Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Joshua Tree Traverse - 3/15/2017

I'm starting this post the morning after completing the Joshua Tree Traverse, a 38 mile (not 37 as I had previously written), trail run through the Mojave Desert portion of the national park's western region. For me, the run was spectacular. It was the pinnacle of everything I have ever wanted to do in terms of trail running. While Chris Ford, Jack Tyson, and I had been using the Traverse as our final major shake-out run prior to attempting a Rim to Rim to Rim run at the Grand Canyon next month, for me, the Joshua Tree run was the course I wanted to complete more than any other.

Over the past several years, Joshua Tree has become one of my two favorite national parks (the other being Canyonlands). I have been to Joshua Tree many times, including once a month for the past three months. I have run, hiked, and driven through large portions of the park. And until yesterday, I really thought I knew almost all of the park's features and secrets. The Traverse disabused me of that premise.

My two running buddies and I set off from Black Rock Campground at 6:32 AM, just as light was breaking. It was cold, but we eschewed clothing heavier than t-shirts and running shorts. We knew the park would quickly warm. We had read that the initial 5 miles of the course were sandy and uphill. A guy who used to own the FKT for the route had said to take your time and to not expend a lot of energy on that portion. We took that to heart and spent the first 5.5 miles jogging and walking with purpose up the sandy slope.

When we reached the top, we encountered a portion of the park none of us had ever seen. It was miles of beautiful desert. It looked like a massive version of a well-landscaped southwestern US front lawn. We were a bit jubilant to have reached this new desert-scape. Our next couple of trail miles were at a 9 minute pace (a bit faster than we wanted to average for the run).

After a few miles in the desert garden, we had a mountain pass to confront. We alternately ran and hiked quickly through a series of little climbs and drops amongst a series of switchbacks. When we reached the top, we could see that we were going to descend into another valley, the likes of which we also had never seen in the park. The new valley again looked like a well kept desert lawn. This one was blanketed with green grass and millions (or billions) of tiny purple flowers. The valley also went on for miles. We spent the better part of the next hour making our way through the purple paradise. Jack made the comment a couple of times that he never would have recognized the places through which we had journeyed as being part of Joshua Tree. They were completely different than anything we had experienced in other parts of the park.

When we left the flowered valley, we found ourselves at the top of a pass where the trail dropped steeply along a ridge line for a couple of miles. We pounded down into yet another new ecosystem. This part of the trail had more of an Arizona desert feel. It also had the steepest and second longest climb on the run. We again walked with purpose up the side of the mountain. And at the top, we encountered a more familiar landscape and finally started to feel as if we were in the Joshua Tree that most people know.

Jack had been having hamstring and knee issues for the past couple of months. And at about 15 miles into the run, he announced that he would drop at the extraction point near Ryan Campground five miles ahead. We stopped to reapply sunscreen, eat a protein bar or two, dump sand from our shoes, and to make sure Jack would be able to make the final miles to Ryan if Chris and I took off. Jack, who knows the park better than Chris or I, insisted that we go. He would get to Ryan and hitchhike back to the car and pick us up at the conclusion of the course.

We were all disappointed with the turn of events. It is not easy to see someone who has trained for an adventure be forced to abandon it. But no run is worth sustaining an injury that could take a long time to heal. Jack made the right decision - one I would have made - and would live to run another day.

Chris and I ran mainly downhill over alternately extremely rocky and then smooth trails for the next 5 miles. The rocks in this section were iron-rich and orange in color. The alternating packed sand smooth sections were much lighter in color. And that contrast, which would occur suddenly, is something that we encountered throughout the run. In several instances, the ground color would shift as abruptly as if crossing a line in the sand.

We arrived at the road crossing near Ryan Campground and replenished our water bottles and reservoirs under the shade of a large Joshua Tree. We had stashed three gallons of water there the previous evening knowing we'd need it. It was a bit strange to be near a road after a morning spent almost completely in wilderness. We left two empty gallon jugs and the third full one for Jack, and then started the second half of the journey.

The path took us by the outskirts of Ryan Campground and then up a pass on the back side of the mountain - a side that most tourists don't use. Coming up the pass, we encountered our first people in twenty miles, a couple of women backpacking. We said hello as we passed, and then continued farther into the desert.   At this point, we found ourselves on a gentle upslope that went on for miles. We were surrounded by Joshua Trees, rocks, and sand for as far as we could see. The sun poked out from what had been a mercifully cloudy sky, and we began to feel its full effects as the Mojave passed beneath us with each footfall.  We both tucked bandanas under our hats to hang over our necks to keep from getting too burned. This section between Ryan and the Geology Tour dirt road was psychically difficult. Because of the immensity of our surroundings, it felt as if we were making no progress.

