Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"You Think You're Better Than Me?"

I've been hearing weird rumblings lately from people I know (& like) that I'm not a very good runner, that I'm slow, that "I run a 5K at xx:xx pace & his 100 miler was run at xx:xx. That's SOOO slow!" Even, "That 100 miler he ran was an easy one. There are some in the Rocky Mountains that are a lot harder." Geez... Let me state this loud & clear: I AM NOT A GREAT RUNNER. I do what I can.

See that's what I like about ultrarunning. It's relaxed. Sure there are people who are very competitive & the elite athletes in the sport are extremely talented & put forth a great deal of effort to get where they are. One look at Anton Krupika's blog would tell you he's serious about his training! BUT, while I consider myself serious about my training & have clearly defined goals, what I like about ultrarunning is that it's fun. Plain & simple. I do it because it's fun. I do it to prove to myself I can acheive a goal, but that goal is rarely meeting a certain time. With the uncertainty of courses I run, how good of a measure is time? If I wanted to still be obsessed with shaving seconds off my 5K times, my training would be a lot different. I got tired of that, so I don't do it anymore. Got tired of pouting for weeks about being 2 minutes slower than my marathon PR. It wasn't fun. You get to relax and enjoy the experience a whole lot more with ultrarunning. I don't remember 5K road races being very fun, per se. I spent 4 months in 2003 to break 19. In about 6 races, I ran 19:06, 19:04, 19:08... until finally, I ran 18:58. I felt like I accomplished something but I can't say it was fun.

That got me to thinking... my running & non-running friends must get tired of hearing about my fantastical running adventures. I get the feeling that people think I'm better than them because I can cover very long distances. I DO NOT. If I could run a 16:30 5K, wow... I only wish. I'm slow. I run what I like to run & try to have fun doing it. My hat's off to fast 5K folks, 1st time marathoners, etc., etc. A friend of mine is running his first 1/2 marathon in a week or two. He thought I was mocking him when he told me about it & I reacted with a, "Wow! That's great!" I was genuinely excited about it, but he thought I was belittling him for "just running a 1/2 marathon." No way, Disco Dave.

Now having said all of that, I will be pushing it at the Buncombe Trail 34 miler in 2 weeks. I realized the other day it's been a very long time since I've gone all out in a race. Viewed them more as training days with aid stations and maybe a new shirt. I'm not building up to anything at the moment, and I'll go hard. It's been a really long time... I guess since last March.

As an Earth Day aside, I ordered a pair of END Stumptown 10 oz. shoes yesterday. This is a very small startup company based out of Portland who makes more environmentally-friendly trail shoes. I've seen a few reviews out there, but I plan on reviewing them after I get a few run in them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring Break

Why do I do this blog? Started as a place to post race reports so I wouldn't have to email them out to friends, but the more I started reading other people's blogs to decide places to run, the more I think of it as race & trail reviews. Today, I'll give you a little review of the Tanawha Trail, which goes through 3 counties (Avery, Watauga & just briefly in Caldwell) in Western NC.

I love winter running & dread the summer more & more each year. I wouldn't call the conditions on our trip to the mountains this week ideal (low 40s & rain every day but one), but I do like running in that stuff a whole lot more than the 80+ we'll get here soon.

A few good mountain runs over the break. Saw a small black bear (running away about 150m away) on one. It was just an hour run but with 1020' of climbing all in the last 35 minutes. I felt pretty strong. ...well, I dunno if that's the word for it. I kept going & it didn't seem too bad. How's that? On another 90 minute run, I climbed 2300', almost all in the last hour. Both of these runs were mostly on the singletrack & dirt "road" trails on Beech Mountain. They cut several dirt roads 30 years ago and never developed that part of the mountain, so now, they're washed out, rocky & rutty. There's even a whole golf course that was cleared but never opened & it's far from the nearest open road. Kinda eerie. It's funny the description of one of the toughest singletrack trails classifies it as easy, but only talks about going one way. They suggest having a car at the bottom to drive you back up. Yeah, it's steep there! My family's been going to Beech Mountain for 25 years, but I just discovered the trail system a year ago.

I wanted to do an out & back of the entire Tanawha Trail, but the morning I was going to do it ended up being 20 degree wind chill & driving rain. I would've been up for the challenge, but I didn't think my shorts & thin long sleeve shirt would be. Weather forecast had said highs in the 50s everyday when I was packing!

