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Over the weekend, I completed my first race over half-marathon distance, the River of No Return Endurance Runs 25k. I had a blast!

The race was well organized, from the pre-race communication through email and Facebook, to the pre-race meeting and bib pick-up, to the race-morning timing chips and start, all the way through to the well marked trail, smooth-running aid station (only one on the 25k course), and finish line refueling / relaxing / celebration.  Race swag included a great shirt (“Run Fast, Everything Else Here Does”), day-glo technical fabric hats, and a unique sandblasted finishers award.

I rolled into the little town of Challis, ID (pop. 1081) and found the high school just a hair before the 6pm start of the pre-race meeting on Friday night. Race directors Paul and Neal talked us through the particular challenges of the course, the dos and don’ts, timing, and logistics while including some “wolfish” humor.  It seems that the pre-race communications contained enough teasing about the carnivorous canine inhabitants of the River of No Return Wilderness that a few runners asked if they could pack heat during the race!! Paul assured us that no such protection was necessary, but that you could consider yourself lucky if you saw, even for a moment, one of the notoriously elusive wolves now known to be established in the far hinterlands of the race area.

2014RONR25k_PreraceMeeting

Following the pre-race meeting, I had a nice steak and potato dinner with a fantastic apple dumpling dessert at the Y-Inn cafe. I’m not sure that the townspeople of Challis were quite ready for a herd of hungry runners storming into town, but the service was quick and efficient and the food delicious.  I swung back by the high school,  picked up my race packet, and got intel from a local runner on camping areas near town. I ended up camping along Mill Creek on the Custer Motorway, right alongside the final stretch of the 100k course. It was cool, clear,  and dark at elevation which made for some great stargazing before turning in for the night. I must have imagined hearing the howling of wolves over babbling Mill Creek as I drifted off to sleep…

 

Campsite along Custer Motorway in Salmon-Challis NF

Campsite along Custer Motorway in Salmon-Challis NF

Sunset from Pine Summit in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Sunset from Pine Summit in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I awoke early the next morning and broke camp feeling rested and ready. After driving to the race site, I downed a bowl of oatmeal with a banana and coffee, picked up my timing chip, and made final preparation for my run. I only had about 5 mins to spare so I was really thankful to have packed my race vest prior to leaving home. I had time to fill my handheld water bottles and, before I knew it, the mortar sounded (yes, a real mortar) and we were off.

2014RONR25k_RaceStart

Wait for the mortar… yes, you heard that right!

Early: We did a 3/4 lap around the Challis High school track and then off down the pavement for a short bit before switching to an ATV track alongside US 93 highway. I had to battle my impulse to run fast – there was so much energy running in the group. I kept trying to dial it back, dial it back, knowing that the hard stuff was soon to come and if I ran too hard early it would be tough to control my heart rate during the climb.

After three miles we entered the Lombard Trail system, a set of ATV trails run by a state and local partnership. At this point the trail began to climb steadily, entering a canyon. I followed my pre-race strategy of walking the steeper hills, though despite this strategy I soon found my heart rate exceeding my aerobic zone threshold. There were a few runnable stretches here, and I made the most of them before climbing steeply for a mile to leave the canyon behind and entering a bowl-shaped valley. Ahead was a steep climb, wrapped with a switchback nearly 1000 feet up.

Looking up at the switchback nearly 1000 feet above.

Looking up at the switchback nearly 1000 feet above.

Middle: It was on this climb that I actually passed a few other runners. I was able to keep my heart rate down by power hiking the grade, over a mile at about a 20min pace. Halfway up the climb, we passed the turn off back to town and began the “out and back” portion of the course.  I ended up falling in a with a husband and wife team, Jordan and Laura, and made good time hiking and chatting a little. The heat was getting intense and it was getting to lots of runners. Once up on the switchback that I had seen a few miles earlier, I was able to resume running as we finally climbed over a saddle in the ridge and into the next drainage.

