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.

Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

The raw excitement around the dogs was palpable and contagious as they yipped, barked and howled with anticipation in the falling snow.  While one group of riders split off and mounted their growling machines, I followed Beth, Justin, Katie and Derek through the thick snow to the sleds.  Snow swiftly swirled around us and the restless dogs as the winds picked up and visibility diminished.  The wirey dogs were quickly harnessed up and attached to the leads one by one, each of them seemingly bursting with excitement for the first sled run of the day.

Columbia OmniGames

Due to injury and lack of mobility, I would not be competing in the long anticipated games.  Nearly 40 outdoors enthusiasts and social media influencers from the past four seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten program gathered near Park City, Utah for a collective competition.  The competition would be a secret set of challenges, completed in teams, with a serious prize on the line.  Once the content of the games was revealed and the teams were chosen, I began my own challenge: To tell the story of the games through photographs.

The final challenge for everyone in the competition would be “Charles Dickens”, a storytelling challenge.  I knew the teams would be immersed in their activities,  in some cases fighting the clock, and there would be little time or opportunity for them to capture the images that could bring their stories to life.  In the highly visual mediums we have to portray our stories, images are invaluable and grab a reader’s attention quickly.  So my challenge, my contribution to the games, would be to capture the moments that would help support the narratives of the competitors to the best of my abilities.

I chose to start my shoot with the first dog sled teams, passing up an opportunity to follow the first snowmobiles to the archery site.  Everyone was excited about the dog sleds and I knew I needed to capture that excitement early while it was still raw, while the dogs were still fresh, while the apprehension was still visible.  I wanted to focus on two things at this station, the excitement on people’s faces as they readied for their first ride and the explosive energy of the dogs.  The dogs were much less cooperative than the #omniten but were the real stars, beautiful animals straining against their harnesses with incredible power.

Columbia Omnigames

The shooting wasn’t too difficult here, but getting around in a foot and a half or more of snow with a bad knee made for some sketchy moments.  A couple of falls and bad twists made things interesting and set a cautious tone in my head about being physically able to follow the games.  Still, I would do my best.

Making fire exciting

It was quiet once the dogs had run off with their sleds in tow.   I set off across the snow to find the other teams working on their challenges.  luckily for me the other events were clustered together, but they were up a hill…normally not an issue but this time it felt like an arduous trek.  I struggled up the snowy, uneven path to the Fire Challenge.

Columbia Omnigames

Each team had 25 minutes to light a fire and get a small pot of water boiling.  Not quite the excitement surrounding the dog sleds.  Looking for storylines I focused on the expressions of concentration,  I tried to capture the spark flying off the flint starter, and for those who were successful…flame.  I started to realize my background in graphic design and sequential illustration played in to how I thought about the photos.  During the Fire Challenge I really began to treat the photography like I was setting up a storyboard. I looked for “scene setting” images, “character” images and “action images” while in my head I stitched them together sequentially so I could visualize and capitalize on the gaps.  This technique of visualizing a sequential storyline helped get me through the next few events.

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

I really wish I could have covered everyone at every event, but it just wasn’t possible. The Dog Sledding was too mobile and the archery event was too remote.  Even the clustered events were difficult because I was having a hard time moving quickly enough through the snow to catch each team at each event.  Knowing I couldn’t do it all, I began to broaden the scope of the story I could tell.  Instead of focusing on individual stories, I realized I needed to tell the broader story of the games in general. I started thinking about the group story and how the individual stories would intertwine.

Columbia Omnigames

This released me from the idea that I had to capture everyone at every station. As long as I could cover different crews at each event I would be supporting the overall story. Still, the first day was a serious challenge.

Archery in the snow

I managed to grab a ride along on one of the snowmobiles later in day one. The weather had become more aggressive and our visibility was getting pretty tight when we took off. I remember thinking that this could make for some great dramatic images or it could ruin my equipment. I stored my gear for the ride out to protect it then set up once we reached the archery station.

Archery turned out to be some of the most dramatic imagery I captured on the first day. The wind picked up and the snow whipped through the frame while I narrowed in on the expressions of focus and concentration of our archers. Just the image of a drawn bow exudes tension, power and drama and has been used in imagery of warriors for millennia for just that reason. This was a pretty stationary event, like the fire building, so I worked my angles to capture a higher sense of action to support the narrative.

Columbia Omnigames

Day one of the #Omnigames wrapped up in whiteout conditions with the last of the #Omniten warming themselves indoors with bowls of fresh chili and hot chocolate. I found myself continuing to head outside even though the games were over just to enjoy the weather. Standing outside, wrapped in my warm Columbia gear with the wind and snow whipping around me I was able to have a little quiet time to think and appreciate where I was and how I got here.

Columbia Sportswear has developed a culture built around pushing boundaries and exploring our limits. Their products are designed with this in mind and the “Trying Stuff” mantra is a corporate rally cry that echoes throughout everything they do. We were brought together by Columbia because we embody this message, we live the “Trying Stuff” lifestyle with everything we do. To me it is just that,  a lifestyle, a philosophy that permeates every part of our lives. It’s a personal commitment to accepting challenges and facing them with persistence and excitement…even joy.

Once you stop facing challenges, once you stop pushing your boundaries, you stop growing…you stop improving and learning. You stop living. I will always be “Trying Stuff” whether that means pushing my limits outdoors, developing my home and gardens to their full potential, learning new skills, or expanding my career. I was limited by injury on this trip but it didn’t stop me from “Trying Stuff”. I was able to explore my limits with photography and push my equipment, knowledge and skills to knew levels. Something that has me excited about doing more photography work in the future. At this point who knows where it will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

The #OmniTen effect…

Columbia OmniTEN

I’ve followed the Columbia #Omniten from the beginning.

I remember reading blog posts from original #Omniten about their trip together, how it changed them…brought them all closer together.  It was the kind of trip that inspired life long friendships.  The unique experience of that trip changed the careers, lives and relationships of those who were there.

I wondered if our group would develop that bond.  I wondered if I would be changed by the experience.  I wondered if the first #Omniten was unique.

I’m not the type of person who makes friends easily.  As an introvert, I will tell jokes and make superficial conversation to avoid making true connections with people.  Usually.  The outdoor community is different, the people are different.  Meeting people from the outdoor community face to face for the first time is a lot like visiting old friends you haven’t seen in a while.  Easy, comfortable, comforting, exciting, fun and mixed with a lot of laughter.  Meeting my #Omniten family for the first time was like this.

I will write more in the next couple of weeks about the trip and share some photos.  This was “the adventure of a lifetime”, as Eric put it.  For me personally it was a homecoming, it was emotional.  I’ve always dreamed of being able to take a group of good friends on a whitewater trip and show them why I love the river so much.  Even if I wasn’t the one guiding the trip, this really felt like the trip I’ve dreamed of.  I give credit to Columbia for putting together a stellar group of people and not just the #Omniten.  The people from Columbia that joined our adventure were all truly great people and added tremendously to the enjoyment of the trip.

Columbia OmniTEN

I haven’t floated the swirling currents of the river in over 5 years.  It felt good to drift along in the fickle current, to ride the eddie lines, to slide down the broad green tongue at the top of a rapid and bounce along the frothing, white-capped wave train.  I’d almost forgotten how much I love the sounds of the river – the trickling of waterfalls, the roaring of whitewater, the creak of the oarlocks and soft dip of the oar blades into the quiet, flat water.

I miss the river already, but I just might miss my new friends a little bit more.  I now know first-hand how the other group felt when they had to say goodbye at the end of their trip.  It’s bitter-sweet and filled with adventurous opportunity.

I hope to see you all again soon!