Friday, July 27, 2012

Running a Family

The other day my 14 year-old daughter felt the need to pull me aside for a serious heart-to-heart before things got out of hand.  “Dad, I don’t want to run.”  She was trying to break it to me easy, afraid she would hurt my feelings.  I was taken aback.  Do I really put that much pressure on my family to take part in my personal addiction?

My wife Beth and I are raising four children between the ages of 11 and 20, and so far no one has shown a desire to try running as a sport.  Worthless Dog won’t even last to the mailbox.  I admit, I would be pleased as punch if one of my kids became a runner, but I sure hope I am not putting emotional pressure on them with the 5k registrations and invitations for a quick run; especially the younger, more impressionable ones.  How does one encourage children in running, in a healthy way?

If my children choose to read books and play, I am OK with that.  I am a firm believer though, in a life balance between the intellectual, spiritual and physical.  My children seem to have a firm grounding in the first two, but I worry about the third.  Is it because I take my sport to such extremes (in my children’s eyes) that I may actually be discouraging them?  If I were merely a jogger, would they be jogging with me?  Their equating anything physically uncomfortable as “bad” worries me.

What I do not want to encourage in my children is the mantra of discomfort avoidance.  How do I teach my children that great things in life can be accomplished if you are willing to suffer a bit?  I see kids with a lot of physical drive, accomplishing remarkable things in sports.  How were they motivated to gut out hill repeats?  What role did Taylor Phinney’s or Dakota Jones’ parents take in encouraging their children?

I can only hope that, by my example, I am planting seeds for later on in life; that they are not ready yet for a commitment to the physical.

Which brings me to my youngest.  My 11 year-old boy is a natural runner.  In play, I cannot catch him if he doesn’t want me to.  He can go from rest to 6:30 pace in nothing flat, with a smile on his face, on technical terrain, with beautiful form.  He also desperately wants to please me.  I am afraid that if he takes up running, it would be for the wrong reasons, and then hate it for the rest of his life.  But I so would love to encourage him in running a bit more competitively.  How young is too young for this?

So here is my plan:  Worthless Dog is within a few years of the great yummy bistro in the sky.  If I get Replacement Dog, of a breed conducive to distance running, and make my boy responsible for its upkeep and health...  A dog needs to run, right?  Wish me luck!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Afton Trail Run 2012 50k Race Report - Mary

Dave had a fabulous run. His report is just great. Sounds like he really got inspired after last year's debacle, which wasn't entirely due to his inadequate training. I was at the finish last year and it was a very hard course and it was very hot. They had lots of DNFs and even more folks complaining. Ask Dave M. too.

Dave, you did a great job of describing the course and the condition of the trails and the perfect day for the race. Since I'm the "historian" for that race-it's true that when we first started it, the weather was almost always coolish. And there was one year where we had exactly the same conditions as last week. Perhaps it only made it to 95 degrees rather than closer to 100, but it was bloody hot all week. We were scrambling to buy ice in Woodbury, etc. Anyway the day of the race, it was like a miracle. And that's what happened last weekend. It was actually cool at the start this year. I was almost wishing for a long sleeved shirt as we waited for the start.

My story is that I went in to the race thinking that I would only run 25K, but since I was registered for the 50K, I'd take the early start and get it over with. I started out with Wally and saw a few folks I know from the trail running community, although there aren't many anymore. Everyone is way younger than I am. The trails were in great shape and by the time I got to the first aid station things felt good and I decided that if I could make the cut-off for the first loop I'd stick it out for the second. I'll admit there was a woman who I kept leap frogging with, who appeared to be in my age group (50+). She is tall and really tackles the uphills. As Dave said, the volunteers at the aid stations were absolutely amazing. This younger trail running community is quite an inspiration and John Storkamp deserves a lot of credit for his leadership. It was fun to see Dave's wife, Beth at the major aid station.

