Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bring on the Hills (and the Fun!)

Shingletown Boulder Scramble (Mile ~13)

Without sugar-coating it at all, and simply putting it, this weekend I began, in ernest, what I would call my self-imposed, high-intensity, "hills and trails", training.  My time in Antarctica, as wonderful and awe-inspiring as it was, did make me a smidge soft...despite my dedicated efforts at trying to run nearly every day.  I just had a hard time getting in long runs (or any sort of hill work) down there and my stamina has likely come down a notch or two because of it.

With a couple of very high intensity events/races looming ever so close on my calendar, the time to ratchet up the training regimen is here.  I decided the best way to not only get in some long running, but to also get a serious hill workout, was to go out for the day(s) in Rothrock State Park.  When working out a course to run, I eventually decided to simply run the exact course (or nearly) that the "Rothrock Challange (30k)" uses.  For those of you that might remember, the Rothrock Challenge was a race I did last year here in town...that was ridiculously hilly and technical.  Perfect.  Incidentally, it was also the course where in incurred my dreaded "turf-toe", that has plagued me on-and-off since.  Thankfully, it is doing much better now.

Lastly, I decided that there was yet another way that I should step up my do my first true "back-to-back".  So, naturally, I decided to run the 30k course again on reverse.  So, in a nutshell, I ran two 19-mile long runs, back-to-back, that each featured nearly 5000 ft of ascent (including several gnarly scrambles).

This also gave me the ability to test out a very long run (4+ hours), unaided.  This is something I need to start working on.  For the first time ever, I carried my Nathan pack with the water bladder filled.  I also carried fresh PB&J sandwiches, various Larabars and Clifbars, and other foodstuffs.  I figure that spending a good 4-5 hours out on trails requires a different type of preparation, almost more similar to a day I would have planned during one of my thru-hikes.  I took lunch breaks somewhere around 12 miles into the course during both runs (8-10 breaks each time)

My goal over the next 6 weeks or so, is to not just sprinkle some hill workouts into my schedule, but to make them my primary focus along with long runs.  My tentative plan is to do intense hill workouts both tuesday and thursday, and then work hills into my weekend long runs as well.  I will space them out with easy runs and a rest day on Fridays.  I hope to put in at least 2000-3000 ft of ascent for each short hill workout, and 5000-10,000 for the weekend long runs.  I may occasionally do a more traditional long run on a weekend day as well here or there.  I will cap this training off in mid-march with a self-imposed fat-ass style 50k of some sort in Rothrock.  Of course anyone is welcome to join me!  This should get me primed pretty well for what awaits me this season.

Some Stats for each day (double everything for the weekend):
Distance:  ~19 miles (GPS said 19.4, Google Earth said 18.9)
Total Ascent: 4600 ft
Calories: ~3500
Gear: Nathan Pack w/2L bladder, Food, Salts, Columbia Peak 2 Peak coat, long johns, hat, gloves, buff, heart rate monitor, altimeter watch, etc.

Total Weekend Miles: 38 in two days.

Here are some visual specs for the day as captured in Google Earth:

My overall elevation profile for the day (with start on the left)

My overall running speed for the day (with start on left)

Combining the two plots clearly shows that
 during climbs and descents I slowed down a lot

The course as mapped by my GPS
(The video below has flyover animation at the end)

Here is a quick video highlighting some spots along the course as well as a Google Earth animated flyover at the end of the entire course.  I had my GPS recording the entire day, and was able to import into Google Earth, and turn my Tracks into an animation rather simply.  Cool stuff.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Upcoming "Big" Race Event of 2012

Well...for those of you out there (all three of you) that were checking in on my page here to see when I was going to post about my upcoming "big" race that I've talked about in some previous entries....that time has come.  Unfortunately, after a lot of thought, I've decided to keep that information off of the blog.  WHAT?!  Hear me out...

Since moving my blog in a direction of adventure and various race journaling, I've had a fairly open policy.  I've shared with the world information about nearly every race I've been in, the goods and bad, and the followup race reports.  I've shared a lot of what some may consider, personal information too.  In addition, I have blogged every single day while on a 123-day thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Every race that I'm either scheduled for or contemplating for 2012 is listed in my side bar, as was every race last year.  But this time...this ONE time, this ONE race, I've decided to hold off.  There's a part of me that wants to shout to the world about it.  Frankly, I'm still shocked I even got in.  I have told close family and friends, but otherwise no one.  I briefly posted a vague comment on facebook about it, but have since taken it down, so I suppose it may have been spotted, but in the case of this particular website, this "big" race shall remain least until after it's over.  I may post a followup or stripped-down race report once it's all over, but of that I haven't decided yet either.  I'm sure a lot of you out there have already guessed based on approximate time-frame and my need for what I've called a "stepped up training", but that's about all I'm going to say about it.  

And for the few of you that DO know which event this is, and that I'm in it, I ask that you please refrain from posting about it (in the comments here, or elsewhere).  Thanks.

