Rediscovering Trail Running

The hard part about getting back into running after a long time away is the shortness of the runs.  It usually takes me a mile or so to get into sync and find my rhythm.  Another mile of decent running and I’m starting to feel fatigued and tired enough that I have to really pay attention to form.  These short distances usually mean I’m doing quick, boring loops on the streets or at the park in my neighborhood.  I miss being able to run 6-8 miles on an average run and really get to see some stuff, vary the route, make it interesting.  That’s what I’ve missed about trail running.

It hardly seems worth it to drive out to a trail for a run if I can only pull off a couple of miles.  But I finally started to get some strength back and the knee is holding up really well.  I’ve been (very) slowly adding on distance to my runs and bike rides.  Saturday, I decided I wanted to get a little bit of a longer run in and thought that hitting the trail would be the way to do it.  Getting out on the trail I would have more to look at, a chance to vary the route if I wanted to and I would be away from the familiar “track” I usually run.

Trail Running Trail 100

I drove out Saturday morning and lucked out to find one spot left in the tiny parking lot at the east end of Trail 100 through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  As I got my stuff together and got on the trail I was disappointed to realize I forgot my headphones.  Running on pavement I usually have music and had planned listening during my trail run.  As I began running though, I remembered that I gave up music on the trail a long time ago.  Sound is one of the big draws to trail running for me and I almost ruined it for myself out of thoughtlessness.  I really enjoy hearing the crunch of rock under foot, the chirp of birds and insects, the wind blowing through rocks and trees as I run.  Most importantly, I rediscovered, is the importance of hearing the mountain bikers coming up behind me so I can move off trail for them.

I also forgot about how trail running effects pace, especially out here in the rocky, thorny desert trails we have.  Settling in to a slower pace allows me to go further and enjoy the run much more.  Rather than running on a long flat surface where I can get distracted and complacent about my run, the trail is varied and interesting with hills and washes, obstacles and debris, wildlife and scenery.  I can run more naturally without feeling like I am over-thinking the mechanics of running.

A runner friend encouraged me to run by feel, not paying attention to the “data” as I run.  Trail running is where this makes the most sense to me.  I am out for the joy of the run and the beauty of the trail, I should be worried about pace, distance or calories burned.  I wanted to get 4 or more miles in on my run this Saturday but I didn’t want to pay attention to the GPS.  I wanted to just run a comfortable run at an enjoyable pace.  I actually ran a little under 4 miles, so I didn’t hit my goal (unless you include the short warm up walk).  But really, I felt the run was successful and comfortable and it felt great to get back out on the trail.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve Trail 100

My Tips for Enjoying a Trail Run

  • Lose the Tunes – Connect with the outdoors and the trail by losing the music and allowing yourself to experience the sights AND the sounds of the trail.
  • Slow it Down – Be OK with the fact that you probably won’t run the same pace on the trail that you do on pavement.  It’s a very different experience, adjust accordingly.
  • Just Run! – Running on the trail for me is more about the trail and less about the performance.  Get the run in and make it fun without the constant GPS obsession.

 

Trail Shoes

I recently picked up some new shoes for running as most of my other shoes are old and beat up from before my injury.  I had just purchased a new pair of running shoes before I broke my foot, but didn’t like them and gave them away so I was still in need of new shoes.  I picked up some light trail shoes from Columbia to try out in hopes that they would do the job.  I really liked the Conspiracy Outdry trail shoes I got from columbia but they’re a little bulky for running so I ordered the lightweight Conspiracy Vapor.  They are a low profile, lightweight, multi-sport shoe with well thought out reinforcing and a nice low 3mm drop.  I was starting to run in zero drop shoes before my injury and I do like the low angle of the Vapors.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

Like the other Conspiracy shoes I’ve worn, there were pretty comfortable right out of the box, although they don’t have the same awesome shape of the original.  I liked the wide toe box on my original Conspiracy’s and they felt great, the Vapor was narrower through the toe box and took a little time to break in.  The weight is nice and about 9-10 oz. per shoe and the tread has a nice grip to it.

I’m not terribly happy with these shoes when running on pavement.  Unfortunately, I can’t really explain why.  They just seem to be harsh on my feet running on pavement compared to other running shoes (I have been running in my Altra Zero Drop shoes as well).  Once I got the Vapors on the trail, it was a different story.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

On the rocky, dusty desert trails around here the Vapors performed great.  The sole/midsole assembly is rigid enough to protect my feet from the sharp rocks on the trail, but flexible enough to be agile on the technical terrain.  They breathe well and the reinforced outer provides some nice protection.  I was pleasantly surprised at the difference in how these shoes felt on the trail vs. the pavement.  They are a “trail shoe” and not a true running shoe and it shows when I run in them on different surfaces.