So I made it with over 30 minutes to spare, where I had to make the decision to continue or drop. To be truthful, by then I had made the decision that I did not want to be listed as a DNF. Mike Reneau from Hudson, who some of you may know, told me he'd wait for me, so I figured "go for it". The "tall girl" wasted no time at the aid stations and was long gone by the time Mike reassured me.

As is always the case for me in the longer trail runs, it is usually a pretty solitary experience. But the aid stations are closer together at Afton, so that keeps a person going. And early in the second loop, Jan O'Brien, who became a fabulous trail runner and has of late worked the first aid station, introduced me as "the pioneer of trail ultras for women in MN". I'm not sure she's right, but it was a very nice compliment and really kept me going. I guess it was the weather and the trail conditions, but the second loop went really well too. The time seemed to not be an issue at this point and I even was looking at my watch to consider if I could break 8 hours, which is about my average for this course. 

It wasn't until I had about 4 miles left to go that I saw tall girl again. Since we hadn't leap frogged in the second loop I was leery to pass her again, but she was running with someone else and busy in conversation so I passed, figuring she'd pass me on the last hill. After a potty stop at the nice new bathrooms, the folks at the last aid station cheered me in up the hill and gave the best encouragement of the day. Dave's favorite section (not mine) was in much drier condition by this point and the last few miles seemed to fly by. I passed Jim Baillargeion, from Sommerset, with two miles to go. He was very encouraging. The finish line was a very welcome sight and my time was 7:26. And I beat the tall girl by 2 minutes. BTW, she has a name-it's Linda Frank and she's from Hudson. She's a newbie at the 50K, in her 50s, and has lots of potential. 

Next year is the 20th anniversary of ATR and if any of you are even thinking about doing a trail run, I would recommend this one. It's not easy-the hills are steep and seem unending, but there are points in between the hills that are very runnable. It's a nice introduction to trail running and the trail running community. And the design of the shirts is very unique. Thanks Dave, for an explanation of the design. I had no idea.

This weekend is the Voyageurs trail run, which has been modified and not even a full marathon, but they say harder. That's my last training run before I leave for Mongolia.  Is anyone interested in meeting for a beer at Whiteys' before I leave on July 25th?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Afton Trail Run 2012 50k Race Report

First of all, I’d like to thank the families of the 200 or so virgins who were sacrificed before the race, providing us with a respite in the recent Minnesota heat wave.  Your personal sacrifices are greatly appreciated!  The relatively low temperatures at race time allowed many runners the chance to really push the pace and go for personal bests on a tough and hilly Afton State Park course; myself included.  After a week of hot and humid weather in the 90’s and 100’s, we were all thrilled to see the forecast for the weekend:  race morning was to be in the 60’s, with later highs in the 80’s.  The Mayan gods were appeased!

The Afton Trail Run is a 25k and 50k event in Minnesota’s Afton State Park along the Mississippi River.  The river cut through this terrain a kabillion years ago creating a landscape of hills and coulees; a wonderful playland for the adventurous.  John Storkamp directs this race and does a great job making this a premier Midwest trail race.  The 25k loops the park once, and the 50k, twice.

I’ve had this race in my sights since the previous debacle on the Afton Ski Hill course, when medical personnel pulled my chip (RD John Storkamp kicked my ass last year with his diabolical course layout).  I was disappointed with myself for accepting that fate a bit too readily; I felt I had some race left in me, but evidently little fight.  This year was to be different.  My training for the 2012 season started the previous November, with core work at a local health club.  To deal with the hills in a more dignified manner, I included weekly lunge sessions at the Willow River State Park falls stairs.  In all, I trained like never before, and boy did that pay off at Afton.

This year included a more spiritual preparation as well.  Like many folks, I hesitate pushing too hard for fear of the suffering to follow.  In short, I listen to my lying brain.  My plan this year was to ask for prayers, and then hammer my pace; lifting my suffering and effort (and results) to God, in the hope that my suffering would be pleasing to Him.  I sound like a flagellant, I know, but work with me here.  As a friend explained: “This brings glory to God, as the motive of our heart says: You are more important to me than food, you are worth suffering with, and for.”  Truly humbling; my mantra was to “don’t be a wimp”.

