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.

The Re-Bucket List

 

Back in 2008, I decided to cross off a some of my bucket list items.  First, I wanted to run a marathon.  Secondly, I wanted to do an Ironman.  And so I did.

My first marathon was along the Atlantic shore here in Jacksonville as part of the “26.2 with Donna – the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer”.  That particular race (which still runs every February) was a fantastic initial marathon.  Pancake flat.  A couple of miles on the beach.  Great crowd support.  Amazing women and men who had beat (or were in the process of beating) breast cancer.  My finishing time was not great (and really isn’t important)…but I was successful in crossing that item off my list.  Incidentally, back in 2010, I did a “Ten Questions With…” interview with Donna Deegan – the founder of the race.  Click HERE to read that interview.

JPS

On the run course at IMFL in 2009

Following that marathon experience, I signed up to race Ironman Kentucky, in Louisville.  I was severely underprepared for that race.  I tried to train without a real plan.  I didn’t think that the hills would be all that rough.  I didn’t devote as much time as I should have to training.  As a result, the race was a disaster!

I got into the swim expecting to have some downstream current.  There wasn’t any.  I sort of freaked out mid-swim and ended up having to do some backstroke and breaststroke.  I finished the swim in close to 1:40 and then headed out on the bike.  So….in case you were wondering….Louisville is NOT FLAT.  I was seemingly going up or down the entire time.  I tried to take my time and pace myself, but by the end of the bike, I was completely gassed.  I started out on the run and very quickly determined that that leg of the race would be a combination of running and walking.  By the time I got through 13 miles, it was more walking than anything.  I made it through 18 miles and got pulled off the course.

Upon returning to the transition area – completely devastated about my performance – I called home to speak with my wife.  Believe it or not, she had already signed me up for Ironman Florida – in just about six weeks’ time!  She really wanted me to cross off that bucket list item!

And so, in November 2009, I toed the line in Panama City Beach for IMFL.  The swim was much better than in Louisville – even despite the Gulf being seriously choppy.  The bike was great – much more along the lines of what I was accustomed to.  I did a modified Galloway approach on the run – running 3 or 5 minutes and then walking 1.  And best of all, I finished!  The time was not great (15 hours and change), but…..I FINISHED!

Cross that baby off the list!

Except that baby is back on my list again.

See, for the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking about doing an iron distance race again.  Sometimes when I’m in a rough spot on a run, I call up a mental picture of crossing the finish line at IMFL or remember that feeling of accomplishment.  But, I’ve held off on actually doing another race.

Things started to get serious last year – my friend and I were talking about doing a full.  It was on his bucket list, after all.  Plus, he wanted to do one before he turned 50, and time was running out.

We had our eyes set on doing Beach to Battleship in November 2016.  This Wilmington, NC, race had developed a fantastic reputation for being a super-high quality independent iron distance race.  The price point was much lower than Ironman, the swim was current aided (and crazy fast), and the rest of the terrain was similar to northeast Florida.  Plus, the November timing was perfect.

And then, B2B decided to sell out to Ironman.  While I certainly am open to racing an Ironman event, to me it was difficult to reconcile spending $300 or so more on race entry fees for substantially the same race – just because of a name change.

Enter Rev3 Triathlon and their race at Cedar Point!

Cedar Point

See, I’ve been on the Rev3 age group team for a bunch of years, but have never raced at Cedar Point.  Honestly, I’m not sure why – other than the fact that Sandusky, OH, is about 17 weeks away by car and not super-easy to fly to, either.  I do love roller coasters, though, and by all accounts the course is quite similar to what I’m used to.

So….Rev3 Cedar Point is now on my 2016 bucket list!  The race is September 11th this year, and I’ll be ready to race.

And this time, it’s not just about completing the distance and crossing off a bucket list item.  This time, instead of “Complete an Ironman”, the bucket list item is “Race Rev3 Cedar Point”.  There’s a real, tangible difference there.

 

Flexibility of a Brick

Over the past two years, I have had a never ending series of little injuries.

The injuries stated with a torn plantar fascia.  That was followed by a wicked bout of peroneal tendinitis.  Then the top of my foot started hurting.  Finally it was a sore hamstring & glute.

I was beginning to think that I couldn’t win for losing.  Seemingly, as soon as I started to recover from one injury, another would pop up.

I’ve been a pretty good patient.  Physical therapy, rolling, trigger point treatment, icing, reducing the length and effort associated with workouts.  You name it, and I’ve tried it.

While there may well be some other underlying issues around my running style and gait, shoe selection, weight (yes, that’s a biggie), and more, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the root cause of many of these injuries lies in the fact that my tendons and muscles basically have the flexibility of a piece of stone.

Some history:  I just turned 46, and have been running or cycling since I was 15.  I ran track and cross country in high school and picked up cycling in college.  In high school, we had a regimented stretching cadence that we followed both prior to and following every workout.  We’d do a warm up run, some core work, and then a bunch of basic (mostly) static stretches.  Fast forward a few years, and I essentially stopped stretching pre or post workout.  To make matters potentially worse, I sit all day long at a computer or conference room table.

Don’t get me wrong – I so some stretching, but whatever I do tends to be centralized on something that is nagging me at the moment.  For example, if my calves are sore, I’ll stretch them.  If my shoulders are sore during a swim, I’ll do some stretching.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was remembered a comment my teammate Ryan Heisler made earlier this year.  His statement was along the lines that everything is connected in your body, and that if you are having foot issues, the root issue may be someplace other than in your foot.

And if you think about it (and remember that Schoolhouse Rock video about the human body), it’s true.  The leg bone is connected to the hip bone, and so forth.  It only makes sense that foot pain could be the result of something jacked up in your hamstrings or hip flexors.

