Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My New Favorite Shoes

I’ve been dabbling for the last six months or so with barefoot running and “minimalist footwear” running. I’m no groundbreaker here… depending on your point of view, there’s a movement going on among runners that’s somewhere between passing fad and an outright footwear revolution. Regardless, there’s some pretty strong evidence around that barefoot and/or minimalist running does, at the very least, provide training benefits in improving foot and lower leg strength and flexibility and improved running form.

My first attempt at barefoot running consisted of running across a soccer field and getting my foot stung by a bee.

My 2nd attempt started better. I ran a mile or so, on a paved path. I was feeling pretty smug and anti-establishment as I passed an attractive pair of female runners; at which point I stubbed my right big toe and bled all over the nice paved path.

Eventually I successfully ran multiple, consecutive runs without bee stings or male pattern shame events, and began to enjoy myself. Then it got cold outside, and I got bored of flat, paved trails, so I mostly shelved barefoot running. Then Jasmine bought me a pair of Vibram 5-finger “shoes”, which, in theory, enable some of the same benefits of barefoot running while offering some protection from running surfaces that are cold or fully of sharp pointy things like rocks. So again, I added a mile or two here and there during the week of “minimalist shoe” running.
Then my friend Larkin, of local Corvallis company Soft Star Shoes (http://www.softstarshoes.com/), asked if I’d be interested in testing a pair of minimalist running shoes that they were planning on introducing. She invited me in to their shoe shop, showed me what they’d been working on, measured my foot, took my input, and custom made me a pair of “shoes”. Basically they’re moccasins, with a thin, flat rubber sole, a thin leather insole, and no midsole (i.e. no arch support, no raised heel, no stiffness in the sole). My foot has a lot of room to play inside the shoe.

I have to admit I was skeptical at first. I figured the shoes would fall right off, or would slide around so bad inside that It’d blister, etc. But I was wrong. They’re a hoot to run in. I’ve gradually moved to using them on a treadmill, to flat trail, to hilly trail, to the hilliest, muddiest, steepest trails in town; and I have to say it’s an absolute blast to run in these. It took some getting used to, learning to trust that the shoe, weighing next to nothing and fitting loosely, would be under my foot with each step (so far, so good); but the more I run in it, the more fun I’m having. I can feel the terrain with my feet, which sounds dumb and simple, but until I experienced it, I wouldn’t have expected how cool this is. The thin soles are just enough to spread out the force from sharp rocks, roots, etc. But they’re thin enough that, going up steep, muddy trail, for example, my toes can curl up to “grip” the surface, which is also pretty cool and, at first, completely weird.

I’m still pretty new to minimalist shoe running, so I need to be careful not to add too many miles too fast. My foot muscles and lower leg muscles need time to adapt, and I can certainly feel the fatigue and soreness in these after a good run (the “good” kind of sore, that you’d feel after working out a neglected muscle group). On super technical terrain, my longest run has been about 4 miles, and on easier terrain, not a whole lot longer. But I hope to continue to add mileage, slowly, over time, to augment and maybe even displace some of my “regular” shod training miles. I might even have to find a cool trail 10k or something to race in these.

On the larger running front, things are mostly going well. I can't say my calf is 100%, but it's been mostly OK lately. I've done quite a few runs in the 15-25 mile range in the last couple months, and have been pretty happy. Occasionally it seems to have a setback, but overall there seems to be more progress than not, and I still feel like I'm on pace to run the Mac 50k in May (I ran most of the course last month) and the 100 miler this September. Slowly. More than anything, I'm just really happy to be able to do the long runs on the weekend, and look forward to them all week. If I'm not feeling 100%, I'm still able comfortably do 3+ hours at a casual pace. When I've felt good, I've done 5 hours at a pretty reasonable pace. Keeps me happy. :-)

And do please check out Soft Star shoes. They're a great little local company, and your feet (or your kids feet) will benefit from some foot muscle use!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yurtle and Elvis

I haven't blogged in a while. A lot happening, and a lot has happened in the last couple months. Let's just say that we're really looking forward to spring. :-)

On the running front (since mostly that's what I blog about), things are good. My leg feels better than it has since late 2008, and I'm finally getting in some long trail runs. This past weekend I went beyond 20 miles for the first time in more than a year. It makes me so happy to get up early and head out on long runs again. I look forward to it all week. And after this longest run in a year, I can honestly say my leg still felt good, and I'd dare say even better than ever when I followed it with shorter runs Monday and today. It's not perfect - it takes a while to loosen up, and it's still gets a bit sore now and then, but every week it feels stronger and stronger. I think my running form is improving too, as when I slip into bad habits my leg still lets me know (but even that seems to be getting milder and milder with each passing week). It's hard to believe that last summer I couldn't run an easy mile on a track without horrible pain!