Saturday morning packet pickup was like most others at Afton: a reunion of friends amidst the low-key Minnesota trail running atmosphere.  Lots of smiles amidst some serious introspection.  RD John Storkamp’s race shirts are still awesome; this year’s with a decidedly Mayan theme.  After taking care of last minute victuals and expendables, we made our way to the start line, where 200 or so runners prepared to do battle with the trails.  After a quick pep talk we were off at 6:30 sharp, down the cattle chute to the base of our first climb.  Honestly, why do we go down just to go back up?  Couldn’t they have just built a bridge?

Unlike previous Aftons, this year I decided to start near the front, which meant a bit of jockeying for space as the trail narrowed.  No problems though as everyone was respectful, causing no one to go orienteering.   Our first climb to the Africa Loop was the usual mix of running and walking.  Once on top, it was time to set a pace.  I maintained about an 8:00 pace; hopefully the right balance in the beginning.  The morning was gorgeous, highlighting the forest-surrounded golden grassland beauty of the Africa loop.  I kept expecting to see a lion peek above the grass to pick out a straggler.  I tried to look strong.

The Back-40 is a drop down from the savanna to a more lush, tropical loop; one of my favorite trails in the park.  Following a rocky decent, I ran past aid station 2, knowing I would see it again in 1.5 miles.  It was nice and cool as runners started to group a bit on the singletrack; a good time to meet new people and catch up with friends.  After water, a gel and my first S-cap, we followed a very runnable climb back up to Africa to finish the loop.  Fast (for me) and efficient.
Leaving Africa happens via an awesome drop down a rocky coulee trail; one you’d love to bomb when you don’t have 25 miles of race ahead of you.  Injecting a little prudence, I slowed my descent, but took full advantage of the free speed, past Steve Quick directing traffic at the bottom, to where we get our first sight of the Mississippi river at aid station 3.  It is great to see my wife and crew, Beth, at this station, but this early in the race we are all business:  gel, water, ice, vamoose.  She is awesome.
The climb out of aid-3 is a smooth and runnable crushed-gravel road back to the top of the park.  I like running this road because I actually feel energized once at the top.  It is at this point where I was completely warmed up and ready to pick up the pace to about 7:30.  After a bit of flat on top, we again drop to the river, and past the most gorgeous view in the park.  Rounding a bend, if you are not expecting it, it takes your breath away: a view from above, looking south along the river.  Enough of that, it was time for an easy descent back to the river, and short jog on a former rail trail.
The next climb up to the camp area is my least favorite in the race.  Rocky, steep and sandy.  When on training runs in the park, I tend to eliminate this section due to imagined time limitations that suddenly seem important.  I don’t tend to be a journey person on this hill.  I know this climb has a name (Kevin’s or Dean’s hill, or something like that).  Once on top, we waved to the campers as we ran though.  Being backpack campers, they understood what was going on and kindly wished us well.  Of course my least favorite descent should follow that climb.  It seems to follow a wide washout, where, if you are running, it is hard to check your speed without quads of steel.  The workers at aid station 4 (backside of aid-3) get a great view of runners on the edge of control (and sometimes tumblers having lost all control) as they try to navigate this slide.
After some ice, water, a gel, and S-cap (and a kiss from the crew), we are provided with a few miles of absolute flat.  I have learned, in the past, to avoid the temptation of the 5k pace here, knowing the hills and miles to come; but I did try to keep an effortless 7:00 pace along the river.  Don’t be a wimp.  Now rehydrated and refueled, it was time to climb back up via the Meatgrinder.  Despite its ominous name, this hill is not too bad, with the rocks creating a natural system of steps in the steepest section.  Plus, it is the last tough climb in the loop, and leads into aid station 5, where the nice folks will dump water on your head and ice down your back.  Thanks!
