Friday, March 23, 2012

And Now I Ask You...For a Little Luck

Very soon now, those of you that peek in on my wee little website here, will start seeing race previews, gear reviews, and race reports for all my upcoming and various endeavors.  I look forward to later this Spring when I can let you all in on my Badwater "Heat Training", or what I'm doing to prepare for the rocky Massanutten course.  I enjoy recording and sharing my training/running/hiking ups and downs.  I spoke last year about how one of the biggest reason I keep this journal is so that I myself can go back and remember various high and low points of my life too.  Surely this Summer will be full of challenges that will undoubtedly have unique stories that come out of them.  Yes, very soon now, my full 2012 season will kick into gear and I will be swapping war stories with many of you about various excursions.

But not today.  Today, I go off the grid for a little tackle something else.  A little soul-search, as it were.  Something that I've decided to keep to myself.  There are those challenges and events that we all have that we are eager to share with the world, laugh (and cry) with others about, and swap ridiculous stories about.  But then there are those that we do for ourselves, so that maybe we can find something within (as selfish as it may be).  This is one of those times for me.  

For those of you that have landed on this page anytime in the past two months you'll know that I have been training harder than I have at any point in my life.  While I have documented and shared this training, it has been mostly as a record for myself.  If I don't write things down...I won't remember.  Especially with training.  I suppose I could have started a private journal...but it was just easier this way.

I have physically trained as hard as I could have, without injuring myself...and have tried to prepare myself mentally.  I have lived, trained, eaten, and slept very little else since January.  This morning I have finally found myself in a calm place and will go forth with this calm at my side.  I realized the past few days that as much as I've dedicated myself to what awaits me, there are other things....greater things, that are so much more important.

So, I will be back soon.  No matter what happens and no matter the outcome, I will have given it my everything and know that I put all that I possibly could have into it.  I will also come back with a part of me changed forever.  Of that I'm sure.

So please, send me a little luck if you can spare any.  Luck to keep the extreme weather away, luck to keep my legs working, luck to keep me hydrated, luck to keep me focused and driven.  I will need it.

hike on my friends,

"We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of providence, determined still to do our best to the last..."  
- Robert Falcon Scott

Monday, March 19, 2012

30,000 Feet of Ascent in one Hellishly Hilly Week

Mt. Everest: Over 29,000 ft Above Sea Level

While I don't feel that I can ever truly be ready for what awaits me, I think that I can honestly say that I have now trained as hard and as much as I possibly could have, without risking injury or overtraining.  And frankly, that could be debated as I may have overtrained a smidge.  Had I not been in Antarctica, I could have possibly trained a bit more earlier in the year, but I don't think those couple of extra weeks would have really made a difference.  Hopefully the next 10 days or so will give me a chance to have at least a moderate amount of rest and recovery.

The story for this past week week can be summed up with one BIG word:  HILLS.  I set out early in the week with two seemingly impossible goals:  Have two 10,000' ascent days (preferably back-to-back), and to have 30,000' of ascent for the week.  Understanding that the largest climb in the area is maybe 1400', you can imagine the prospect of doing literally dozens of repeats is less than appealing.  But, it had to be done.

If I NEVER see the Spruce Gap or Kettle trails again in my life, it will still be too soon.  The reason I have been going with these two trails is that there are relatively easy to get to, and they give me two distinct types of hill workouts.  The Spruce Gap Trail is about 1050' of climb, over about 1.4 miles.  So not quite as steep, but a bit longer.  The Kettle Trail is about 550', but over about a 1/2 a mile.  It is very steep near the top and has grades over 40%.  An out-n-back on these trails gives me about 3200' of gain, and each time takes me just under an hour. (The total length of each out-n-back is about 3.5 miles as there is some flat trail along the ridge line and at the bottom).  There are a couple of arguably better climbs in the area (i.e. gas-line cuts, or Broad Mtn), but they would have added a lot more time onto my workouts which as you will see filled up nearly my entire weekend as it was.

