Saturday, July 28, 2012

R.I.P. Ho

This morning was maybe my second or third visit of the summer to what used to be the bread and butter of my trail running existence:  the mountain bike trails at Memorial Park, aka, the Ho Chi Minh trails, aka, The Ho.  By this time last summer, in the middle of the worst drought in the city's modern history, it was becoming clear that trees would be lost.  By fall, as I looked out over vast swaths of brown, dead pines from my office window, the extent of the devastation was painfully obvious.  Running through the Ho now is almost unbearably sad.  Roads as wide as freeways have been carved deep into the woods, leading to multiple acre-sized clear cuts where dead pines are stacked and industrial-sized wood chippers process anything that can't be sold off.  

The trails that ran through these sections (Yellow, Purple, Roller Coaster, Log Road) are still there, more or less, but what they ran through is not.  The trails further to the east (Renegade and Green) are largely untouched, but their time is coming.  The group is planning trail work for Renegade, in my book once the finest trail out there - an isolated cruiser, with enough ups and downs to keep things fun, and a couple of spots that were objectively beautiful.  It's a laudable impulse, but I have to wonder what's the point?  Its fate is visible half a mile to the west and it's not good.  

Once all the dead trees and snags are cleared, replanting will begin.  At that point, one suspects that the trails will be cleared of a lot of the debris that currently makes running them so tedious.  It's just that there won't be much in the way of woods to run through.  Not for a very long time.  As the crew continued to run through there this morning, I couldn't help feel as if everyone was in a state of denial.  That no one could quite bring themselves to accept that our Saturday morning home for so many years had been gutted.  

Some people say it's useless to look for blame in situations like this.  And they may be correct.  After all, it won't make the forest reappear.  Still, one has to ask who was responsible for minding the store all these years.  Years when invasive species proliferated unchecked, slowly weakening the native pines and hardwoods, leaving them open to disease.  Sure, some tree loss was inevitable in a once-in-a-lifetime drought like last year.  But not this.  Huntsville State Park endured the same summer as Memorial Park, and it definitely lost some trees, but nothing remotely approaching the loss in the Ho.  Then again, Huntsville has been managed as a forest.  Invasives kept in check, undergrowth cleared regularly.  Memorial?  Well, in a moniker rich in irony, Memorial Park has a "Living Bridge."  And an outer loop around the golf course that has to rank as one of the single biggest wastes of money in the park.  And a running center is just around the corner!  Great.  

Meanwhile, I have little interest in running there anymore.  I admit it, a big reason I enjoy trail running is to be immersed in peaceful, sometimes beautiful places.  That kind of place doesn't exist anymore at the park.  R.I.P., Ho.  It was fun while it lasted.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Took a few days off after Miwok before deciding to get back at it for what promises to be a long, hot summer (is there any other kind?).  The balance of May saw mostly short runs during the week (4-5 mile range generally) and very relaxed stuff on the weekends.  Decided that the first half of the summer was going to be about consistency and staying healthy.  On that count, May was a success.  No problems post-Miwok and I was able to log a nice stretch of activity the last half of the month.  

When the calendar read June 1, things picked up as I stretched out my weekday runs to the 5-7 mile range and started a 6-day-a-week running regiment, with Sundays as walk days.  Given that summer in Houston is generally a miserable time, it's sort of surprising that this June was one of my best months of running ever.  181 miles (second biggest month ever, and by far the biggest without an ultra race), 26 days of running, 3 days of walking, and only one zero day.  Moreover, somehow I got just a little faster lately, with most of my runs 10-15 seconds a mile quicker than I've been historically.  Much of it probably has to do with a good base of spring racing, which has helped build strength.  My form feels relatively smooth and things are clicking right now.  After a frustrating, injury-plagued 2011, I'm just trying to savor each healthy run.  Hopefully more of the same for July (work may make a duplication of June difficult) and then some more focused training in August and September to get ready for Firetrails and the local racing season.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Miwok 2012

The lead up to the Miwok 100K was as pretty challenging.  For the last year or more, it seemed I had been battling one nagging injury after another.  The most recent of these, a nasty case of metatarsalgia in my left foot, really put me behind the curve as far as training went.  Still, the last couple of months had been relatively healthy, and while the overall training mileage wasn't anything to write home about, I managed to get a number of quality long runs in throughout April.  What I didn't get was any serious hill training.  Hitting the stairs at work wasn't always a great option (particularly when it started to get warm in the stairwells), and since Rice closed the stadium to outsiders, the options for any sort of structured "up & down" work are pretty limited.  Add to that some work issues that called into question whether I'd even be able to make the trip to California up until a week beforehand, and it wasn't an ideal situation.

