Sunday, March 27, 2011

Call me Han, ‘Cause I’m going Solo! Or The 2011 Moab Spring Adventure Race!

After committing to the Expedition Idaho race, and suddenly becoming single, it became imperative that I compete in as many races as possible this year.  Moab, although somewhat cookie cutter, has always had a great race.  If nothing else, the scenery is great and a good reason to get out of town.  Although I always want to do my best, I considered this a training run and a chance to try out some new ideas; equipment-wise and nutritionally.

I tried to team up with someone, but all my friends are fun-haters/deathly ill/employed/liars, so I decided I would take the plunge and go solo.  Sean agreed to loan me a kayak.  Being that it is Spring, it is also hard to get in any training, but Sean also loaned me some rollers and I got in two outdoor training rides.  On top of that, my new minimalist shoe running hobby had me thirsty to try it out in a race!

I spent all week of the 20th packing, studying for a test, and generally procrastinating.  I made arrangements to make up my Friday Neuro lab and by noon on March 25th, I was on my way out of town and listening to NPR Science Friday for the first time all semester.  It was a quick 7 hr trip.  I stopped to take a few pictures along the Colorado River on my way into Moab, and was checked into race HQ by 7:30.

The spectacular view driving into Moab, even with rain!

The Night Before and Morning Of:
The first order of business was to find a place to stay.  I was going to car camp, but past experience and inclement weather persuaded me to pay way too much for an econo-cabin.  But it did have bunk beds!  I drove to the boat drop, where Sean had nicely already placed the boat and dropped off my paddle and other kayaking equipment.

The next order of business was some food.  Mark N. and family had graciously offered me some spaghetti.  Although I am gluten-free, I was hungry and graciously accepted their meal.  I then did a quick tune-up on my bike and started getting my pack ready.  The race course followed the course from the 2009 race, so I kind of skipped plotting my points on the map.  I packed an extra pair of socks, my two flasks of my home-made energy gel, Vibram Five Fingers (VFF's) for the run, the rappelling harness and mandatory equipment like a cell phone and space blanket, along with a tube patch kit.  I poured a serving of Heed and one Nuun tablet into my hydration pack, prepped breakfast for the morning and hit the sack.

The "econo" cabin.

We woke the next morning at six.  I made coffee, had my breakfast, consisting of an ensure drink, some chia seed and water, a banana and some coconut oil to top it off.  We made our way to Gold Bar campground and got ready for the race.

And We're Off!  Bike Leg 1:

It was chilly (probably 50 degrees) but the sun came out right before the race.  I opted to wear tight biking shorts (I know, I know…) because I didn’t want to run in my baggies, and a wool top under my baggies.  As we took off, I fell to the back of the pack of the solo racers.  That way I could pass more people along the way…

Besides wishing I had long fingered gloves, I felt fine.  5 miles down the road, we took a right at Jughandle Arch and began the long climb up Pucker Pass.  I felt really good and wanted to go faster, but kept reminding myself I had another 7 hours or so to go and should pace myself.  I stopped at the top of the first steep climb to remove my wool top and suck down some energy gel.  As the climb continued, over ~2000 feet, I felt good.  I only had to walk my bike once, for about 200 meters.

Once I hit the top I felt great.  The road continued to incline, but I felt like I was going downhill.  I was in the big gears most of the way to the first check point.  It did get noticibly colder up top though.  I opted not to put my wool top back on, but lots of other racers were adding layers.  There was even ice on the road when we hit the brief section of pavement.  I hit the first checkpoint, punched my pass book, sucked down some more gel and water, and headed down to Gemini Bridges.

The Rappel and Run:
It was a fast eight miles down, but cold still!  At the bridges, I put on my rappel gear and the VFF’s.  But my toes were numb from the weather, and it was back to a wrestling match to get them in.  After winning out, I ditched my pack, grabbed some essential food and equipment and ran down to the rappel.  At this point Sean and his partner John, who started 15 minutes behind, had finally caught up.  I gotta say, I was pretty proud of myself that it took them this long.

Instead of the usual bottleneck at the rappel, I got on the rope right away.  Things didn’t feel right on the rope; although I am out of practice, it just felt stiff.  I fought the rope all the way down, punched my ticket, and started the 6 miles back up to the bikes.

This would be the first true test of the VFF’s.  The biggest problem starting out is that my feet were still numb from the cold.  I was very worried about an injury.  Luckily most of the running for the first ten minutes was through sand and everything was fine.  For the first half of the run, my shoes felt great.  I had a little bit of leg cramping, but not bad at all compared to some previous races.  Taking some Endurolytes helped that.  

But after checkpoint number four, the trail started back up Gemini Bridges road and I started experiencing foot pain.  Obviously I need some more experience trail running in the VFF’s.  As I got tired, I got careless, and didn’t watch where I stepped.  The sharp rocks on the slickrock didn't have much give.  Soon, my feet were really tender.  I had to stop and walk a few times, but finally the bikes were in sight!