I ran/hiked nothing this entire week except these two trails.  I had no easy runs, no plain long runs, no tempo runs, and no trail escapades.  I ran Spruce and Kettle, and only Spruce and Kettle (And I use the term "ran" loosely as it was a lot of power hiking).  I forced myself to go easy on the downhill sections as well so as not to really injure myself.  There was no need to race down the steep parts and only risk serious knee problems.  The point was to rack up the elevation, not the speed.

So, a quick recap:

Rest Day
Notes:  Recovery from last weekend's 15,000' jaunt and 10k race.  Also, to prepare myself for the week.

Rothrock Hills
2x Spruce - Kettle out-n-backs.

Total Ascent: 3200'
Miles: ~7
Tuesday's 2x Out-n-Back
Rothrock Hills
2x Spruce - Kettle out-n-backs.

Total Ascent: 3200'
Miles: ~7
Wednesday's 2x Out-n-Back
Rothrock Hills
2x Spruce - Kettle out-n-backs.

Total Ascent: 3200'
Miles: ~7
Thursday's 2x Out-n-Back
Rest Day: Prepare for Weekend

Rothrock Hills
6x+ Spruce - Kettle out-n-backs.  
This was the big daddy.  I did 6 repeats plus a single Spruce out-n-back.
This workout featured 10,400 feet of ascent in 23 miles.  This is spot-on with what I need to be able to do.  I was super pleased with this.
This workout literally took me all day.  7+ hours (Includes lunch break).

Total Ascent: 10,400'!!!
Miles: ~23

Saturday's Extreme Profile

Total Ascent: 10,400'

23 miles, 7:26 total time.

Rothrock Hills
6x+ Spruce - Kettle out-n-backs.  
Well I did it!  I hit 10,000 for a 2nd day!  Yesterday I did 6 more repeats making my total number of Spruce/Kettle repeats for the week at 19!  By the time I hit my last climb yesterday, I was pretty darn cranky at the damn Spruce Trail.  All day I was passing the same day hikers that were looking at me with some rather peculiar looks.  One couple told me quite honestly that I was which I happily agreed.  I will finally, after over two months of extreme training, rest my body and focus on a solid recovery and taper.  I will probably still do a very light hill workout this week, but nothing like what I've been doing.  I really need my body to rest and heal up and it's no time to push myself.  It won't accomplish anything other than to put me at risk for injury and hence at a disadvantage.  

Sunday's workout had me at 10,000' at just about 20 miles, or 500' per mile.  This is also right where I need to be.  It's important to note too, that 7 hours may seem like a long time, but I also had about an hour break on both Saturday and Sunday in the middle of the workout for a lunch, and a splash in the creek.  The profile stops recording, but the clock does not.

Total Ascent: 10,000'!!!
Miles: ~21.5
Sunday's Profile

10,000' again!

20 Miles and just under 7 hours (pic taken before last descent)

TOTAL ASCENT: 30,000'  Woohoo!  I did it!
Miles: ~65.5

So, lets review my original to-do list:
  • Have a 90-100 mile week.   
    • Check! (Week of 2/13-2/19 : 92 Miles)
  • Run an ultra-length, full-day, hilly, long run (at least 8000' gain)
    • Check! (42-mile Black Forest Trail run : 9000', 11+ hours)
  • Run/Hike a 24-36 hr non-stop, unfamiliar trail. This is to train for navigation, sleep deprivation, and what to carry to be self-sufficient.
    • Check! (Mid-State Trail ~70-mile, 25-hour, thru-hike)
  • Spend 2+ months focusing on long trails runs and hills
    • Check! (see training log for past 2 months)
  • Get some training on extremely steep terrain
    • Check! (gas-line cut training, 40-50% grade:  ~1200ft in ~0.95 miles)
  • 10,000' ascent day
    • Check! (last weekend in Rothrock - followed by a 4500' day)
  • Back-to-back 10,000' ascent days
    • Check! (this past weekend!)
  • 30,000' ascent week
    • Check! (this entire past week!)
  • Orienteering practice
    • Partial-Check.  I spent time re-familiarizing myself with compass orientation and wrote down several bearings based on maps...and then navigated with those bearings.  Also, my romp on the mid-state trail had me use my compass several times.  In honesty though, I still need to work on this and will focus on it over the next 10 days
  • Buy remaining gear and supplies
    • Still working on this, but getting close and should be done by Thursday
  • Proper Rest/Recover
And the one item that I really haven't done enough of is, to practice bushwacking up steep hill-sides in Rothrock on unmarked climbs.  I had a couple of romps up overgrown hillsides, but to be honest, I feel that it was a bit overkill for training, especially when I can get the same gradient on marked trails and all I was doing was scratching myself up unnecessarily.  Add to that that the deer ticks are now out in crazy numbers, and I have no desire to be plucking those little buggers off me after every run.  As it was, I pulled 4 off me this just this week, AND I was wearing DEET.