Still, I was excited and optimistic about giving it a go for a number of reasons.  First, I absolutely love these trails.  Regardless of the exact route in a given year (the course has changed a bit the last few years), this is some of the finest trail running to be had anywhere.  Big ups, big downs, phenomenal scenery, lovely weather . . . seriously, it doesn't get much better than Miwok.  Second, my first-rate crew of Chris and Misty were joining me.  In addition to being excellent company, they know what they're doing when it comes to these things, which meant that I knew I wouldn't have to sweat the small stuff.  Third, work had sucked recently, and any opportunity to spend a long weekend outside in a beautiful place, far away from the office was a good thing.  Finally:  Wine Country.  'Nuff said.

Travel to the Bay Area was smooth (travel back home was another story) and we found a very tasty place to dine in Mill Valley  Got back to the hotel at a reasonable hour, got everything organized, taped my feet, and hit the sack.  The race was scheduled to start at 5:00 a.m. (what is it with these crazy-early starts?), so Chris, Misty, and yours truly were in the car and on the way down to Stinson Beach well before 4:00 a.m.  Check in was a minimalist affair.  A table, some volunteers, a race number, and that was it.  Hung out in the car with the crew for a bit and then decided to head to the start line.  One problem - no one knew where it was.  Finally, the RD showed up in the middle of the parking lot with a bullhorn, gathered everyone up, and announced we'd be doing a quick loop around the lot to spread folks out a bit.  Minutes later, we were off.  Quintessential no-fuss trail race start.

Stinson Beach

Waiting for "Go"
After our Lot Loop, all 350+ runners hit the sleepy roads through Stinson Beach, a task that took all of maybe 5 minutes.  This first half mile or so was gently uphill (enough for me to mix in some walking, but not bad at all).  Before we knew it, the street ended and we hit the narrow singletrack of the Willow Camp trail.  Up, up, up we went.  For the next 40 or more minutes, it was all grinding climb.  Given the narrowness of the trail, there was very little passing and for the most part everyone was locked into their position.  The monotony of the climb was, however, broken up by fantastic views out over the Pacific and a waning "Supermoon" that transitioned from huge and white to small and otherworldly orange.  After the long and sometimes quite steep climb, the trail widened before funneling onto the Coastal Trail.

Coastal Less-Than-Singletrack (Credit:  Donald B.)

I remembered this section of trail well from Headlands and Miwok five years ago as a super-narrow, somewhat challenging, but mostly flat bit of running.  The years had not been kind to the trail, however, as what I found was a super-narrow trail that had been narrowed even further (to the point of near disappearance) by significant erosion.  At times there was simply not enough room for both feet.  To make matters worse, recent rains had led to tall grasses overgrowing much of the trail to the point where it was difficult in the early morning light to even make out where you were stepping.  In short, very tough footing.  By the time I finally rolled into the Bolinas Ridge aid station, I was more worked than I would have liked to have been.  

Early morning from the Bolinas Fire Road
I was looking forward to a PB&J at Bolinas Ridge, but I must say that the selection was underwhelming.  Nothing more than some chips and assorted other junk.  Honestly, despite this race's history and reputation, I've always found the aid stations lacking.  Not that I need much from my aid stations, but there's something about coming to a nearly-bare aid station that is just a little dispiriting.  I quickly blew off the lack of PB&J, downed a GU, and headed out the lovely Bolinas Ridge Fire Road.  For the next 6 miles or so, we were treated to rolling trail, perfect weather, big trees, and just ideal running conditions.  Shortly before the gate that marks the descent down to the Randall turnaround, the leaders floated by (Dave Mackey in front looking typically mutant-like).  The descent down to Randall was the first test of my downhill legs.  About 1400 feet in a mile and half or so, there was no doubt my flatlander legs were taking a pounding, but, man, it was a hell of a lot of fun to fly downhill for that long!  Before I knew it, I was at the bottom and the Randall Turnaround aid station.  Filled up on water and grabbed a couple of PB&J squares, and I was off and up the long climb back up to the ridge line.

