A PNW Woods Run

Like many folks, I travel some for work.  Typically, most of my trips keep me on the East Coast – sometimes venturing into the mid-west or to Texas.  I’d hardly classify any of the places I go as being visually awe-inspiring or “cool”.  Not that places like Dallas or St. Louis are bad – they just aren’t as visually compelling as some other parts of the country.  Some of my recent trips have broken this mold, though.

Earlier this year, I spent a week in the Sacramento, California area.  Sacramento is very close to Napa Valley, so I was able to take an afternoon jaunt over to experience some of wine country.

Several weeks later, I spent time in Tucson, Arizona and Salt Lake City, Utah.  Both of these places were tremendously beautiful and unlike any other place I’d been.  That being said, my work schedule didn’t allow me to really get out and explore too much.  I did have a couple of good runs in Tucson, but wasn’t able to in SLC.

I recently was able to spend a little more than a week in the Seattle area.  To say that the PNW is beautiful is a huge understatement.  Were it not for the long rainy / gloomy season (basically fall through late spring), I think I’d love to live there.

Forced to spend the weekend in the area, I decided to do some exploring and sightseeing.  Saturday afternoon, I drove south to Mt. Rainier – the iconic volcano that on a clear day you can see from Seattle.  Like Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier is a living and active volcano.  Although it hasn’t erupted in some time (like since 1894), the potential is that it could blow again.  Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating – it was raining at lower elevations and snowing at higher elevations.  You couldn’t really see the mountain at all.  I was able to get out and do a little hiking – and surprisingly, there was still quite a lot of snow covering.  Even despite not being able to see the top of the peak, the scenery was beautiful and well worth the drive.

Sunday brought beautiful weather – a high in the low 70’s and hardly a cloud in the sky.  Thinking it might be a great idea to go for a trail run, I consulted the Almighty for where to go.  (I Googled it).  The closest place for hiking or running that afforded a good potential to see Mt. Rainier was Tiger Mountain State Forest.

TigerMtn

Tiger Mountain State Forest is actually comprised of several peaks – East Tiger Mountain, West Tiger Mountain, Middle Tiger Mountain and Poo Poo Point.  Each of the summits and the trails leading too offer different and unique views and challenges, I’m told, but East Tiger Mountain affords the best view of Mt. Rainier on clear days.  It also happens to be the tallest of the summits at 3000 feet elevation.

The trail that I took was more gravel road than “real” trail.  The mountain is crisscrossed with mountain bike trails, but I didn’t want to get in their way or get creamed by some cyclist who might have lost control, so I thought my route was likely going to be the best choice.  The fact that it was a gravel road didn’t make the run any easier.

The first 3.5 miles were essentially all up.  The slope varied, of course.  There were sections that were really steep and others that were still inclined, but not so leg crushing.  Living in Florida, I don’t get the chance to run on hills….ever.  This made for a long, painful, slow slog up the mountain.  Given the altitude and lack of hill training, I thought my heart was going to explode from my chest.

The summit, though, was amazing.  The view opened up towards the south – you could see towards Tacoma and the surrounding area, of course, but the landscape was dominated by the peak I had so wanted to see – Mt. Rainier.

Rainier

What a sight to behold!  The mountain was a good 50 miles or so away, but it looked as if it were literally a short drive away.  It was beautiful!  Certainly well worth the pain I endured on the run up.

I got a mile or so of ridge running in near the summit, all the while stopping to take more pictures.  Finally, I decided I needed to head back down the mountain and call it a day.

As difficult as running 3.5 miles uphill is, running 3.5 miles all downhill is no picnic either.  In fact, running down may bring on more quad-busting pain than running up causes.  By the time I’d made it back to my car, I was literally out of gas, exhausted, and so, so thirsty (my expert running skills did not compel me to bring a water bottle with me on the run).

Running in the PNW is nothing like running on the East Coast.  At least not the Florida coast.  The terrain is different, the air is different (there was NO humidity), and the people were different.  Literally every person I passed along the trail greeted me, asked me how I was doing and seemed super friendly.  This was quite possibly the most difficult run I’ve had in years, but also one of the best, most rewarding runs as well.

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National DOMS Day

Yesterday in the United States was dubbed as “National Running Day”.  Posts on social media clamored for people to go out and run.  People were compelled to go run “for something or someone”, to run 1 mile to 100 miles, to just get moving.

And so they did.

There was a plethora of folks running.  My twitter feed and Facebook timeline were awash with posts about how folks went out for a run to celebrate the day.  People posted photos of race-like bibs with “I’m running for _____” printed on them.  People shared comments about group runs, runs with dogs and trail runs.

I’m thinking that there was at least an incremental increase in the number of runners yesterday across the country.

