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Blog Archives

7/7/05 The Blog is Back

It's been a tough two weeks, but also a very uplifting time. Carol's memorial service was really special. I'll try to get back to regular postings now.

7/8/05 Where to play

I'm going to create a section on the site highlighting our favorite training spots. I'll put the drafts here. Today, I'll look at what has to be the best park for all-around adventure race training in the St. Louis metro area - Castlewood State Park.

What makes Castlewood so great is that you can train any discipline you want (except rock climbing, which has sadly been banned in the park). There are several mountain bike trails ranging from fast trails on the floodplain to technical singletrack on the ridges. There is a put in area for canoeing/kayaking on the Meremac with some class I rapids nearby that you can paddle up and down for a good interval workout. You can go off trail all year round because the ridges are steep enough that they never get choked with undergrowth. The flood plain on the north side of the river gets a lot of stinging nettle in the summer, but the section on the south side is also open woods year round.

Castlewood is on the Eureka USGS quad. SLOC also has an orienteering map of the park (it's one of my early efforts and I'm not particularly proud of it, but it's better than USGS).

7/9/05 Berryman

A big chunk of central Missouri is the Mark Twain National Forest. Although it's a bit of a drive from St. Louis (about 2 hours), this is prime Adventure Racing terrain and well worth the trip. Included in this area are all classes of rapids (including some used for Kayaking nationals), cliffs (that you can legally climb), and vast areas of forest.

Planted in this forest is the Berryman Trail. This 24.5-mile loop is entirely singletack, much of it moderately technical. The trail is great for both mountain biking or running. It's also open to horses, but it's long enough that you don't usually run into too many.

One of the best features of the trail is that it's open any time. Unlike state parks that seem pretty concerned that people might get hurt if the trail is icy or dark, the national forests pretty much leave you to your own judgment. Yesterday, Carol's Team rode the entire trail at night. It was a great long workout both physically and mentally. Riding singletrack in the middle of the night is not much harder than during the day once you get used to it.

The Berryman Trail is on the Berryman USGS quad. The trail is mapped with reasonable accuracy on the USGS map.

7/10/05 Feel bad, race good

Today I woke up feeling lethargic. I probably would have skipped the race altogether, but Soulard is one of my favorite races of the year. The course is interesting and the crowd is very supportive (at least by the standards of US cycling crowds). I rode to the race (about 1.5 hours at an easy pace) and felt a little better when I got there.

It was a hard race. By the end, the biggest group was 9 riders. There were four off the front - everybody else was dropped. I felt the effort and had a few tenuous moments myself, but basically rode fine. I even managed to come up with something for the sprint at the end to take 7th.

This is pretty common for me. If I feel great the morning of an event, I might do OK, but my best performances have come on days when I didn't really feel all that good. I think a lot of it is mental. If you feel really good at the start of a race, you get bummed out when it starts to hurt. If you expect to feel bad, you push through it.

7/11/05 West Tyson

West Tyson County Park is another park in the metro area that offers training opportunities in all disciplines. Tyson is best known for hosting the technical portion of the Chubb Trail. The Chubb is the best mountain biking within St. Louis County.

The southern part of the park is very steep ridge and valley terrain with open woods year round. The northern part of the park is flood plain that can get a bit thick in the summer. This northern section connects via the Chubb to the nice part of the Castlewood flood plain.

While climbing is technically forbidden at West Tyson, there are lots of opportunities for bouldering and scrambling. A rock ledge that varies from 1 to 5 meters high winds throughout the whole park. There are many areas where this can be safely ascended without ropes.

The put in for paddling is across from the entrance at Route 66 park. This section of the Meremac is calm unless you paddle quite a ways. One fun trip is to paddle downstream to the Castlewood take out, lock your boat to a tree, swim/wade across the Meremac, and then run back on the Chubb. The paddle is about 10 miles, but the run back is more like six because it takes a more direct route.

West Tyson is in the Manchester USGS quadrangle. SLOC has an excellent orienteering map of the area.

7/12/05 Weldon Spring

Weldon Spring Conservation Area is a reasonably close-in area that offers a lot of training possibilities. The land is owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation, so there isn't much in the way of amenities (shelters, campsites, etc.). What there is a lot of is great terrain. South of Route 94 is steep ridge and valley terrain. The Lewis and Clark trails offer spectacular views over the Missouri River (the trails were featured in the "Places to Run" section of Runner's World. These trails are closed to mountain bikes.

North of the highway, the Lost Valley loop is open to bikes and provides some singletrack sections. This area is less steep and the vegetation is slightly thicker. The whole area is a bit thick by St. Louis standards, particularly in the summer.

