Monday, December 26, 2011

Magic Numbers and Feeling Good

In my opinion, there is no “magical” number in terms of the number of miles runners must run each week to be ready for a race. In fact, opinions vary widely as to how much is necessary. I have friends that routinely log 120 miles per week, and others who have completed tough 100 milers on less than 40 miles per week. This being said, the number 100 just sounds nice. I feel that if I can log 100 miles over a 7-10 day period leading up to a race, I am “ready”. Even if this is just a mental boost, it seems to help me.

I am lucky to have a job that allows me to have 2 weeks off over the holidays. I used this time to log some big (for me) miles over the past 10 days. It all started with a trip to Bandera with 3 of my cross country runners who will be running the 25K race in January. I wanted to give them a tour of the terrain they would encounter. I felt like junk for most of the 10 miles we ran, but it was yet another chance for me to run in Bandera, something I have grown to love. The following 2 days found me in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas with my friend Dave, where we logged a tough 34+ miles over 2 runs in the rugged mountains. After a rest day and easy run on Tuesday at Friedrich, I hit Bandera again on Wednesday for 15+ miles. Looking back, this might be the run that changed my mental state leading up to the race. I have never felt so good on a run in Bandera, running way more than usual, including up and over each of the 3 Sisters (I did hike a small portion of the first one). Travis and I pushed the pace and ended up logging 17.5 miles on the day. I felt like going more, but I decided to save the energy for another day.

Thursday was a rest day, as I had a friend from college in town, as well as my parents, who had driven in from Memphis for the holidays. Friday was my long day, and Travis, Tom, and myself hit the hills of Bandera yet again for 25 miles of fun. I felt great almost the entire time. Although we didn’t push as hard as on Wednesday, we ran a respectable pace, leaving me feeling good about the upcoming 100K in January. Saturday was a cold, rainy 16 miles with friends at Government Canyon. Yet again my legs felt surprisingly good (running with fast people sure helps too), and we ran most everything (including the uphills). Sunday was a “short” 10 miles at Eisenhower, which seemed easy after the running I had done over the previous week.

So much of ultra running is mental, especially for me. I find that the mental and physical aspects are tied together. When one is working well, the other usually follows. When one hits a wall, things can often snowball out of control. I know that I haven’t had a week of training like this (in terms of quality and quantity) since early summer. I feel confident and ready to tackle 62 miles in Bandera on January 7. Now if only the weather will cooperate J

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Guads In Pictures

I spent part of this past weekend running in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. I hope to write a detailed report of my trip, but pictures are the best way to paint the picture. The short version is that Dave and I spent 15+ hours driving to run 11 hours in the mountains, but it was worth every second. See for yourself...

(Standing atop the highest point in Texas - Guadalupe Peak)

(Dave and I on top of Guadalupe Peak at Night)

(Dave signing us in)

(Beautiful Morning To Run)

(Tejas Trail Switchbacking Upward)

(Lots of Rocks)

(Only Other Runners On Trail All Day)

(Running Up Bush Mountain)

(Desert Landscape)

(Guadalupe Peak Over My Right Shoulder)

(Tejas Trail)

(Tejas Trail In Lower Right w/ Guadalupe Peak In Background)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Peanut Butter Bliss

I love peanut butter, plain and simple. My dad does too. I remember making trips to Baskin Robbins as a kid to get peanut butter ice cream. Guess it's a Ricketts family thing. So when I saw that GU had come out with a new peanut butter flavored gel, I knew I had to try it. LAst night was my first experience with it, as I gobbled one down between my strength workout and my run at Eisenhower. This stuff is amazing. Not just "decent tasting gel" amazing. More like "I would eat this stuff as a snack and put it on a bagel" amazing. I'm hooked. If you like peanut butter, you have to go try this stuff!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mud and Carrot Cake - A RockHopper Weekend

I am fortunate to have a great group of running friends here in San Antonio. Our group has grown tremendously in the past months, and I love being a part of it. Aside from running, we share adventures, laughs, and beer-brewing tips. It’s really a fun group of people to be associated with, and I consider myself very lucky to call them friends. This past weekend we held our first annual RockHopper (that’s our group’s name) campout in Bandera at the Hill Country State Natural Area. Rich and his wife were kind enough to book the Lodge and organize a first-class weekend, supplying food, water, and anything else you could ever want.