So I’m proud to announce (with the full blessing of me, myself and I) that today – and all June 5th henceforth – shall be known as “National DOMS Day”.

DOMS

Inquiring minds may question the definition of DOMS.  But trust me…if you’ve ever had it, you’d know it.  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Ya know – the sometimes intense pain in muscles after an intense bout of working out.  For some, it’s intense pain after any sort of movement at all.

By announcing the establishment of this new national holiday, I’m honoring all those out-of-shape, non-exercising couch potatoes who were motivated by yesterday’s holiday to get off their keester and go outside and run.  They may have only run 100 feet.  Some surely went out and ran five miles waaaay too fast.  Bottom line, those folks will find descending staircases slightly more difficult and painful today.  They will experience heavy legs, fatigue, and soreness.  All by-products of their celebratory runs yesterday.

So live large today!  Get a massage.  Wear some compression sleeves.  Complain a lot.  Have a GREAT National DOMS Day!

What Makes a Good Runner?

Fall is typically running season.  Triathlon season is winding down for most folks, and there are lots of great local runs – everything from 10k’s to marathons.  Even if you don’t run road races (or cross country races, for that matter), running by its very nature is integral in triathlon.  Remember – swim, bike and RUN.

The thing is, though, that many of us a likely not good runners.  To be good by most folks’ definition today means that we can run a mile/kilometer at X pace.  Or perhaps that we’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon.  By those definitions, I’m not a good runner.  Well – maybe I used to be a pretty good runner…way back in high school.  I ran track and cross country – and while not the fastest kid around, I could run a sub 5-minute mile on the track, and went about 18 minutes for a 5k.  I can’t even approach those speeds today.

But I don’t necessarily define good running by pace alone.  I think that you can be a good runner who runs a 10 minute/mile pace.  Likewise, you could run a 7 minute mile and be a bad runner.

Exactly what do I mean by this?

It all boils down to form.  Essentially, it’s about HOW we run, not about HOW FAST we run.

There’s a plethora of information out on the internet and from coaches regarding proper form.  Should you be a mid-foot runner?  Is heel striking OK?  How should I hold my arms?  Do I need a special shoe?  Should I run barefoot?  You could almost achieve paralysis by analysis if you devoted hours and hours to reading material.  The crux of all the debates, in my mind, all boils down to high run cadence drives good form.

Here’s an example of really superior running form:  Miranda Carfrae.  Just last weekend, she won the Ironman Hawaii race by setting course records in the marathon and overall.  Her form is awesome – even at late stages of the run.  Don’t take my word for it:  check out this video

 

Rinny does a spectacular job keeping her cadence really fast – and that seems to be a common thread among really good runners.

Faster cadence (or leg turnover) is usually more preferred than slower, loping run styles.  What seems to matter less is how your foot lands when you’re running.  By that, I mean that it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you are a heel striker or a mid-foot striker so long as your cadence is high and your feet land generally underneath you – and not stretched out in front of you.

Common thought is that a run cadence around 90 steps per minute is optimal.  How do you know what your cadence is?  Simple enough – set your watch for a 15 second countdown.  Hit start, and count every time your right foot hits the ground.  At the end, multiply that by 4 and you’ll get your cadence.

Mine is generally in the low 80’s.  Way too slow.  I am a heel striker – and I tend to take too long strides – which effectively act as brakes with each step I take.  Long strides could also drive the impact force in ways that might lead to injury – I suspect that this may be a factor in my year-long bout with Plantar Fasciitis.  Remember, 90 is the optimal foot turnover number.

Luckily, there are drills that can help you improve your leg turnover – and I’m hereby committing to start doing these again (I did them back in the day in high school…now I know why).  Some drills you can try are quick foot drills, high knees, butt kickers and skipping.

I found a really awesome video series today called “Ambushed – Extreme Running Makeovers” starring pro-triathlete & Olympian Joanna Zeiger and Brandon Del Campo.  Essentially they spent an afternoon in Boulder going up to random people and offering to help them with their running style.  There are two videos so far – and they are both really great.  Check out episode 1 below

 

To see other videos, check out Joanna’s website.  You could also just Google drills for high running cadence.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about Joanna, check out a “Ten Questions With…” interview I did with her back in 2012.  You can read that here.

Topics You Won’t See on Triathlon Websites

So, you’ve been a triathlete for a while.  Or maybe you’re brand new to the sport.  Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard of, visited, or maybe participated on some of the popular tri-related websites.  The two “biggies” for folks in the US are Slowtwitch and Beginner Triathlete.  Of course, there are others out there, too. I’m sure that there are others worldwide.

These sites are often very informative, giving tips for training, equipment, or race locations.  They also present an opportunity for bragging about personal accomplishments, ranting about perceived (or real) issues with races or products, and a unique forum for equipment vendors and race directors to interact directly with their customers.