Yvonne trains here several times a week since she works right across the street.

A long brick workout that David is fond of is to ride from Creve Coeur over the Page bridge and then take the Katy trail to Weldon Spring. Lock your bike to a tree where the Katy hits the Lewis trail and run a loop of the Lewis trail and then ride back.

Weldon Spring is on the Weldon Spring USGS Quad. The trails are not indicated on the map.

7/13/05 Creve Coeur

Creve Coeur County Park is still undergoing some surgery. As part of the agreement for building the Page Avenue extension through the Park, the Department of Transportation funded a much needed renovation of the park. The result is a pretty nice area for training.

Perhaps the least understood part of the renovation is the dredging of the lake. Once this is complete, the lake should be safe for swimming again (I'm not sure exactly what toxin is down there, but it can't be too bad, because they have allowed paddling in the lake all along and the lake is only 10 feet deep.) Paddling around the perimeter of the lake is about 4 miles.

The dredging has changed the shape of the lake somewhat. The island is now accessible by land and the marshy area south of the lake is now dry enough to run through (although still pretty muddy in the spring). These two changes have added about a square kilometer of prime flatland orienteering terrain. Of course, to take advantage of it, somebody has to map it. It's on my to-do list, but it's at least a year off.

In the mean time, it's a good place to paddle and the jogging/biking path is quite nice. The trail is linked to the page avenue extension, so you can connect to the Katy trail if you feel the need to do a 300-mile bike ride and don't like cars.

Creve Coeur County Park is on the Creve Coeur USGS quad. SLOC has a decent orienteering map of the park. Both maps are obsolete in the southern half of the park due to the Page Avenue changes.

7/14/05 Pheidippides and the Bar Bet

Apropos of nothing, here's a piece I wrote recently.

Stop me if you've heard this one. Oh, wait, we've all heard the story about the guy who takes a bar bet the night before a major city marathon and manages to run it in three hours. As with all urban legends, the story is told with lots of details that no disinterested person would keep straight. The runner's name, the easiest part of the story to recall (and to verify), has somehow been lost.

Surely, there are people out there who have run a marathon on a whim. This most likely occurs in smaller races since the big marathons don't take race day entries. But that detail doesn't necessarily invalidate the story. The person could always run as a bandit. I expect that the vast majority of such attempts are unsuccessful, but a few manage to finish. Some might even arrive before the finish is closed down at five or six hours.

A finish time is a completely meaningless number to a non-runner. Most people don't even know how far a marathon is. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone outside the running community that could tell you that a 3-hour marathon requires stringing together 6:52 miles. Even running a single mile in 6:52 is an experience few people can relate to. The storyteller is just picking a number out of the air and 1 hour behind the winner seems both impressive and believable.

Of course, no such number exists. The rigors of professional competition have made it impossible in any sport for an untrained athlete to do something "impressive" by objective standards. If someone told me they knew someone who ran a marathon with no training and "did OK," I'd believe them. But when they throw out a time that would be a PR for 90% of the running population, it sounds a bit fishy.

By including the finish time, the storyteller is asking that the story be judged as an athletic achievement rather than one of personal triumph. And that's too bad, because as athletic achievement, a 3-hour marathon is not worth reporting. As personal triumph, merely finishing a first marathon certainly qualifies.

The original marathon legend is quite different. We hear all the details a normal person would remember - the victory over the Persians, the run back to Athens, the subsequent collapse and death, and the name Pheidippides. Nobody ever quotes a finish time despite it being a de facto world record.

The Pheidippides story does have some problems. The ending fits too conveniently with what the Greeks considered good theater. Perhaps if the Persians had won and Athens needed to organize a hasty defense such urgency would be called for. But why would a messenger see the need to run himself to death to tell people they had nothing to worry about? Perhaps he was concerned the Athens Gazette would run a picture of him walking through a feed zone.

Unlike our hero from the bar, Pheidippides was a trained professional runner. The honor of carrying the message of victory would be given to the best foot messenger on hand. My guess is that, aside from a few blisters and a sore set of quads, he came through it just fine. Later, when his running buddies questioned him about his newfound celebrity, he played it cool and described the run as an OK effort, but he was dying at the end. When the quote got into the media, the metaphor was lost. Fact checking wasn't a priority among Ancient historians.

Why do people embrace both of these obviously contradictory stories? How could an event that killed a professional be so easily conquered by a novice? I believe it is due to a fundamental misunderstanding about athletics in general and the marathon in particular. Most people believe that athletic prowess is as pre-ordained by genetics as hair color or a recessed chin. They reason that a marathon is impossible for most people and easy for a select few.