I just started using them so we’ll see how they hold up.  If the other Conspiracy shoes are any indicator, they’ll do fine and at $80 they’re cheaper than any running shoes I’ve ever had and most trail shoes I’ve purchased.

SOCKS!

I also wanted to add a note about the socks.  I have been using a variety of socks over the last couple of years to try out new brands, styles, materials and fits in an attempt to find a great sock.  I have a few brands that I really love including Point6, Ausangate and Smartwool.  The first gear review I ever wrote was for the Smartwool PhD hiking socks that I wore for a month on the Colorado river in 2007.  I was really impressed with how the socks held up to daily abuse in and out of water day after day.  Smartwool recently sent me the socks shown above to try out as one of their Fan Field Testers.  They are the NEW and improved ultra-light PhD micro running socks and I love them.  They quickly reminded me of why I was so enamored with Smartwool in the first place.  The socks fit well, hold their shape and take a ton of abuse without the slightest whimper.  The only other socks I have that have held up as well are my Point 6 socks (which I really do love) but the PhDs are much thinner which I really like for running socks.

Committing to be Motivated…

getting back in shape

For anyone who hasn’t followed my blog (ever) I’ll recap the last 14 months or so.  The last race I ran was the Tillman Run in April 2013.  I shouldn’t have run it as I was dealing with some serious foot pain but, you know, “muscle through it, pansy!”  The next week I tried a hike (painful) and some sprinting (really painful) and by the end of the week was in to the doctor where I discovered I had been trying to push through a double stress fracture in my foot.  Fast forward a few painful months and I was finally able to walk on my foot but as soon as I started trying to get back in shape I busted my knee.  Before the knee completely recovered I injured it again, sidelining me completely for a good long time.

I went through 8 weeks of physical therapy once the doctors decided I had healed enough to do so.  A lot of ice and a lot of ibuprofen later and I was finally ready to start using my knee again.

I’ve been on my bike, slowly building up muscles I haven’t used in a long time.  I’ve been practicing yoga, gaining balance, core strength and control of my breathing.

But I’ve been afraid to run.

I’ve dealt with a lot of pain and injuries in my life, but this last year was amazingly miserable and I have to admit that I am scared to be in that position again.  But I can’t afford NOT getting back in shape.  I have gained weight (weight I have already worked hard to get rid of), lost muscle, lost confidence and lost the lifestyle of outdoor exploration, hiking, climbing that I had been enjoying.  I hate the risk of re-injury but life without the risk is no way to live.

So last week I made a commitment to run several races, signing up for 3 races all at once to give myself something to train for.  I’m shooting for a 10k in November, a half marathon in January and another half in March.  I may look at other, smaller races in between but those are my big ones.  Those lay the groundwork for the goals I must achieve.  Now I am motivated to get out and do the work.

This morning I ran for the first time since April of last year.  I expected it to feel as miserable, slow and painful as it did when I first started running 4 or 5 years ago.  I expected to feel like I was completely starting over…and it didn’t.  The biking and yoga I’ve been doing as part of my rehab has helped me build up enough that this run actually felt pretty good.  Still slow, but not nearly as slow or painful as I expected it to be.  It was a confidence builder.

I feel like I can do this.

My Plan for Staying Motivated:

Commit to Something!

Signing up for a race gives me a firm goal and a reason to set up a training program and stick to it.  I have committed to 3 races so far, two of them half marathons and the other (the first one) a 10K.

Find a Partner

Having a friend who is willing to sign up for the same race is perfect.  Training with someone who has a similar goal allows you to be accountable to each other to stay on course.  My wife will be a great running partner once I get in shape, she can run circles around me now.  I also have a friend signed up for the half marathon who is closer to my level and we’ll train together when we can.

Announce your Intention

I’m telling everyone!  My goal is to run a half marathon by January and the more people that know it, the better I will be at holding myself accountable.  I’ve written this post, shared my race goals on Facebook and encouraged friends to sign up for the same races so there’s no way I’m going to allow myself to fail.

Don’t Over Train

When I get into training I tend to push too hard and go too fast.  I want to avoid injury so I can make it to my goal, I will focus on getting my rest days in and cross training where I can so I can stay on task.  I will take my rest days and use yoga, swimming, biking and hiking as cross training components to avoid overuse injuries and over training.