So why keep it quiet?  Why not talk about it?
I could write paragraphs about this, but to keep it simple, I will just say that this particular challenge, is completely and entirely a personal one.  Every race or challenge I do, I am eager to share it with whoever wants to listen.  This time, however, this is something that I want to do, and am going to do, as a test and challenge for myself.....and myself alone.  This will be one of the most difficult and humbling endeavors I've attempted yet, and many a personal/internal battle will be fought during its undertaking.  There's also the part of me that recognizes the difficulty with such an event, and I'd like to think that I have some respectable amount of humility that would keep me from "talking it up"....only to be beaten back to reality rather quickly.

So I ask that you simply wish me luck on this upcoming event, and in staying safe out there.  In the mean time, help me to get excited about my first "public" ultra of 2012 - The Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 in May!

hike on!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fourth Antarctic Season Over...Headed Home

...And another successful Antarctic season comes to an end; and an interesting season it was.  Participating in my first "double deployment" was a bit stressful, but a unique experience nonetheless.  I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work out of Union Glacier earlier in the season, but the travel in between that experience and my latest at WAIS Divide was a bit grueling.  I don't know that I would want to do that again.

Without going into too much rambling about my 4th WAIS Divide field season, I will say that all in all it was another big success.  We achieved our final drilling depth of 3405 meters, the replicate coring was being fine-tuned as I left, all side projects were completed, and there were no major "meltdowns".  If you are wondering why I appear to be en route home a few weeks earlier that originally planned....well you would be correct.  The four of us in our group (3 science techs and a team leader) decided that with the season winding down, the need for 3 science techs just wasn't there.  I volunteered to bow out two weeks early as I have much to work on back home for school, and I have been a bit more homesick than usual this year; specifically missing those back home quite a bit.  The quick visit home between deployments only made that particular aspect a bit more difficult.

A few notes on the camp.  Without hesitation, I can say that this was the best run, the kindest, and the most welcoming WAIS Divide camp that I've experienced in all 4 years.  A lot of familiar faces that had returned, and a lot of new folks.  It truly was an incredible camp this year.  I will miss it, but already know it will be in good hands next year. :-)  On a personal note, I want to thank Giff, Logan, and Don for being such incredible teammates and for the great company.  You guys were all awesome and I truly felt like I was part of an "all-star" science team this year.  I will miss you guys (except you Don...I'll see you in two weeks!).

The short synopsis key milestones for the season could be summed up with the following:
  • Finished the WDC06A main WAIS Divide ice-core at a depth of 3405m
  • Packed and shipped out all remaining ice core
  • Borehole logging was a huge success
  • Local seismic experiments were a huge success (Penn State)
  • Began configuring and testing the replicate coring system (started broaching deviation hole)
  • Drilled 9 firn cores for spatial variability graduate project (Dartmouth)
  • Dug and sampled 1.5 meter clean snow pit (Dartmouth)
  • Dug and photographed 2 meter back-lit snow pit (Penn State, Dartmouth, Oregon State)
  • Installed Net Radiometer on Automated Weather Station (Penn State)
  • Installed and ran small temp/humidity/pressure/insolation logger outside of camp (Penn State)
  • Prepared Facilities for next season's replicate coring
  • Tested "Eclipse Drill" and worked with drillers logging 100 meter "test" core.  
  • I Ran a lot, went skiing a lot, and even rode the mountain bike
  • I met and interacted with some truly incredible people
  • I marshalled a Hercules LC-130 on a beautiful evening
  • A lot of other things I'm forgetting
So, without any further adieu.  Here are a few Season pics....

Fisheye Herc Flight (Photo L. Mitchell)

Christmas Deserts

Me and Santa

A little mountain biking (way harder than it looks)

Drilling shallow 6-meter firn cores

The buried ice-core arch facility (Photo L. Mitchell)

The Team: Me, Logan, Giff, Don (Photo L. Mitchell)

Lots of sun dogs this year

Pouring out the bubbly on New Year's Eve

Lots of blowing, crappy weather this year

Excitedly packing the final core of the project (Photo L. Mitchell)

Lots of snow drifts that needed cleaning

Installed Net-Radiometer (over my head)

The Penn State Contingent

Logging/Drilling Shallow firn cores

Science Tech / Daft Punk tryouts

Large crust in shallow core

Clean snow-pit sampling (Photo L. Mitchell)

More clean snow-pit sampling (Photo L. Mitchell)

Going for a run....out there

Back-lit snow pit main wall

Looking more closely at a preserved crust in a core

Core "handling" with some junk firn cores

Marshalling in my 2nd LC-130 in three years
(This was the plane I left on last night too)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

10,000 Miles (from Antarctica!)