The next section is called the Snowshoe Loop, and provides the best singletrack and most remote running in the park.  While bombing through these trails, one almost forgets fatigue.  The flats, hills and descents in this section are so short and numerous, that my muscle groups seemed to get frequent breaks.  Though a bit more difficult to find, if you have only a short time for a run at this park, I’d recommend this section over most others.  Except for one short steep climb and one rocky descent, it is all runnable and fun.
Following the climb out of the Snowshoe Loop, there is about a mile of flat and fast to the start and aid station 1.  While the 25k race starts an hour after the 50k, it has been my goal in the past to start my second loop before the first 25k racer arrives.  Those guys fly!  I think I saw a 1:37:10 time and 6:16 average pace for the eventual 25k winner, Joe Moore.  Way to go for the course record Joe!  I did my first loop in a more pedestrian 2:16, faster than any of my previous attempts by 15 minutes.  I was pretty lit.  So now it was time for some plotting: hmmm, I didn’t think I had a negative split in me, though a course PR was definitely in my grasp.  In the past I’ve lost 30 minutes to the second loop, which would put me in at about 5:15.  I was feeling good. I would try to reduce that loss.  Don’t be a wimp.
The second loop looked surprisingly like the first, only without the fresh legs, so I’ll keep it to the highlights.  I tried to keep the pace fast (for me) and the breathing and heart rate down.  My first bad spot came after climbing out of the Back-40.  My brain was telling me to slow down so I didn’t become a lump on the trail.  In the past I’ve always heeded this message thinking I was being smart and listening to my body.  Listening to my brain is quite another thing, so I tried to ignore it.  Keeping my pace was surprisingly easy once I convinced myself that my brain is a liar, and this spell will pass.  And it did.  I was myself again and feeling strong at the bottom of the Africa Loop, waving to Steve Quick for a second time.
I felt good, running the stone road hill for the second time.  It felt good to reach and find I had reserves available.  It also felt good to have the hill up to the campground done for the day.  My wife Beth, in planning for 90 degree heat and humidity, created a secret pouch for holding ice, made from an old towel.  This pouch fit nicely under my hat and provided a slow drip of cold water on my head (Ahhh) as I started the rail road flat at about a 7:30 pace.  My mind was telling me I would blow up at this pace, but I ignored it.  After a bit I settled in and it felt right.
Following Meatgrinder part 2, my only thought was not to fall in the Snowshoe loop, and to keep the pace.  I was dying my second death here and there are so many ways to stumble on that trail.  The seemingly easy portions that wind through fields seem to have once been plowed, with the furrows hidden by tall grass, providing a nice tiptoe through the tulips.  While the forested sections wind so much that it is sometimes difficult to see the trail more than 5 feet in front.
Now out of the Snowshoe Loop I was as good as done.  I ran the last flat and fast section to the finish as hard as my legs would allow.  To the 25k runner I passed near the finish chute: sorry, I hope you weren’t too upset with me.
I crossed the line in 4:57.  The clock said 3:57 (for the 25k race), and in my delirium I believed it.  Wasn’t that a course record or something?  Once I came to my senses, I was floored that I had run the course so fast, losing less than 15 minutes in the second loop.  What joy after last year’s Catastrophe at Afton Alps.  After catching my breath I enjoyed some cool lemonade and some great burgers at the finish party.  I never seem to want to leave these events, wanting the Pink Floyd “Comfortably Numb” trip to stay with me forever.  Or maybe more like the Ramones: “I'll have to tell 'em that I got no cerebellum!”
Note to self: trust in your training, trust in God, and don’t be a wimp.  I can’t wait until next year!
The volunteers are always great at this race, but especially this year.  What a great group of people along the trail and at the aid stations!  Thanks for volunteering and helping make this race so awesome.