Looking down from the switchback at the trail 800' below.

Looking down from the switchback at the trail 800′ below.

Once over the saddle, the trail sidehilled in an undulating sort of way along the northeast slope of Blue Mountain.  Finally, there were occasional trees and shade! I cruised into the shaded Birch Creek aid station and munched on a few m&ms and had a piece of banana.  The aid station was really well stocked with all manner of performance foods. The nice volunteers offered to fill my bladder bag, but I declined the offer, “knowing” that I had enough water left for the descent (oops).  I headed out of the aid station after no more than a 2 minute rest, eager to begin the descent.

Back on the downhill section from the saddle I began refilling my handheld flask with water.  I had been measuring from my bladder bag into a pair of 8oz flasks; one for plain water, and one for Nuun.  This approach lets me monitor my fluid consumption- otherwise you have no idea how much is left in your bladder bag.  However, running must really sapp my math skills, because it didn’t occur to me that 2×8 + 4×8 = 48 ounces of water… out of a bag filled to the 60 oz line, that didn’t leave much left. I found my bladder emptied with only 4oz of plain water and 7oz of Nuun, and 5 miles to go. Not dangerous, but inconvenient.

Downhill to the finish: Blame it on the altitude, or the heat, but I really struggled with the last 5 miles.  I only got passed once in this section, and really didn’t see many other runners, but I had lots of problems keeping my heart rate down, and had to stop for brief walk breaks often. Mile 10 wasn’t unpleasant, it was flat and well marked, but I was feeling gassed. Miles 11 and 12 consisted of “goat trail”, steep, narrow single track and crumbly-rock ridge descents. It was a mental exercise to watch foot placements through this section. Once at the bottom, it was all paved road downhill into town.

Narrow single track down with Challis in sight.

Narrow single track down with Challis in sight.

At this point I was trashed enough to have to take walk breaks on a gentle downhill paved road, which was a little demoralizing. I took to running until my Garmin buzzed at me having a heart rate over 170, then walked until it descended into the 150s, then beginning to run again.  Funny enough, the only person to pass me on the pavement was the eventual winner of the 50k. He was running around 6:00 mile pace when he passed me, I bet- but he was taking walk breaks, too! That helped me feel a bit better.  The walk-run strategy, plus energy from a few cheering residents as I ran through downtown Challis got me through the final few miles until the announcer’s voice calling out in the stadium helped me power through to the finish.

Everyone at the finish was great. Someone handed me a water, a finisher’s hat, and directed me to the water fountain to douse my head. Afterwards I got to pick out my finisher’s trinket, a sandblasted river rock.  Watermelon and cantaloupe made great immediate refreshments, and the BBQ chicken was awesome. I met some great folks from Stanley, chatted with Daniel from California (still doing long distance trail races at 70 years old), and tied in with some friends from the Boise Trail Runners facebook group as we cheered the finishers from the 25k and 50k for the rest of the afternoon.

2014RONR25k_RaceSwag

Next Time

Prepare better: I’m sure the elevation had something to due with my heart rate staying higher than I would have liked, but I think I needed to have slept and rested a bit more going into this one too.  I targeted the Sun Valley Half Marathon just two weeks prior to this race as my spring goal race, and it may have been a bit of a stretch to tack this burly race on so close on the heels of Sun Valley. I was pretty light on my running the week prior to this race (just 8 miles) but ran 42 miles the week following Sun Valley. In addition, I just didn’t do a good job managing my schedule at home, and probably averaged close to 6 hours of sleep during the previous two weeks. Fix that, and I bet I go into the race with a more rested, more capable body.

Start slower: For these longer races, I’m going to need to do a better job of watching my HR, keeping my pace down early, and saving energy for effort on the downhills. Allowing my ego to run the first 3 miles isn’t going to help deep in these longer races.

