Archive for April, 2009

Call me Rainman

Posted in Uncategorized on April 30, 2009 by Trail Boy

A little rain never hurt anyone.

It cools the air and freshens everything.

Running in the rain makes you feel alive.

OK, none of those were my thoughts. That was Mrs. Trail Boy talking this morning, as I sat grumpily at the table, watching the rain hit the windows for the umpteenth straight day.

“I think I’ll wait for it to stop,” I said. “Maybe I’ll run at lunchtime.”

“No, go now,” she said. “Something will come up at work. It always does. You won’t get out. You’ll come home all crabby.”

She was right. Something probably would come up. I probably would come home crabby.

And how would I face Master Denny? As far as I knew, he was planning to run trails in the Valley this morning. For all I know, he was getting soaked too. I couldn’t tell him that I was afraid of a little rain.

So I got dressed and headed out and began splashing in puddles.

It really wasn’t raining that hard, at first. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a morning mist and 10 being a hurricane, it was about a 3 — a light, steady shower.

But I didn’t have much time. I had waited so long that I had only a half-hour to run before I had to get ready for work.

So it was time for my hill loop repeats.

As I’ve noted before, when I need to pack a lot of effort into a little bit of time, almost nothing beats this drill: running a hilly, paved loop in my neighborhood that’s about one-third of a mile around. I run each circuit faster than the previous one, without any rest intervals.

My goal today was to run seven loops. After a four-minute warmup, I got to work and got the job done. Here are my times: 3:21, 3:05, 2:57, 2:53, 2:51, 2:48, 2:45. Then I did a five-minute cooldown.

Mrs. Trail Boy was right. I really didn’t mind the rain. Not even when it got heavier, up to a 5 or 6 on the Trail Boy scale — a hard soaker.

Rain, rain, you’re OK. But take a few days off. You’ve earned it.

Splitting a negative

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2009 by Trail Boy
As a writer, I know one of the basic rules of grammar is to never split an infinitive. Like I just did.
As a runner, I know that a basic rule of training is to run negative splits as often as possible. Like I just did — at lunchtime, on the trails.
A negative split, of course, just means running the second half of a race or training run slightly faster than the first half.
For me, running a negative split is as natural as rolling out of bed. In all my years of running, I’ve always liked to start out a bit conservatively, letting my body warm up gradually. I’ve never been one to bust a gut right from the get-go.
Then, after a few miles, I’m ready to shift into third or fourth gear, and finish strong.
Doing splits correctly is mighty important, whatever the sport!

Doing splits correctly takes lots of practice.

Not everyone agrees with me on this. For several years, I trained with a very fast runner who liked to start  almsot every run aggressively. He would blast out of the start, leaving me in his dust. “Where the hell is the fire?” I often shouted at the back of his head.

My body just wasn’t ready for high speed. I needed a few miles to warm up. But by the halfway point, I would usually catch up and we would finish close together.

Another running friend is more typical. One day last month, we  ran 12 miles together. During the second half, I could feel him pushing the speed. I pointed out that we were really picking up the pace. But for him, it was so natural, he didn’t even notice.

“That’s my plan,” he said. “Even when it’s not my plan, it’s my plan.”

Almost every training book, magazine or web site has spilled thousands of words on the topic. Most of the advice I’ve read says that running a negative split is a good rule of thumb. It helps you dole out your body’s energy evenly over a long distance, thus avoiding the dreaded bonk. It’s one of few rules of training I religiously follow. Every time I’ve started a race or a training run too fast (including several marathons), I’ve regretted it during the second half, as I ran out of gas.

So in that spirit today, I went out at lunchtime and ran five miles on the canal towpath. This really wasn’t a speed workout, just a daily maintenance run.

Unfortunately, I had eaten some trail mix about an hour before heading out, and as I started my run, it was stuck in my stomach like a rock. It was an effort to move for the first few miles. So I had to no choice but to start out nice and easy. I ran the first half in 22:14.