The plan was to get a long run in on Saturday (doing most of the Bandera 100K course) and another medium distance run in on Sunday. I joined Tom, Chris P, Troy, and Joe T/JoeBro at 6:30 AM for a tour of Cairn’s Climb and Boyle’s Bump in the pre-dawn darkness. The weather was cool but comfortable, and my light jacket was soaked by the time we reached the Lodge after 5+ miles. I debated whether to remove it and leave it at the Lodge or continue on. I decided to keep it on a bit longer, and boy am I glad I did! When we arrived back at the Lodge, we were greeted by a huge crowd of runners eager to tame the Bandera rocks. I’ve never seen so many cars and people out there on a non-race day. We must have had 25-30 runners.

After a quick bathroom stop, I hustled to catch up to the others, chatting with Chris and Chris for a bit. We were soon headed up Sky Island, but I ran in the opposite direction so I could drop off a water bottle with my friend Jean. After everyone had passed through, I followed the group down towards Trail 1, where we would hit Ice Cream Hill. As we approached Ice Cream, we could already see the faster runners cresting the top of the hill. Once on top, we re-joined a group that had taken a side trip to get a “double scoop” of Ice Cream. I followed (at least I tried to) on the heels of Tom, Troy, Rachel, Connie, and Chris P as they went screaming down the backside of Ice Cream Hill. Our group continued on through Nachos, not stopping until we arrived at park headquarters, where Tom and Troy broke off to run different trails, while Rachel, Connie, Chris P, and myself stayed on the Bandera course and headed up Trail 8. We navigated out way up and over the rocks of Trail 8, running into the Tanya and Jason, who were “training” pacers for the 100K. After chatting and re-filling our bottles, we tiptoed through the dangerous sections of trail that had been torn up by horses during an endurance ride held over Thanksgiving weekend. Not wanting to break an ankle, we gingerly stepped in and out of horse holes. Somewhere in the field section, we lost Chris. Since I knew he was planning on stopping at Crossroads, I wasn’t too concerned. I was, however, concerned that it was now just me running with Rachel and Connie, both of whom are way faster than I am, even with nagging injuries slowing them down.

The 3 of us blew through Crossroads (mile 16 of Bandera 100K) in search of the 3 Sisters. We encountered Liza and the “fast” group along the way (they had already done the Sisters), as they headed back to the Lodge. Physically I felt pretty good at this point, but my mental state of mind was wavering. After a long week, I was spent. It was at this point that the rain started. Coupled with a slight wind, it was getting colder. Luckily I was still wearing my jacket. Up and over the Sisters I went, chasing Connie and Rachel the whole way. We headed through Crossroads again with the plan of me heading back to the Lodge (I already had the mileage I needed) and Rachel/Connie doing Lucky’s Peak, but since they were both hurting (each had a leg injury), we all ran back to the Lodge in the rain. I ended up doing 28 miles and had a blast running with friends.

Sunday morning I awoke with sore legs and a tired body. I really wasn’t in the mood to run again, but I had made plans to run with Chris, Liza, Rachel, Connie, and Travis. It was tough to leave the Lodge since Rich and Jeannie had tons of food and hot coffee laid out for us. What really caught my eye (aside from the Nutella I ate) was a huge carrot cake!!! I love carrot cake. This would be my reward for running. Reluctantly we trudged out into the cool morning air (at least it wasn’t raining or windy). Knowing the low-lying trails would be muddy and slow, we opted to hit as many of the hills as we could, even going so far as to do repeats up and over Lucky’s Peak! After scaling Lucky twice, we hit Cairn’s Climb and Boyle’s bump, dropped off Chris and Connie at the Lodge, and headed back out for one more loop. Rachel immediately took off ahead of Travis and I. Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of her, but we never caught up. I enjoyed chatting with Travis as we climbed and ran down. My body loosened up, and I really felt good and didn’t want to stop running, but we needed to help clean the Lodge before checking out. Luckily for us, the others who had stayed behind had done most of the cleaning for us. Before I left I made sure I snagged an extra large piece of carrot cake!