Both conclusions are wrong. Any reasonably healthy person can walk 26.2 miles in a day with no training at all. It won't be much fun, but it's possible. In less than a year, that same person can train themselves to actually run a marathon. This time, it might be fun, it might even take less than three hours, but it still won't be easy. Running a marathon at or near one's potential is brutally hard regardless of genetic gifts. That's why the world's top marathoners only do it a few times a year. If they could race more, they certainly would, since that's how they get paid.

Genetics does matter. No amount of training will make me a 2:10 marathoner. But training had everything to do with the difference between my first marathon (4:35) and my second (3:21). And that's really the point. While it's nice to pick up a trophy here or there, most of us run not to be seen by others, but to get a better look at ourselves. As we run into perceived limits, we find those limits have much less to do with genetics, gender, or age and much more to do with how determined we are to move them.

Even if it was possible for an untrained runner to knock out a 3-hour marathon, the feat would merely indicate that with proper training, the person would probably be a decent runner. That's true of many people who don't run. We are not defined by the things we could do - it is the things we actually do that matter. We choose to run.

7/16/05 Memory

The SLOC meet today at Queeny was an unusual format. The first loop was traditional orienteering (except that it was on mountain bike rather than foot). Then, you had to turn in your map and repeat the loop with no map.

I didn't have any real problems on the second loop - just a small boom on one control when I forgot how far up a hill the control was. I had to run back down the hill when I realized I'd overshot it.

Remembering you've already completed is much easier than trying to memorize it from a map. I've only done one memory event where you had to memorize multiple legs from the map. That was a few years back at Carondolet Park. There were something like 20 controls and the only map was at the start finish. On that occasion, I memorized about half the course and then came back and memorized the second half. In a woods setting, that would be really hard, but I was reasonably accurate at Carondolet.

I'm not sure if memory-O makes you a better navigator. I used to think so, but now I think it's more important to stay in constant contact with the map. Checking the map every hundred meters or so doesn't really slow you down any if you know how to read on the run. Memory-O is a lot of fun, though.

7/20/05 Fluids

Hydration is very important when exercising. Everybody knows this, but few take it seriously. In hot weather, it's nearly impossible to stay hydrated during a workout. Those fluids need to be replenished as quickly as possible after the workout. Letting you body run dry for several hours after the workout will dramatically increase the recovery needed.

On hot days, I weigh myself before and after a workout. I make sure that I drink the difference immediately. Depending on the amount needed, I may also take some electrolytes to help it get absorbed quickly.

Today, I rode for three hours. During the ride I drank 6 pounds of water and 2 pounds of Gatorade. I came back four pounds light. I drank a half gallon of Gatorade following the ride. Going through four pounds of fluid an hour is pretty common for me in July. A couple weeks ago, I went through 19 pounds in a 4-hour workout (I finished 6 pounds light).

How much you can lose depends on your weight and how well hydrated you are at the start of the workout. The rule of thumb is that if you start fully hydrated, you can lose 5% of your weight before it becomes dangerous. For me, that's 9 pounds. I've lost more than that without getting messed up, but I generally like to keep it under 5 pounds.

About 20 years ago, I lost 17 pounds of fluid on a long, hot ride. I passed out and had to go to the hospital and get IV's. Youth lets you get away with stuff like that. If I did that now, I'd probably die. I've been a lot more careful about hydration ever since then.

7/21/05 It's hot!

Summer has been asserting itself the last week or so in St. Louis. There's nothing unusual about this, but having grown up in more moderate climes, I'm still amazed at the summers here. Last week I had to work really late. I came home around 3AM. It was foggy. It was also 75 degrees. 75 degree fog; what's up with that?

Today, I went for what was supposed to be an easy run. I tried to run slow, and my watch would indicate that I did, but my pulse at the end of the run was 160.

I've been running a few times a week at lunch. It's not the most pleasant time of day to be running. It does help when a race hits you with a running section in the middle of the day. We had this at Goomna. It was nearly 100 degrees for most of the 2-hour run. I was glad I had been doing my midday runs.

7/22/05 The legend of Creve Coeur

I got some questions on the origin of the name of Creve Coeur Park. Those who know a little French can see that it means "Broken Heart". From what I understand, some Indian girl fell for a French trapper who ditched her. I imagine there was a pregnancy involved, but those sordid details are left out of the official versions. She threw herself from the bluff overlooking the lake. In response the lake then formed itself into the shape of a broken heart. The strangest part of this last detail is that it might be true.