Small male deer tick crawling on a twig...
(after I found him crawling on me!)

...oh and as far as the on-site training, well I'll just say that is still going to happen as well.

So that's it.  I am absolutely thrilled at what I've been able to accomplish with my training since getting back from Antarctica and having such little time.  I am also ecstatic that my body has mostly cooperated.  I had a little scare a couple of weeks ago when I had a mild case of runner's knee sneak up on me (no doubt from all the steep downhills), but that light week 2 weeks ago really helped and it has since gone away.

As far as the picture of Mt. Everest, well I put that as the title photo because I realized this morning that this past week I basically climbed from sea level, to the top of Mt. Everest.  Pretty Cool.

hike on everyone! 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

10,000 Feet in a Day, and a Tussey 10k

My playground

Spring Break this past week here in State College, but that doesn't mean I had any sort of break from the hills.  I spent a few days out of town early in the week and took some much needed rest days.  After my 70-mile romp last weekend, I was quite sore in places that haven't been sore in a while.  It's amazing how speed-hiking can strain different parts of the same muscles that I use nearly every day when running.

I'll try to keep this update on the shorter side.  I only have a few weeks of training left and my to-do list has basically been reduced to three bullet points:

  • Back-to-back 10,000' ascent training days
  • 30,000' week
  • Hill workouts on unmarked trail (bushwacking and orienteering practice)

In order to give myself any sort of proper taper, I must complete the first two items on my list this week.  The bushwacking hill workouts can be done on shorter hill days and a bit next week as well.  Also, my training in these last few weeks is all about ascent, NOT miles.  I honestly don't care what my mileage totals are, but am listing them here I guess as a matter of habit.  My peak mileage week, 92 miles, was two weeks ago.

Well, I made a great first step towards back-to-back 10,000' ascent days by completing my first solo 10,000' ascent day this past Saturday.  Let me just say, it is pretty damned hard to do 10,000' in any reasonable amount of time when the biggest climbs in the area are about 1200'.   As you can probably takes a lot of repeats.  I've become intimately familiar with both the Spruce Gap and Kettle trails here in Rothrock.  So much so, I recognize specific roots and rocks now.  Saturday was also the day that the local running club hosted the 2nd Tussey Teaser race, The "Laurel Run Switchbacker".  This 10k is an out-n-back on leg 1 of the Tussey 50 miler.  For 3.1 miles, the course climbs about 800', and then turns around and drops 800'.  I figured the race was a great way to break up the monotony of hill repeats AND it featured 800' of its own.  Also, I figured it would be a good idea again to break in the "race legs" a bit.  So the day went something like this:  Run two out-n-backs up some steep trail hills, race the 10k, and then do 3 and a half more out-n-backs on those same hills.  I went with the Spruce Gap and Kettle trails as one features 1100' and the other is one of the steepest in the area (but only 600').  I considered doing the gas-line cuts, but it would have literally taken me into the night to finish or would have required over a dozen repeats (yuck!).  As far as the race, I placed 6th out of about 40 people in a time of about 43 minutes.  I was in 3rd at the turn around, but decided to NOT pound the downhill.  This was a fun race for me and didn't justify destroying my much needed quads.   Plus I knew I still wanted to do over 5000' of hills that afternoon and another workout Sunday.  I'll post some race pics once they are up.


On Sunday (today), I went with the less aggressive and more tolerable 30k Rothrock course (4500' of gain).