I'm confident enough in my progress that I've signed up for another 100 miler, coming this September: The Pine to Palm 100: http://www.roguevalleyrunners.com/P2P100/raceinfo.html. I realize that after nearly a year off of any serious running, signing up for an arduous 100 mile race may not be the brightest idea. But it's still 7 months away. So what the heck. In the meantime, I'll probably squeeze in a "short" ultramarathon or two, probably the mac 50k and maybe something in March. What I probably won't do is set any ambitous race goals as far as placing high or finishing under a certain time, for any race prior to the 100 miler. As far as goals for the 100 miler itself, we'll see how the training goes. But hey, you only live once. I still have a sub-24 hour finish on my life "to-do" list. Might as well go after it on a seriously tough mountain course with 20,000 feet of ascent, too, right?
None of which has anything to do with sea turtles chasing well travelled scotch whiskey, nor Elvis Presley teddy bears on speed limit signs. I'll leave that as an excersize for the reader.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shellburg Falls Trail Run

I ran my first race in more than a year this past weekend. The Shellburg Falls 10k was pretty low key, and “just” a 10k (and I don’t mean to denigrate 10k’s, but ultra distances are more to my liking), but a great course and a lots of fun.

I only decided for certain to run this just the day before, still unsure whether my leg was healthy enough to “race” on, even though I’d had some really good runs of 10+ miles while in New Zealand. But the race was free, Pain Train had been trying to talk me into checking out the Shellburg Falls trails for more than a year, and Luvin’ offered to pick me up and do the driving. So off to the races it was.

I told myself, and others, that I was going to run SLOWLY, and aim for last place. In reality I didn’t know what I’d do. I hadn’t tried to run fast all year, but I’d managed to push it a bit when running up hills and was fairly confident I could do that without risking injury. For whatever reason, the uphills have been much better on my leg than flats sections or down hills. I asked Mike about the course on the drive in, and found out, roughly, that the first couple miles were mostly flat or down hill, then the middle section had a long, tough climb, and the end was mostly downhill again. So I figured I’d run really conservatively for the first section, then if I felt OK I’d try to push it a bit on the uphill, and after that, just wing it.

I took a good long warm-up, jogging really slowly and walking up a hill or two. I’ve found my leg does a lot better if I start with an easy warm-up, followed by some stretching. So that’s what I did, and it seemed to work out OK. The race started a few minutes after nine. As planned, I started off easy – probably a bit too easy. Within a half mile or so we came to a creek crossing with two options – a narrow foot bridge (clogged by runners crossing one at a time) or getting your feet wet. I chose the latter – actually an easy choice, despite the cold temps – as my shoes were already soaked prior to that start. (I’d gone for a run my last day in New Zealand, in a heavy rain. I threw them in a plastic bag before packing them… and of course I didn’t take them out of the bag until race morning). From there the course moved into single track, and began a long, easy, fun descent. I was feeling good and moving well, but It was sort’ve tough passing people on the single track, making me think perhaps I’d started a bit too slowly. On the other hand, maybe that was a good thing.

At the bottom of the hill, the course ran along a forest road for a while, past a waterfall below us, and back onto single track. The single track pass behind another waterfall (really cool!) an climbed a good bit on the other side before passing the water station on the other side. I didn’t get any water, but did toss my jacket to Dennis, who’d come out to watch with his wife, who was running the race.
A short flat section brought us to the big climb. I was feeling pretty good – though breathing pretty hard – but stuck with my plan to see if I could push it on the climb. At the bottom there were 4 or 5 in a line walking the steep bit. I redlined it a bit to work past the group (which included Guy and Gaby from Corvallis), and suffered for a few minutes after that while the ascent continued.

At one point a group of people in front went left (on the logging road) while I went right (on the trail). I wasn’t 100% sure I’d gone the right way – but pretty sure. I tried to holler but they didn’t hear – and it looked pretty much like the trail and road would merge again anyway, so I didn’t worry much about it. They did eventually merge – much further up the hill than I expected – and I had chosen the right path. But I don’t think it made much difference, time wise, whether one took the road or trail. When the road merged back with the trail, there was one guy who got back on course about 20 yards in front of me. Not that I really cared if I’d missed the turn, but I decided I’d do my best to pass him and beat him to the finish, just so I didn’t have any reason to whine about anyone going off course and beating me. I was pretty tired from the climb, so I go within maybe 10 yards of him, and then just stayed there for a while, letting him set the pace and have the stress of being chased. After a while he must’ve gotten sick of being chased, as he stepped aside to let me pass, than fell in behind me. I didn’t want him to think he could hang with me, so I pushed really hard for a few minutes to build a bit of a gap between us.