 

Closer to healed and a revelation…

The Boot for my broken footI strapped “The Boot” on my busted foot and headed out to a client meeting in Carefree, Arizona.  I had just been given the news the day before that my right foot had suffered a double stress fracture of the 3rd and 4th metatarsals.  The soft tissue stress reaction associated with the injury had me in pretty intense pain with a very swollen foot.  I put on my best “good attitude” and down played the pain I was in so we could go about our business.  The younger guy at the meeting, always one to bust my balls any chance he gets, said, “We’ve been working together for what…10 years now?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen you where your foot wasn’t hurt.  What the hell do you keep doing to yourself?

Could he be right?  I know it’s an exaggeration but could this really go back that far?

The first time I went to the doctor with pain in my right foot I got no answers.  It could be a stress fracture, it could be a bruise, it could be a chronic condition like gout or arthritis – was the report from the non-committal doctor.  The X-rays showed nothing.  They put me in a boot back then too, but the pain was even worse in the boot so I didn’t wear it very long.  That was over 10 years ago.

I know I have a protein sensitivity and occasional problems with gout.  The pain can be intense.  The pain can be so intense it can feel like a broken bone, sometimes worse.  It can cause swelling and mobility issues.  So here’s the problem: How can I tell the difference?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the injury I sustained over a decade ago was a stress fracture.  A bad stress fracture that needed a lot of time to heal.  Could it be possible that I’ve been chasing the same recurring injury for 10 years because I never gave it enough time to heal properly?  I’m pretty stubborn, and I’ll work through pain as long as I can if I don’t think it’s a serious injury.  I do try to listen to my body, let it tell me when I need to slow down and when I need to stop…but a little pain isn’t reason to stop.  Not usually.

Physical TherapyTalking to the doctor, it seems this is exactly the case.  And the reason why it became a double stress fracture this time.  The original fracture never healed completely and created a weak point allowing the crack in the adjacent metatarsal.  The worst part about this news is that it feels very much like my current problem was brought on by my own stubbornness and stupidity.

Four pivotal weeks out of commission this Summer, and at least two more weeks of restriction before I can really start using it.  Plans have been cancelled, time lost, my fitness has suffered and my cameras are collecting dust.  The good news is the pain is gone, there are more plans on the horizon and I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Time to dust off the gear and make plans to get outside.

I have to let this injury heal properly, I can’t afford to do this again.  I want to hike, I want to climb, I don’t handle the down time well.

I’d like to hear from you guys.  I’d like to know who has gone through something like this before?  How did you handle it?  Do you still worry about re-injuring yourself?  Has it changed how you pursue physical activities?

It’s all about the juice…

ready to juice with the Hurom Slow JuicerThis is my juicer.  There are many like it but this one is mine.  My juicer is my best friend, it is my life.  I must master it as I must master my own life…

I’ve been talking about getting a good juicer for years.  Now that things are settling down a bit for me I can focus on my health and nutrition a little more and part of that process is juicing.  I’ve talked with a handful of friends and family about their experiences and none of them had anything but good to say about juicing.  They feel better, have more energy and, in some cases, have lost weight.

Over last few years I’ve transitioned to a more whole food, plant-based diet.  I still eat meat occasionally, but that is happening less and less.  These days, I have a hard time eating meat from big-box grocery stores.  Luckily, we have several very nice farmer’s markets and local growers and ranchers who provide quality food here in Phoenix.  This makes it much easier to have a well stocked kitchen with fresh food while supporting local growers.  We have almost completely pulled away from processed foods and I feel so much better about the food I put in my body.

I know there is a strong community of juicers out there who all have their favorite recipes and are always experimenting and developing new ones.  Hopefully, I will be able to share some of my favorites as I get more experience with my juicer.  I am very excited about finding recipes to use the pulp as well as the juice so less get’s tossed out.  Any of the pulp ends up in compost for the garden, so I’m not too worried about the scraps.

Anyway, I wanted to post about this because I’d like to hear about some of your favorite recipes!  If you’ve got a favorite juice recipe (or other recipe using the juicer) please share it with me below, I’d love to try it!

Mean Green JuiceMy First Juice:

This was a recipe I found over at MyJuiceCleanse.com

Mean Green Juice

6 Kale Leaves
1 Cucumber
4 Celery Stalks
2 Green Apples
1/2 Lemon
1 piece of ginger

FYI – The Juicer I bought is the Hurom Slow Juicer.

A Good Run…

I didn’t want to run today.

I haven’t really been out on a real run since the wedding in October.  My failure to complete 30 Days of Running coupled with all of the travel from the wedding/honeymoon, then the stress and fatigue of moving in November.  I just haven’t felt good enough to run.

