Category Archives: Running and Cycling

The Magic of Estes Park

One hundred yards into the run, and I was already fatigued.

It wasn’t a huge climb, and I was walking it. I was fully warmed up. And yet I felt like I’d already run 20 miles. When we got to the top of the rise and began running down into the canyon, I caught my breath and fell into a groove. Until we began climbing again.

Are we done yet?

I knew what was wrong, of course. And despite the struggle, I was having the time of my life.

I just returned from five awesome days in Estes Park, Colorado attending the U.S. Trail Running Conference, an event I’d looked forward to since February.  I attended presentations and panel discussions, networked with race directors, and tried out some pretty cool products, all of which I’ll talk about in upcoming posts.

And, of course, got in some running. I went up and down (and up) the gorgeous Black Canyon Trail, climbed 1,500 feet over two miles to Gem Lake, and ran loops around Lake Estes. All of this in sunny, cool weather which calls to trail runners like chocolate calls to – well, everyone.

I came back convinced that every trail runner or hiker should travel at least once to Estes Park. Here’s why.

Mountains.

For some of you, such as my daughter living in Denver, ‘nuff said. (“Mountains” is her TL;DR why she moved there from Michigan.) I don’t share her deep and permanent love for them, but I was continually struck by them during my visit. They’re a continuous reminder of just how small and insignificant we are.

The trails included some incredible overlooks at the larger, snow-capped mountains farther away, and valleys and plains below. During group runs, many of us stopped at them just to take in the scene for a few minutes. (That’s my excuse, anyway.)

Gaining a new appreciation for breathing.

I’m not out of breath. I’m just taking in the scenery. Yeah.

After several years of training and racing, it usually takes a pretty good effort to get me breathing hard. Not so above 7,500 feet. Experiences vary: one runner described it as, “trying to breathe through a straw.” I had no trouble breathing fully, but fatigue hit me on any climb whatever, even at the start of a run. My first day 5-mile run felt more like 10, and even walking uphill was a slog.

I gradually acclimated, and running got easier. At Lake Estes on my final day there, I felt nearly normal and was able to enjoy an eight mile run on a mostly flat path. Not ready for those 14ers yet, though.

Getting away from everything.

One of the overlooks on the Gem Lake trail.

What they saw.

Estes Park makes you want to throw away the cell phone and submerge yourself in nature. Although I spent most of each day at the conference, I made sure to get outside. Each morning there was a fun run on the trails, and the sessions started late enough to not feel rushed. A long walk during the day was also a must, either after lunch, after the final session of the day, or whenever the hell I felt like it.

Or how about a nice climb?

I spent the morning of my departure packing up, staring out at another beautiful day. I just couldn’t leave without one last run. So after checkout I headed down to Lake Estes and ran the paved path around the lake. I had just enough time to sneak in two loops, about eight miles, before driving to Denver for the flight home.

Just enjoying running.

Training is part of my weekly routine, and there’s a temptation to just push through it as necessary preparation for my upcoming race or races. But racing isn’t why I run. I started running longer and harder because I wanted to. Because I came to enjoy it.

And while I try to appreciate each run while it’s happening, it’s much easier to do so away from the routines of home. Last week I could just go out and run for the sake of it, and enjoy the company of those who share the passion for the trails. No one cared how slow or fast you were, how far you went, how hard you worked. We were running trails, and that was all that mattered.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, outdoor, nature and water

The payoff: reaching Gem Lake (elevation 9,000 ft.)

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(BTW, next year’s conference is in San Luis Obispo, CA, home of the Race SLO series. Just in case you’re interested.)

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Running and the Costco Cat Food Syndrome

Q. What do cat food and running have in common?

(Hint: the answer has more to do with shopping habits, not the actual products.)

This had better not be more slander about us.

The recent swallowing of Whole Foods by Amazon had Chicken Littles everywhere proclaiming the impending death of large retailers, including my wife’s favorite haunt, Costco. So I visited my favorite investing website. Did they think Costco was in trouble? One commenter didn’t think so.

“Cat food at Costco must be really expensive,” the poster wrote. “Whenever my wife goes there to pick up some cat food the bill ends up being $150.00.”

Uh-oh. My wife had just been there, and for the same reason. Was the cat food just as expensive at our Costco? See for yourself:

Now I could get snippy about this, but it’s not worth it for two reasons: 1) I do not like sleeping on the couch, and 2) it would make me a hypocrite. For I suffer from the same syndrome, just at a different store.

Last fall we visited our daughter in Richmond and as usual we wound up in Carytown, a shopping district loaded with specialty shops and restaurants. My wife and daughters got sucked into the kitchen supply store, and when my tolerance for the place ran out, I told them I was heading to the nearby running store “just to look around.”

Which I did. And talked running with the staff. And tried on some shoes. And bought a pair. They didn’t cost as much as the Costco cat food, unless you throw in the other stuff I got. I blame my family for leaving me in there so long. But I did need those shoes. For some race or other. I forget now.

For the Love of Chocolate – another Carytown store with black hole-like gravity.

So you might think that local running stores are safe from the online competition that plagues other small retailers. Well, kind of. And kind of not. Although the number of people running continues to grow, sales are flattening out, and small independent stores are being acquired by larger chains, although many try to preserve that small, local atmosphere. Read more about this here.

While I’m a bit intimidated inside a Costco, a running store feels more like a club to me. I much prefer to “try before buy” with running shoes and gear, and I appreciate the staff’s knowledge (and that they’ll talk running with me). It’s also fun to try out new shoe styles or concepts; it’s where I found out I liked the ultra-padded Hoka One One, and don’t care for Newtons, with their convex soles.