Get Stronger: Hill climbing requires strength, and so does maintaining form when tired. I started the year with plans to focus on core strength, but as my running picked up, I dropped the strength portion of my plan. I plan to take a running break here in mid-summer, but will add strength training back into my routine. When I do resume a training plan for the fall, trails and hill repeats are going to be a much greater part of the plan than they were in the spring.

The Wrap-Up

The River of No Return 25k was every bit as tough, and as fun, as promised. I am thrilled to have completed it in just a shade over 3 hours. It’s safe to say that I’ve been on a bit of a runner’s high for the last few days.  Next year’s River of No Return Endurance Runs are scheduled for June 20th. Now I just have to decide if I’m headed back for the 25k, or will I step up to the 50k?

2014 River of No Return Endurance Runs 25K (6/21/2014)

Official race results
Chip Time: 3:02:31
Age Group (30-39M) 9/16
Gender Place: 26/46
Overall Place: 42/113

Other Race Reviews From This Event: (all J names?)

Jeremy Humphries won the 100k: StayVertical

Jayk Reynolds Lived this 100k Ultra

Jeff Black remembers the 100k

Jodi and friends ran the 25k with me

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http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/11/14/3371051/buyer-apparently-has-plans-for.html

Sometimes, I hate it when I’m right. When the terms of the sale of NC State’s Hofmann Forest were announced (79,000 acres at $150MM), I did a quick bit of math. The sale price works out to about $1900/acre.  In this economic climate, I’d gauge that price as a bit high to make a profit harvesting timber.  It certainly didn’t leave much “margin of safety” for the investor, even if the whole parcel were usable- but it’s not.  Roughly 20,000 acres of the Forest is outright swamp bottomland, or pocosin- elevated but extremely swampy land that doesn’t grow merchantable trees, and can’t be drained due to water quality laws.  Once that’s factored in, the cost of each usable acre goes up to ~$2,500/acre.  At that price, no one is buying forest land for timber management- it’s a real estate transaction for conversion to agriculture (swine/poultry) or commercial and residential development of a large part of the forest.

It was plain to me two weeks ago, there was no way that the sale price announced for the Hofmann Forest could be paid without the buyer carving the forest up, selling large chunks of it for real estate, and converting some of it to agriculture or, perhaps more creatively, leasing training areas to the Marine Corps to be converted into landing strips and drop zones. And now the plan has leaked: a prospectus from the buyer to potential financiers, stating the ways they plan to make their money back, plus a handsome profit, simply by capitalizing on “the sheer number of higher and better uses that it offers”. The prospectus does not mention the buyer’s commitment to retain working forest OR research opportunities, only the potential cash flows.

At this point, it’s obvious that the administration of the NC State College of Natural Resources has engaged in deceit and treachery against its students and against the people of NC, either through outright lies, or through fundamental incompetence. Land ethic, conservation, and “taking the long view over the short run” have been trampled over in a rush for treasure.  This action cannot be taken lightly.

Here is the petition against the sale from alumni and concerned citizens. If you have not signed it, please reconsider. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/cnr-alumni-against-the-sale-of-the-hofmann-forest/

Consider contacting the NC State board of trustees and ask that the administrators who claimed that the forest would remain a forest benefiting research and teaching be held accountable for their actions. http://www.ncsu.edu/about-nc-state/university-leadership/board-of-trustees/current.php .  The University Board of Governors should also hear your concerns.  They have policy-making oversight over all universities within the UNC System, including NC State: http://www.northcarolina.edu/bog/members.htm .  Finally, don’t overlook the importance of public opinion as shaped through newspaper, TV station, and other widely viewed web sites.  Make your voice known.

The stakes are high. NC State’s legacy of teaching through real-world application of science and active land stewardship is at risk.