From here the course joined a logging road again for a long, flat to slightly uphill section. The guy behind me wasn’t yet too far back, and I could see another guy dressed in powder blue shorts maybe 100 yards ahead of me, and another not far ahead of him. I didn’t know if I could catch them – but I figured if I could stay in contact until the downhill, I’d have a chance. At my best I’m not a bad downhill runner - not that I’m at my best right now – but I figured if the two in front were roadies and the downhill was good and technical, I’d have a shot. On the flat I pretty much stayed on pace with them, and put some distance between me and the guy behind me. My leg felt great, and my lungs weren’t totally spent, so I went into full chase mode once we hit the downhill. Three or four times I found myself getting within striking distance of Powder blue, who wasn’t far back from the next guy – only to see them put on a good burst and pull back ahead. Each time I thought I’d lost them for good, only to find myself gaining again, and then have them pull away again.
Finally I finished the trail and dropped onto the last section of logging road, which I knew from my warmup was only a few hundred yards from the finish line. To my amazement, I was once again within striking distance of the two in front of me. In hindsight, they may have been playing a bit of cat and mouse with each other, each trying to save something for a final kick, which allowed me to repeatedly catch back up. As soon as I thought I had a chance, I went all on an all out kick. I gained a bit, and got within maybe ten yards, by which time they’d gone into a kick as well, and showed they both definitely had more left in the tank than I. I tried to stay with them, but couldn’t hold on, and they finished 6 and 8 seconds ahead of me, respectively. I was so blown that I didn’t even notice who beat who to the finish line.

I ended up in 20th place out of ~130 starters. Not bad I guess, though nothing spectacular, especially in a low key event where most people aren’t “racing”. And while I really wasn’t concerned about where I finished, it was still fun to get competitive and “race” against others and push hard, especially near the end. I think that makes sense. And it was sure fun to run hard again, and make it hurt in a GOOD way. It’ll be even more fun when I’m in shape for it. Hopefully my leg continues to improve over the winter so I can race a lot more in 2010!

New Zealand!

It had been far too long since we visited New Zealand (Jasmine’s home country!), but we finally made it back, spending nearly 3 ½ weeks there. Pictures can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com/mtnahorniak/NewZealandTrip2009# .

We flew in and spent a couple days in Auckland, then drove our rental car South, making stops to see Jasmine’s great aunt Dorothy (88 years young!), then visiting the geysers, hot mud pools, and the lake at and around Rotorua, just like real tourists.

From there we drove to Lake Taupo, where we me met up with Jasmine’s dad and Shirley at a “holiday batch” (a “cabin” in Minnesotan) owned by Shirley’s family. The batch was terrific, and within walking distance of the lake. Lake Taupo is also a short distance from Tongariro National Park, which boasts “the best one day hike in New Zealand”, the Tongariro Crossing. Imagine a trail crossing the three sisters wilderness from east to west or vice versa – it’s kind’ve like that. I think. For Jasmine and I, however, it was mostly inside a cloud and really, really, REALLY windy and cold. Surrounding the peaks and high plateaus of the crossing it was actually a nice, albeit breezy day. But high the on crossing itself, the weather was just insane. Visibility was maybe 20 feet at times. Rime ice formed as tho fog froze onto our clothes, and up on highest ridges, the wind nearly knocked us over. It was as “fun” as any alpine adventure I can recall, in that respect. At one point we were following a ridge, not knowing what was to our right, below the drop. I just sort’ve figured we were on the edge of a valley. Then for an instant we could see waves below us, then they disappeared back into the fog. Pretty weird feeling. A few hours hike brought us to the descent on the far side, and eventually we dropped back below the clouds and were treated to a nice view of Lake Taupo from high above. We stopped for a snack at the hut, maybe 3 miles from the finish. The hut was full of hikers, mostly young Scandinavian women. Sometimes crowded hikes aren’t all that unpleasant, afterall. J Eventually Jasmine dragged me from the hut and we continued down. Eventually we dropped below the alpine grasslands into thick forest, featuring tall fern trees and other flora that seemed almost tropical to me. It was cool to walk from the frozen, high alpine wasteland into thick, green, warm forest.

