Off-Season Training

It's a difficult transition going from structured, goal-oriented training to an unstructured off-season period, but it is starting to be enjoyable.

I find it hard to take a complete break from running, so I am still mixing 3-4 runs a week in, but the running has been the unstructured, leave your watch at home variety. I am also trying to gain some strength and flexibility, mixing in some new workouts and trying to have fun, while giving my joints, muscles, and tendons a time to rest before the hard training starts again.

Last weekend I did a 10 miler out in Daley Ranch organized by Movin' Shoes' Mick Gieskes (who is also a track and field coach at UCSD). Mick gave us some great running tips and something to focus on as we ran the hills. He reminded me to watch my stride on the downhill and to keep it compact, as most people tend to over-stride when running downhill. He also talked about focusing on the foot strike as your foot touches the ground, keep it engaged, flexed and active, limiting the time your foot is in contact with the ground.  The route became really muddy in parts and it was a struggle keeping my balance. It was a difficult run as the rain and wind really started to pick up, soaking through my clothes and numbing my fingers, but those tough runs are always the ones I remember.

Daley Ranch
Thanksgiving morning I joined about 30 others from a local running group and we ran up and down Iron Mountain. The climb to the top started gradually and increased in difficulty as the summit came into view. The view from the top was an amazing and clear panorama of most of San Diego County. The descent was a lot of fun.  Since I don't have any major races coming up, I was able to risk a twisted ankle, bounding down the hill and pushing the limit between adrenaline rush and bloody knees and scraped palms.

Thanksgiving Day Trail Run -- Iron Mountain

The day after Thanksgiving I joined about 15 other friends for Turkey Bowl 2010, a chance to use muscles I haven't used since Turkey Bowl 2009. We have been getting together for nearly 20 years for our annual football game, and we are all a little older, slower and more concerned about health insurance than we were 20 years ago. Luckily, I survived the day and the only injury was to my ego. We hit Pizza Port after the game and discussed glory days, come from behind victories, and diving catches over seven large pizzas and seven pitchers.

Saturday was my oldest daughter's birthday, which we held at the local climbing gym, so I went an hour early to set up and get a few climbs in. It was great watching a bunch of 9 year old kids scaling the rocks, reaching the top and beaming with accomplishment.


I'm hoping that a couple of weekly mountain bike rides, some core workouts, family hikes and 3-4 weekly trail runs will keep me in shape and help balance out the holiday eating binges, while mixing it up and giving me a break from serious training.

Grand Canyon R2R2R Video

This past week, the motivation to run hasn't been there. I'm still sore from the Grand Canyon descents, so I have been taking my dog for slow walks, going to the park with my two kids every evening, and running barefoot on the grass. My daughter joined me the other night and we did some skipping drills and some other running drills. She is such an easy, relaxed runner with her hair bouncing as she glides over the grass, laughing and occasionally looking back to see how far behind her I am. Last night at the park I did relay races with my kids, giving them a head start and making sure they won, barely. It was a fun night, and my son, who has some unknown energy source, begged me and my daughter for just one more race as we sat on a bench, catching our breath and watching the sun paint the clouds pink.

It's cleanse time. After the Grand Canyon I let out a deep breath, then inhaled everything in sight, over-eating and over-drinking and listening to too much Johnny Cash, depressed and sleeping terribly, with no running-related events in the foreseeable future. So, now it is time to make a list for next year. I want a mixture of short and long, races and fun, challenges and cake. I haven't decided on races yet, but I would love to do a running traverse of Zion National Park, and since I am going to be in Kauai next summer, I plan to run the Na Pali Coast. I have decided not to enter The Western States 100 because it is the same time that we have our Hawaii vacation, and in looking at other 100s, I have decided that I'm not there yet. I hope to do them someday, but I'm in no rush at this point. Next year, I would like to do a marathon, qualify for Boston, and do a couple 50Ks.

Here's some footage of the Grand Canyon run:

Check out the deer at 9:00.  They were so calm as we passed them.

Toby and Jess, two of the other guys on the Grand Canyon trip, wrote a couple of great trip reports:

Toby's report
Jess's report

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R)

...a descent into the Canyon is essential for a proper estimate of its details, and one can never realize the enormity of certain valleys, till he has crawled like a maimed insect at their base and looked thence upward to the narrowed sky.

John Stoddard, 1898

My muscles are still aching and my mind isn't quite right yet. I am still looking for the right response to the "why" question that I always get. Why would anyone want to run across the Grand Canyon and back? I still have to walk sideways down the stairs because my calves and my quadriceps remain too tight to allow the contraction required for normal, fluid movement, and today, three days after the Grand Canyon run, I'm anything but fluid.

This morning I joined a group training for a 5K, a beginners group, using the running/walking technique to slowly build up to be able to run the 5K distance, it's billed as a Couch to 5K Program, and as we ran, I noticed that some were suffering during the running intervals, enduring the pain, then stretching, talking and smiling after the run, feeling that sense of accomplishment that comes after some good work.

That feeling doesn't go away, and if it ever does for me, for a certain distance, maybe 100 miles, then I have no business running that far.

The feeling was there Saturday night at the completion of the Grand Canyon run and it was still there Sunday morning when we drove out to the South Rim, staring at the silence and the space between us and the North Rim far in the distance.