Then, feeling a bit better, I turned around and pushed the speed a bit, wondering how much time I could shave off in the second half. (The trail is flat, so the direction is irrelevant.) I ran the second half in 20:33.

That’s a difference of nearly 8 percent — probably too much of a negative split. The experts say a negative split should amount to a difference of only 2 to 3 percent.

Next time, I’ll lay off the trail mix. But I’ll never lay off negative splits.

A hopeless case

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2009 by Trail Boy

One of my favorite TV shows from the 70s and 80s was M*A*S*H, the sit-com about Army surgeons during the Korean War.

Besides enjoying the edgy story lines and black humor, I actually learned a few things about trauma care, including something called triage. That’s the system the surgeons used to divide the wounded patients into three groups:

1) Those who were likely to live, regardless of what care they received.

2) Those who were likely to die, regardless of the care they received.

3) Those for whom immediate care would make a big difference.  This is the group the doctors would really try to help.

I thought of this yesterday when I ran into a co-worker and fellow runner  in the coffee room.

This guy is a dyed-in-the-wool road runner. I call him Pavement Boy. Aside from 10-mile trail race he ran at my insistence last year, he refuses to leave his precious pavement. 

I wonder if it was because he had a rough outing at that trail race. Early in the race, he banged his head on a low-hanging branch. Then near the end, he tripped over a root and fell to the ground like a sack of cement, hitting his head on a stump. We


laughed about it on the ride home, but I thought he would get over it in a day or two and remember just the good parts of trail running.

I was foolishly optimistic. As far as I know, Pavement Boy has never again stepped foot on a trail, aside from the tame, flat towpath. 

In the coffee room yesterday, he asked me: “Did you have a good run this weekend?”

“Of course!” I said.

“I know, I know. You ran trails,” he said, looking at me with a mocking grin. “Don’t tell me how wonderful it was, because I’m not doing it.”

I bit my tongue. True, I consider myself something of an evangelist on the subject, going on and on about the joys and wonders of trails. But I’ve learned that some people just won’t be converted. There’s no use. I’ve been trying to drag Pavement Boy onto the trails for years, with a success rate of .00001 percent. 

“Relax. I’m not going to waste my breath,” I told him. “You’re what trauma surgeons would consider a hopeless case. I’ll move on to the next patient.”

He laughed and walked away.

I guess trails are an acquired taste, like artichokes or mushrooms. Some people try them once, decide they’re yucky and never take another nibble.

Trail Boy wishes he could convert the world, but it’s not going to happen.


I got my miles in this morning, but not the fun way. It rained and rained overnight, and I knew that most nearby trails — already saturated from one of the wettest Aprils on record — would be closed or flooded. So I ran 6 1/2 miles on roads in my neighborhood before work, in a light rain. My time was 56:22.

Pavement Boy would have been proud of me.

Mountain bikers: my new best friends

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2009 by Trail Boy
Mountain bikers are OK in my book if they're going to build a new 10-mile singletrack near my house that I can use.

Mountain bikers are OK in my book if they're going to build a new 10-mile singletrack near my house that I can use.

This is the best news I’ve seen in weeks — at least when it comes to trails, a subject near and dear to my singletrack heart.

Fort Ben Harrison, which is the state park closest to my house, might get a brand new, 10-mile-long hiking and biking trail this year.

Naturally, this would be great, if it happens. There is no such thing as too many trails — especially in Indy, where the parks are far and few between, and the trails are scarce.

According to a short item in the newspaper, the park is hosting an open house this afternoon to discuss the trail. It’s proposed somewhere on park grounds. The singletrack trail would be for hikers, runners and mountain bikers.

What a great addition that would be. At Fort Ben, you can find a handful of trails, but they are mostly short loops, the longest being about 2 1/2 miles. So getting a new 10-mile long trail would be outstanding.

I wish I could get to the meeting and hear more details, but I can’t. I did a brief web search on the web for a map of the planned trail, but couldn’t find anything. I hope the trail would be 10 miles without a break. Currently, if you want to run trails for a few hours at Fort Ben, you have to include a few stretches on pavement to get from one trail to another.