Bike Leg Two or The Need for Speed!:

I ran back up, punched my ticket, stuffed everything back into my pack, and got back on the bike.  The next five miles were the best part of the race.  Flying down the rocky sections of the trail I had just run up was great!  Picking the best lines, dodging and yelling encouragement to the other runners on their way up felt great!   

The road flattened out again into another beautiful Moab canyon. Passing Gooney Bird Rock, the trail soon started to climb again.  This is where I could start to feel how bad the run had wiped me out.  But I kept looking at the top of the hills, and soon I was headed down to checkpoint six and then down to the river.
The last nine miles or so was all paved bike trail.  And even though this takes some of the adventure out of it, it was fast.   

The Home Stretch:

I felt great by the time I hit the boat ramp at the bridge North of town.  I switched into my water gear, asked around for some sunscreen (no luck), and put the boat in the water.  Being that this was my first time, ever, in a hard shell kayak, and by myself, I did pretty good getting into the water.  

I soon felt somewhat comfortable with how the kayak was handling.  I also learned I wasn’t doing myself any favors by keeping my pack on.  It was really impeding my stroke, so I carefully pulled it off, and stuck it in the hull between m legs.  Then I was off and running, trying to catch the boat with the yellow paddles I could see downstream!  

Well, kind of…  I soon learned that I hadn’t trained nearly enough with my arms for this.  The pain set into my shoulders and eventually spread down to my low back.  After an hour and half, I REALLY wanted out of that kayak.  I was passed by two other solo racers, and never caught the elusive boat with the yellow paddles.  But eventually, the “Big Red Arch” came into view and I was able to make a 15 minute “sprint” to the finish!

Hitting the shore, a race volunteer helped me up.  After running and biking for 5 hours, then sitting with your legs motionless for two hours, nothing really wants to work!  I managed not to fall back into the river, carried the kayak up the ramp, and shuffled under the finish line.  I am still waiting on official results, but it was just over seven hours.

At the "Big Red Arch, "  post race.

What I learned:

Besides testing new equipment and going solo, my biggest achievement was running my race.  I paced myself as I needed.  I stopped to fuel and hydrate as I needed.  And I didn’t burn out and had a lot of fun.

I will post about my nutrition and equipment in further updates!

Happy trails!


Some of the spectacular cliffs (massifs?) surrounding Gold Bar campground.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Paleo-Friendly Super-Duper Breakfast Smoothie

Hey all,

Just thought I would share the recipe for a simple breakfast mix.

The ingredients shown are:

1 Banana
Blueberries (buy fresh and freeze them)
Broccoli cuts
Chia seeds
Spinach (or other leafy greens)
Pomegranite juice
Coconut milk
Incredibly, no bacon :(

Directions (I use a Magic Bullet blender):

1.  Peel the banana and break into 1 inch (or so chunks).
2.  Add some blueberries (whatever looks good, I usually add a small handful).
3.  Add your spinach and leafy greens, usually about 6 leaves.
4.  Add some broccoli cuts, just enough to fill the cup.
5.  Add a spoonful of chia seeds. Too much will exponentially increase the viscosity...
6.  Fill the cup halfway with the juice.
7.  Top it off with the coconut milk.
8.  Blend.
9.  Drink quickly and rush out the door 'cause you are late for work.

Substitutions or additions:

Any berries (like raspberries) for the blueberries.
Any tart juice (keep it tart though, it will kill all the spinach/broccolli flavor).
Brussels sprouts; again the tartness of the berries and juice will mask the flavor.
Half an avocado for the banana; this is really tasty.  However, it makes it very thick.

Don't use:

Kiwi fruit; I love kiwi, but something about it gives smoothies a terrible flavor.

Let me know your recipes!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Old Slow Guy's heirarchy of Happiness

Inspired by a recent personal crisis and Maslow, I have decided it would be appropriate to catalog the things in life I need to survive/be happy/successful.  This is not a static post and is subject to change!  I suggest you make your own!

Level One:
Gratitude, acceptance and love.
      This includes the feeling (generation of) and expression of the above items.
     Like the stuff of our State and National constitutions.

Level Two:
Friends, family and other loved ones.

Level Three:
Health (physical and mental).
The ability to give and receive graciously.
The love of a good woman.  Sigh....

Level Four:
Money and food (if you don't have it).

Level Five:
Toys for recreation!!  'Nuff said.
A vehicle that runs (mobility = freedom).

Level six:
A good cummunity.

Level Seven:
A good job (unless you have a crappy job, then this gets moved up the scale).

Level Eight:
Money and food (if you have it).

Level Nine:
Good Beer.
A grill.

Level Ten:
A clean house (check mine out if you want proof of how much I value this...)