Randall Aid Station

The climb up was predictably slow - I'm serious, I am a terrible climber - but not as taxing as I expected.  By the time I hit the Bolinas Fire Road, I was able to run everything save for a the ups of a few of the bigger rollers.  Getting back to the Bolinas Ridge Aid Station seemed to take forever though.  Once I finally made it there, I passed on PB&J and tried some tortilla wraps with garlic hummus.  It sounded really good at the time, but man, I tasted that garlic hummus long after I wanted to.  After gathering myself, I headed back out toward the dreaded pencil-thin ("half-track") section of the Coastal Trail, this time even longer than on the trip in.  Some frustration set in at this point with the crappy footing, and I was struggling with motivation.  I was already tired, my feet hurt, and I was having the "why do I do this" internal dialogue that should have come many miles later.  But the views . . . they were lovely.  
Coastal Trail
Coastal Trail "Gutter"
Yet More Coastal (it was long...)

After what seemed an eternity, we finally reached the sharp righthand turn down the Matt Davis trail, heading back toward Stinson Beach.  On the Topo map and in various descriptions I had read, this was supposed to be a very, um, aggressive downhill.  But the early going was actually pretty tame.  The trail was a little wider than the Coastal Trail I'd just come off of and the grade wasn't bad and made for some nice downhill cruising.  Unfortunately, that didn't last long, because as soon as we were back in the forested section a little lower down the hillside, the trail changed in a couple of ways.  

Matt Davis gnar-gnar (Credit:  Donald B.)

First, it became steeper, particularly on the switchbacks (all of which were composed of 4-6 irregular and sometimes treacherous "stairs").  Second, the trail became significantly more technical - rockier and rootier.  In a poor state of mind and with downhill legs starting to wear out, it was a tough go.  About midway down, I fell in behind another runner (Lucy) who was also not having the best of days.  We shared our misery and discussed dropping at Stinson.  The fellowship of suffering made the crazy descent pass more quickly (crossing paths with scads of cheery hikers just pissed me off), and soon enough we spilled into the parking lot at the Stinson Beach fire station.  

Stinson Beach - 26 Miles
After a few moments, I spotted Chris and Misty, who immediately set out to getting me whatever I needed.  I entered the aid station with every intention of calling it quits then, but I really felt I owed my crew at least one more leg.  While I had no expectation that things would turn around, I knew that stranger things have happened in ultras.  With plenty of water, some Mountain Dew, and a few minutes' rest, I set out on the next leg.  All I knew about it was that it was like 7 miles.  Had I known any more, I may have called it quits at that point.  

Up The Dipsea (Credit: Donald B.)

Climbing Dipsea / Steep Ravine
Almost immediately after leaving, the trail began to climb at a reasonable (but not fun) grade.  The climb up the famed Dipsea Trail included a few sections of stairs early on before breaking into a completely exposed rolling section about a half mile in (The Moors).  The section actually saw me running a bit, although the sun was making itself felt.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't even remotely hot by Texas standards, but the lack of shade and continuous direct sun can slowly drain the reserves (reserves I didn't really have).  After a little over a mile, you drop down into a drainage before resuming the climb up toward Cardiac Hill.  The worst part of the climb comes early, gaining about 500 feet in less than half a mile.  This climb includes parts of the course with names like Insult Hill, Steep Ravine, and (worst of all) The Swoop.  

The (MF-ing) Swoop
More Friggin' Swoop (Credit for both:  Donald B.)
This section . . . well, it completely destroyed me.  I was reduced to stopping every 10 steps or so to catch my breath.  I thought my heart was literally going to burst from my chest, Alien-style.  Pure, unadulterated misery.  But finally, the stairs were done.  My reward, just plain old stair-less climbing.  Thanks Miwok.

My Reward (Credit:  Donald B.)

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally crested Cardiac and began the gentle, but oh-so-long descent down the Randall Fire Road toward the Redwood Creek Trail and the terminus of my race - Muir Beach. 