When we finally arrived at Geology Tour, we paused to again apply sunblock and to take in some calories. The short stop, for me, marked the final jumping off point for the rest of the run. Chris and I took off with much-improved outlooks. A few miles later as we ran for a bit on a downhill section in the direction of the Colorado Desert, I began to have pretty bad pains in my quads. Each foot strike hurt. It slowed us down a bit as I requested that we stop for a brief period in order to stretch. I also determined that the pain was simply a good amount of lactic acid build-up and that I could run through it with little fear of sustaining any real injury. We ran toward our final road crossing near Belle Campground and then turned west following the trail in the direction of the park's North entrance.

The last several miles hurt. I was able to push the lactic acid build-up just far enough down that we would walk about a quarter mile and then run three quarters. We knew we would finish. But even so, I was being pretty careful to not finish the last drops of my water in case we might need it for some reason over the last couple of miles. Then, as we had once before, we encountered trail angel water. There were four jugs of water that had all been consumed to some degree sitting by a fence. Figuring that the water was safe (not something I'd always recommend), we both filled up and drank up. That little boost toward the end of the run really lightened my spirit which had begun to sink a bit as I concentrated on my legs.

We finished the run with a final stop to look at a beautiful horned toad about 100 yards from the finish. Jack (a true trooper and trail angel in his own right), greeted us with beer, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water, and cans of LaCroix. We spent some minutes letting it all sink in as we sat and drank on boulders next to his Subaru. Then we drove into town to grab some food for supper, but not before heading back into the park to pick up the empties from our water stash. Leave no trace.

Equipment -

Each of us had a hydration vest with a 2 liter bladder and 2 12-16 oz bottles. We refilled these at the halfway point. 2 of us used UD Scott Jurek Vests and one used a Nathan vest. All worked perfectly.

We wore - Hats (coincidentally, all by Patagonia), sunglasses, bandanas, tech Ts, running shorts, Feetures and Injinji socks, and 2 of us wore Nike Kiger 3s and one wore Altra Lone Peak shoes.

Misc products also used - Skratch Labs Hydration mix, Garden of Life Raw Meal, Trace Minerals Endure, Chia seed and raw lemons.

GPS - Garmin Forerunner 210 and Phoenix

Food each of us carried -
4-5 protein or nutrition bars, dehydrated fruit and nut mix, 3-4 gel packs (only 1 was used by each of us). Salt capsules - consumed 5 during the run.

Also carried - medical tape, 2 small bandages, BodyGlide.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Training for Joshua Tree Traverse

When my buddies, Chris and Jack, agreed to do something epic this year, I knew there would be training involved. I had thrown out the choice of taking a month (or two) off and biking the Continental Divide Trail from Canada to Mexico. Or, we could maybe look at running rim to rim at the Grand Canyon. Both seemed challenging with real possibility of injury and/or failure in either training or execution. Jack, looking at the two choices, threw out third option; why not do the Grand Canyon, but run rim to rim to rim? That would entail an out and back with about 10,000 ft of elevation change over a distance between 42 and 46 miles (depending on the trail).

I don't know why, but all three of us loved that option. We began training, Chris and me in Kansas, and Jack in southern California. In January we met and drove to Joshua Tree to get a run in in the high desert. The 16 mile run we chose was an out and back with a solid (read soul-sucking) single track climb that needed to be surmounted outbound and inbound. I had been having serious calf issues, and had only felt semi-confident to tackle something like that a few days before.

But it worked out. The run was challenging and beautiful. When we finished, however, we were confronted with the reality that the Grand Canyon run probably would have similar difficult terrain, but also 3 times as long. That was pretty sobering. From our text and email follow-ups, I know that we were all getting a bit intimidated thinking of the Canyon.

Upon our return to Kansas, I upped my game and began to run 20 miles on trails once a week. I had one bad experience where I hit the wall. . .  hard. I have only had that happen once before. This instance really sucked and took me some hours of recovery. Four days later though I was back on the trail knocking out the same 20 miles. And I did it again a couple more times the following week - even reverse-splitting the back half on one of the routes.

I have one short trip planned for Joshua Tree before mid-March when our prep run, the Joshua Tree Traverse - a 37 mile run across the upper part of the park - will take place. The traverse will give us an idea (very roughly) of how we might do in the Grand Canyon in April.

For me, the past several weeks of cranking out long runs have served to boost my confidence. When I hit the wall, I took a pause to really examine what I had been doing that might have caused that to occur. Subsequently, I increased my food intake on the run twofold and added a larger load of electrolytes and trace minerals into my fluids. Those changes have seemed to work well.

