run 50 or 100 miles to try to make a buck when you can run 26? For those crazy people like me though who have more fun racing 50 or 100 miles than 26 it's just a little icing on the cake to have a shot at earning a buck doing something that I love to do. Would I be excited if more ultras began to offer prize money? Absolutely. But would it make me love running ultras any more? Absolutely not.

The question I was toying with a lot today though, was whether or not I really could win this race?

Today was one of those days when I felt like I could if things broke just right for me on race day. That is to say that if I feel as good on December 6th as I did today I don't think anyone will beat me. I know this is a bold statement, but I felt as good today as I've ever felt in any training run! At first I wondered if I only thought I was feeling so good because most of my runs in the past two weeks I've felt pretty crappy. As my workout went on though I realized that I had a level of flexibility, strength, and speed that I have not felt all at once in a long time. In the middle of my run I stopped at the gym to lift weights for a bit, and in the midst of my weight training, as I like to do, I got on the treadmill for a couple short, fast sessions to keep my legs loose. I always run these little 2-4 mile sessions pretty fast, but never beyond what feels comfortable. Usually I get down to about 5:45 to 6:00 mile pace. Today I felt like 5:45 could have been sustained for hours. I dropped to 5:30. Still very comfortable. 5:15. Is something wrong with this machine? Why is this so easy? 5:00. Ok, this still feels really good but certainly I won't be able to sustain this for more than a few seconds. Half a mile later and I'm still very comfortable at 5:00 pace! I cut the speed back without going any faster, but only because it feels really dangerous to run that fast on a treadmill. As I slowed gradually back down to 6:00 pace it felt like an absolute crawl. If only I could find a way to harness what I "had" today to be able to use it whenever I want.

The important thing now is to avoid the temptation to train too much if I continue to feel this good for several days. I have a 30 miler planned for tomorrow, but after that I'm really going to try to discipline myself to take Sunday and Monday very easy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Feeling Slow, Moving Fast

I've not been feeling very good on my runs lately. My back and sciatic nerve problems that I was having last month are completely healed up and I've been getting in somewhere between 70-100 miles a week for the past few weeks, but I've had very few runs in the past two weeks that felt good.

Most of the runs just feel sort of awkward and slow.

The strange thing though is that whenever I keep track of my times over a known distance I'm running about 20% faster than I usually do. My typical pace when I'm just jogging on flat terrain has always been somewhere between 7:30-8:00 per mile. Lately though I've been noticing that my "jogging" pace is somewhere between 6:30-7:00. Only when I'm running technical trails or gaining a lot of elevation am I running as slow as 8:00 miles.

Today I ran an 8k race as a tempo training run. I didn't feel very good on the run and I felt like I was going very slow, especially in the second half of the out and back race. My time at the turnaround was 15:30 and then strangely I ran the second half in just under 14 minutes (about 5:40 pace), even though it felt slower than the first half. 29:30 isn't by any means fast for an 8k but it was strange to me just how slow it felt and just how much faster I feel like I could have gone if I was feeling "normal" and was pushing myself 100% rather than the 85-90% that I estimate that I pushed myself today. The thing is though that I've never really had the speed to run an 8k much under 27:00 so a 29:30 should not have felt slow to me at all.

I guess it's a good thing that I'm running faster than I feel like I am, but I'd rather be fast and feel fast. It's just such an odd feeling to not have the accurate sense of the speed that I'm moving that I've always had.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Victory For Alaska

This has nothing to do with politics.

I think I'll just focus on the positive things in Alaska instead.

This past weekend my buddy, and fellow Alaskan, David Johnston went down to Texas and won the Cactus Rose 100! This was the first 100 miler that he's finished and the email I got from him makes it sound like he did it in style. Set a new course record.

Congratulations Dave!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Nothing Left To Do But Vote, Vote, Vote... Whether You're A Real Or Fake American

I don't know about where you all live, but where I live here in Juneau, Alaska there is a huge excitement about this election. In the past few days I don't remember anyone talking about anything but the election. On one hand I'm a bit tired of the campaign and ready for it to be over, but for the most part I'm really excited that by the end of the day on Tuesday we will likely know who our next president is going to be.

The good news is that it's not going to be George W. Bush.

The polls of course all look very good for Obama and for large Democratic gains in the House and Senate. In fact of the 159 polls taken in the last 6 weeks John McCain has led in exactly zero of them. The actual vote is the only poll that matters though so get out and vote. If you're an Obama supporter don't take anything for granted. If you're a McCain supporter it doesn't look good, but it's only going to be worse if you don't vote.

Me? I voted early for Obama and this is by far the most excited I've ever been about a presidential candidate. I think Obama has a chance to be a very effective president, but more than that I think an Obama presidency has a chance to almost over night make us a stronger nation than we have been in a long time. In my mind the strength of our nation has very little to do with our economy or our military. Certainly it is important for us to have a strong economy and, for the time being, a strong military, but in many ways these are self-perpetuating "needs". The stronger our economy and our military become the more their strength is needed. At some point one needs to come to the realization that building up more financial wealth and a stronger military only leads to more enemies throughout the world and thus more need for money and power to protect ourselves from these enemies.

The real strength of our nation lies in the tolerance, optimism, equality, freedom, and opportunity to thrive that we have always liked to pretend every American is born with. An Obama victory would be a message to our country, and perhaps more importantly, to the world that we really do have an interest in these ideals which have been pushed to the back burner for a huge portion of our nation's history (and likely never more so than the past 8 years). For a more clear, more well written version of what I'm trying to say I highly recommend checking out this column.

Of course there is more (a lot more) to being president than simply inspiring hope in people, but when you see that the candidate who happens to be inspiring (arguably) more hope in people at home and abroad than any candidate we've had in over 40 years is also the candidate who actually talks about his specific plans rather than only talking almost entirely about the faults of his opponents plans. I don't agree with everything that Obama wants to do, but at least he's willing to talk with people about what he wants to do. I think maybe if John McCain had made his campaign a little more about himself and what he can do to help the people of this country and a LOT less about Barack Obama and why we should be afraid of him, he might not find himself in a position of needing a miracle today.

This bullshit about "real America" and "who is the real Barack Obama" and questions about Obama being a terrorist that McCain (and even more often Sarah Palin) have been peddling for several weeks now is completely ridiculous and should have on some level offended anyone who takes the time to think about the implications of comments like these. I don't necessarily think that McCain or Palin believe most of these things themselves, but I do think that they have tried to excite their supporters by making comments that have fueled the underlying bigotry and racism that many of their supporters have. I stop short of labelling either of them racist, but how much of a difference is there between being racist and using the racist tendencies of others to better your cause? Thankfully in this case it appears to have hurt their cause. If this election plays out the way that almost all polls and pundits are predicting I would suspect that those of us that McCain and Palin have essentially labelled as "fake America" might suddenly feel a lot more real to them.