Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ultra Croozin

I just wrapped up my last week of a 6-week training block for The Bear 100, which is in two weeks. This will be my first hundred miler. Following Jason Koop's general advice from his book, I aimed for 9 hours of running per week as close to race day conditions as I could. Actually running that much is pretty hard to fit into normal life. The ever-present duties of work, family, and church make it difficult to achieve at times, but it was also fun to get creative and find ways to make it work. Not to mention 50 miles/week seems to be my maximum before I start getting injured. I've gone through the gamut: shin splints, ankle sprains, quad tears, calf tears, Achilles partial tears w/ subsequent scar tissue, plantar fasciitis, patello-femoral pain, to name a few. Somehow I'm in pretty good shape right now and keeping all of the above at bay.

I've been on a White Stripes kick lately and listening to the philosophy of their music as described by Jack White. Paraphrasing, he essentially said the self-imposed limitations of only using guitar, vocals, and drums forced a creativity that wouldn't be there with unlimited resources. He even went so far as to not buy new guitars as the band became more successful, using instruments that were notoriously hard to tune. There are many more examples that are pretty fascinating, but I digress. The point is, I feel the same about running and training for ultras. First of all, I don't have anywhere near the luxury of unlimited resources to train. I have a full time job, a full time family, and a full time religion that my training works around and occasionally with. Injuries also creep in at unexpected times throwing a monkey wrench in my often overly-ambitious plans. Rather than seeing these as things holding me back, I see them as forcing functions that maximize what I do with the time I have and enable a creativity that would otherwise not be there.

Which leads to the subject of this post: Ultra training while on a cruise. Deanna and I were due for a big trip with old friends. We recruited two other couples to join us, friends we have known for nearly 15 years. Deanna had the brilliant idea to book a cruise to Alaska, somehow meeting the preferences of all six people. We settled on the Ruby Princess out of Seattle over the week of Labor Day. Prices were lower that week and I really wanted to go to Glacier Bay National Park as part of the trip. This was our third cruise and I get the feeling that they are all about the same (aside from the destinations). Way too much food, lots of booze and gambling, lots of old people. Cheesy on-board activities. I didn't want to get to hung up on the annoying parts; instead I wanted to turn this into a big running adventure and focused time with friends and my wife. And sometimes those things even overlapped!

Here's how things played out on the 7-day adventure:

Day 1 Saturday. Got up early and drove to Seattle from Boise. Left the kids at home w/ Deanna's parents (a million thanks). 8 hour drive passed like it was nothing. Just chatted the whole way without interruption. Oh and Deanna slept. A lot. Got on the boat and of course started eating, met up with friends. Enjoyed the views leaving Seattle:


Day 2 Sunday. Slept in. Read. Ate meals (big ones) with friends and enjoyed a relaxing day at sea. Went to a presentation on Alaska by the on-board environmentalist/Alaska expert. Ran into an old friend from my missionary days, completely by coincidence. We made plans to hike together the next day. The temperature was noticibly cooler at sea. Sailed along Moresby and Graham Islands:


Day 3 Monday. Up early for a day off the boat in Juneau. Rainy and cold. Shared a cab with my mission friend to the West Mendenhall Glacier trail. On the way to the trailhead, our cab driver saw a deer and started backing up to get a closer look.....right into another car. No serious damage and everyone was fine; he settled it with the other driver and we continued on. We garbed up in rain gear and started our soggy 7+ mile journey. Was great to hike with my mission buddy and get caught up after 15 years. We explored some ice caves at the base of the glacier and were generally in awe of the scale of what was around us. In Idaho, I see all the evidence of where glaciers used to be, the carved canyons and rock. This was really neat to see that process in action. The glacier itself was alive, melting and collapsing. It was actually kind of unsettling being close to such a giant dynamic inanimate object. Signs marked the previous limit of the glacier along our way, showing how far it has receded over time. The start of the trail was covered in 1910.








Had some time left before we needed to get back on the boat, so started up the tram trail toward Roberts Peak by myself. That about sums up the life of an ultrarunner. When everyone else is worn out and sick of being outside in the elements, you head back out for more miles. It was still overcast and raining some, so I stopped at the clouds around 3000 feet. The views were great from up there, unobstructed and super windy. Ran back down to the boat and felt pretty spent. Slept like a baby after another gigantic dinner.