My wife and I have developed a tradition of running on Christmas and Thanksgiving.  I didn’t run on Thanksgiving, but I did bike.  This Christmas I knew we’d be running and we did a decent cold and windy 5 mile run.  That’s not a lot of miles for most of you “runners” but it’s a fair amount for me after 2 months of no running and dealing with pain.  So it took a toll.

Then we did another short run two days later.  Still sore but we did it.  And then there was today…

Getting ready to run at Memorial Park

I really didn’t want to run.  My feet were sore, my quads very sore and I just didn’t feel like it.  I lobbied heavily for No-Run, she almost bought in but ultimately didn’t and we left for a run.

The Memorial Park Loop was busy, people everywhere.  As we started our run my feet settled in pretty quick and the pain went away.  It was a nippy 34 degrees but the sun was out so it was nice, just the way I like it.  As we passed more and more people I started feeling better and could feel my body settle into a solid stride.  For once, I was setting the pace on this run (Merelyn usually sets the pace as I struggle to keep up).

The more people I passed the more people I wanted to pass.  I started getting the race mentality and looking for stronger runners along the trail that I could chase down and pass.  Soon, we were passing nearly everyone and my stride felt easy and natural and I pushed it on.

I didn’t make any new PRs or break any records but it was a good run and, more importantly, it felt good.

I’m glad I ran today.

Saturday Ride to Tempe Town Lake…

The tail end of October I spent nursing an excruciatingly painful swollen knee. It finally improved but I’ve been taking it easy on it so far. I’ve tried running a couple of times and it still feels loose and unpredictable so I’ve taken to riding my bike to keep up some activity.

Not only do I need to keep up the rehab on the knee, but I’m in a new part of town and I have been looking forward to exploring. I took last Saturday to bike along the park that sits next to my house. It’s a beautiful park with lakes and ponds, botanical gardens, sports fields and a nice long bike path. It’s been over a decade since I’ve explored the parks along Hayden in Scottsdale.

So Saturday I decided to ride south along the trail and see what there was to see. I had no idea that the Tempe Town Lake was connected to this trail system and only 5.5 miles from the new house! I’ve never really been to Tempe Lake, even though it’s been there since it was filled with water from the Central Arizona Project in 1999. The history of the Tempe Town Lake area is very interesting stuff, it’s been a central part of the valley for a very long time. The Lake Project itself had been in the works for over a decade before it was actually realized.

bike trail cuts under major roadway

I decide to extend the ride and loop the lake along the shoreline trail. I stopped to take some pictures and especially enjoyed shooting the West End Pedestrian Bridge. I knew there was a lot to do down here but I really had no idea how active a site the Lake had become. With it’s proximity to the University, there were tons of people out running, boating, biking, playing volleyball and fishing all along the shore line.

View down the West Pedestrian Bridge

I finished my loop in a wicked headwind. I stopped a mile or so from the house and laid out in the sun on the soft grass of one of the parks. It’s nice to know the Lake is so close and easy to reach from the new place. The total ride was a little over 18 miles, a good rehab ride and a great way to spend my Saturday morning. I will have to do this one again!

More Photos from the Lake…

First test of the Suunto Ambit…

Suunto Ambit GPS watchI just received the Suunto Ambit I ordered and needed to take it out for a test drive.  I had hoped to be restarting my 30-Days-of-Running challenge by now and the Ambit would be assisting me with that, but my knee hasn’t allowed that yet.  For the past week or so my knee has been a swollen mangled mess and I’m not sure exactly what I did to it.  So while it’s recovering, I am impatiently waiting to get some training in.

Well, the knee is feeling a little better and mobility is returning but it is still extremely stiff.  I have an important hike this morning (which is why I’m typing this at 3AM) and I really needed to try to get the knee stretched out and test how much strength I really have. I decided to go for a quick bike ride yesterday.  It would allow me to test and stretch the knee, take the Ambit for a dry run AND check out a little of the new neighborhood.

lake near the bike path at Hayden Park Scottsdale

I took off from the new place in Scottsdale and took a leisurely ride around the Green Belt that runs along Hayden Road.  The biking / running trails along Hayden go for miles and see a fair amount of use.  It really nice to see so many people out biking, jogging or walking the paths.  I think we’re really going to enjoy this area.

another lake and sitting area along the bike path on Hayden Road Scottsdale

I didn’t go too far since my knee was really tender on the bike.  I was definitely stretching the limits of what I should be doing but it felt good to push it a little and let it open up.

I tracked the ride with three different devices: The new Suunto Ambit, the on-bike computer and my GPS fitness tracker app on my phone.  Each device gave me different data at the end of the ride (which is expected) and I was surprised by the gap in the final distance calculation.  The Ambit showed me traveling 7.49 miles, the on-bike tracker had me at 7.68 miles and the phone app showed 7.73 miles.  That may not seem like a lot but in only seven miles I had managed to accumulate a quarter mile discrepancy.  In a race, or tracking a specified route, this could be dangerous.

