Otter Creek Trail, Night Running and Campfires

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I like to tell runners that they should use races as training opportunities at times, which often requires that they don’t destroy their training by doing more than they are capable of at the moment. In theory it is a great idea. In practice it is challenging because a runner’s ego is a hard thing to tame. For example, there are times that it’s good to go and do a race that is longer than you are prepared to race. Let’s say a 10k. Then to set yourself up to run a hard 5k and then back off and cool down. It’s a great thought, but difficult for athletes to actually shut it down in a race.

The great thing about using races as training venues is that you are in that race environment, something that is difficult to replicate outside of actual racing. Last weekend, I went out to the RJ Corman 5k and had a desire to just learn what it was to run with a fast group. I lasted 1.5 miles, then got left. I knew in my head that I was running harder than I probably could, but I did it and I gained confidence. I’d like to get that 1.5 to be 2.5 miles at my next 5k!

That brings me to the Otter Creek Trail Run last night. Several facts about the run:

1. It was a training run for quite a few people looking forward to an ultra race this summer or fall. Therefore the distances were 8,16,24,32. That is according to my Garmin, others had laps that were a bit longer.

2. It started at 7pm, so people could practice trail running in the dark.

Several realities of my training:

1. I am in no shape to race 8 miles, let alone 16 or longer.

2. I have never raced on the trails in the dark.

It was both of these facts that lead me to sign up. The reason, is that there is coming a day that I would like to compete in some ultra distance races. I would place that at anywhere from 3 to 5 years out? But, there are skills associated with night trail running that I feel like I could practice today without having to be into ultra training.

Trail Running at Night. This is a very important skill, in my opinion. It is one thing to run at tempo or threshold on a trail when the trail is visible. But, it is completely different running at tempo when you are slightly afraid of what is 3 feet in front of you and if you are going to fall. The skills needed to react, navigate and be relaxed while running hard on the trail in the dark – that is why I signed up for this race.

I am so glad I did!

I knew that I wasn’t going to cover 35 miles, I had no desire. So I signed up for the 16 (or whatever the true distance is) mile race. The problem is that I didn’t want to run 16 miles and I only wanted to run in the complete dark. Therefore, I decided to walk/hike the first 8 mile lap and run the second.

Again, it’s easier said than done! When a race starts, everyone takes off and it takes discipline to just start walking. What was a fortunate turn of events for me was that I showed up late for the race. Not at all on purpose, as I actually hadn’t really realized where the race was and underestimated the drive. I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, with nothing ready to go about 1 minute before the start. As it turned out, I started about 20 minutes after everyone else. While not intended, it was a good commitment device to ensure I hiked the first loop. No race start pressures.

How did the running at night go? It went pretty well. I learned some things about focus and lightening the trails, along with managing anxiety of the unknown on the dark trails. I did take two pretty tough tumbles and stubbed my right foot so bad that I thought I might have broken my toes. They were ok, after about a mile of doubt.

In the end, it was a great experience. I hope to do it again soon, as there are a lot of skills to learn in this area of competition. It is definitely about more than just effort and thresholds.

After the run:

This was one of the biggest highlights and why trail running is so appealing to me. There was a campfire that everyone sat around, ate food and drank beer. It reminds me of what triathlon was like in a time past. I ended up staying up around the campfire with some others until 4am, when the last runner finished. Everyone then ascended on their tents or campsites to get a little sleep. I stretched out in the back of the volvo with sleeping bag and Thermarest pads, with a couple blankets to block out the soon approaching sun.

I really appreciate Todd and Cynthia Heady for putting on a great event. Not to mention the amazing work Cynthia did to mark the trail (it can’t be said enough, as it’s the best I’ve ever seen a course marked. road or trail!). I also appreciate all the runners from Louisville for allowing to me hang for the evening.

Here are some pictures I took from the trail on my hike during the first lap. The second lap I was running and it was too dark for pictures, which was the meaning of the day.

Here are the Garmin Stats: These splits don’t include the 20 minutes or so that should be added to the total time and first lap because I was late.

Split Time
1 0:18:57
2 0:19:03
3 0:17:59
4 0:17:55
5 0:17:16
6 0:19:17
7 0:19:52
8 0:17:45
9 0:08:30
10 0:08:36
11 0:09:01
12 0:09:55
13 0:03:37
14 0:08:43
15 0:08:17
16 0:08:24
17 0:04:31
Total Time 3:37:42

1st Lap 2:28:04
2nd Lap 1:09:34

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I am happy when: I’m with people I love without distractions

The Crags, Teller County Colorado (2005)
The Crags, Teller County Colorado (2005)

I’m happy when I am with someone I love and free of distractions.

I recently got a new Mac Mini, which meant that the bulk of my saved photos over the years were stored on a different computer. I luckily had stored the Iphoto library on an external hard drive, so it simply required me to eject it from one computer, plug it into the other and then update the library to the newest version of. Boom, photo library complete. Well, at least I thought I was done. I started to look through some of the photos and realized that they were greatly misorganized. To be more specific, they were never organized. I then decided to take on two tasks:

1. Organize the photos by year. I’ll try and filter in a better way later.
2. Find a place to store the files in the cloud, to make sharing them easier.