Day 4 Tuesday. Pulled in to Skagway at dawn right as the weather started improving. What a beautiful town. Glaciers up high, rocky peaks. Salmon completely filled the creek in town. 4 of us went for a big day of hiking to Dewey Lakes and Devil's Punchbowl. Blueberries lined the upper half of the trail. We ended up hiking about 10 miles w/ 4000ft of climb together. I submerged myself in Devil's Punchbowl, which was slightly above freezing. Upper Dewey Lake had an impressive shelter w/ diesel stove and the finest smelling outhouse I have ever been in, made of cedar. After descending, I split off and tacked on another 5 miles or so to Icy Lake then met up with our crew and we got halibut fish n chips. Explored Skagway before it was time to get back on the boat. Mike & Evelyn took the White Pass train to Yukon Territory, which also looked amazing:










Day 5 Wednesday. Cruised around glacier bay NP. The weather was awful. Still great views however. got to watch a giant piece of the Lamplugh glacier calve into the bay. It's a bit unnerving hearing the glacier constantly cracking and dropping chunks into the water. Apparently this glacier moves 6 feet a day. On the boat all day, so ran on the 7th deck. I expected this to make a cool GPS track, but it ended up looking kind of boring. That was one of 3 on-boat runs during this trip.





Johns Hopkins Glacier:




Mike was selected for and won the axe throwing contest, earning him and Evelyn free tickets to the lumberjack show the next day in Ketchikan:

Day 6 Thursday. Short day in Ketchikan. Got up early so I'd have time to summit Deer Mtn and do as much of the Deer Mtn National Recreation Trail as I had time for (wasn't much). Excellent views periodically through the clouds. I was solo running this day as everyone else was beat and opted to spend time in town. Finished earlier than expected and explored town for a bit with Deanna. Saw more salmon, this time jumping up rapids.





 Deer Mtn from the boat (peak on the right):


Deanna wore socks w/ sandals despite the social stigma associated with this behavior:

Deanna and Catherine did Karaoke to Alicia Keyes on the boat because that's what you do on cruises, apparently:

Day 7 Friday. Mostly a day at sea. We stopped for the evening in Victoria, BC. Walked around the downtown area and returned to the ship early because it was dark.

Also checked out the BC legislature:

The BC Museum was cool from the outside we could look at a bunch of old totem poles. Admission was expensive, so we opted for the free views:

I had read somewhere about Terry Fox, turns out the intended end of his marathon of hope was Victoria and we stumbled across his statue:


Day 8 Saturday. Back to Seattle and home. Drive was great again, just chatting the hours away on an extended date sans children.


Overall, this was a fantastic trip. It was great to be with old friends and to not feel rushed. We had an entire week to spend time together, alone, and as couples. Cruises are nice because lots of logistics are taken care of-travel, food, lodgings. This can also feel restrictive because you are limited by these things, but Coastal Alaska seems a perfect destination to explore in this way. As for ultra training, I feel ready to take on The Bear next week after ending my training block with a big week of steep climbs and descents. I think it also helped to be out at different times of day, sometimes on very little sleep (I stayed up in vain looking for the northern lights). Ready for the next adventure :)

Stats:
Miles run: 60
Vertical feet: 14,000
Wildlife seen: orcas, sea otters, humpback whales, salmon, grouse, sharks
Miles sailed: about 2000

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hawaii Running Roundup

There is no substitute for exploring on foot. It's an opportunity to see things in the context they were meant to be seen. Views from behind a steering wheel lack perspective of and connection with one's surroundings.

Exploring while running makes discovery possible on a larger scale, ideal for limited timeframes or soaking in a large geographic area.

Having realized this, running gets heavily incorporated into trips to new areas. This allows me to see/experience as much as possible when time is at a premium.

Enter Hawaii. We had 12 days to soak in as much as possible while we escaped the worst winter Boise has experienced for the past 100 years. The timing was impeccable and we were ecstatic to be far away in the Pacific. What follows is a daily breakdown of mostly the running activities:

12/30: Moanalua Valley Strava Activity

We left Boise obscenely early on a Friday morning, stopping over briefly in Seattle before continuing on to Honolulu. Despite the exhausting nature of this itinerary, I couldn't wait to get out and explore after we got settled in. I had done some research to pick out general areas to explore here: https://hawaiitrails.org/trails/ I arbitrarily picked the Moanalua Valley for the first voyage, leaving about an hour before sunset. The first thing that became apparent was that it was going to be very muddy. The peaks of the Ko'olau Range were overcast and looking soggy. Not far from the trailhead I passed some people hunting pigs with a small pack of dogs. I tested out their friendliness, unsure if I was in a locals-only environment. I was clearly too pasty to pass as anything but completely out of place. We exchanged hearty hellos and I pressed on. On a sidenote, Hawaiian lingo was readily apparent early on: "howzit" was rampant as well as ending most sentences with "yeah?"