A big thanks go out again to the Mihaliks for organizing the weekend and keeping us well fed. What a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vegas Baby

I spent the past weekend in Las Vegas, enjoying the beautiful weather, mountainous terrain, and time with family. My (pregnant) sister and her husband live there, and this weekend was the Las Vegas Marathon, so my mom was in town, as well as my sister’s friend and her boyfriend. Although I typically hate road races, I thought it would be cool to run the Vegas race (I did the half) because my sister was doing it and the race was held at night. We would run up and down the strip, so lack of scenery would not be an issue. Since I am training for the Bandera 100K, I planned on getting a couple runs in the mountains in addition to running the half, which I planned on cruising and enjoying the atmosphere.

I awoke on Saturday (slept on a blow up mattress in a room with my mom snoring on the couch next to me) and headed to Boulder City and the trails of Bootleg Canyon. I had run there twice before, and I knew the terrain was challenging but very runnable. In my previous trips, I had run the same series of trails, which featured no major climbs or descents, but were rolling the entire time, providing no flat stretches and making it difficult to establish a comfortable running rhythm. I knew this would be great training for Bandera, and I was excited to get into the mountains and enjoy the views and cool weather.

After arriving at Bootleg Canyon, I donned my long sleeve top and light wind jacket (glad I had this with me) and headed up the hill to the trailhead. BC is a mountain biker’s paradise, with most of the trails designed with these folks in mind. I encountered lots of bikers, but I personally think you’d have to be nuts to ride some of those trails! Trail markers are non-existent, so I made mental notes as I scurried along the path. As I neared the 4 mile mark, I had to make several decisions on which way to turn. Not wanting to get lost on my way back, I dropped a water bottle at these intersections so I knew which way to return. At nearly every turn I was greeted by magnificent views, my favorite of which is always looking down on the Vegas strip with snow covered mountains in the background. Coupled with the 40 degree temps and mostly blue skies, this was shaping up to be a great day.

(Typical trail at Bootleg Canyon)

(Vegas Strip w/ Mt. Charleston in background)

I soon reached a familiar dirt road that leads up to some sort of radio tower (I think). I figured I would hike to the top, turn around, and go back the way I came. Just as I was about to head down, I noticed what seemed like a faint trail snaking around the side of the mountain. Hmmmm, maybe I should explore this. Even better, the trail went up, switchbacking past the tower a set of cables. Wonder what these are? Soon my curiosities were answered as I saw a group of people in red shirts attached cables to several folks sitting in some sort of harness. As I followed the set of long cables down to their endpoint, I realized I was standing under a zipline that shot people down the canyon. Pretty cool, but nothing I would ever do.


(Looking down at Boulder City)

I saw that the trail snaked down the other side across some very rocky terrain. This was great! I took it to the bottom, then turned around and head back up to the zipline/tower. Once there, I was ready to jog down the road, collect my water bottles, and head back on the trail I started on. Just as I rounded the first corner, I noticed a trail dropping off the right side. Let’s see where this goes, I thought. What I found was the best singletrack, switchbacking trail I had ever run in the Vegas area. In all, it dropped roughly 750’ over just over a mile. Short, but still a blast to run. Upon reaching the bottom, I turned around and began the steep hike back to the top. A nice couple I met at the top suggested I go in a different direction and check out the views from another peak, where I would have an unobstructed view of Lake Mead. Always up for an adventure, I headed that way. After several navigational challenges, I was there. Sure enough, the view was spectacular.

(Switchbacks were fun to run)

(Lake Mead)

Enjoying the view but not wanting to linger too long, I started the 5+ mile trek back to the car, retrieving my water bottles along the way as I re-traced my steps over the same trail on which I began. Since I have been trying to use liquid nutrition (Carbo Pro) exclusively, I have a surplus of gels and chomps left over from previous races, so I was on a mission to use these on my run. I had a variety of flavors, but I certainly found out that Cherry Lime Roctane Gu is NOT something I will be using in the future!!! Less than I mile from my car (a nice fire engine red Chevy) I spotted a large bighorn sheep. Very cool to see it scurry up the side of the mountain with little effort. I arrived at my car and looked at my Garmin, which registered a beautiful 18+ miles in a little over 3:50. What a great way to spend the morning. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Since I wasn’t going to try to “race” the half marathon, I woke up early on Saturday and jogged down to the local park for some hill repeats. This “mini mountain” offered the perfect spot for some incline work. It is exactly one mile from my sister’s front door to the trailhead, giving me a nice warmup before the real fun started. The trails leading to the top are steep and rocky, and the views of Mt. Charleston, Red Rock Canyon, and the Vegas Strip are amazing. The only downside is that it takes a lot of loops and re-tracing one’s steps to eek out 10 miles, which is what I did. Then first couple times I passed people, they though nothing of it, but when I bearded guy in a button down shirt runs by for a 10th time, eyebrows are raised. I had a great time all the same, as the weather was once again beautiful, sunny and cool.