So I get most of my running gear at stores rather than online. But ultimately, quality of the experience makes the difference. Do they have a good selection, reasonably priced? Are they willing to take the time to find something I like? And how well do they know what they carry?  The day I get the attitude of, “I don’t know, this is what we got” (think Radio Shack’s last years) is the day I find another store, local or not.

So my wife came into the running store eventually to find me, and I rather sheepishly showed her the shoes I’d purchased. We ended up there a bit longer while she picked out some socks.

If Costco ever decides to sell running shoes, I am in BIG trouble.

This is Not About Pickles

I HAVE THESE URGES, YOU SEE.

They started years ago when I began regular fitness training, and especially once I started running races. They are what get me out of bed and onto the road on a winter morning, into the gym on a hot afternoon, or on the bike for a “quick 25 miles” at the end of a long day. Anyone into fitness activities can relate, I think.

Yet as beneficial for my body and my mental discipline as these urges are, sometimes they can be a real pain in the ass.

This past weekend I was on my feet a lot, managing the Zero Waste program for two morning races; Running Between the Vines on Saturday, then Swim to the Moon on Sunday. Both days I was at the venue by 5:30 a.m. and in more or less constant motion well into the afternoon checking stations, hauling collected compost and recyclables, and performing emergency sorting on unlabeled bins that well-meaning people had set out without my knowledge. (I’m not bitter about that. Really, I’m not.)

There are some advantages to working events like this!

But I survived, and all went well. This is what I train for, right? Running long races, and working long races. And sometimes both, as with last April when I ran the Trail Marathon and then worked the waste stations.

So what had me feeling oddly guilty on Sunday evening, when the work was done and I could put my feet up for a bit?

I didn’t get a run in.

And that had me feeling inadequate.

I get it, okay? I know it’s silly to feel this way. And it’s not like I slacked off. This morning my body felt just as fatigued as if I’d done a long run the day before. I actually looked forward to today’s afternoon workout, cuz I knew the heat and humidity would get my sore and creaky body warm and loose again.

Oh yeah, that hits the spot!

And so it proved; those thirty minutes of brutality worked out the kinks and soreness, and I’m back to feeling pretty good again. So I’ll plan on getting in a good run tomorrow.

Yet the drive to stick to my regular training schedule, and not miss a run or workout for any reason, is hard to turn off. Perhaps it’s fear that drives it. Not a fear that I’ll lose fitness, but that I’ll lose the desire to remain fit.

And that would suck.

See? Even potatoes can get off the couch!

I know life comes with no guarantees about lifespan or health. But I can give myself the best shot at a long, healthy life by eating right, getting enough sleep, and by staying active and fit. I want to have a high quality of life for as long as possible.

Plus, for whatever reason, I enjoy the activity; the ultramarathons, the long bike rides, and the ability to work all day keeping stuff out of landfills. This, too, contributes to my quality of life. And I have some goals yet to achieve too, like a six-minute mile, a half marathon in under 90 minutes, and plenty of races of all kinds that look intriguing.

And so I’ll put up with the urges.

Because they’re for my own good.

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And since you’ve read this far, you deserve this link to one of the classic jokes about urges: The Pickle Factory. Enjoy!

There Has to Be a Lesson In Here Somewhere

It’s August, and already Active.com has come out with an article named “20 Reasons We’re Sick of Summer Running.”

I call BS. No way I’m ready to give up summer yet. And it will be over before we know it, anyway. What’s the rush?

We just got back from up north, where I got in several “firsts” for the year, let alone the summer. One was a 70-mile bike ride that included the entire current length of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail from Bohemian Road to Glen Arbor and on to Empire. The long boardwalk section over the wetland is finally finished, and it has some great views. Even this photo doesn’t really do it justice.

I also enjoy running on the SBHT, and one morning I set out for a few easy miles as warmup to The Legend 10-mile trail race the following day. But just off the trailhead was a dirt trail heading into the woods on my left. I’d seen it before but always had other plans. Another day, I kept telling myself. Well, it was that day.

The trail led through a beautiful stretch of woods, and after about a half mile it got sandy underfoot. Then the trees parted to reveal Lake Michigan, with the trail ending at a short bluff above a short beach washed over by incoming breakers.

What the heck, I decided.

I took off my shoes and slid down the embankment onto the wet sand. I had the beach all to myself, with no people or signs of habitation in either direction. I saw no footprints except my own. How long had it been since the last person had set foot on this secluded part of the beach?

I ran along firm, loose, wet, and dry sand, over driftwood and fallen branches, and through tall scratchy grass. Running on a beach is really different from other surfaces, with its variable terrain and difficult footing. I’ve heard it’s a great workout for balance and foot strength. Certainly it’s not an easy effort; you have to adjust with every step to remain upright and moving forward.

After about a quarter mile the beach gave way to dense scrub and steep slope. I’d run out of runnable real estate, so I returned to the trail. As I climbed back up onto the bluff, I got this bright idea to take a photo of my footprints in the sand, followed by one with the waves washing them away. It would be a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. Really original, right?

Back down to the beach I went and dug in my heels. But time after time, the waves were coming in so fast that my footprints were washed away before I could get a good photo. This was about the best I could do.

So I’m sure somewhere in all this there’s a lesson. Perhaps it’s this: not only is life fleeting and ephemeral, even the attempt to tell a story about it is here and gone before it’s fully told.

On the surface, that sounds pretty depressing. No matter what we do, how hard we try to make an impression on the universe, it all vanishes in a flash. How many stories worth hearing were never told, or told with no one to hear them?

But does that make our lives, or our stories futile? I don’t think so. After all, others continue after we’re gone. If we can make their lives better, that’s something that will carry on, at least. And perhaps far more will be remembered about us, and our stories, than we think.

So live your life. Share your stories. And listen to the stories of others. Whether or not anyone else ever hears them, maybe there’s something from them that will enrich your own.

Thanks for reading.