I spent the afternoon doing this task. If anyone has a great system for getting the photos from their various devices into one spot and well organized, I’m willing to hear suggestions.

I do not want to share a story about organizing photos. What I wanted to share was something that I noticed as I began organizing the photos. I don’t know if the photo collection completely reflects reality, but it is an interesting observation to start the journey.

The photo albums started in 2003, which is about when I got my first digital camera. I think I had one a year earlier, but who knows where those photos are. What you will find are a lot of photos taken in the woods of Kentucky. I spent a lot of time with friends, such as Tyson, Eric, Beth and random others friends camping, hiking, mountain biking and just hanging out. It was the first year I had lived in Kentucky and they introduced me to all the glorious beauty that Kentucky offers. (Even if I can’t see the changing of colors throughout the seasons due to my color blindness). We also spent a lot of time together that year as a group, adding in Jeff Buhr, doing triathlons.

As you look at the timeline of years, you see this same set of photos through 2004. The major addition to the photo collection was that Nikki started showing up. In fact, we currently have several framed photos hanging on our walls that are from camping and hiking trips we took that year. The following year includes all of the adventures we shared while living in Colorado, including our hike to the top of Pikes Peak. There’s something symbolic about hiking with someone you love to one of the highest peaks in the United States.
I have often looked back at the years of 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 as probably the most happy years of my life thus far. In reflection, I have thought that those years were so great in part because I:

1. Practiced regular meditation
2. Spent time in prayer often
3. Attended or taught yoga multiple times a week
4. Exercised consistently
5. Had been introduced to a new author, Thomas Merton, whom I found great comfort
6. I generally had a stable living, work and school experience

Looking at the photo collection, I started to wonder if those things were not the catalyst. If we can assume that we photograph those things that we find most interesting and bring us the most happiness, then I can safely say that none of those things are true. Interestingly, I don’t even have any photos of my trip to the Abbey of Gethsemani when I visited the place Merton lived and wrote during his life spent as a Trappist monk. I also fear that if that statement is true, what does it mean for the thousands of selfies I see on Facebook and Instagram each week?

When I jump forward in the photo collections, you see similar types of photos for the next several years. They are of weddings, outdoor adventures and races. That is pretty much it. As I shared in my last post on happiness, there was a point that racing stopped being enjoyable. There’s also a point in the collection that the volume of photos starts to get pretty thin. In fact, from 2011 through mid 2013, it is pretty sparse. In fairness, this could be due to the fact that both Nikki and I have Iphones now and we are not as good about saving those photos as we were with a digital camera. But, even with those photos added they would not be of the outdoors, races or spending time undistracted with family or friends. The lone exception might be the 100’s of photos I have of Kelty (whom I will write about at some point, but does have her own section on this blog).

There are multiple variables that play into that period of time. There were external influences, such as a business that I couldn’t get to take off the way I thought it should, along with my anxiety over Nikki going back to school. There were internal factors such as an increasing desire to be left alone and difficulty finding a positive outlet for increasingly depressed moods.

Hindsight is 20/20, but as I now look back, I realize that my desire to be alone was an attitude created from a faulty sense of what makes me happy. There have been times that I have been happy on a trail, for hours, by myself and very content. Those times are very few when compared to the amount of times that I’ve been happy with others, doing something that consumes our attention.

Here are some key suggestions that I feel that I’ve learned through this awareness:

1. Find an activity that you can do with those that are important to you, then plan it, schedule it into your calendar and prioritize it. Do not allow yourself the option of “being too busy”, which as been the most common phrase I have said out loud for the past 3 to 4 years.

2. Nurture the important relationships. It is not feasible to go to events, trips or outings as much as we probably want – so put a little effort into the relationship connections. I have developed a strong habit of not answering my phone or replying to emails. In fact, I have 5,725 unread emails as I sit here and write this. I’m certain that some of those calls and emails, I wish I would have responded to.

One of my three personal goals for 2014 was to write a handwritten letter to 50 of my friends. Or, at least 50 letters to my friends, sending some of them a couple letters. We are mid May and I’m currently at zero. I am trying to learn how to better follow this advice. I have so many great friends from high school, college and since that I see on Facebook and that is the end of the connection.

3. Don’t substitute social media for true connections. This is partly as a response to the statement I just made about Facebook connections. It is easy to fool ourselves into feeling like we are staying connected in a meaningful way because we see a photos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It is not true. Nikki and I were eating breakfast the other morning, which happened to be at a place where two people I see on Facebook regularly were also eating. Interestingly, none of us pretended to know each other. Very odd, I think.

4. Remove distractions and be present. Nikki and I were trying to go to dinner together once a week at one point, until I think she go so fed up that she stopped asking. The common experience was that we would go out but then as we ordered and ate dinner, I answered emails, Twitter posts and Facebook messages. Removing the Facebook app from my phone is the best things I have ever done. I’m getting better about leaving the phone in the car at times also.

In summary: Give me a few friends, 20 miles of trails, backpacking gear and enough water and food to last the weekend. Remove LTE and wifi connections. That is one definition of my happiness.