Friday, April 15, 2011

I Am Not a Wheel

[Several people have asked about this post, so a bit of explanation is in order. This is my entry for a creative writing contest, celebrating Earth Day. I took second place (apparently, I'm better at writing than racing..) and won a gift certificate of some sort. Anyway, enjoy this creative essay! - Scott]

A strip of sunlight entered the room and danced lightly on my well-worn shoes by the door. Today I would run, rather than ride. Shoes in place, I stepped out into the brightness.

My thoughts sang softly to the even tempo of my feet against the pavement.  I flew through neighborhoods and down city streets, instinctively pulled towards the trail passage in the nearby forest.

“Yield” commanded the sign. “Never” I replied.

“Recycle” ordered the bin. “With every step” I breathed.

“Caution” flashed the light. “Another day perhaps” I conceded.

The cracked concrete of neglected sidewalks made war with my pounding feet. Salvo after salvo was exchanged in my relentless pursuit of the forest.  Muscles ached. Knees creaked. Feet stung. Still, I pounded on.

“If only my legs were wheels,” I thought. Rolling down the hard city streets promised a gentler journey than the pounding of foot against stone. But then I thought of the forest that had been here before the hardscrabble streets. Is that why we pave over the earth? The wheel seems to have become our master rather than our slave.

Cars passed closely, leaving me to struggle through their sickly sweet breeze. Busses growled past, belching acrid, black smoke. But the trees were calling. I would not be denied.

Entering the coolness of the forest, I was happy to leave the chaos of the city. As the trees closed in behind me, the noise of the city faded, leaving only the sounds of wind and footsteps. My stride softened as I flew down the trail. My feet no longer raged against the earth. The pounding battle had ended, replaced with a peaceful flow of foot, root, rock, and trail.

The trail wound deeper and downwards into the forest. My spirits lifted with each step. The run became dance – quick, intricate steps among roots and stones - gentle pirouettes around towering trees.
As the trail neared a cascading stream, the two intertwined in their own eternal dance – twirling with bridges and stepping stones.  I spun among them, dancing as partner to both the trail and the stream. My feet flowed with the stream as I danced, ever downwards.

I chased the mysteries of the trail. What lay around the next bend? What was beyond the next shimmering shaft of sunlight? Gliding through the dappled light of the forest, my worries melted away.

I forgot about the city. I let go of everything and flowed with the stream. My worries would be waiting for me at the end of the trail. For now, I only wanted to run - to absorb the moist, mossy smell of the stream - to tread sparkling clouds of trail dust into the shafts of sunlight – to dance softly among the ancient trees.

“Here is true happiness,” I thought. The quick, light movement of feet upon the earth is far better than the spin of wheels against concrete.

For I am not a wheel - I am water.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Roll On! - Mountain To Sea Trail 12 Mile Challenge

I've been feeling a bit beat up lately. Too much running I think. I'm still dealing with the aftermath of running the Umstead Trail Marathon in a totally unprepared state. It would be wise to take some time off and recover. And maybe find some new shoes to replace my worn out Mizuno racing flats.

But, what's this? A twelve mile trail race sponsored by my local running shop! On a trail I'd never run on before... How could I resist?!

So, 3 days before the race, I signed up to run. No, I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack when it comes to decisions involving running.

The Stats
For those of you who are only interested in the race stats, here you go:

  • Pre-race Coffee Consumed - 3 cups (Mmmm, I love coffee!)
  • Pre-race port-o-potty visits - 3 (my sincere apologies to the person who had to use the port-o-potty after my last visit!! Damn coffee....)
  • Pre-race starting corral conversations - 1 (damn my introverted personality!)
  • Number of times during the race I thought I was going to puke - 3 (all in the first 3 miles. Damn you coffee!!)
  • Number of times I twisted my right ankle - 5 (damn you roots and rocks!)
  • Number of times I cursed - lost count...
  • Number of times I fell down - ONE, and that was just a slide down into a ditch on my arse. I consider this a raging success for a 12 mile trail race!
  • Number of people I passed - 4
  • Number of people who passed me - lost count.... I started too far forward in the pack. Sorry, everyone!
  • Unofficial Time - 2:09, 10:45min/mile pace.
Pre Race 
The night before the race, massive storms rolled through the area and dumped 10 feet of rain on the trail! Ok, maybe an inch or so. But the storms, kept me awake for most of the night (I'm a very light sleeper), so I got only 3 hours or so of sleep. I worried about the lack of sleep and the possibly very muddy conditions of the trail, but both turned out to be non-issues.

After my disastrous transport issues at the Tobacco Road Half Marathon, the MST 12 Miler race was a welcome relief. I never waited for a shuttle van for more than 5 minutes. This is just one example of how well the race was run. Many thanks to Bull City Running and all the volunteers for making everything run so smoothly!

The race start was right on the shore of Falls Lake. Where else but the South could you be required to drive on Possum Track Road (I couldn't make that up!) to get to the race start?