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After the Famous Potato Half Marathon, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had unfinished business to attend to. I wanted to get back out, run another race, and conquer the gastro issues that sidelined me.  Sanity should have prevailed, but the very next weekend I had the High Desert Trail Half Marathon on my calendar. When I had decided to run the Famous Potato, I figured that the High Desert was off the table. Now that I had something to prove to myself, High Desert was back ON the table in a big way.  Still, I was wary of running another race instead of recovering from Famous Potato, and I didn’t commit to actually running the race until I woke up Saturday morning. At that point I had no doubt (except whether or not they’d take cash for a registration fee at the starting line).

I woke up, ate a granola bar, and headed off to the high desert in between Boise and Horseshoe Bend to test myself against another 13.1 mile course.  Parking is trouble at this location. There just aren’t many places to put cars, so runners’ cars end up parked alongside the dirt road leading into the start line. If you don’t mind parallel parking on a gravel road, its not a really big deal, but I overheard quite a few runners conversing about the parking conditions, and I wonder if this race can continue in this location for the long term without solving the parking problem.

Folks at race registration were friendly and happily took my cash in exchange for a number and a timing chip.  The combined crowd for the 10k and Half probably totaled 120 people, which was a nice sized group to run with after the previous weekend’s 1,000 plus.

This is the first race where I’ve actually missed the start- and this time, I did it on purpose.  After last weekend’s gastro disaster, I made sure to hit the port-o-let before the run began, and that meant starting the race in line for the bathroom.  It seems a little silly, but all I cared about was my chip time, anyway, so I was happy to start at the back of the pack.  I crossed the line about 2m:30s after the official race start and settled into a nice pace.  The race is an out-and-back trip on a good-condition Idaho high desert dirt road.  Highlights include gorgeous views of grass and flower-covered high desert hills, old farming and mining equipment, and an old mine shaft bored right into the hillside and marked by the front end of an old car.

Driving near Pearl, Idaho

Flowers in teh high desert near Pearl, ID

I’m not sure I paid enough attention to the elevation profile before signing up- wow:

HighDesertHalfElevation

1300 vertical feet down to the halfway point, then gain it all back before finishing rather gently. A few runners said that it felt as tough as Robie Creek because the elevation gain is back-loaded rather than front-loaded.  The course totaled 1731 feet of climbing, which is not something I was really prepared for, and it was easily the hardest race I’ve ever done.  I went to a walk-run strategy for most of the climbing in the second half of the race, but resumed running at the 11.5 mile mark and ended up passing a few people near the end of the race for a nice morale booster.  My final time was 2h:26m:35s, which is indeed slower than my Famous Potato time, but given the challenging course and limited recovery time since the Potato, I’m thrilled to have that time.  I think that with more hill training and foothills running, I could make a run at a 2h time next year. I will need to work on figuring out what to eat during a run in order to keep my energy up, as I struggled with that a bit during this run.

Finished the 2013 High Desert Half Marathon

My wife and son were there to cheer me on a grab a picture at the finish! The post race refreshments were great and the people were fun as we sat around waiting for the results.  I really enjoy the races put on by Jeff and the Blue Circle/Shus/City of Trees Marathon Association gang.  They have a great, relaxed atmosphere and things always run smoothly.

Chip Time: 02:26:34.8
Age Group (30-39M) 11/12
Gender Place: 27/33
Overall Place: 44/67

Event page: http://cityoftreesmarathon.com/?p=11

Course map: http://www.usatf.org/routes/view.asp?rID=515859

2013 race results: http://www.bluecirclesports.com/Results_ShowEventResults.aspx?eid=1321

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Wow, my first half-marathon! This insanity began with a text message from a friend. His goal is a half-ironman triathlon, and he was looking for a nice easy training run with a t-shirt and a medal. His easy training pace was about where I hoped my race pace would be, and he figured he’d keep me company if he could convince me to do a half marathon. He assured me that the course was flat and easy. I had already run a 9-mile long run, and had 4 weeks to get ready, so I agreed.