Still, it looks like the right groups are behind this effort. Representatives from Department of Natural Resources and the Hoosier Mountain Biking Association will attend the meeting. 

You might ask: Won’t runners and bikers get in each other’s way? Won’t they compete for turf on a narrow singletrack? Maybe. But I’ve run on other mountain bike trails before and have always stepped off the course when I saw a biker approaching. Simple courtesy goes a long way.

The world is big enough for all of us trail lovers. I think that both groups are so happy for new trails that we’ll do everything possible to co-exist peacefully.

The bike people are going to design and build the trail. I’m sure they will include as many hills, dales and and drop-offs as humanly possible.  Mountain bikers are like that.

Naturally, that’s just fine with Trail Boy.

Hey bike people: Call me if you need any help.

Hiking with Scouts, running with joy

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2009 by Trail Boy
Flash and his Scout friends are ready for a hike.

Boy Flash (in yellow shirt) and his Scout friends hit the trails.

 The mission: A fun weekend in the wilderness.

 The occasion: a campout with Cub Scouts, including Son No. 2 (also known as “Boy Flash,” or “The Kid Who Never, Ever Stops Moving”).
The place:  Turkey Run State Park in western Indiana, about 90 minutes from our house.

The goal:  To let Flash earn a few skill badges (fire-tending, cooking, hiking ,etc.) and to let Trail Boy spend a few hours happily hiking, running and sightseeing on trails.  

Watch your step. This section of trail has a few hazards. That's what makes trails so fun.

 Flash and I left our house Saturday morning, got to the campground around 11 a.m., pitched our tent, played around a bit, ate hotdogs and then, happily, hit the trails. 

With a handful of other boys and parents, we hiked for about 90 minutes along a spectacular array of ledges, ravines, creek beds and various hills and hollows. The weather was clear and sunny. The scenery was stunning. I used the phrase “Oh my God” so many times that I’m sure the other parents thought I was seeing nature for the first time in my life.  

But it was just that beautiful. And I am just that appreciative of the outdoors.  

In addition to drooling over the mind-blowing scenery, I used the hike as a scouting mission to see where I might want to take a run on Sunday morning.  

After our energetic hike, we came back to the campsite. The parents rested. Flash and his friends did the usual Scout stuff: play football, make mud pies, build campfires, cook dinner, chase raccoons away, etc.   

Trail Boy spent the night in the yellow tent, close to trails and woods.


We finally crawled in our tents around 10 p.m. and slept like logs.  

On Sunday, I got up at 7 a.m., and set out for a run while the boys sat aroundthe fire, eating muffins and bananas.  

Using the intel gathered Saturday, I ran about eight miles along a beautiful variety of trails through the woods, along the riverfront, up and down steep rocky hills.  

During the run, I kicked myself a dozen times for leaving my camera in my tent. The scenery was spectacular: yellow and purple wildflowers in a one area, followed by a green carpet of moss alongside the trail in another, followed by 150-200 foot ravines with killer views of the river below.  

I made it back to the campsite in an hour and 12 minutes, just in time to grab some juice and a banana. We took down the tent, packed the car and drove home with smiles. Trail Boy just knows that all road runners would leave pavement in a heartbeat if they only knew what they were missing.  

Ravines, ledges and other cool scenery made this a hike to remember.


Beautiful trails, heavy legs

Posted in Uncategorized on April 24, 2009 by Trail Boy

  What do you get when you take too many rest days, followed by two back-to-back hard workouts? Heavy legs, of course! I ran 13 miles before work today. It was a picture-perfect spring morning– clear sky, warm air, lots of flowering plants in full bloom. Unfortunately, after about nine miles, my legs grew heavy and my energy fizzled.  

No big mystery there. I sat on my butt on Sunday (lousy weather), Monday (more lousy weather, plus busy at work) and Wednesday (planned to run at lunchtime in celebration of Earth Day, but got bogged down at work).  