My hope is that the gap doesn’t grow with longer distances being tracked.  I will continue testing it against the other devices.  I also had some trouble getting the Heart Rate Monitor to track consistently while I was biking.  I managed to get it to recognize the device before I started but it quickly lost connection and so my HR data is very spotty.  This will be important to figure out as HR monitoring is a big part of why I wanted the Ambit in the first place.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the Ambit so far.  It’s a comfortable piece to wear, light, easy to read the display.  I like that it can cycle through a variety of custom screen options during exercise.  I really like the method by which it connects and transfers data to the computer.  Instead of having a small port which could get clogged with dirt, broken, etc. it has a clamp that lines up with 4 little contact points on the back.  Once attached, it sends the data to the computer via USB.  Easy, clean and it charges while it transfers data.  It also has an auto shut-off when it’s not being worn to save battery life.

More shots of the bike path:

The stats on each exercise are downloaded to Movescount.com where you can see all the charts and figures from your workout.  Here is my data from the bike ride:

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30 Days of Running – Failure…

Well, it started out with the best of intentions…

The last update was day 8 and it was a good 3 mile run.

Day 9 we were swamped with wedding guests and as they continued to pour in, I took time to myself and got in a decent 2.5 mile run.

wedding party

Day 10 was our wedding day, I still managed to get a short run in, but didn’t track the distance.  I would guess it was somewhere around a 2 mile run, but I was focused on a mission and didn’t track time or distance and stopped several times to investigate stick-piles.

Day 11, the day after the wedding, we had time scheduled with our photographer to do the “trash the dress” shots in the lake.  We casually hiked a mile or two to get some of the shots, but there was no running on this day.

trash the dress

After Day 10, there was no more running.  We endured marathon-level air travel to get to Costa Rica which left my wife and I exhausted.  We intended to do some trail running at the resort in Costa Rica, but what passed for “hiking trails” there were not what we expected.  Very short hikes to small vistas, certainly nothing that we could really run.

Then I spent most of our second night and third day there sick.  Really, it was 24 hours of abdominal interval training with 2-3 minutes of intense ab work at 1-hour intervals.  Good times.

36 hours awake and still going....kinda

The next two days after my, um, “Interval Training” were filled with tours.  These did included some hiking, but for the most part were nothing I would consider exercise.  I will get in to the disappointing nature of Adventure Tourism in another post.

After that, more travel back home, another couple of exhausted days of recovery and then catching up on work after being gone for two weeks.  30 Days of Running died…

Now I knew I was taking on something that would be difficult, if not impossible, to stick with through a wedding and honeymoon.  It was just something I did NOT want to keep putting off.  It was a now or never sort of decision.

So now the decision to make is: do I resurrect 30 Days of Running and start from scratch?  Was it annoying to see the daily running reports on my blog?  Should I find a better way to report the runs and stay accountable?  What do you guys think?

30 Days of Running – Day 8…

Writing this one a day late, things are really starting to get busy up here in Tahoe.  So much to do to pull the wedding together and now people are starting to show up fast and furious!

We did manage to sneak away for a bit yesterday to get a run in.  We did the same 3 mile loop around the casinos and back to the hotel.  This time it was mid-day and warm (but still way more pleasant than running in Phoenix).  I’m starting to feel a little better on the hills and finishing strong.

Running in South Lake Tahoe

Today’s Run…

Left the hotel at 3:24 PM.

Weather was a warm 75 degrees.  Ran on pavement.

Total run was 3 miles in 29 minutes 30 seconds.  Felt good and finished strong.

My foot is feeling much better today!  YAY!

 

30 Days of Running – Day 7…

This morning my foot was killing me!  This is a bunch of crap, it’s SO sore.

Best thing for it?  A run…sure, why not!

I have to get the run in right?  So let’s do this thing.  We picked a route that dropped down the road from the hotel to the lake, then along the lake for a bit before curving back up the hill and across the border in to Nevada.  The hill was rough, especially at about 6,500 ft, but Merelyn and I busted it out.

It was actually a pretty nice run once I got used to running with the pain in my foot.  Ouch.

Morning run at lake Tahoe...

Today’s Run…

Left the hotel at 8:24 AM.

Weather was a nice, chilly 40 degrees.  Ran on pavement.

Total run was 3.05 miles in 33 minutes.  Felt good and finished strong, despite the fighting the thin air.

I really want my foot to stop hurting!  Stupid foot!

Followed the run with a nice protein shake.