So, I decided to test this theory.  My going-in hypothesis was that I had at least a modicum of flexibility still.  I was going to test my flexibility through a few simple tests:  (1) crossed-foot toe touch (2) calf-stretch and (3) forward lunge.  The highly scientific benchmark was the range of motion that I remembered having back in my high school running days.  (Let’s just ignore the fact that ~30 years difference might have some impact on my level of flexibility for now).

I decided to do each of these stretches twice each leg, for :30 each leg.  The true test would be the amount of pain I had to endure and at what point I started to feel the “stretch”.

And as you might suspect, I failed miserably.  Essentially, I can’t touch my toes without feeling like my hamstrings are going to rip in half.  The forward lunge (apart from killing my quads) made my groin and hip flexors scream as if someone had forced me into a split.  I literally thought that some giant gorilla was shaking me around like an old Barbie doll or something.

So, how am I going to fix this?

For starters, I’m going to start stretching again.  I’ve read that the static stretching that is near and dear to me is no longer in vogue.  Dynamic stretching is the way to go.  And so, I”ll incorporate some of that into my routine.  I’ll stand more.  I’ll give yoga a try (begrudgingly).

I will become more flexible.

Scientific Review of Triathlete (homo triathletus)

BOULDER, CO

Scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder recently published their seminal research on a new species of human.  Their research was conducted throughout the world and was funded, in part, through sales of certain medicinal and recreational plants.

These scientists have called their new species a triathlete (homo triathletus).  The redacted review of research identifying this strange species was recently published in the Journal of Medical Fabrication Dynamics and is included below.

The triathlete (homo triathletus) is an endurance junkie whose native range lies largely within developed areas of the globe, concentrated in the Americas, Europe, Australia, but with smaller populations located in other parts of Asia, the Middle East, and extreme southern Africa.  The average male triathlete weighs around 68 – 90 kg, while the female is generally a third of that size.  Sexual dimorphism does not generally exist in this species, with the occasional exception of clothing styles.  This strange species of athlete has evolved to occupy a narrower niche than its sister species, the swimmer (homo waterwingus), the runner (homo mercurial hermes) and the cyclist (homo rapidus pedalus).  While triathlete has not developed body characteristics that differentiate itself from its sister species, research indicates that this species has developed an affinity for objects made from carbon fibres and neoprene.  Although most triathletes are born on land, they spend at least a third of their time in a variety of aquatic environments.  They are equally at home in saltwater environments, freshwater and free-flowing waterways.  They will often be found inhabiting chlorinated, rectangular ponds.  Triathletes hunt for their preferred food of gels, kale, electrolyte drinks, and soy-based energy bars, often living off of convenience food reserves of pretzels, de-fizzed sodas, bananas and chicken broth.

Naming & etymology

Don Shannahan and Jack Johnston, prominent researchers from the San Diego, CA area, were among the first to identify and classify the triathlete as a distinct species in 1974.  Additional research was conducted and published by John Collins in 1978.  The naming convention was based upon the three primary habitats of these creatures:  in water, upon bikes, and afoot.

Biology and Behavior

Physical Characteristics

Exteriorly, triathlete resembles its distant cousin homo sapiens in appearance.  Specimens are found with a myriad of skin and hair colorations.  A commonality found amongst triathlete is that they tend to clothe themselves in form-fitting brightly colored costumes.  One might question the skull structure of some members of this species, given the proclivity to cover their cranium with helmets.  Research has indicated that some, in fact, have evolved teardrop shaped craniums, which is believed to aid in the reduction of a concept known as drag.

Wide-scale observation has revealed that the male of the species may have an innate fear of body fur.  Observations of triathlete in groupings or conclaves within their natural habitat indicate that the males typically are hairless on their lower skeleton.  Additionally, this species often has strange numeric tattoos upon their arms and, oddly, on one leg.

Some specimens of triathlete have been observed with strange color schemes upon their skin – often alternating darker pigmented skin with areas of lighter pigmentation.  Notably, these color variations are found upon the ankle, thigh, and often upon the upper back (which usually presents in semi-circular pattern around the shoulder area).

Hunting and Diet

Triathlete appears to be an omnivore in general, although there are pockets within the species that abstain from certain foodgroups.  Some are apparently berrytarians, consuming a large amount of berries and fruit – often in mixed up beverages called “smoothies”.  Other specimen of triathlete eat nothing but meat (paleo), nothing but gluten products, and nothing with gluten (gluten free).  Research indicates that a high percentage of triathlete have no idea what gluten is, but they either consume it or they don’t.

Interestingly, triathlete tends to gravitate to thick liquids that come packaged in foil-like shells.  These “fruit” (sometimes called “gels” by triathlete) often come in a variety of flavorings, somewhat dependent upon the variety of plant producing the fruit.  Some of the favorite plants include Powerbar, Gu, Hammer, etc.  Curiously, these plants not only produce the foil-like fruit mentioned herein, but they also produce odd square-shaped vegetation that reportedly provides sustainable nutrition for hours.

Behavior

The most remarkable thing about this new species is the behavior that it displays.  H. triathletus is often found in strange gatherings ranging from around 100 to well over 2000.  It is during these gatherings that the true characteristics of this species are displayed.  These gatherings, however, do not represent the totality of the uniqueness this species brings to the ecosystem.  H. triathletus are often found in small packs in one of their preferred habitat, swimming merily, furiously pedaling, or running as if fleeing from their sole predator, Homo fatamusbottomus.

In culture

Indigenous folklore reflects that triathlete appears to enjoy suffering.  They have been seen stumbling, crawling, and otherwise struggling.  Some of the more developed of the species even has been witnessed completing their unique mating activity – called by some “the Blazeman Roll”.  Other species tend to view triathlete with suspicion, fear and concern.

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!