(The "mini-mountain")

(View of Strip from top)

(Another view of Mt. Charleston)

After a huge breakfast (I love breakfast food and could eat it any time of the day!), we made our way back to my sister’s house for a little rest. I relaxed by watching football and playing banjo. Not a bad way to spend part of the day. Soon it was time to head down to the strip for the race. I was excited about the run, but I certainly wasn’t expecting great things from my legs, which had nearly 30 mountain miles on them in the past 24 hours. Oh well, just have fun and enjoy the experience. So, the 6 of us piled into my sister’s car and made the 15 minute drive. As soon as we got near the Strip, we realized this was going to be ugly. Traffic was horrendous (much more so than a “normal” day in Vegas). We decided it would be best if the 3 of us who were running got out and walked to the start while the others looked for a parking spot (which they found over an hour later and a mile away).

The full marathon started an hour and a half before the half marathoners were set to be unleashed, and the race leaders whizzed by just as we were walking up. We still had over an hour before we started, and it was getting chilly as the sun set behind the towering casinos, so we headed inside Madalay Bay in the hopes of staying warm. To say Mandalay was crowded would be a gross understatement. It was a zoo. People crammed everywhere. I hate big crowds, so this was not fun for me. After taking care of some last-minute needs, we headed out in to the darkness to find our corrals and start the race. At 5:40, 10 minutes after the race started, my corral made it to the start line.

My goal was to stay relaxed for the first half of the race and then see if I had anything left for a controlled tempo effort over the last half. I really enjoyed the first hour, as I got to chat and enjoy the scenery. I could go on and on about the absurdity of having 44,000 people running down the Vegas Strip, but I’ll be brief and just say the merging of the half and full marathoners was dangerous, there were too many people (as in any marathon) who just stopped in the middle of the street to walk or tie a shoe (move over to the side for cryin out loud), and I had to weave in and out of so many people that I probably added an extra half mile to my total. Of the 200+ songs I had loaded onto my iPod, only one of them was a Garth Brooks tune. It just so happened (completely by chance) that the song came on just as I was running by the Wynn (where Garth now performs) and a huge picture of Garth. Weird.

Despite all the craziness, I felt pretty good and decided to pick up the pace for the last 10K. I downed a couple gels (not all at once), drank bad water (more on that in a bit), and dodged crowds on my way to a respectable (for me) 1:59 finish, where I was greeted by thousands of people and cold temps (not fun with sweaty clothes). I found my mom and grabbed some dry clothes, then waited for my sister and her friend to finish. Another hour and a half getting to the car, followed by a food stop and In and Out Burger, and we were home after midnight. What a long day.

I have sworn off road races several times before, and this one did nothing to entice me to do more of them. I considered this a special occasion since my sister was also running (while pregnant!). The crowds (in the race and at the expo) are awful. People litter everywhere (throw your cup in a trash can). There isn’t any good food at aid stations (that’s the best part of ultras). And the course was pancake flat, which most roadies like but doesn’t suit my tastes in running. All in all, I’m glad I did the race and was certainly glad to get to see my sister finish her 2nd half marathon in 3 months. I mentioned the water situation earlier because enough people became ill during or after the race (some are still sick) that the Nevada Department of Health is looking into whether the water was contaminated. Several people are actually talking about filing a class-action lawsuit over the poor race management. Guess I will stick to trail and the ultra scene. Thank goodness J

(My sister, mom, and I)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hill Torture and Joe T's Apple Crisp