The Race
I tried to choose a sensible position in the starting corral. Honestly! But I didn't count on coffee poisoning (actually the coffee was excellent, but I drank too much) during the first 3 miles. I was fine for the first mile or so, but then I burped. Urgh.... coffee burp. The next 3 miles were sheer misery and I think about 100 people passed me. Enough said about that...

About mile 5, my stomach settled down and I eased into a nice survival pace. I struck up a conversation with the guy right behind me (Wendel, I should have asked your last name) who was running the same pace. We ended up running together off and on for the remainder of the race. It's nice to be able to talk to someone while running. I need to convince some of my runner friends to come trail racing with me...

The Mountain To Sea trail along Falls Lake is beautiful. I really enjoyed the course. The trail was hilly, but the hills were more rolling and less steep than Umstead. When I had the chance to take my eyes off the trail, the views of Falls Lake were excellent. I had expected very muddy conditions with the downpour of the previous night, but the trail was only truly muddy in a handful of spots and generally just wet. Other than the treacherous, slick, wet roots along the trail, the running was easy.

I felt good enough toward the end to push hard for the last 3 miles and finished strong. My hard goal was to finish faster than 2:30. My stretch goal was to finish in under 2 hours. If I hadn't screwed up in the first 4 miles or so, I might have made it in under 2 hours, but overall, I'm very happy with a 2:09.

Post Race
Man what a great food spread at the finish! Cookies, fruit, bars, bread, bagels, and several drink options. Nice! I had a few snacks and  hung out for a while to watch the awards presentation. I also finally met AC of the very cool Running Down blog, who ended up winning his master's class. Congrats, Anthony! I think I'm anchoring the other end of our master's group. Hey, someone has to be last too...

Ahhh, That's Better! - Altra Instinct Shoe Review

I've been waiting (and waiting, and waiting...) for the Altra shoes to finally hit my local shop (Bull City Running - can't say enough good things about this place!) and this week, the Instinct finally arrived. For those of you who don't normally read my blog, I have wide feet. I've been searching for a flat shoe with close to zero heel to toe drop, mainly for road running where I like a bit more padding, that would accommodate my paddle feet.

I had been running in Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats for the past 8 months or so, but my pair was really worn out and I felt unstable on anything wet or slippery. The MWU3's have been great shoes for me, but unfortunately, since the time I bought my first pair, my feet have widened to the point that a new pair is painful to wear, so simply wearing a new pair was out of the question. Sometimes, being a mid-foot runner has it's downsides...

Even the new minimal trail shoes weren't wide enough for my feet, so I was getting a bit frustrated, until I tried the SoftStar RunAmoc. But I still wanted a more substantial shoe with more grip for conditions where the RunAmoc would not cut it (wet, muddy, very technical single track trail or long runs on pavement). What follows is my purely amateur review of the Instinct.

To say I was happy about the fit of the Instincts is a bit of an under statement. I actually almost laughed out loud in the store when I tried them on. They had a simply beautiful wide forefoot and mid foot area that actually fit my foot nearly perfectly. No other shoe, besides my custom built RunAmocs, has felt as good. In the first 24 hours that I wore them, I was concerned that perhaps the left shoe was a bit too tight near the ball of my foot, but after using the Altra recommended lacing technique, I was left with a perfect fit. And I don't use the word "perfect" lightly. I'm a stickler for good shoe fit. The Instincts fit like a snug, beefy version of my RunAmocs, which is high praise from me.

The Instincts come with two insoles - one with a more traditional arch support and padding, and one which is simply a very thin, flat insert which functions to cover the internal stitching of the shoe. Since I'm a mid-foot striker when running, I use the flat insert (I think it's called the strengthening insert in the Altra product literature). This also gives my foot more room inside the shoe, which is a bonus.

Since I've purchased them, I've run a 5K on pavement and a 12 mile trail race (MST 12 Miler race report). On pavement, the shoes feel firm and stable. I especially like the firmness of the sole, since it quietly informs me when I over stride and heel strike. Ground feel is not great, but that's not what this shoe is all about (and I always have the RunAmocs or my Vibram Five Fingers to provide me with form tuning feedback via good ground feel).

What's really surprising is how well the Instincts performed on the trail. I intentionally wore the Instincts for the MST 12 mile trail race, as a sort of trial by fire.

I know what you are thinking.

"Scott, you are an idiot! Never wear new shoes you just bought and have only run 3 miles in for a 12 mile trail race!"

Hey, sometimes idiocy is how I roll (well, a lot of the time this is true, especially when it comes to running). Although I didn't mention it in my race report for the MST 12 miler, let me just say that the Instincts performed fantastically. They had plenty of grip for the wet, and sometimes muddy, conditions of the trail. I finished the race with no shoe induced blisters and my feet felt great! Actually, my feet felt much better after wearing the Instincts than they do when I wear my MWU3's (the Mizunos' have a bit of arch support that aggravates the plantar fasciitis in my right foot).

I really like them. I'm glad I bought them. I can't wait for the Altra trail shoe, the Lone Peak, to be released. It will give me an excuse to buy another pair of shoes (like I need one!).