Near Cardiac - About to head down Deer Park
Arriving at Muir, I was completely spent.  To their credit, Chris and Misty didn't bother to try to talk me out of dropping.  I was falling behind the Tennessee Valley 50-mile cut off (which I later learned was extended an hour - not that it would have made a difference), and I knew that there was simply no way I was going to finish this race.   By dropping at this point, I could save my legs and leave a good chunk of beautiful afternoon for everyone to do something other than waiting around for a suffering runner.  That the "something" involved margaritas is proof that the day wasn't wasted.  

While I was disappointed not to have done better, I went into this year's Miwok knowing that absolutely everything would have to break right if I had even an outside chance of finishing.  I was simply undertrained.  No getting around that fact.  Plus, the new course is legit, and the fact that a major chunk of climbing and descending is packed into the first half . . . well, it just gave me a wicked beating.  Fortunately, the following day exploring some wonderful Sonoma wineries did a great deal to ease the physical and psychic pain.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Huntsville Final Tune Up

Decided to head out to Huntsville for the last long run before Miwok.  Simply gorgeous morning for a quiet run in the woods.  The plan was to do the Rocky Raccoon 100 20-mile loop.  Nearing the Nature Center and the 3-mile mark, I decided to explore a broad utility cut nearby.  I had checked it out last summer when it was still under construction and recall some nice hills.  As I was heading out the cut, I saw a runner ahead coming my way.  Turned out to be Robert King, who was getting some hill work in for Hardrock.  He said the 7 Hills Running Club out of Huntsville dubbed this the 7-Hills Trail.  He estimated it was about 2.5 miles end to end, for a 5-mile out and back.  He also mentioned that there were some excellent hills ahead.  

"Seven Hills Trail"

Not so sure about the 5 mile part, as I think it's probably closer to 4 miles round trip, but Robert wasn't kidding about the hills.  Lots of excellent rollers and a couple of hills that are easily the biggest in the area (on the longest, it took 2 minutes at a fairly chippy pace to make it from top to bottom.  Obviously, not Colorado, but it's definitely a great place to come for some good up & down. 

End of the road - Elkins Lake

Back in the park proper, I tried to keep an honest but comfortable pace as long as possible.  Soon enough I found myself at the Dam Road Aid Station site about to head out on what I think of as the Heaven & Hell Loop.  About six miles total, it heads out the perimeter CCC Trail - that's the Heaven - one of my favorite sections.  Fairly straight, lots of fun rollers, a sense of isolation, and pretty good footing throughout.  I ran nearly all of this section.
CCC Trail - The Heaven of the Heaven/Hell Loop
All good things come to an end, though, and I found myself deposited out of Heaven and into Hell - the long stretch of the Chinquapin Trail between the spillway and the boardwalks.  I loathe this section.  Where Heaven is straight and predictable, Hell is twisted up like a small intestine and the footing sucks in places.  Despite these feelings, I was still having a nice run and arrived at the spillway in good spirits.  

Chinquapin over the spillway

But while the mind was clear and light, I started to experience some pain near my right achilles, a problem that has cropped up a couple of times near the end of a few of my runs lately.  I hoped it wouldn't slow me down too much and forged ahead.  Back at Dam Road, I started walking while I had a GU and some water and prepared for the long stretch to the Park Road crossing.  When I started moving again, the achilles/ankle was definitely unhappy, and halfway down the one-mile stretch of Chinquapin, I was reduced to walk. 

Chinquapin nearing the Park Road

Spilling out back on the fire road, I toyed with the idea of pressing on, but decided against it.  Two weeks out from Miwok, the last thing I needed was to force the issue.  So I didn't.  Hiked most of the 2 miles of so back to the car, and while I was a little frustrated, even the achy ankle couldn't completely dampen such a wonderful morning in the woods. 
Dogwood heading in

Monday, April 16, 2012


(The carrot)

The second 50K in a week was predictably sucktastic. After a couple of successful short runs earlier in the week confirmed that my legs still worked post-Hell's Hills, I commited to slogging through Hog's Hunt. This decision was based almost wholly on the need to beat the legs up real good before Miwok. Lo and behold, I got exactly what I came for. As "race" day approached, it was clear that the weather would be challenging. Pulling into the park at about 6:00 a.m., my car thermometer registered a balmy 75 degrees. And this wasn't a dry 75. Parked near the aid station and walked the half mile or so to the start, chatted with some folks for a few minutes, and then we were off. Exactly the same set up as the previous week: Pure Grits and DryMax on the feet, 20oz handheld and a small Nathan waist pack for fluid/electrolytes/calories.