You’d think having a week off from school would make it easier to update my blog more regularly, but somehow that didn’t happen last week. Here’s a brief rundown on what’s been going on…
After a miserable (humid, dead legs, slow time) 50K race in Warda, I headed home to Memphis to visit family for a few days. I was greeted by rain, lots of it. Needless to say, my running suffered a bit. Sure, I managed a run, but I wasn’t super excited about it in the least bit. It’s funny how every time I go home, it rains. Seriously, it ALWAYS rains when I go home (and the day I left it cleared up and was really nice!). Anyway, I got back late Tuesday, caught a few hours sleep, and headed to Bandera for an easy 15 the next morning. The 3 of us were greeted with perfect running weather, sunny skies and cool temps. The coyotes were excited about it as well, as we could hear a pack of them howling in the field when we arrived. We essentially ran miles 5-15 of the 100K course, with a few more tacked onto either end of the run to make an even 15 (yes, I ran around the parking lot to ensure my Garmin said 15 miles exactly).
Turkey day brought more cool morning temps and blue skies, which made for perfect hill training weather. I did repeats by myself on my new favorite hill off Babcock. My legs didn’t feel particularly spry, but I was happy about the workout nonetheless. Friday called for 20 miles, so I met Tom and Kelli at McAllister for some faster-than-normal running through the woods. Much like in Warda, my legs felt like junk from the start. I managed to slog through 18 miles (Tom did 23), but it certainly wasn’t my best effort. Saturday’s plan was Bandera, and I was hoping to get 4 hours in, with the middle 2 being a fast tempo effort. Well, it rained (poured) most of the night and part of the morning, rendering such an effort nearly impossible. Anyone who has ever run in the Bandera mud will tell you that it slows down even the fastest of runners (and I’m not fast to begin with). You knew your feet would slide in the mud with every step, but it was always a mystery as to which direction they would slide in. Chris (“new” Chris, not Chris Russell) was the only soul brave enough (or dumb enough) to join me. It was great getting to know him and show him around Bandera. We ended up logging nearly 18 miles in 4 hours, slower than I had wanted but a solid effort given the muddy conditions.
Sunday’s run might have been my favorite of the week. I had planned on meeting one of my former runners (Luke) at Government Canyon for a nice 10 mile stroll over the rocks. I figured at least one or two more people might show up and join us, but when we hit the trails, our group was 11 strong. John, Tom, Tony, Kelli, Liza, Joe T!!!!!, and others were there to soak in the beautiful morning (temps in the low 40s with lots of wind and zero clouds). We decided to start uphill, taking Far Reaches up to Sendero Balcones, where we would hit Twin Oaks for some fun downhill running. I settled in behind Joe, Kelli, and Luke on the climb up, running more than I would normally have run but feeling good doing it. Once we hit Twin Oaks, I stepped aside and let Travis and Luke (the youngsters) take the lead. Within 10 seconds they were completely out of sight, leaving Joe and I alone to chat and catch up. I really enjoy this section of trail, and Joe and I had a blast. After re-joining the others at the bottom, we jogged back to the cars and sampled some of Joe T’s delicious apple crisp and cheesecake. What a great way to spend the morning!
Monday brought a much needed day of rest for my body, but it also meant a return to work (hard to complain when you’ve had a week off), which I wasn’t thrilled about. Tuesday was supposed to be a speed day, but Joe and I decided to change things around and make it a hill day instead. The weather (yet again) was perfect for the torture session he had planned. I sprinted uphill, threw rocks, grunted, and got really dirty over the course of my hour long workout. Larry would have been proudJ. I will take this kind of training any day over being stuck inside a gym. And my legs definitely felt it yesterday, when I was relegated to running on the treadmill because I had weight room duty at school and was too lazy to get up and run early in the morning.
Overall I feel good about the training I’ve been getting in. I really enjoy (think sick and twisted kind of pleasure) the hill sessions with Joe, and I think I can tell a difference in my uphill running, as evidenced by runs at Bandera and Government Canyon. My racing plans for summer 2012 are starting to come together, and the biggest piece of the puzzle will fall into place (for better or worse) when the Hardrock 100 lottery is announced this Sunday. I will be ecstatic if I get in, but my chances are slim (roughly 10%) chance. Either way, I want to continue hammering away at things and get ready for Bandera 100K and a great 2012, both in running and my personal life.