Things got wetter and weirder the higher I got. Attempting to keep my feet dry was pointless as I had to ford multiple flooded sections of the jeep trail and stream crossings with signs warning of flash floods. Eventually I reached a trailhead sign directing me to cross the stream and continue up the mountain, but someone had etched into the sign, reststop vandal style, the words "stairs" with an arrow pointing the opposite direction. Thinking the graffiti was pointing to stairs that would take me across this turbulent section of the stream, I followed the other way. The trail soon became very overgrown with soaking wet plants. I lost the trail several times until eventually finding some hot pink trail markers and a sign telling me to turn around. At this point there were knife-edge muddy ridges with ropes to aid the climb, increasing rain and sketchyness, coupled with complete darkness and a headlamp that I wisely brought with near-dead batteries. I turned around and trudged back to the car. Come to find out later, this wayward path was a now prohibited back route to the famous Haiku Stairs, which have been closed to the public and guarded for some time now.

12/31: Aiea Loop, Waikiki Strava Activity, Second Activity
Next up came the Aiea Loop, another slop fest. I took the kids on a short loop while Deanna ran, then she watched them while I ran the full loop. It was surprising to see so many people on this trail considering what a mess it was. Apparently RC cars are a big deal here, as I passed around 20-30 people running their miniature jeeps over the highly technical, messy terrain.

As much as I wanted to run, it just wasn't possible for the majority of this trail. I learned quickly to heed the advice of my uncle, a local of many years: "hawaii hiking rule: never step on the trail into ferns or other low plants without being sure there is ground under it."  This type of terrain was a whole different type of challenge! The views were great (see outlook of H3 freeway below), however and I finished the loop completely covered in mud. A faucet was available to rinse off, but didn't prevent us from systematically trashing our rental car by the time our trip was over.


My goal to complete 1200 miles for the year was a bit short still, so I trotted along Waikiki later that day for 2 miles to an average of 100 miles/month for 2016.

1/2: Makua Cave Lookout Strava Activity
After another day at the beach on the West Coast, we noticed a trail heading up the hill around the pullout for Makua Cave. I could see some people in a small lava tube several hundred feet up. It looked like a quick, relatively low effort/reward ratio run, so I jumped out and headed up the hill while my family sat in the car watching the sunset over the Pacific.
The trail up was ridiculously steep and quickly became dangerously so with poor footing. After some wrong turns I found the lava tube and a great lookout:


This trail was right next to the Makua Military Reservation, which was clearly marked by fences. Not sure what the history is there, but I found an old .50 caliber shell casing on the trail up, so I'm guessing the past involved frequently shooting crap to bits.

1/3: Manana Ridge/Waimano Falls Strava Activity
The next morning I got up well before sunrise for the first of two long runs on this trip. My aim was to get to the top of the Ko'olau Range looking out over Kaneohe Bay. The East side of this range is comically beautiful: sheer cliffs in fuzzy green with azure blue ocean views. So started the Manana Ridge trail with this reward in mind. The trail started off great, but quickly devolved into excessive mud and overgrowth. I came to a sign that indicated the trail was closed ahead due to a landslide. Of course, I had to see this and continued on. The landslide was impressive, but not impassable, so I pushed on slower and slower. The trail was now littered with ropes tied to trees to aid in the steep muddy climbs. At this point I was racing the clock and realized I was going too slow to make it to the ridge in any reasonable amount of time considering my family would be waiting to go explore. I reached a quality lookout and turned around:



I made decent time on the way down and followed a side trail indicating "Waimano Falls" about a mile away. At a fork, I made a wrong turn and got lost. Eventually I heard someone yelling in the distance and worked my way toward them along a sort-of trail, figuring they were at the waterfall. It sounded like they were calling for help, so I prepared for a potential blind-leading-the-blind rescue. I came to a clearing to find two men who were very surprised to see me speaking Portuguese. They had 5 or 6 pitbull-ish dogs with them and then proceeded to ask me if I had seen their missing pooch. So they weren't lost, but their dog was. They were dissappointed to see me trudge through the trees instead of Rover, but pointed me in the general direction of the falls, which I eventually found and had to myself for a few minutes to cool off:


I got back to the house at a reasonable time, slightly less muddy than anticipated thanks to the waterfall.