Level Eleven:  (Yes it goes this high...)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Barefoot (minimalist really…) Running

I recently read the book “Born to Run” about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, and how they KILL 100 mile races running in huarache (i.e., minimalist) sandals.  They blow past the finish line smiling at killer events like the Leadville 100.  The author, Christopher MacDougal not only documents their running prowess, he also presents very good arguments for avoiding expensive shoes showing how we are evolutionarily designed to run barefoot.

Before even finishing the book I ran down to the shoe store in Laramie, and lucky me, they had just gotten in a new shipment of Vibram Five Fingers (VFF’s).  I picked up a shiny new pair of the new Bikila model and left the store with them on.  Mostly, because it took about five minutes to wrestle my toes into them, and I didn’t want to have to do it again.

There are other minimalist shoes out there besides VFF’s; Merrell’s Trail Gloves are getting rave reviews.  Some say that the old Chuck Taylor’s and wrestling shoes will do just as well.

I ran the next day in them, and I thought I was going to have to turn back after about a half mile, but felt really good by the end of the mile and a half run.  My feet were feeling it though.  I continued to up my mileage by about half a mile and culminated in running completely barefoot on a treadmill at the end of the week.

Trying not to be too stupid, I picked up one of the many barefoot running books on the market.  I decided that getting on a plan might help me avoid injury.  I chose “The Barefoot Running Book” by Jason Robillard.  Mostly because it was the shortest book available.  Also, because it was rated the highest on Amazon.  Robillard actually doesn’t run in minimalist shoes much.  He suggest actual barefoot running.  Although I am not against it, I don’t actually see myself doing that, at least not until the weather warms up.


My history:  


I first heard of minimalist running about 9 years ago; Thor-lo socks used to advertise a guy who ran marathons wearing only their socks.  Of course, I thought that was crazy.  When joining the military, I found that my feet were really weak when doing road marches.  A few years after basic training, Nike came out with their “Free” line, and I tried those.  Although way different from the minimalist shoe, it is very minimal, and running in them strengthened my feet.  Now the only problem I have with road marches are blisters…


Still though, I kept buying into the running shoe marketing, looking for the most padding and stability, and the hardest sole for trail running.  I eventually started training myself to run with a heel strike, in order to lengthen my stride length.  I did get faster over 10k and under distances, but the injuries were piling up.  The point of exercise is to make you stronger, not hurt you.




It took me a while to warm up the idea, but after reading about it and a short time trying it, I found it really fits into my exercise philosophy.  I almost never use machines when weight training (save a cable machine).  I believe you can get a better workout using body weight exercises than with even free weights, but I do like the free weights.  Making your body stabilize itself, and using explosive movements makes you stronger, faster and better.  I.E., train like a gymnast.  Barefoot and minimalist running fits into that philosophy perfectly.




Since running barefoot, I have found that I tread lighter.  This is a big switch from a guy who’s running style was once described as “a jackhammer.”  This translates to a more efficient running style.  And less injury.


Running has become fun again.  I don’t really know how to describe it, but the amount of concentration it takes to run like this, makes it like a game.  Not that I didn’t like running before, but it is a lot more fun now.  This alone is priceless.


If you get the VFF’s, you get to wear these funny looking shoes around.  It’s incredible entertaining to sit in class and look at my shoes.  Other people like to look at them too.  Then they want to talk about them.  You get to meet new people.  Lots of fun!


You get to know your body better.  It was amazing how little control I had over my toes.  I realize how much more my toes can contribute to walking and running.  I know the purpose of the arch of my foot now.  I can feel those muscles working.  And getting stronger.




There is a learning curve.  No more heel strikes!  And running too fast, too soon is going to cause injuries.  Your initial mileage will go down.  As will your times…


You have to relearn to run.  It is all on your toes now, baby!!  And your calves will let you know how much you have been neglecting them.


It causes a bit of smugness.  I now feel like I am superior to people that don’t have VFF’s.  Soon I will have to buy things like a single-speed bikes, Macs, telemark skis and hybrid cars…




Right now, I have found that wearing Injinji toe socks makes it much easier.  They give me just that much more padding I need when running.


Walking around in your minimalist shoes as much will help to strengthen your feet and think about how to step.


Running barefoot on the treadmill felt great!  But beware of a very hot belt and blisters.


Where to now…


I love my VFF’s but I will probably be finding other shoes to run in competition.  I can see doing a 5k in them.  This last Sunday, I ran an army PT test in my heavy-ass trail shoes.  But I was really fast, considering it was on an short indoor track and my actual mileage over the last month hasn’t been that high or fast. The training in these shoes has had a definite carry-over into running in traditional shoes.


I am debating what to wear in the Moab Spring AR.  I expect about 5 miles of running.  On one hand, the VFF’s are very light, and I have to pack my running shoes with me while biking.  On the other hand, if my feet aren’t strong enough, for it, it’s gonna suck…  I am leaning towards using Inov-8’s Talon line of trail shoes.


I will keep you updated!