The Tanawha Trail runs roughly parallel along 13.5 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It starts at Beacon Heights, near the entrance to Grandfather Mountain & ends at Price Lake. I'd read a guide that classified it as "easy to moderate." I thought that sounded like 10-11 minute miles. Hannah told me no way. We went on a family hike to check it out a little and walked about a mile out & a mile back. It was rocky & rooty in that section, but not too bad.

I ended up being able to run one way of the Tanawha Trail on our way out of town. I was still thinking 11 minute miles was possible. After all, I was going downhill most of the way- total elevation loss of over 1000'. Well, Hannah had mentioned the upper part was more, "fun" than the lower part. Knowing her, I should've expected the climbing, scrambling & squeezing across boulders the first 4 miles gave me. It was beautiful, but not very runnable. Once I got past Rough Ridge, it was smoother sailing. Still a fairly technical trail, but I was able to get moving. The first 3 miles took me over an hour & between mile 0.5-3, it was rare for me to string together 30 running steps in a row. The rain didn't help. On a dry day, I would've taken more chances on the rocks.

It was sunny on the west side of Grandfather Mountain, but as soon as we crossed the ridge & let me out, it got immediately foggy. Couldn't see more than 50' ahead of me. All I saw at overlooks was white fog. I sort of like those days though. Feels as if I'm the only person left in the world. Felt that way the day after Christmas in the rain as I ran 60 miles by myself and didn't see another person on the trails all day.

I must've passed 50 waterfalls- some substantial & others that probably are usually dry, but with all the rain we got... Subsequently, I probably had about 10-15 creek crossings, but I wonder how many would be there on a dry day!

I told Jennifer it would take me 2:45, but clearly, that wasn't happening. I called her 1:40 into it and had only been 5 miles! I could've hopped onto the Parkway & run down it to the lake, but that's no fun. I knew most of the rocks had to be behind me & told her it would take me 1:40 more to do the last 8.5. I was pretty close & the whole 13.5 ended up taking me 3:23. Must be my slowest half marathon ever! Around Boone Fork, the trail got less rocky & there were noticeably more downhills. The last 2 miles or so were mainly through hilly pastures. Wasn't expecting that. Every turn seemed like it should be the end, but finally, I got to the lake & Jennifer & Wren were waiting & clapping like it was a race.

Would I recommend Tanawha to fellow runners? No. Yes. Not the whole thing, but an out & back to Raven Rock from Price Lake would be a great 17 miles of nice runnable trail. Save the other part for a hike & take lots of pictures as you crawl across boulders, over waterfalls, under the Viaduct, and onto rocks which I assume have great views of the surrounding mountains. ...fog's all I saw. :)

Going the way I went, you lose elevation, but you climb a lot too. 3680' over 13.5 miles when you're losing a net of over 1000' is a lot more than I'd expected. I wouldn't classify the ups & downs I did as that hard though. Going the other way, I'm sure it would be more difficult.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Umstead 100 Pacing

After a long day at a track meet, I went up to Raleigh to pace Kevin in his first 100. I wasn't sure when I'd get there, but I'd planned on running around 40 miles with him. As it turned out, I got there late and he was doing remarkably well, so I just ended up running about the last 22 with him. He finished in 20:14 & 19th place overall. Not bad for a first timer, huh?? Wow! He had no leg problems, no blister problems, mildly upset stomach for a little while- really a perfect day.

This was the first time I'd run the the Umstead course & it's not the type of course I think I'd like. That said, I may try to get in the marathon there next year. It's a very smooth, wide path with zero roots, rocks or ruts. It was more rolling than I expected. You do eight 12.5 loops & by the time I got there, Kevin had memorized every tree on the course (even in the dark). I considered sticking around & running another loop with a stranger after Kevin finished at 2:15 AM, but decided against it.

March was a rough training month for me. Outdoor track season is always hard for me to find time to run, but I've also lacked some motivation. Last real long run was 5 weeks ago at Black Mountain Marathon. I decided to enter a couple of races before summer to get my training in gear. I'll be running Buncombe Trail 34 Miler, a low key event in SC & SweetH2O 50K near Atlanta which looks pretty challenging with a couple of waist-deep stream crossings. I knew just pacing at Umstead would get the juices flowing.

Spring Break starts Friday & I'll be in the mountains for a few days & plan on getting some nice runs in. Haven't decided where yet. Thought about north from Watauga Lake on the Appalachian Trail.