As with many things on the internet, these sites also offer up a bevy of humor and other off-color topics.  You’ll find threads about how to deal with big boobs while running, how much leg a guy should shave, how much triathlon training impacts our marriages, how to pick up and date other triathletes, and many, many more.

But what you won’t find (but should) are discussion topics like these:

  • GUYS ONLY:  I’ve got lots of “junk”.  How to keep that under control while running
  • Normal things that I’ve seen on a run/bike
  • What do I have to do if I need to poop in the middle of a race?
  • Belly hair – if I shave it will I be more aerodynamic?
  • Triathlon lube – safe for internal use?
  • 700 or 701, whatever it takes – a primer on wheel diameter
  • Body fairings – critical advancements in how to optimize personal aerodynamics
  • Is dog paddling my IM swim OK?
  • My nose always runs when I’m cycling when it’s cold.  Why?
  • The runner hat versus visor conundrum
  • Yes!  I aged up!
  • Beer mile strategies – how to not barf
  • Traveling to a race – tips for packing your clothes
  • Races in Florida – drafting is legal there, right?
  • I killed a squirrel today on my bike ride!
  • Flying mounts (or how not to rack yourself)
  • Guess the number of times I’ll walk in my race!
  • Help!  How do I do a snot rocket?
  • Best workouts to keep me from qualifying for AG Nats!
  • Tri kit & bike color coordination tips
  • PSA – Car drivers hate cyclists
  • Why doesn’t my OWS have a black line to follow?
  • Bike speed: Need tips to increase from 20.1 MPH to 20.2 MPH
  • Battle scars – show me your road rash

Surely there are some other topics that you likely won’t see, but should.  What are your thoughts?

Triathlon: Is it a Race or an Event?

Common sense tells you that a triathlon is a race, right?  After all, there’s an overall winner, and there are people who win their age groups.  There are national championships, race series championships, and even world championships.  Some races offer prize money or goods for the folks who come in first.  There are trophies or plaques given to the people who cross the tape first.  All of that is evidence that triathlon is, indeed, a race.

Given the popularity of our sport, however, one might deduce that the sport is less about racing than it is about the event.

Race companies put on huge spectacles at their finish lines.  Race expos are huge.  There are events leading up to race-day for families to participate in.  In some cases, race festivities happen for a full week prior to the event.  Races, in and of themselves, are events.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  I love a great finish experience as much as the next guy does.  Personally, I think that many of the events and hoopla that accompany races make our sport more enticing and entertaining.  Many new athletes are drawn to our sport because of these very events, and so they are unquestionably good.

On top of the “event” nature of races, for lots of folks, triathlon isn’t about winning.  It isn’t about getting a Kona spot.  The reality is that the vast majority of us will never win an age group, let alone an entire race.  Lots of folks are quite genuinly happy with just finishing.

The Wall Street Journal recently printed an article that posited that younger athletes appear to be slower and less competitive than older athletes.  The author didn’t claim that we more mature athletes are defying the aging process and getting faster; rather the argument was that younger athletes just don’t have the competitive drive to make a race out of an event.

As evidence, the author mentioned some endurance type races where there is literally no timing done (the Color Me Rad type races and even some of the Tough Mudder type races were examples).  People participate just for the experience.  The fun.  But not to win.  The author then shared the fact that even though he finished in the top 15% of his Chicago Triathlon age group, that he finished in the overall top 11% for the entire race.  This bolstered his opinion that youngsters are slower than the oldies among us.  He claimed that his fact portends a major forthcoming slippage in our global competitiveness in sports in the future.

Bunk, I say.

First of all, what does it matter that older athletes seemingly are outperforming younger athletes?  Could it instead be a sign that we’ve learned how to better take care of our bodies?  That we’ve adapted training such that we can maintain high intensity well into our 40’s or even 50’s?  I just don’t buy it that there aren’t fast people who are younger than me.  I’m not worried that future U.S. athletes will be at a disadvantage down the road.

Secondly, I think that swimming, running, and biking are fun – and likely so do you.  Others, perhaps, aren’t quite as sure of that.  Maybe they find entering a “race” a little daunting or overwhelming.  It could be that an event that is “just” for fun might drive someone to get off the couch and stay off the couch.  Given the obese state of the majority of the country (alas, the world), turning a couch potato into a budding athlete is an exceptional thing.

Finally, it’s in a race organizer’s best interest to make their race compelling – not just for the person racing, but for their family and friends too.  People have to want to go to a race.  A boring race experience likely won’t invite returning competitors.  On the other hand, a super race environment might compel a non-participant in one year to actually sign up to race in the following year.

At the end of the day, triathlon (and other events be they running, cycling, swimming, stand up paddle boarding, kayyaking, etc) should be both a race and an event!