Saturday, March 24, 2012

Whoa! (or was it short?)

Ran a small 5k this morning, put on by UW La Crosse. Perfect conditions and, as it turned out, competition.

I led out the first half mile or so and was then passed by a young, tall runner. I later learned his name is Nathaniel and he is 19. Those young bucks are always full of energy; sometimes they are a little low on strategy. Nathaniel let me draft off him until around two miles. I did put in little surges to let him know that I wouldn't mind leading for a while, but he sped up with me, so we would run shoulder to shoulder for a little while. This often happens with younger runners, so I was happy just drafting off him.

At 2 miles, i put in a couple of surges and got a little gap. I decided to go for it, and the gap increased to about 15 seconds by the finish.

My time? 15::55! A 4-second PR.

But I have to be honest. Three weeks ago, I felt like I was peaking, and I am sure I ran around PR pace on a course that was long. This time, I have trained hard and ran 20 hilly miles Thursday, so by no means did I expect to PR today. I felt good, but not smoking fast, while warming up. I do think this course was a little short, unfortunately.

The good news is that a friend of mine will try ot get me into a couple of open track races. Maybe I could hit a perfect 15:45 5000 pack.

The Girl has had a million aches and pains since Syllamo. I don't know if it was her race itself that did it, or the 100+ mile weeks leading up to it, but her body needed a break. She has been biking and swimming a lot and is starting to feel better, so my sense is that she will bounce back soon.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Day in This Blessed Life

Sometimes, one has to focus on how full the glass is. Ours is not half full; it's at least 90% full. Like many, I'm wired to obsess about the last 10%: where is the Girl going to do residency? Will it be far away from the kids in La Crosse? What will I do? Can I find a job?

But the 90%... Honestly, we are living the dream right now.

Today, I woke up a little after 8. The Girl had alreadt left to take Christian to school. I work tonight, so she let me sleep in.

I had the whole morning to enjoy a long run in the woods. We live a few blocks off Main St, which leads up to Granddad Bluff. You can see it in the distance, hovering over the city.

The road that leads up there, Bliss Road, has washed out several times, but this time it seems like they have put in some really strong supports. It's a great cycling hill, but today was about running. One of the trailheads to the Hixon Forest trails sits at the first turn coming up Bliss Road. Not many people use that trailhead. This is the bottom of Bliss Road:

Hixon Forest and the surrounding Nature Conservancy serve one purpose: giving people accest to beautiful scenery and trails. There are no logging roads; there is no entry fee. It's just there for people to enjoy. From almost anywhere in La Crosse, one can see the bluffs. They are mostly empty of any buildings, so they sit like a huge green bulge that spans the entire length of the city. Another way of looking at it is that La Crosse is a long, slim town squeezed in between the Mississippi and the Bluffs. Did I mention that I like Hixon Forest, the Nature Conservancy and the bluffs?

The trails are mostly singletrack. Running in Hixon and beyond typically looks like this: the trail follows the hillside, going into a couleee. There is often an option of a lower trail that hugs the hillside at the bottom of the coulee and a steeper trail that leads up to the next bluff. This is looking from one trail over to the other side of the coulee:

15 minutes of hard running later, I'm on top of one of the bluffs. They all have names, and I regret that I don't know them all. Look at this view of the city, the river, Minnesota on the other side, and even Iowa in the distance. The bluff in the picture is Granddad Bluff.

This is looking north, to the next big bluff.

An hour later, taking the long way there, I am on that very bluff. The view to the south still holds Granddad Bluff, the river, the city etc.

Hixon and the Conservancy (and the so-called Human Powered Trails) have an untold amount of trails. I have probably run most of them at one point, but it would be very difficult to run them all in, say, a week. A few years ago, this trail was open to bikes, but not any more. The trails are expanding and the scope of their use changes with time.

Then it's back down to town to pick up El Guapo. The Girl has an hour or so left of exercise, and the Y care is closing. It's about a mile from the trails to the YMCA. I pass Weigent Park, which in my mind is the epicenter of desirable location in La Crosse. In this picture, one can see the free tennis courts, some of the playground, the big lawn and the nice victorian houses lining the park.
This is "the castle on Cass St", which was just sold.

It had been on the market for an eternity for about $1 million. It sits a kitty corner across from Weigent Park. I wonder if the new owner will make it into a bed and breakfast. It's a few blocks from downtown.

At the YMCA, I am met by this. Yes, the glass is full.

And jogging home, with a body full of endorphins, I look up. And there they are: the bluffs, the woods, the trails, waiting for our next adventure up there

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

3 Days of Syllamo

We had a fun trip. I had insisted on driving down to Arkansas, as flying with little kids stresses me out. We packed 5 people and too much junk into our aging minivan (the "busboos") and drove south.