For me, the longer distances are not simply a way to build up endurance. They serve to expose weaknesses and issues both with equipment and physiology. While completing long runs is a guarantee-free endeavor, having worked out as many bugs and identified as many potential issues as possible while training can only serve to better one's chances of completing the goal that has been set.

I'll post a bit more once we're closer to the traverse.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Weathering Winter Weather in Kansas

Nothing beats running in shorts and a long sleeve shirt on Christmas Day in Lawrence, Kansas. It was 45F when I took off. 8.2 miles later, it was over 50F. Soon it will be in the 60s. Sometimes Kansas is fantastic in winter.

And yet, Saturday (yesterday) found me running in tights, gloves, 2 shirts, a cap, and a heavy-duty hoodie tied into a tight circle around my face. It was 23F when we started. Heavy fog made everything seem even colder.

And yet still, 4 of the 5 runs prior to Saturday were done on a treadmill in my basement because last week had a whole lot of single digit weather. But Wednesday (last Wednesday, that is), it was nice enough, in the middle of the terrible stretch of cold, to knock out 7.5 trail miles.

Ah, Kansas. What a freaky place for weather.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hoka and UD updates.

Allow me to add to my last post regarding my experiences with Hoka One One and Altra. I have been using relatively new Hoka Bondis and old Hoka Odysseys for road and easy trail/gravel running over the past couple of years. I have used Altra Lone Peaks for more intense (read technical) trails. Interspersed throughout, I still run a bit in Salomons and every now and then an ancient pair of Mizuno trail shoes. Today I tried something different. I have a pretty good love affair going on with the two aforementioned Hoka models (there are also a couple of Hoka models that, um, don't do it for me - to be nice about it). Anyway. today I wore my old Hoka Odysseys on a 10 mile technical trail run. I wasn't expecting to like the experience much, but I did. While I'm certain that I wore some serious life out of the soles (they truly are not meant for this type of running), the Odysseys performed as good or better than any trail shoe I have worn. I normally feel a few jarring stabs from rocks and roots on this particular trail. The Hokas cushion rejected all unwelcome advances of that sort. They also remained stable and provided the right support on uneven ground - something about which I had been a bit concerned. I don't know if I will take them on too many other technical runs. But it is great to know how well they held up should I decide to use them for this type of running in the future.

The Scott Jurek UD pack with soft bottles also has performed passably. Last week I used it with a bladder (from Nathan) instead of bottles. I think I will not do that again without using a bladder designed for UD's deep back pocket. But for runs where smaller quantities of H2O are required, the soft bottles work great and the pack feels snug yet nonrestrictive.

Over the past year, I have begun to subscribe to the philosophy of 'Buy less. Buy better'. I have stopped buying clothing from companies that aren't responsible. Lately, all purchases (and there are only a few) have been Patagonia or Prana products. All are either recycled or contain organic materials - after reading about non-organic cotton, the decision to switch was easy. And for non-necessary purchases, I am still donating the equivalent of 10% of the purchase price to charities and relief agencies, or organizations that support human rights. Thinking about buying less and buying responsibly whenever possible is a bit of a change. But it is a practice that causes me to stop and think before automatically pulling the trigger on a purchase that may be much more of a want than a need.

A good book to read on the subject that I knocked out last week is Yvon Chouinard's, Let My People Go Surfing, which is an autobiography of a sort, that covers his life, his business life (with Black Diamond and Patagonia), and shares a lot of his philosophy of trying to do the right thing for the planet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Summer and Fall Report. Hoka and Altra micro reviews.

I have taken a lot of time away from this blog as I work on the sequel to RUN. It is coming along well. In order to write a novel, it requires precedence (for me, at least) over all other writings It is difficult to switch gears and get back in the swing of things in the real world of blogging after spending hours in a fictional realm. I've also been working on a website that caters to outdoor literature and poetry. It is also progressing nicely. I will post a link to that site someday soon. It has calls for submissions regularly, and does not ask for any exclusivity or rights from authors/poets/essayists who wish to submit works.

The summer and fall were both kind to me and I was able to amass easy miles in (for the most part) beautiful weather. Due to the oak mite infestation in this area (NE Kansas), I mainly stayed clear of trails, which allowed me to do a lot of speed work on the roads. Shorter, faster runs, with regular reverse splits became de rigueur. It was an enjoyable change that allowed me to really get to know my Hoka One One's.

Here's a quick breakdown of my feelings for Hoka road shoes.

Odyssey - Love them. My Favorite Hokas ever. Almost too comfortable to only wear when running.

Clifton - Dislike. While light, they have an odd pinch at the big toe joint over the ball of the foot for me. Somehow, they just don't fit me well. Though if you are looking at a pair of Bondis, this would be a good model to use for comparison.