Easy 5 Miler
Ascent: -


Easy 7 Miler
Ascent: -

26 Miles Total (~20 Hills + 6.2 Tussey Race)
Ascent: 10,000'  Woo hoo!
Note:  A very big note on this outing.  It took me over 7 hours to do 10,000'...over about 24 miles.  To date, this is about as close as I've come to what I will actually face here in a few weeks.  This is really good news and just about the pace I was shooting for.  Of course it was all on marked and familiar trails. Still, it was encouraging.

10,000'.  Yay!
(Yes I realize that the GPS is probably +- a few 
hundred feet but it's close enough in my book)

Yes...this is the real profile for the day.  The slightly less ridiculous climb
between miles 6 and 12, was the 10k race.

18.5 Miles Total
Rothrock 30k course, slightly modified in reverse
Ascent: 4500'
Notes: 65 degrees today!  First running day in shorts and short-sleeve shirt.  Also, ran with fully stocked race vest...packed and loaded based on what I actually expect to carry in a few weeks.

Ascent: 14,500'
While not all that much total ascent for the week, relatively speaking, I am very excited to have knocked it all out in back-to-back days and to have done my first 10,000' day.
Miles: 57

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mid State Trail Mayhem: 70 Miles Nonstop

Looking rather chipper and excited at mile 0,
about to start my newest (70-mile) endeavor...

Well...I've done it again.  And this time, it was nearly 70 miles.  I have taken another page out of my magnificent tome known as, "John's crazy and ridiculous self-imposed training and ass-whooping".  Yesterday morning, I woke up sometime around 8 am or so, got some gear and supplies together and got a ride down to the bustling metropolis of Loysburg, PA to set forth on my latest challenge.  For those of you without an intimate knowledge of Pennsylvania (or access to Google Maps), Loysburg is about 30 miles south of Altoona (About 70 from State College).  It also happens to be a town with a trailhead for PA's border-to-border, Mid-State Trail (MST).

In my last post on here, I alluded to my current lack of experience dealing with unfamiliar terrain while partially sleep deprived.  Yes, you really did just read that correctly.  As ridiculous as that last sentence may sound to the vast majority of you, I do have a distinct need to be be able to navigate and function (at a high athletic level) with little, or no sleep.  With the weather forecast looking good this weekend, and my training so far for the week being light...I figured what better time than now to test myself a bit.

First a quick background note.  Up until now, the longest I've functioned with regards to an athletic endeavor, without sleep, was my 2009 Leadville performance.  I finished that race in just over 29 hrs.  This means I was awake, and working, for about 32 hours.  Not long after the race I was falling asleep with my eyes open.  The longest I've ever spent in a single hiking outing was about 15 hours and consisted of about 41miles.

In an effort to fulfill my 2nd training "to-do", I decided to plan out a roughly 70-mile hike on the Mid-State Trail (a trail that I have nearly zero familiarity with or knowledge of), and try to tackle it all at once.  Obviously I can run 70 miles in under 24 hours, so I chose to tackle this challenge as more of a speed-hike.  It's important to note here, that my primary objective was not miles, but rather time.  I wanted to push myself into the 24-30 hour range again and see if I could keep a better handle on myself.  A secondary goal of doing something like this is to work on just what sort of food and water I would need to carry to be self-sufficient during a long event.  Certainly my thru-hiking experience helps out a lot here.

Like I said, I decided that it would just be easier to attack this challenge as a hike, not a run.  I was quite eager to focus on my true passion of motion again for a change - hiking.  As much as I love running, nothing truly compares to a good thru-hike.   But here, I decided to attack this hike as though I was also going for speed...kind of like a Mid-State Trail speed record (if that makes sense).  In other words, not a relaxed hike, but a high-energy, mini-thru/speed-record hike.

My goal: hike from Loysburg, back to State College, through the night straight, and hopefully spend at least 24 hours at it.  This way, combined with the hours in the morning and afterword, I would be able to see how I hold up after 30+ hours of activity.  Add to that the fact that I didn't know the trail, would have to navigate in the dark, and knew nothing of the elevation profile.