1/4: Makapuu Lighthouse Strava Activity
Wednesday was my birthday and we spent most of the day snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. After that, we took a family hike up to the Makapuu Lighthouse, enjoying fantastic views:


1/6: Waimano Ridge Trail Strava Activity
Friday I made a trip back to the Ko'olau Range, one ridge over from my run on the 3rd. The start of the trail followed along the fenceline for some state property before breaking away into an open ridge. Trees were awesome:


Roots made things complicated:



As expected, the trail crapped out the higher up I got. I turned back after finding a good view:



1/7: Ko'olina Lagoons, Kaena Point Strava Activity & Here

I've been following training per the Ultrarunning coach of the stars, Jason Koop. So today I worked on some VO2 max time doing intervals at the beach. This area was highly trafficked by tourist runners like myself; the strava activity here was intense.

I didn't plan on doing anything else for the day, but we drove up to the North Shore doing some exploring and out past Haleiwa to the trailhead to Kaena Point. Deanna could see that I was chomping at the bit to go check out the trail and run out to the point (about a 6 mile out and back). She offered to stay with the kids and do some beach combing while I checked it out. In her words: "just go-you can run that like super fast, right?" She didn't have to twist my arm too hard. She has enabled my running lifestyle-period. I couldn't enjoy such beautiful places on long, frequent solo runs without her making logistics work and waiting patiently for me at trailheads when I inevitably return late.

I dutifully ran hard to stay on schedule out to the point. This was a jeep road that has been torn up to the width of a highway and made for tricky running. The waves on this part of the island were large and lots of fishermen lined the shore, but no one was in the water. At Kaena point I came to a large fenced enclosure designed to keep pets out of an Albatross nesting area. There was a gate for hikers to enter and on the inside there were huge birds everywhere wondering why I was staring at them. The point itself was amazing with views of the West and North shores:


That wrapped-up the running on Oahu. Next stop: Kauai

1/9 Pihea Lookout Strava Activity
We had two full days on Kauai, which clearly isn't enough to see everything. But we intended to see the highlights, so we took a day on the South and a day on the North. After arriving, we drove straight to Waimea Canyon, which was covered with trails that need to be explored another day. It really is the Grand Canyon of Hawaii:


Our hike was to the Pihea lookout that looks down on the Napali Coast, where we would be the following day. The trail was loaded with tourists; many of which were wearing socks and sandals to give you an idea of the demographic we were dealing with. This in stark contrast to the melting pot of tourists and locals on Oahu. The trail itself was pretty muddy and we had the kids, so we took our time to not get too filthy. The kids did great on the technical trail and enjoyed imagining dinosaurs bursting out of the jungle to devour their small, tender bodies. Wasn't Jurassic Park filmed here? Obscene views:





We rounded out the day with a trip to a remote beach on the West shore of Kauai. Polihale State Park is at the end of a 5 mile dirt road that is in about as bad of shape as a dirt road can be. Our trail-ready Hyundai Elantra rental handled it beautifully :) Did another stroll and some body surfing on arrival:


We had a great view of Niihau, the westernmost island in Hawaii:


This also extended my Western-most travels from the place of my Birth! For reference, my Northern-most point of travel is Edmonton, Alberta. Eastern-most is Las Americas Airport in the Dominican Republic, Southern-most is Santa Rosa, Guatemala. I've got some work to do to get away from my native continent. It was also the furthest distance I have been from my place of birth (3094 miles). For some reason, I care about these things. Technically, the furthest I could get from my birthplace is the antipode to Idaho Falls, ID, located in the Indian Ocean about 500km north of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. Probably won't be heading out there any time soon. Cool antipode calculator here.

1/10: Napali Coast Strava Activity
Before we left on this trip, Napali was the one place I wanted to do a long run. The Kalalau trail runs along the coast for 10 miles ending at a beach of the same name. I dug up a GPX from Strava, which confirmed the distance plus 10000 feet of vert (out and back). I'd seen pictures that only confirmed this was the place to check out on Kauai if I had to prioritize, which I did.

We left our hotel later than planned because we were all tired. Letting the kids sleep in would be important as we were going to catch a red eye flight home this same night. That meant potentially 36+ hours without quality (if any) sleep. Leaving late, I knew time would be at a premium on the trail. We planned to do the first section together as a family, then I would take off and do as much as I could with a 6 hour budget. The trailhead was mobbed, another symptom of arriving late. I didn't anticipate this many people, however. The kids were taking a long time, so I took off by myself with Deanna's blessing. I was immediately stopped on the trail because of some construction; it looked like they were trying to secure some loose rocks. After a few minutes, the workers let me and a group of hikers pass. I started pushing up the trail, dodging roots, branches, mud, and all the hallmarks of a Hawaii trail. But this one also included an obnoxious number of tourists unaccostomed to trail ettiquite. Folks had a hard time understanding "on your left" or "can I sneak by you?" either due to a lack of experience or non-English speaking status I assume. I saw no other runners the entire trip. In fact, everyone looked at me like I was crazy or they couldn't fathom why anyone would run on a trail. At first it was a novelty, but eventually the commentary and odd questions became a bit bothersome, like another hazard of the trail to deal with. After a mile or so of this dodging and explaining, I got to a fork in the trail that split off to Hanakapiai Beach one way, Hanakapiai Falls another, and the portion of the Kalalau trail that requires a permit to continue. Excited to get past the crowds, I continued on the Kalalau trail and encountered only sporadic hikers. The views from this point on became progressively more and more breathtaking:



The running itself was extremely slow going. I averaged around 3mph, which wasn't going to give me enough time to get to the end of the trail. I've arrived home from runs late too many times, so I wanted to make sure I stayed on schedule for this one and relax with my family for our last afternoon of this vacation. I decided to push as far as I could and turn back slightly before 3 hours to give myself some breathing room for the inevitable fatigue that would set in with all this climbing.

One lesson I've taken away from running is that there are primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary, and beyond goals. Not acheiving a primary goal doesn't feel like a failure; in fact primary goals are best-case scenarios for when everything goes as planned (not often). My primary, ideal goal for this trip was to run the whole Kalalau Trail and see the beach at the end. I didn't know if that was overly ambitious, but I intended to give it a shot. Once that goal became unrealistic because I couldn't move any faster and we needed a late start to get us all rested, I moved on to the next goal with full effort: get as far as I could in the time I had and enjoy the ridiculous sights all around me. It was a win-win. Close to my turnaround point, the trail became more exposed with clear views of the coast. It was indescribably beautiful. Pictures don't do justice to these types of places-the whole sensory experience is really what makes them so special.

The exposed sections were pretty warm and I blew through all my water quickly. Unfortunately, I forgot my water filter, so I was left with a 9 mile return trip in the heat and no water. I had a couple options: ask the next hikers for water or drink from one of the many streams and risk some GI distress. I saw some feral goats along the trail, so I figured there was a substantial risk for some Beaver Fever. I did not want to get dehydrated because this would make my 3+ hour return trip more like a 5 hour death march. I came to a small waterfall that didn't seem to have any treadable area above it (by man or beast). The water was cool and my cells were aching for it, so I chugged until I was full and filled my hydration bladder and kept moving, glad to be juiced again. I've made this decision occasionally on trails when my fluid planning doesn't match the conditions and I find myself without water. It's never something I like to do and I mitigate the risk as best I can. So far I have yet to acquire Giardia or any ill effects from these occasional infectious diseases immersive experiences.

The return trip was hard work. My quads were falling apart and I could no longer run up the steeper climbs, so I powerhiked up and jogged down in true ultramarathoning form. Fatigue never worsened beyond this point, so I was able to enjoy the run back despite feeling about 50%. I passed all the people I had seen throughout the day again, many of which were suprisingly excited to see me. I was excited to see them as well, as they kindly cheered me on, boosting my spirits (aka adrenaline) and one group offered me water (too late!). Once I reached the Hanakapiai fork again, I decided to check out the beach. There were some surfers riding huge waves and the beach was beautiful:


The last mile back to the car was a pain again with all the hikers logjamming the trail on this section. I wasn't moving as fast, so at least it wasn't as frustrating as the out trip. Upon arrival at the trailhead, I was about 15 minutes ahead of schedule, so I walked down to Ke'e beach where I swam to cool off and got a look at my Hawaii feet:


The casualties from this week and a half were two toenails, one large blister, and a lot of cuts and scrapes. No show-stoppers though, thankfully. I also blew out the uppers on my New Balance MT101s on the first run. This was the only pair of shoes I brought, so they had holes in them for the entire trip, but held up well aside from that. I took three pairs of Darn Tough wool socks. These have become my go-to socks for everything. They are, as the name suggests, just tough-as-nails great socks.

I rinsed of the salt water in the beach shower and met Deanna in the parking lot. At this point the post-long run buzz kicked in, visible here:


Lastly, the Suunto video:


It always feels great to sit down for a big, greasy meal after an adventure like this one. We drove back to Hanalei and chowed down on Chicken in a Barrel BBQ. Our parting view did not disappoint:


Running was the point of this post, but it wasn't the point of this trip. We went to spend time with our family in Hawaii. My grandpa George was kind enough to host us all at his home (he's 98!). Our kids got to know their great-grandpa and learn about his life, which is a blog all of it's own. My uncle Clark and aunt Heidi were also very gracious hosts and shared the beauty of their island with us pasty mainlanders :) We're glad we got to reconnect with them, grandpa, Carolyn, and Dan. Thank you for having us and we look forward to visiting you again!