One of the interesting things about Creve Coeur Lake (and most other flood plain lakes) is that it is so shallow that it can change shape rather rapidly. The Army Corps of Engineers has deemed this a bad thing and built all sorts of levees and dams to prevent such evolution. The current and more or less permanent shape of the lake is a rather poor approximation of a broken heart, but you can kind of see it.

Prior to such interdiction efforts, Creve Coeur Lake probably changed shape almost every year. Some of the versions might have been pretty close to the shape of a broken heart. During the spring, the Missouri River would be several miles wide. Silt carried by the river would get dropped into eddies, forming new shapes on the riverbed. When the water receded, the low lying areas would be left as lakes until the next flood. Creve Coeur Lake is four miles around, but only ten feet deep, so it wouldn't take much to make a big change in the shape.

7/24/05 Safety

Yesterday, Jeff, Carrie, and I did a night ride in Mark Twain National Forest. It was an easy ride and we finished up at around 11PM. From there, I drove to Columbia for the State Games Duathlon today. I wanted to get there by 1AM so I'd get five hours of sleep. About 30 miles from Columbia, I started feeling tired and decided that I'd better pull over and rest a bit. I'm sure that 20 years ago I would have kept driving in that situation figuring I could push on for another half hour.

After a short nap, I chugged some Mountain Dew and set out again feeling somewhat refreshed. I then came across a pickup truck lying on its roof. Every body panel was crushed, so it had obviously done several full rolls. One other car was stopped and two people were standing near the wreckage One guy was talking on a cell phone. I got out and asked the other if there was anybody trapped inside the truck. His response floored me: "No, I was the only one in there."

Looking at the wreckage, I couldn't imagine anybody crawling out on their own. And yet, this guy didn't even seem to be hurt much (although his voice was shaking a bit). He had fallen asleep at the wheel and driven into the median (this was a divided highway). He had done one thing right: he was wearing his seatbelt.

I have a friend who rolled her car after falling asleep at the wheel. She and the front seat passenger were wearing their seat belts. The two in the back weren't. The front seat passengers walked away from it, the two in the back were messed up - one of them died. Some of the simplest things are also the most important.

Many people think adventure racers are crazy for the things we do. It's true, that without the proper precautions, you could get pretty messed up. But when proper safety measures are followed, Long Course racing is pretty safe. Certainly a lot safer than driving a car when you're sleepy.

My personal opinion is that Expedition racing (longer than 36 hours) is inherently unsafe for just this reason. Sleep deprivation destroys your ability to make good safety decisions. I'd like to do an expedition race, but only if the race director convinced me that these things had been thought through. I think expedition racing can be safe, but the idea that a team can be completely self-sufficient in potentially dangerous situations when they've only slept four of the last 100 hours is just nonsense.

7/25/05 Surprise

I try to enter a race with the attitude that I could win it. I don't mean this in the arrogant sense - that I should win it. More in the opportunistic sense - that it's possible. Even races where I am clearly not the best, I still like to keep in the back of my head that, if I put out my best performance and everything goes right, it could happen. I think I race better when I think this way - even in the cases where it probably isn't true.

Yesterday, I saw a lot of people who obviously take a different attitude. Some of the competitors were riding hybrid bikes (there were even a couple bona-fide mountain bikes). Some were riding in sneakers instead of cycling shoes. This isn't uncommon. The bottom part of most duathlon fields is usually pretty recreational. I'm not knocking it. People should do whatever is fun for them. Many of these folks seemed pretty happy when they finished.

I understand the appeal of doing something just for the fun of it. When I go to an amusement park, I don't try to be the best roller coaster rider. I just get on and enjoy it. But for me, a lot of the fun of an event is the preparation. To enter a race without training for it seems to miss much of the reward. But again, that's just me and it's not really what I wanted to write about today, anyway.

What I wanted to write about was the very strange sensation I got when I took the lead in yesterday's race. As I mentioned, I try to start with the attitude I could win. At some point during the race, this either becomes a reality or it doesn't (in time-trial type events, I often have to wait around for a bit to find out). I'm used to this and usually don't get all bummed when I realize I'm not going to win - I just look forward to the next chance.

Yesterday was the opposite and it happens so rarely that I was surprised by the strength of the emotion. I cling to my "I can win this" notion pretty tightly. The race has to be pretty clearly blown before I give up. Yesterday, I figured I was at that point when Jason rode off over the horizon on the bike leg. I was pretty sure I was a better runner than him, but how much damage can you really do in a 5K. It was clear he was going to win the bike leg by several minutes. I accepted that and used the motivation of winning my age group to keep on pushing.