And on the days I DID run, my training was uneven. On Tuesday, I ran six miles on pavement. On Thursday, I ran hill repeats (yes, on pavement).   

The lesson here: I need more consistent training, day after day. I need to run more tough trails. And I need to boost my weekly mileage. Otherwise, the hard workouts, when I do them, will bite me in the shorts. 

Mind you, I’m not complaining. For the first two-thirds of today’s run, I had a decent amount of zip. And I did get a workout. But it was harder than it had to be.   I ran at Fort Harrison State Park, about 15 minutes from my house. I got to the park at 6:45 a.m., before the it officially opened. I had to park outside the locked gates, in a nearby office parking lot, and run around the entrance gate and down the long road to the trails.    

Once I reached the meat of the park, I ran the bike loop, the Fall Creek Trail loop (twice, in each direction), the Lawrence Creek Trail (same as Fall Creek), and then retraced my steps up the long entrance road to my car.    

My legs started getting heavy on the second loop of the Lawrence Creek Trail. The trail is challenging it its own way. It starts off with a steep, 100-foot climb, and goes up and down through rock beds, dirt trails and some soggy muck. Hence my tired dogs. Still, the scenery and terrain were perfect. Even though my legs were whining, Trail Boy’s soul was in heaven!    

The Fall Creek Trail was beautiful too, with lots of great views of the creek.    

I finished up the run in just a couple minutes under two hours. From what I know of the trails, I’m guess I ran about 13 miles.     

This weekend, I go camping with Cub Scouts (my son’s pack, not some random Cub Scouts) at Turkey Run State Park, about two hours west of my house. We will sleep on the ground ( in tents) on Saturday night and probably do the usual Scout stuff, with campfires, crafts and hikes.    

The park has some decent trails. It goes without saying that Trail Boy will come prepared, shoes and all, to hit the trails.    



Run, Goldy, run!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 23, 2009 by Trail Boy

My hair used to be very blond. And in the summer, it would get curly. Thankfully, no one ever called me Goldilocks.

Still, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears stuck in my mind today as I tried to find the perfect hill for repeats.

I went out to Crown Hill Cemetery at lunchtime. The cemetery, as I noted before, has some of the most challenging hills around, including the highest point in Indianapolis.

"Porridge is great fuel for running hills!"

The last time I went to the cemetery, I ran the steepest incline, the south face of the Riley Hill. It’s a tough climb, nearly straight up, with no breaks, or dips or anyplace to catch your breath. So it’s a great workout. 

But I wanted to mix it up a bit today, and experiment with a few of the other approaches to Riley’s hilltop tomb.

There are about four or five ways to the top of the hill — some steeper and more challenging than others. After a 10-minute warmup, I got to work.

I started with a run up the opposite side of the hill, the north face. That took 2:26, but it felt a little too easy. I reached the top before I knew it. I wasn’t even breathing hard.

So I trotted over to the east side, and started back farther, for a longer approach. It’s a steadier climb. By stepping up the pace, I got my heart going a little faster. I did three repeats of this hill, in 2:25, 2:28 and 2:27. Still, it felt a bit too easy.

Finally, I decided to make the longest approach I could find, starting back probably a half-mile, at one of the lowest points in the area.  This road twists and turns a bit more, with a mix of steepness and flats. I trotted to the top in 4:41. That felt pretty darn good. And all this exploring was making me hungry, so I decided to do a short cooldown and get some lunch. 

Yes, I could have done several more repeats, but I want to save my legs. Tomorrow, I need to get in a long run before work, because on Saturday, I’m getting up early to go on a Scout campout, and who knows what I’ll feel like Sunday after a night on the ground.

Next time, I will go back to Crown Hill and blast up the south side of Riley Hill six times. I hope it won’t be too tough. Or like Goldilocks, I might scream “Help!” — and run away, never to return.


This is the final stretch of incline, about two-thirds of the way up the hill to Riley's monument at the top. This picture really doesn't do justice to the climb. It's a lot steeper when you're huffing and puffing your way up.