We spent a few more days at the batch, highlighted by a visit from Jasmine’s high school friend Bridgitt, who served as tour guide and entertainment (as she did again a few days later when we visited her near her home in Wellington). Other highlights of the Taupo portion of our trip included: throwing hundreds of pumice stones into the lake, carving pumice stones into shapes and throwing them into the lake, sticking sticks into pumice stones and throwing them into the lakes, and sticking two pumice stones together with a stick and throwing them into the lake. I can’t overstate how much fun this really was. Another outrageously fun time was had when Avery and I decided to redirect a small creek. It was a small, warm water creek that flowed into the Huka river at a nice little sand and rock beach. Avery and I, through considerable time and effort, redirected that last 10 feet or so about three feet to the right, creating a new channel through the beach into the river. Good fun.

After Taupo we spent a could days and night in Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand. To economize a bit, we stayed at a Youth Hostel. I think this was Avery’s favorite place to sleep, because she got to sleep on the top bunk of a bunkbed. Wellington was a great museum where we spent half day and got to see the preserved remains of a giant squid (the largest living squid ever caught). It was pretty big, but not huge. It was pretty gross too, truth be told.

We dropped off the rental car in Wellington and took the ferry across to the South Island where we met back up with Derek and Shirley. We spent the next 5 or 6 days at Tuna Bay in the Marlborough sounds, at the house Jasmine considered “home” while in high school. Tuna Bay and the surrounding area is a wonderful place, with a very few houses, beautiful and sheltered bays where we did lots of sea kayaking, and native forests where we did lots of hiking.

I did quite a bit of running on the local trails as well. My favorite run of the trip (and of 2009, now that I think of it) was a run from Penzance Bay (just a hundred yards or so up from Tuna Bay) up the “power-line trail” which climbed well over 1000 feet from the sea, ambled along a high rolling traverse for a while, then dropped over to Elaine Bay (the “next” town along the coast, to the North of Penzance Bay), and then back along the “Archer Track” which follows the winding coastline back to Penzance Bay. The run took about 2 hours, plus some added time to stop and take pictures and admire the views of forests and sea. It would have taken at least twice that long to drive to Elaine Bay and back, as there are simply no roads directly connecting the two bays.

Another highlight from Tuna bay was Sea Kayaking. Shirley’s family has a pair of sea kayaks that we were fortunate enough to be lent. On the windy days with choppy water, this was a ton of fun. On the one morning where we had calm, glassy ocean, it was spectacular. There are endless bays, beaches, and rocky coastlines to explore. One day we encountered lots of huge stingrays that we chased around from the safety of our kayaks. Another day we paddled through waters filled with hundreds and hundreds of purple jellyfish.

And of course I can’t forget Jasmine’s trip down memory lane, as she sorted through box after box of stuff saved from her high school and university years in New Zealand. She spent hours sorting trash from treasure, condemning the trash to the fire. More than a few teenage love letters didn’t make the cut – a fact I took a guilty pleasure in as I watched smoke rise from behind the house as I paddled a kayak in the bay out front.

The last leg of our trip was spent in and around Nelson, with a side overnight trip to Golden Bay and Abel Tasman national park. Derek and Shirley recently moved into a new, really nice, smaller house that’s part of a larger retirement community. They’ve really got it good. They’ve also got some great hills right behind town in which I was able to get in a couple great runs. The forest reminded me of Mac forest in Corvallis, in that it was used for both logging and recreation, and the hills were on the same scale. Beyond the front range of hills (the Barnicoat range), however, one could pretty much continue on trails for hundreds of miles, into range after range of increasingly high and rugged peaks. But I enjoyed just the small slice that I got to explore near Nelson

Our side trip to Abel Tasman and Golden bay was blessed by warm, beautiful weather. The first day we took a sea taxi into the national park, were dropped off along the Abel Tasman track, and then picked back up a few hours later at another bay, 8 km down the track. Avery and I started the hike barefoot, having removed our shoes for the taxi drop off in a foot or so of water. Before long we were locked in a contest, to see who could continue to hike the longest without shoes. I lasted maybe 3 miles before I gave up. Avery was still going strong. It was a hoot seeing the reaction on other hikers faces to our bare feet, while they were clad in heavy, burly hiking boots.

Our last Sunday in New Zealand was our last day of perfect weather, and we seized the opportunity to hike on Mt Arthur, a roughly 6000 foot peak in another National Park. The road in was as exciting as the hike, being insanely steep, and narrow, with huge drop offs to the grassy sheep farms below. Jas, Avery and I first hiked up to the Mt Arthur hut, which took a bit over an hour. They stayed there for a couple hours reading, watching birds, and enjoying the views and the sunshine, while I jogged and power hiked to the summit and back. This was a blast – some of the best mountain running I’ve ever gotten to do, as the trail rose in a series of steps, then traversed gently along high ridges between the steps. Near the summit there was a bit of easy scrambling and a good sized snowfield to cross, which completed the high, alpine feeling of the hike. I managed to pass all the other hikers on the way up, and had the summit to myself for a few minutes. I had a perfect 360 degree view: rugged mountain chain extending to the horizons in three directly, with Tasman Bay and the city of Nelson in the other. In the distance I could even see Mt Egmont (a.k.a. Mt Taranaki) on the North Island.