The Grand Canyon is wide across, wider than I thought it would be.  I was making the trip with three others, Jess Downer, Toby Guillette (who coined the excellent word, "brutiful," to describe the day), and Mike Campian.  The four of us flew and drove from San Diego to do the Rim to Rim to Rim run, and when we arrived late Friday afternoon, we went straight to the South Rim.  I had never been to the Grand Canyon, and it's hard to find the words to describe it, just wow, and I thought, tomorrow we'll be running that, down the Bright Angel trail to the Colorado river, through Phantom Ranch, and then through the belly of the canyon, red cliffs and thousands of years of sedimentary layers towering above us, then running up, what from the South Rim, looked like a sheer cliff, the North Rim, then back, retracing steps, dusty footprints already tired, sweat and for some, vomit. Friday evening, as I watched the sun glow off the red rocks, I wasn't thinking of any of that, just searching for the words, feeling my heart speed a little with the excitement of seeing somethings beautiful and knowing that early in the morning, in the darkness and under millions of bright stars, we would begin the journey, not of conquering the canyon, but fully experiencing it, feeling the pain and continuing on, letting the canyon seep through from the soles of my feet, working through the tired and cramping muscles, straining to cover the distance and keep the forward momentum of discovery.

I don't remember much about the start, just the halo of the headlamp and the dust as the I followed the footsteps and the pace of Toby, Mike and Jess down the Bright Angel trail in the dark, jumping over rocks and wooden beams probably placed there to prevent erosion or to piss off the runners trying to keep the pace. I remember feeling good and hoping I wouldn't twist an ankle in the first couple of dark miles, prematurely ending the journey, thinking we were probably going too fast, but feeling good, excited and glad to be starting the journey.

5 AM start

Sunrise over the Colorado River
Trail carved into the cliff
I carried a pack that held 2 liters of water, about 25 shots of Gu, a couple of bars, some dried mango slices, a small bag of trail mix. This was the nutrition I hoped would last me the planned 12 hours. With water stops every 5-10 miles, I figured a 2 liter pack would be enough, it wasn't. I ended up refilling at every water stop, going through at least 15 liters, and at one point running out of water about 3 miles from the next stop. This was the scariest part of the day for me, the reality of dehydration crept into my head, knowing there was no way to drop out, there were no volunteers out here, grabbing your bottles, refilling them and giving you rice krispie treats, this was the Grand Canyon, and at this point I was 20 miles from my goal, 10 runnable miles and 10 miles that I would end up walking, stopping every 10 minutes or so to gather myself, curse myself out, then try to find the motivation to keep going. When I hit that next water station, I hit it with a vengeance, cutting off the other hikers, actually they saw my condition and offered the spigot which I gladly took, refilling my hydration pack and sucking on the hose simultaneously. This stop is called the caretaker's cabin and if, at that moment, I could have seen the caretakers, I would have hugged them until they asked me, awkwardly, to stop.

Jess at the North Rim (he would recover)
The run from that stop to phantom ranch, those 10 miles were beautiful, running along the river, a slight downhill grade that I thought was flat on the initial pass, turned out to be a false flat, a gradual ascent that slowly wore us down for the grueling climb up to the North Rim. That false flat turned into a slight descent, and running through the shade, next to the cliffs was the high point of the day.  With 30 miles under our belts, I felt good.  Jess was sick, struggling with stomach issues, but he pushed through and we made it to Phantom Ranch where they serve the best lemonade in the world. We rested there, 30 minutes or so, my legs needed it and Jess's stomach needed it.

We made fairly good time the next 5 miles, crossing the bridge over the murky brown and swiftly flowing Colorado river, over the knife that had slowly dug through the earth, carving the red rock into names like Isis Temple, Buddha Temple, and Wotan's Throne.

A sign warning hikers not to attempt to hike to the river and back in the same day

That final push up the Bright Angel Trail, from Indian Gardens to the trail-head, was the hardest stretch I've ever had to deal with, emotionally ready for it all to be over, and physically unable to keep a rhythm without frequent rest stops along the way.  I was glad that I was still with Jess, who set a good pace up the hill and even had us running the final 50 or so yards.

The run took us 14 hours.  The distance covered was nearly 48 miles, and the total elevation gain was 11,300 feet.  The weather was gorgeous, around 40 at the rims and between 70 and 80 in the Canyon.

The day after the hike, looking at the North Rim and sure that the distances are off

My equipment list (this is what worked for me; if you are planning a R2R2R trip make sure you do your research and have enough food and water to last you -- know what works for you):

25 packs of GU (I ate 20)
1 Probar -- Kettle Corn flavor (400 calories of organic, real food)
8 individual serving packs of GU Brew (100 cals each)
Small bag of trail mix and dried mangoes
50 Thermolyte salt tablets (I took 48)
6 Motrin (I took 6)
Ultimate Direction Wasp pack with 2 liter hydration bladder (loved this pack)
Moeben arm sleeves
GoLite t-shirt
GoLite shorts
Glove liners (didn't use)
Long sleeve tech shirt
Inov-8 gaiters
Running hat
Adidas Adizero XT trail running shoes (I love these so much that after the run, I made out with their dusty tongues)

I took some jumpy video which I will post soon.
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