On May 1st, 2007, I took my first step on the Appalachian Trail for what would become a 2175 mile thru-hike. Since that day, I've been keeping track of all of my hiking and running miles. Every day that I go out for a run, be it a 3-miler or a 100-miler, it gets recorded. I consider hiking to be an athletic form of forward motion as well, so I lump those miles in with running miles (daily walking around doesn't get recorded though...only actual hiking) When I left home for the 2nd Antarctic deployment of the year back in early December (for the WAIS Divide camp), I noticed that my mileage totals were nearing 10,000. I realize that this number is just that....a number, and there are probably some large error bars on that number, but mentally, it is an enormous milestone for me. In 4 and half years, I managed to move myself, actively, 10,000 miles by either running or hiking. That's almost 6 miles a day.....every day. Certainly the AT, PCT, and CT thru-hikes make up a large portion of that, but the running makes up for nearly half. In 2011 alone, I ran well over 2000 miles (almost as much as another AT thru-hike). start off 2012, I decided to celebrate with an inaugural 10,000 mile run. On January 1st, I suited up, and went out for a brisk 5-miler along the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and calmly celebrated not only a successful ice-core drilling season here at camp, but a successful progression to the magical number of 10,000 motion-miles.

Unlike last year, I've been able to run almost every day here at WAIS. While my long runs have suffered a bit (it's too cold to run any longer than 90 minutes), I have maintained a steady flow of 5-8 mile runs. I've even been doing hill training on the winter-over storage berms (it's the only topography at camp).

I head home very soon now, and will immediately jump into a very aggressive training routine over the next 2-3 months. I have an enormous race to prepare for and have to be well-prepared. (more details on that as soon as I get home)

and so my friends,
hike onward,
run onward,
and have fun out there


Sunday, January 1, 2012

The End of an Era: The WAIS Divide Ice Core

Yesterday, amongst a small group of friends and fellow scientists, the WAIS Divide Deep Ice Core (main borehole) drilling came to an end. The drillers pulled up the last and final ice core from the main borehole, WDC06A...from a depth of 3405 meters. At the end of last season, we all believed that the drilling was over and that we had achieved our absolute deepest mark of 3330 meters. At the time, there was no official approval to make it any deeper, and as far as we were all concerned, the project was a success. I even blogged about it. There was a HUGE celebration and the entire camp staff had an enormous party. Everyone photographed the final core and took pride in the fact that we were there, present, for the last core. People proudly went home with the thought that they could tell folks that there were there for the "last core".

But alas, it wasn't really over.

Shortly after returning to the States last year, approval was obtained to run a series of experiments to determine the absolute depth to the bedrock at WAIS Divide (which was assumed to be about 3450 meters). Because the borehole is filled with drill fluid, and because there is believed to be about 1.5 cm of water at the bed, we cannot drill to the bedrock and risk that fluid contaminating the basal hydrological network under the ice sheet. So, NSF set an absolute limit of drilling to be 50 meters above the bed. The problem was that we didn't really know for sure, where the bed was. So the plan was to send a group (from Penn State coincidentally) down to run some seismic experiments to determine that depth so that we could drill up to that 50-meter limit. This is why I was able to return. Normally, they send down 6-8 science techs (or "core handlers"), of which I'm included. With this year being a much smaller operation, there are only three of us here.

The atmosphere this year was much different than last year. A small group of about 20 of us quietly stood in the drilling arch as the last core came up to the surface. There was no glorious speech, no huge party, just a humble, subdued feeling of accomplishment. We shook hands, thanked everyone, and processed the core as usual. I managed to get a couple of photographs as we marked and cut the core before pack-up. The above photo was taken moments before cutting the last meter of ice from the very last core of the project.

Later that night we prepared for a nice New Year's Eve dinner and contemplated a very poignant thought:
The WAIS Divide Deep Ice Core project was first conceived 25 years ago. In 1986 there was a short article written about how the U.S. should drill an ice core in West Antarctica. In the early 90's, the actual WAIS Divide initial proposal was first drafted. Yesterday, I was there for, and I witnessed, a 25 year vision come to an end. It was quite a powerful thought.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have been involved with this project for 4 years now. Not only did my Masters degree and first publication come from data I obtained from this core, but I have been able to come down and work here in the field all four seasons. Never did I imagine I would get to work in remote Antarctica...let alone FOUR times. Add to that the incredible opportunity I had in November to work as a part of the polenet project, and I feel ridiculously fortunate.

As this week moves on, the focus of the project now will shift to what we are calling "replicate coring". The drillers will send down a new type of drill, and drill off-angle into the sides of the main borehole at specific shallower pull up "replicate cores" to the main core. This is a very new type of technology and will take a long time to master. The goal for the remaining few weeks here is simply to get the replicate coring working, and to pull up a few meters. On the side, I have some other projects going on here and hope get that work done in few days.

So....what does this mean for me. Not sure yet. I may or may not be here to the end of the season, but am at least tentatively scheduled that way for now. Next year replicate coring will go into full swing, but me returning here to WAIS seems very unlikely. I have my PhD comprehensive exam next year and have a lot of research and writing to do. Plus, at some point, I need to actually start thinking about graduating in the next couple years. With that said, it would be quite a milestone to come down for a 5th season...but I think being home for Christmas would actually be quite wonderful for a change (as much as I love it here on the ice).

That's it for now. Happy New Year everyone! 2011 was truly one of the best years of my life and I only hope that 2012 can be just as wonderful.


...oh and I received some rather interesting news regarding an upcoming ultra/race that I'm VERY excited about. I will post about it once I get back home, but I will tell you that I CAN'T WAIT!