The first loop was not especially memorable. There was a small pack for the first mile or so, but once we crossed the road at the Nature Center, things had spread out nicely (which would be the case for the rest of the day). RD Paul Stone emphasized hydration in his pre-race spiel, and he talked the talk, with water available at roughly the 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 13, and 15.5 marks of each loop. This obviously allowed lots of idiots to run while carrying little or no water. The aid stations themselves were lean with respect to food items (no pb&J), but most had Coke, and often there was ice (which was lovely on the second loop). By the time I left the second aid station at mile 8 and hit the dreaded 2-mile portion of the Chinquapin Trail (aka Trail From Hell), I was running alone. I mean ALONE, as I saw NO ONE for over a mile and half. I was still feeling fine, so this really wasn't all that unpleasant. Soon enough, I hit the TREX aid station and was heading for the last couple miles of the loop, which was completed in a hair under 3 hours.

A quick turnaround (so as not to seriously contemplate dropping at this point), and loop 2 was underway. It wasn't long before the heat and humidity worked me over and continuous running became difficult. By the time I hit the first aid station (manned by Joe P & crew), I was pretty run down. The 2-mile stretch of fire road back to a lovely mile-long stretch of singletrack was, as always, mentally taxing. But I was content to take things as they came. I saw that Stefanie B and Tim L were a few minutes behind me and my goal was to slow enough that they might catch me by the Trail From Hell, as I did not look forward to negotiating it alone in my present state. Unfortunately, I found myself pretty much alone once again, with only an ocassional biker or hiker to break up the godawful monotony of the heat-induced near death march. After what seemed like an eternity, I staggered into the TREX aid station with less than 3 miles to go. I lingered for a bit, enjoying a cold Coke and some ice, and then headed back up the trail. As I was heading up, Stefanie was heading down to the aid station, and I was content to walk for a bit and let her catch me, as some chit chat and mutual suffering would make the last half hour pass more quickly.

At least that's what I was thinking initially. Once the Coke settled and I was feeling a bit refreshed, I decided not to wait. And I began to run. Certainly not fast, but I was running more than walking, spurred on by the drive to just get the damn thing done. Among the mind games I started to play was "finish before Stef." Why? It wasn't a competitive thing, really. Getting chicked doesn't bother me in the least. It was just about motivation to get the legs moving. As I started to near the last mile along the Park Road, I realized there was an outside chance of coming in under 6:30, but for some reason that didn't really stoke the fires and while I managed to run (painfully) on the downhills, the ups and flats were little more than typical death march pace. Then, maybe a quarter mile from the finish, who should run up on me but friggin' Stefanie. You have got to be kidding. She told me to "come on" and I did, assuming we'd shuffle in together, but as we hit the final straight-away down the utility cut, she picked up the pace. My response: "you have to be fucking kidding me." But she wasn't. And it was on. 10 min/mile pace quickly became something much faster. As the finish line approached, I felt that I probably had a little more pure speed (very much a relative term) than she did and I pushed ahead at the very last second to "win" by . . . well, a second. In reality, a fun way to finish a not so fun run. 6:29:39. Post-run was spent at the TREX aid station with a cold beer, happy to not be one of the very back-of-the-packers still making their way to the finish on a tough day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hell's Hills 50K

(h/t Henry Hobbs)

6:23:55. 51 out of 134 finishers. Given my lack of consistent training and the warm conditions, I'll take it. The lead up to race morning was uneventful. Had a nice dinner with friends Arlene and Freya (who both had nice 25K runs) in Bastrop, followed by a typically bad hotel-room night's sleep. Got to the race site in plenty of time. Parking was a breeze and I soon found a spot with the TREX-ers along the start/finish chute & we chilled until 6:00.