I didn’t really change my training much. I attempted to step up my regular Tuesday and Thursday easy distance weekly from 3, to 4, to 5 miles while maintaining my Wednesday interval workouts. I planned to leave Monday core workouts, Friday stretching/rest, weekend long run/rest days alone. I wanted to lengthen my long runs by a mile each weekend, until I had run 14 miles the weekend before race day. In reality, I got plenty of good training done, but not as good as I had hoped. Sickness and soreness knocked me back by about a week, and my long run the week before the race was an enjoyable eight miles rather than 14. My longest run prior to the half was a 10 miler shortened by exhaustion and heat two weeks before the race. Ah well. Best laid plans, right? At least the eight miler had me in a good mood before the race.

I was pretty excited on race day. I had gotten good sleep the two nights before; I thought that I had eaten well, and I felt great. The group I rode with had been through this race before and had a good strategy to get us dropped off prior to the start without so much as getting stuck in traffic once. Once let out in the parking lot, I found the bag drop and hung out trying to stay loose before the gun. Finally, the gun sounded and we were off! We basically walked to the start line because of the sheer number of runners, but by the end of mile one I was cruising along. The course is a major highway with plenty of room for runners for the first three miles, and then heads onto flat asphalt greenbelt trails for the rest of the course. My friend ran along with me, and we chatted while keeping a really good pace- miles between 9:15 and 9:30. This was above my goal pace but i felt great so we kept it up. It wasn’t until we reached the second water station, at mile 4, that I got the feeling that this might not be my day. It was at this point that my lower intestines began to protest.

I really didn’t want a gastro issue to cost me my goal time, but by mile 7 I was in a full on panic and stopped at the first available port-o-let. The wait plus the visit cost me eight minutes, and my buddy went on without me. Alas, it was not the end of my distress. I was forced to stop again, at mile 8, to visit a park restroom, which cost me another 12 minutes and basically ended any hopes of achieving my goal time. I was pretty crushed, but leaving the restroom I saw my wife and my little son cheering for me, which improved my spirits, and I ran on.

The rest of the race was kind of a blur. The gastro issues never returned, and I kept running sub-10 minute miles. I remember mile 11 as being tough, but not long afterwards I almost laughed as I passed the zoo, with the Giraffes sticking their heads up over the fence as I ran by.  My last mile was actually my fastest, at 9:06, which is something I am pretty proud of. I was excited to cross the finish line strongly. The post-race fiesta was great, including plenty of free Power Bar samples, fruits and veggies, potatoes, and even chocolate milk. After hanging out for a while, stretching, and eating, I headed home to take a shower and a nice long nap.

Race Swag:

936295_10201152234954597_1947765507_n

My official chip time was 2h:21m:48s, which was disappointing since my goal was 2h:15m. Even more disappointing, was that without the time in the bathrooms and bathroom lines, I would have finished in 2h:04m:47s. I will probably have mixed feelings about this race for a long time. Disappointment because of what could have been, and satisfaction from successfully finishing what would have been unthinkable for me only a year before.

What I learned:
1. GI issues are really common among racers. I have read quite a few supportive and explanatory blog posts since completing my race. I wish I had read some of them before!

2. I may have sabotaged myself in the days before the race by trying to eat healthy. I actually upped my fiber and fresh veggie intake. Oops. Those foods tend to speed up digestive action in unhelpful ways.  From now on, carrots, broccoli, and oatmeal will not be a part of my diet in the 48 hours leading up to a race! Rice, white bread, and fruit are more stable.

3. The race organizers really should have had bathrooms set up before mile 7. That is simply too far into the race considering how common GI issues are among racers. There is really nothing that can be done about the lines, but you just have to have bathrooms at an event like this.

4. I am capable of a much faster time than 2:15! Especially on a flat course like this one. At a bare minimum, I will be aiming for an under 2:00 Famous Idaho Potato half marathon next year… If I can’t get one this year at the Fit For Life half in July, or the City of Trees half in October.