After hiking/running back down to the hut, I convinced Jasmine and Avery to hike just a few hundred feet above the hut, which brought to a high point along the ridge, above treeline, and offered a 360 degree view nearly as good as that I enjoyed on the summit. We lounged around there for an hour or more, enjoyed a the sun and the warm rocks. Finally we dragged ourselves away, and enjoyed a long down to the Flora hut through native beech forest, and then completed a loop with a mile or so of uphill, back to our starting point.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Runs, Running, & Stuff

Big congrats to my buddy, and local trailmeister, Sander for throwing down a stellar 18.01.24 and taking 5th place at the first [annual?] mt hood 100 mile race ("Hundred in Da Hood"), on the Pacific Crest trail between Mt Hood and Mt Jeferson. It was fun to see him cruise through at mile 70, where I was helping out at an aid station run by a bunch of the local Corvallis runners.

Working the aid station was lots of fun, but more than anything it left me wanting to RUN another 100 miler! By about midnight, after copius amounts of beer and "Rock Star" energy drinks (did I mention that working an aid station is a LOT of fun?), I could barely stand it, so I decided to run up the trail a bit, meet a few runners, and "run" them back into the aid station. "Run" in this case meant a fast hike, since these were mostly back-of-the-pack runners at mile 70. But it sure felt great to get out there with them, and I think the few runners I met were happy for it as well. On the last trip out I found my friend Linda pacing another runner for a few miles (the runner she had been pacing dropped, so she was helping a different runner for a few miles), so I hiked with them a while back to the aid station. Linda wanted to Pace the runner to the next aid station (3.5 miles up the trail) where he was to pick up a pre-arranged pacer to the finish. Linda volunteered to pace him to the next aid station so he'd have some company during the night miles, and I volunteered to tag along, and then run with Linda the 3.5 miles back to our aid station (so Linda didn't have to run back alone... and mostly because I thought it sounded like fun!). So I got to do another 7 miles, from about 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM, on a stunningly beatiful, starry night through the high alpine forests. That was a blast.

During the run I couldn't help but wish I was actually in the race. I would've liked nothing more than to run/hike/crawl all night to the finish line. Next year...some race, some where... yeah!

After the race I crashed on a cot next to the fire, under the stars. In the 5 minutes I stayed awake, I think I saw about 6 shooting stars. A cool end to a cool day!

So, if you've read this, yes, I'm running again! My calf finally seems to be healing. I'm running a few times a week, and every week I'm feeling stronger, and more confident in it. I've got a long way to go to get back to 100%, but finally, FINALLY, I'm making progress. In July I couldn't jog a flat mile without my calf seizing up, and I'd be sore for a week. In August I managed to push it to a couple miles. Today (end of September) I ran about 7.5 hilly trail miles and actually forgot about my calf for a while and just enjoyed it... I just RAN... until I was tired... and loved it.

Like I said... a LONG way to go still... and I'm going to be super careful to add miles gradually and not hurt myself. Right now my "goal" is to get to November as strong or stronger than I am now, so that when we visit New Zealand in November (did I mention we're spending most of November in New Zealand!??) I can go for lots of runs, "tramps", etc.

While I was off helping at the race, Jasmine was selling her art at the Corvallis Fall festival. She had a stellar weekend selling FOUR paintings in two days! Very cool. Congrats to Jasmine. :-) Also, my sources have leaked some info to me suggesting that she bought me a ring to replace the one that was lost to the Willamette river while we floated it some weeks ago. So that's cool. :-)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Don't mess with Jasmine!

Hope she's not thinking of me....

I told her she should've used the Karate Kid move for this one:

Take that, board!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hiking and Biking

On Sunday Avery, Jas, and I went to Silver Falls state park, and did the full trail-of-ten falls hike (about 5.5 miles). Here's a fall-by-fall countdown:

Upper North Falls:

North Falls:

Twin Falls:

Winter Falls:

Middle North Falls:

Drake Falls:

Double Falls:

Lower North Falls:

Lower South Falls:

South Falls:

Last Friday, Vic, Chris, Julius and I took the afternoon off and headed out to Falls City for some mountain biking fun. Julius brought his helmet cam:

Good Times!