Joe lined us up, said "go", and we were off. Normal, no-nonsense Joe start. The morning was mild, a little humid, but really very pleasant. While it was dark for the first 30-45 mins, the moon was nearly full and bright. The course pinches pretty quickly onto singletrack, so the early miles were a conga line affair. But the pace wasn't bad and it felt good just to go with the flow and not think about much. Once the sun came up, the crowd had spread out and I fell into a good groove, running near Mariela for much of this loop. The first aid station (5.7 miles in) came and went quickly with an elapsed time of 1:05. Not bad considering the crowded start and a couple of early miles in the dark. Felt solid through the next section and was delighted to see the riotous show of wild flowers in the open meadow right before the next aid station - Tunnel o' Pines. Again, in and out quickly, and on to one of my favorite sections, a mile-long, straight section of soft trail and fun rollers. Maybe 2 miles from the end of the loop, I take my only fall of the day on a slight downhill, and I go down hard. So hard that the top of my water bottle (which braced my fall) is blown off. Mariela, who is running right in front of me, turns around, notes that the fall sounded "hard" and continues on. Tough love. The end of the loop arrives in 2:57 or so, and after grabbing a couple extra Gu's and filling the bottle, I'm out for loop two.

Chatted with Kim on my way out (who was running the 50 mile, of course - no wimp runs for her), and then started plugging away. The legs were feeling okay, although the hip flexors were tightening up pretty good (possibly an after-effect of my spill). Still, I managed to make the 5.7 miles to the first aid station a full minute faster than loop 1, and I headed out toward Tunnel o' Pines feeling alright. Alas, that was not to last. Somewhere around the 23 mile mark, the engine began to overheat, and continuous running became difficult. It wasn't a full-on bonk only because I didn't let it get to that point. I knew I still had a considerable distance to cover and the last thing I wanted was to death-march it all the way in. So I mixed in more walking. It was around this time that Mariela passed me and attempted to get me moving again. And I did for a couple of minutes, but the "check engine" light came on and I had to let her go. So it went - some walking, some running. Hydration was good. Electrolytes were good. Stomach was fine. Legs . . . they still worked but were quite tired. The heat was the issue, and there wasn't much to be done about it other than manage the best I could. Tunnel o' Pines was a most welcome sight/site, what with Henry Hobbs manning a cold-water mister - oh my, hard to explain how good that felt. Left TOP seconds after Mariela, but I had no intention of trying to stick with her. It was all about survival from here on in. Hung out with a group of folks moving about the same pace (slow). We'd walk the rollers up and shuffle down. The flats were a mix of shuffling and walking, as we passed one another in a game of musical chairs. Finally hit the fence line that tells you the end is near and I was happy. Had been trudging along with a guy from Waco named Mark - nice guy - and as we neared the final 1/4 mile, we walked a bit solely to have enough energy to "run" when we turned the final corner. Yes, it was that sort of day. Crossed the line, grabbed my medal (pretty cool one, btw) and shortly thereafter settled down for a rest, small talk, and a beer. All in all, a good day. Next up: Hog's Hunt. Or not. We'll see....

Monday, March 26, 2012


As one injury has bled into the next over the last year and a half (or more), I admit that my absence from the trail race scene (as a running participant, at least) has been a source of some frustration. But as the latest maladies fade and I start to round back into some semblance of running shape, I was reminded last weekend that what I've missed most of all are the essentials: good company, a stout run, beautiful trail. There is something invigorating about getting out in the forest (almost painfully green in places) and running for miles without seeing anyone other than your running mates. Pinning on a race number and toeing a start line is good fun and appeals to the competitive side. But if I had to choose between racing or fun runs like last weekend's jaunt on the Lone Star Trail, it wouldn't even be close. Fortunately, I don't have to choose, and I'm now signed up for not one, but TWO trail races: Hell's Hills 50K and Miwok. May even throw in a 25K at Hogs Hunt in a few weeks. Right now, running is good again. And when running is good, everything else is just a little easier to deal with.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2011 - Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Ass

In terms of running, there are few years I'll be less sad to see in the rear-view than 2011. Now, numbers don't tell the story every time. But this isn't one of those times. 876 miles over 173 days, for a pedestrian 5 mile/run average. Vast swaths of time off with various injuries. Two whole organized "races" - a nice Bandera 50K last January & a slow (but very enjoyable) Cactus Rose relay. But the end of the year saw more consistency in my training, a trend that needs to continue in 2012. Miwok and some other good races are on the radar this year, so motivation is high. 2012 - bring it on.