Clayton - Fun shoe. Much firmer. I like them, but I prefer a bit more squish in my Hokas.

Bondi - This is the shoe that, for me, will replace the Odyssey (which Hoka doesn't seem to manufacture anymore). Light, comfortable, with a slightly more firm feel, the newest iteration of the Bondi seems to fit the bill.

3 Pairs of Hokas and my Altra Lone Peaks

As fall returned, I knocked out a few trail 25Ks (actually 2, with a DNF in a third after losing a skirmish with a rock). I ran all in my Altra Lone Peaks. The LPs performed well - as they had when I used them to climb Mt. Elbert earlier in the year. The shoes have massive toe boxes, so there is almost no incidence of getting black toe from smashing up against the front of the shoe on a downhill run. For super rocky running, a runner might want to consider getting a brand/model with a more serious rock plate. But on the whole, the LPs perform well, providing decent cushioning, great ground feel and grip, breathability, and comfort throughout a decently long run.

I plan to run R2R2R (if you don't know what that means, look it up;-) in April with 2 buddies. I'm slowly starting to increase mileage and add in meaningful hill work. I may pop out to Joshua Tree over the winter and do a couple of long downhill runs from the Mojave Desert through the pass into the Colorado Desert (see pvs posts re that run). Mile after mile of non-stop downhill is not something I would normally advocate doing. But when looking to do major canyon running, it might be nice to have a little bit of that training in hand.

I hope to have more here soon.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Summer Respite: The Getty Center, The Nelson, and (a bit about) Running

I haven't posted here in a while. My new blog and twitter accounts have been eating up a bit of my writing time. After a long summer, I've been taking a week off from running in order to give the legs a rest and to swim, work on the new novel, spend time with friends, and visit museums.

Speaking of museums, the Getty Center has a great show, London Calling, featuring works of Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Michael Andrews, Leon Kossof and more. Sometimes the Getty's stunning architecture and views will eclipse the art housed inside. But London Calling is able to hold its own. If you are in the LA area, check it out. You won't regret it. Here is a link:

Tip: While at the Getty, do avoid the Chinese Buddhist cave painting exhibit at all costs. You will needlessly stand in line only to be hurried through reproductions (gasp!?!) of the actual caves along the Silk Road. It was the strangest and most disappointing show I've ever seen at a major museum. Even though the exhibit is free (with gratis, timed tickets required to enter), we still felt robbed of our time.  Instead, I would suggest taking the time to explore some of the Center's fantastic permanent collection - always a treat.

I'll also give a plug to the Nelson Atkins' (in Kansas City) Roman jewelry show. If there is one type of art that interests me less than Roman jewelry, I can't think of it. But I am glad I did not let that outlook prevent me from going to the show. It was phenomenal. If you are lucky enough to be able to see it, you will be treated to a history lesson, and will gain an appreciation for just how talented the artists and craftsmen were in ancient Rome. Interestingly, not a lot has changed in the way fine jewelry is manufactured in the intervening millennia. Here is a link:

On to running: Thanks to Ad Astra for putting on a successful Defend Lawrence Run for a second year. A week ago Sunday, a whole lot of people showed up on Mass Street in Lawrence, KS at 4:30AM in order to take part in the run that commemorates the day Quantrill and his raiders attacked the city. Ad Astra put together the route, the starting time, pre and post race refreshment (with mimosas even), and giveaways. This event is turning into one of the best free runs offered in the area.  Save the date on your calendars for next year. It is well worth tossing the covers off a bit earlier than normal to start your day with this event.

And in other free run news, the Trail Hawks had their annual birthday run in early August as well. Everyone who had a birthday in 2015-2016 was invited to attend the all-day event on the Clinton North Shore trails. Food was plentiful, as were friends of two and four-legged varieties. The good vibes coming off the event buoy everyone's spirits until the annual club meeting.

Finally, a book recommendation. Check out The Emerald Mile. The book is about the fastest run through the Grand Canyon in history by boat. But while reading about running rapids in rafts and dories, you'll also learn a whole lot about water use and planning in the western US, as well as how dams work and who oversees their placement and operations. The book is available in all formats and even works well as an audio-book for long drives (I listened to it on my way to and from Leadville).

Until next time, keep putting on leg in front of the other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Baker Wetlands

This morning I stopped by the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. Baker University should be commended for the fantastic trails, buildings, and exhibits that they have put together to create this remarkable place. 

If you have not been, you should go. This is a remarkable example of a functional wetlands. If I had the ability to post the videos I took, it would show elevated walkways, an amazing berm building, an observatory, and more.  

Birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish are all present in good numbers.