A Quick Synopsis
The short answer is that it was a huge success!  Not only did I make it all the way back to State College, but I managed the 70 miles still feeling strong and was at it for just over 24 hours.  Navigation was a bit challenging and the notorious PA rocks were brutal, but all was a success.   I now officially have my longest hiking day on record: 68.5 Miles! (Previously ~41 in Northern Oregon on the PCT)

I starting hiking just about 1:30pm Saturday from the trailhead along highway 36.  I packed a very minimal backpack with some warm clothes and what I anticipated would be my caloric needs.

The Mid-State Trail in sections 4-8 either rides along Tussey Ridge, or along side it on some variation of gamelands or service roads.  At one point, the trail makes a complete detour into the small town of Williamsburg.  In general, the elevation profile wasn't too bad.  I had several relatively moderate, continuous sections of trail.  The only real ass-kickers were the rocks up on the ridgelines and the fact that the trail hasn't been maintained much this year.  I got off course several times during the night.  It was a bit weird to walk through the town of Williamsburg at about 11:30 at night.  Definitely got some weird looks from people driving by.

The Course:
Point-to-Point ~70 miles (GPS clocked 68.5)

I followed the course as best I could.  A couple times when the rocks were beating me up too badly, I created my own reroutes along a service rd or some such.  Like I said, I wasn't out for miles...simply time.

Video Trace of course:

Elevation Profile:
As you can see, the elevation profile is not extremely daunting.  There were some decent climbs, but in general 8000'+ of gain over 70 miles is relatively not that tough...especially when a lot of that total is concentrated in one climb.

The FINISH (4-Mar, about 1:45 PM)
I decided what better place to officially end that at the Tom Thwaites memorial itself.  Originally I had planned on stopping at the Little Flat Fire-tower, but I walked the extra 1/2 mile up to the Mid State Trail official dedication plaque.   The picture below was taken at almost 2:00 pm today (24 hrs 30 mins after starting) with a final distance clocked of about 68.5 miles.  Don't let the forced smile fool you, I was definitely tired.

Forcing a smile after 68.5 Miles and 24 hrs

Final time when leaving to go to car: 24 hrs 28 mins

Final GPS Mileage and Time
(note the moving avg of 3.2 mph)

Final Ascent: ~8200'

Some Thoughts on the Challenge:
Believe it or not, I functioned well throughout the entire 24 hour period.  I never started getting tired and never had to break more than a few minutes.  I easily could have continued on.  The cold weather and wind was a bit of a challenge.  I had some difficulties regulating my temps and got downright cold at about 5 AM.  Thankfully, I did bring my down parka and mittens.  Foodwise, I think that I managed well.  I went with two sandwiches (PB and Nutella), several clif bars, powerbar gummies, hammer gels, and hammer perpetuem solids.  I never felt like I was out of energy, so apparently I fueled well.  Then again, I wasn't running.  I went with my smaller back-packing pack and not my running vest, only because I needed room for extra clothes and some emergency supplies.  For shoes...well I went with one of my new pair.  One of the ones I'm testing.  Verdict:  They did ok, but not super-impressed.  I will talk more on the shoes in a later post once I feel that I've given each pair a fair test.  I'm sure if you're sleuthy enough, you can figure it out by looking at the pictures above.  As far as navigation went, I did have a map and pages from the guide book, but any time I got lost, I tried to focus on my compass training.  I found it hard to pull myself away from the usual "just follow the blazes" mentality, but for what it's worth, I managed to do well with the compass.

What's Next?
Well, first thing I will rest a day or two.  Then it's back to hill focus.  Over the next two weeks, I'm removing all focus from total miles, and shifting to total ascent.  I will still document miles, but I will be going out for runs with clear Ascent goals for the day, and not mileage.  I need to start having 10,000' ascent single workouts.

At any rate.  What a weekend.  It was actually quite fun and I learned a lot about my calorie needs as well.  I am sitting here now at 8 PM  and really struggling to still stay awake.  I think after almost nearly 36 hours, I am going to call it...and close the ol' eyeballs.

hike on!