Chip Time: 02:21:48 (Half Marathon PR)
Age Group (30-34 M) 74/88
Gender Place: 519/592
Overall Place: 1,054/1,364

Event page: http://www.ymcatvidaho.org/famousidahopotatomarathon

Course map: http://www.ymcatvidaho.org/sites/default/files/imce/Races/Famous_Potato/2013/Half_Marathon_Course_2013.pdf

2013 race results: http://results.bazumedia.com/event/results/event/event-3202

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Happy March! Racing season has started in Boise!

In the depths of January I sat looking at this computer screen, searching for something that would make the frozen winter easier to bear. I found… the Les Bois 10k Trail Race, which promised a run in the Boise Foothills close to home, and 600 feet of elevation gain over an out-and-back course. I signed up and paid my registration fee before I could think better of it. The race packet came with some future race info, biofreeze pain-relieving gel sampler, an organic lemon bar (Lärabar, anyone?) and a race-branded technical fabric t-shirt. Cool!

(more…)

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Chasing fitness

So… Running? Good question. I have never considered myself a runner. I am one of those people who used to joke that I only ran if being chased. That’s not really far from the truth. My knees used to ache when I ran any distance, all the way back to middle school.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been interested in athletic endeavors. I marched in a top notch marching band and drum corps in high school, and we did plenty of laps and push-ups, and the field shows probably involved a couple of miles of marching each practice or show. I played basketball recreationally into college, and had little problem running 94 feet at a time. I love mountain biking, and was proud of the 10 mile bike commute that I made into the office every now and then.

Still… No real running. Definitely nothing close to a mile. So what got me started? Well, it started with a chance encounter with an article on barefoot running, describing the difference in stride between a fore- or mid- foot striking barefoot runner and a the stride of a heel-striking running shoe wearing running. I wondered, what if my shoes and my stride are why I’ve always hurt when I run? Maybe I’m just not built to strike heel first?

So I went out, took off my shoes, and ran to the corner and back. While my feet were a little sore and raw afterwards, my knees felt fine. I actually began to think that there may be something to this whole running thing besides just pain. However, life got super-busy in the form of the birth of my son, and the idea dropped to the back of my mind.

The idea of running came back full speed in November 2011 after getting on a scale. Wow!! I was 25 pounds heavier than I was when I finished grad school. I did a little more research and discovered the Couch To 5k training plan as a gentle way to start running, discovered the RunDouble C25K app for my phone, and decided to give it a shot, seeking fitness and the feeling I got that day when I ran barefoot.

That was December 2011. I wish I could say that it was easy. Finding 3 days a week to run was tough at first, and I had to get much of that running done at night after the baby went to sleep. I got sick 2 weeks into the program and put it all down, only to pick it up and start over again in April 2012. April Fools day, believe it or not, is my “birthday” as a runner. Since that day, I’ve logged close to 400 miles, completed three 5Ks and two 10k. I’ve evolved from a three run a week guy into a five run a week guy. But most importantly…

I’ve evolved into a guy who misses it if I don’t get my run in. When that thought started creeping into my head, I knew I had evolved from someone who was running, into someone who might just be a runner.

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The NC State University Natural Resources Foundation has proposed selling the University’s 80,000 acre Hofmann Forest to generate income for unspecified growth goals.  The Hofmann is well-known as the largest research and teaching forest owned by the university.  Students, alumni and faculty have been understandably surprised, upset, and saddened by the.  A petition seeking to stop the sale can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/.  Text of the email announcing the sale can be found here.  My letter to the Dean of the NC State College of Natural Resources and the NRF board can be found below:

Dear Dean Watzin and Natural Resource Foundation Board,

I attended school at NC State in part through forest-based scholarships. As an alumnus of NC State University, a professional forester, and a native of “The Old North State”, the proposed sale of the Hofmann Forest disappoints and concerns me. (more…)

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