As I started the run, I didn't even think to look ahead to see how Jason was doing (if I had, I would have seen him struggling because the first half mile was around a lake). Instead, I transitioned as quick as I could and looked back across the lake to see who was coming behind me. When I caught Jason, I really didn't have a pre-programmed reaction. For a while I was just really confused because it just didn't seem possible that I'd take three minutes out of him in just a little over a mile of running. But, when you're cooked, you're cooked and he was clearly cooked.

The next emotion was complete panic. I was suddenly horrified that I might get caught myself. I had no rational basis for this, as I was running pretty well given the heat. At the turnaround I confirmed that my lead over third had, if anything, grown a few seconds. I still couldn't get the panicky thoughts out of my head. It just seemed like no lead could possibly be safe. These distractions did mess me up a bit because I started pushing too hard and got a stitch. Fortunately, the run was almost over at that point and by backing off just a bit I got through it.

When I got to the finish I was drained, both physically and emotionally. It's pretty rare that I get carried away like that. I think the combination of the tough conditions (mid 90's by the end of the run) and the completely unexpected turn of events got me into a state of mind that I just didn't know how to deal with. I guess it's nice that after over 1000 races I still get completely new experiences now and then.

7/26/05 Racing for fun

Yesterday I wrote that I enjoy races more if I've prepared for them. While that's true, there are a few races that are so much fun, I do them even if I'm not ready. The Possum Trot in 2003 was an example - I broke my foot six weeks before the event, so I had no running in the weeks leading up to the race. I still had fun and I'm still glad I did it.

Another such event is the Babler Beast Triathlon. I'm a terrible swimmer. I suppose I could fix that, but it's just not that important to me. Babler has a relatively short swim - 500 yards. I do that in around 9 minutes which puts me a good 3 minutes behind the leaders. That would normally be a disaster in a short event, but the bike and run course are so difficult at Babler that you can make up a lot of ground.

Of course, the top guys are good at cycling and running, too. This is not a race where I try to convince myself I could win. It is a lot of fun to be hammering hard and catching people. Last year I got all the way up to 13th place.

I wasn't sure if I would do Babler this year because I haven't been swimming at all. Last night I went to the pool and swam 500 yards in 9:30. I figured that was good enough to make the race fun so I entered. Who knows, maybe in three weeks I can knock that down a bit.

7/27/05 Animal ride

No, I'm not talking about riding the train at the zoo. Every Tuesday, the Metro Tri Club (Alton, IL) holds a ride they call the animal ride. The Metro Tri Club (AKA Team Godzilla) is pretty big on hype, but they tend to back up their words. Their signature race, the Pere Marquette Trail Run is a brutal test of stamina. I was working in Alton yesterday, so I decided to give the ride it a try.

The ride starts in Wanda and takes the bike path over to SIUE. Then it takes three loops around the campus and comes back on roads. Everybody rides pretty mellow on the bike path and then hammers the rest of the ride. The overall horsepower is considerably less than the two big Tuesday rides on the west side of the Mississisppi (Tuesday Night Crits and the Marquette ride), but the top few are pretty fast. I rode with the leaders and found it to be a quality workout.

I don't know that I'd go out of my way to do this ride because of the two excellent alternatives in St. Louis. However, if you live on the Illinois side, this is a great option. The ride starts at 6:00PM (sharp!) from the bike path parking lot at Wanda Rd and Madison Ave in Wanda.

7/28/2005 Off to Iowa

Tonight we'll be driving to Sioux City for the Extreme Heart Challenge. I'll try to post results on Sunday.

This will be my first time racing in Iowa. That surprises me a bit, given that I've lived the last 14 years in two of its border states (Missouri and Illinois). Adding Iowa brings the list of raced states to 36. The 14 I haven't raced in are: AL, AK, FL (will fix that at nationals this year), HI, ID, LA, MS, MT, NM, ND, OK, SD, TX, and WY.

I think I'd like to do a race in every state. There are lots of races in every state - it's just a question of justifying the trip. Oklahoma would be easy enough. Texas hosts orienteering A-meets every few years. Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, and Montana would certainly be worth a trip, even if the race was insignificant. Some of the other states might be problematic.

7/31/05 Teaspoon of sewage

There's a corollary to Murphy's Law that says that mixing a barrel of wine and a teaspoon of sewage yields a barrel of sewage. It could also be stated that mixing 18 hours of excellent racing with three misplaced controls and a bad map results in a crappy adventure race.

The Extreme Heart Challenge was a huge disappointment. The finishing order, for what it's worth was LBC/High Gear, Iowa Active, and then us. I have no problem with losing to those teams; they're both pretty good. I do have a problem with the race management because what should have been a great battle between three good teams was ruined by the problems with the course.

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