Arkansas is beautiful! Who knew? I guess I knew about the Ozarks, but still. Coming from brown Wisocnsin to green Arkansas in March is definitely cool. We drove up to the race headquarters at Blanchard Springs on Thursday night to check in. The campground is surrounded by little mountains in all directions and trails shoot off in all directions.

Since most people come here via the Girl's blog, they know that I ran the 50K and the 20K and did come in first in both. Now, there were plenty people signed up to run just those two races (ie. skip the middle 50 miler) but they tended to be the less serious runners.

The 50K was fun. I ran the first half with Nick Lewis, the eventual overall winner and Brad Bishop, who ended up taking 5th overall (I think; the results are not up yet). Every time I run an ultra, I am surprised by how everyone has a similar frame of reference. Only first names are spoken, and you are expected to know who they are talking about (as in, "Hal really shouldn't have sold Tony those short-shorts in a women's small"). It turned out Nick Lewis had taken second at Leadville (that race probably has a real name, but one should never call it anything else than Leadville in ultra circles). He more or less floated both up and down hills, making me feel old and stiff.

After halfway, Nick slowed down a little and told me to go ahead. I did, and essentially spent the next two hours worried about getting lost. The course markings were so sparse that I ran miles without seeing any ribbons. I wouldn't say the course was not well-marked, because each intersection was marked adequately. But I am the type who needs to see a ribbon at least every half mile or so. If not, I start playing head games, and several times I did turn around to wait for Nick to show up in the distance. I ran the 50K in 4:13.

The Girl ran the 50K in some good time I can't remember. She took second, which was surprising to both of us.

I got to watch the 50 miler from the sidelies, which was fun. The Girl dug very deep, as she got passed at the end and tried to keep up. Everyone now knows how she passed out in the shower. She lay in bed for an hour and was so sick that I had to keep it a secret from her mom. Her mom would have called 911 immediately, had she seen how pale the Girl looked. I was really worried: not about the Girl, but since we have no health insurance, I was freaking out about the ambulance bill.

Amazingly, she bounced back and took second among the overall contenders on day 3.

Having "only" run a 50K on Friday, I was able to win the 20K. A few days ago, I would consider that to be some serious recovery, but everything is relative.

Of course, I felt pretty good in my skin. My training has been going well, and things are clicking. Next up is a 5K in two weeks and then maybe the Mad City 50K.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

No PR - off to Syllamo

I really wanted that PR. I tried running on the local track and kept PR pace for the first kilometer, but it was really windy and I didn't feel good. Instead, I ran to the YMCA and the more predictable treadmill. A 16:18 (standing start, 1% grade) will mark the end of this training period and, at least, provide some measure of comparison for the future.

Syllamo will be fun. The Girl's parents are coming. Since I'll be skipping the 50 miler, it feels like I will be running two fun runs. Sure, I would like to do well, but the times will mean nothing and I have no control of whether someone faster than me shows up, so all I can do is enjoy the races. The Girl is semi-injured but will do the whole race (as of now).

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Good and bad

This turned out to be a very low-key race. Like, no-one-warmed-except-me low-key.

Strangely, the local TV station was there. The camera man sat in the back of the lead-out ATV. Talk about an awkward moment; after a half mile, he said something to the driver (like, "I didn't come here to shoot some old albino in tights"). The driver slowed down and he jumped off the ATV and probably started to film the more photogenic mid-packers. He even gave me an apologetic look, which conveyed something like, "I'm sure you understand, buddy, but you ain't making the evening news".

I felt great and had a hunch that I was on my way to a PR. The weather wasn't as bad as advertised and the legs were absolutely golden. I was hoping for a sub-5 mile split, but as I looked down, my watch said... 5:38!

I was hoping that mile was just long and the course as a whole was accurate, but my finishing time was 16:40. There was a general consensus that the course was long, which was disappointing. It felt so fast that I may go back with my Garmin just to see, but of course that won't really mean anything.

So on the plus side, I feel like I am ready to bust out a really fast race (I may even have done that today). There is a 5K in three weeks put on by UW-La Crosse, so most likely some fast guys will show up. OTOH, we are running 3 Days of Syllamo next weekend, which may take a little pep out of my step. Syllamo is 100 miles over 3 days, but I'll skip the middle day (the 50 miler). I just feel in such good "fast shape" that I don't want to chance it with a 50 miler. As if a 50K and a half marathon in three days isn't enough...

Part of me wants to head over to the local track and just run a quick 5000. That's actually not a bad idea; maybe I'll do that Tuesday.