Archive for September, 2009

John Muir, my patron saint

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2009 by Trail Boy

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

Those words, almost a prayer to nature, were written by John Muir, the legendary Scottish-American naturalist and preservationist, whose love of the wilderness is a deep inspiration to me.

 Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and led the effort to create several national parks, was featured in the first two episodes of Ken Burns’ series on America’s national parks, which is airing this week.

I watched these shows with fascination, moved by Muir’s passion for nature and his hard work in saving the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas from commercial developers.

Muir spoke with reverence of nature. He considered it a temple for the soul, a cathedral for mankind.

 He never tired of climbing mountains, hiking through forests, exploring new wilderness areas. He seemed moved by a religious fervor to respect and preserve the natural beauty.

I think of Muir as the godfather of American naturalists. And speaking as someone who loves spending time in the woods, I feel a deep connection to his spirit, if I may be so bold.

When I re-read some old journal entries of mine, I think I must have  been unconsciously channeling Muir’s spirit.

Here, for example, is a line from my old running journal from November 2007, about a run through the Ohio woods with two good friends:

We finally reached the top of the path, caught our breath for 10 seconds, then entered the woods. A feeling of joy and ecstacy enveloped me as we ran under a row of majestic evergreen trees, with the woods spreading out far around us. We trotted down the singletrack trail, dodging rocks and roots, and trying to keep our balance on a carpet of slipppery pine needles and leaves.

The trail was slightly damp, so we had to slow down to a walk on the steepest turns and downhills, lest we go sailing over the embankments into the wild blue yonder.

We got to the bottom in one piece, and found several logs that served as crude footbridges over creeks . They were covered with a light layer of snow and ice. We tiptoed carefully across. When we reached the wide stream, I ran straight across, splashing through an inch or two of water with a big grin on my face. 

We continued to a big uphill, which we were smart enough to take at a walk. After that, it was a sheer joy to run for the next half-hour through woods, meadows, along ravines, across roads, through groves of trees of all kinds. I stopped once or twice to take in the view of glorious hillsides, with steep drops and lots of glistening trees and leaves. 

In the past, when I’ve re-read this entry (and others like it), I was slightly embarrassed, thinking I was getting a bit too melodramatic and lightheaded.

Now, I realize I’m just writing in the time-honored tradition of John Muir, whose prose about the wilderness was heartfelt and spiritual. If anything, it was even more florid and unrestrained than mine.

Consider these writings of Muir’s from nearly 100 years ago:

* Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.

* So extraordinary is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees.

* The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir, thank you for reverence, respect, love and advocacy of nature.  

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Summer is definitely over. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Fall is my favorite season. I love the crisp air, low humidity and dramatic changes to the landscape.

I ran five miles on the towpath at lunchtime today and enjoyed it immensely. Of course, I wish I had dressed a little warmer. A long-sleeved shirt would have been just right, instead of the short-sleeved one I was wearing.  Fall kind of snuck up on me this year. 

It was 62 degrees, but a stiff wind made it feel 5-10 degrees cooler. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my solo run on a crisp day.

This was an easy day, following my hard outing yesterday at the 10K. I just enjoyed watching the ducks and turtles in the canal, and all the trees that are starting to turn.

It’s the beginning of a magnificent season.

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Back to road racing

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2009 by Trail Boy

Oh yeah, I remember road racing. It’s actually kind of fun, now and then.

I haven’t done much of it lately, but I had a good 10K race this morning. It was my first road race in nearly a year, and my first 10K in more than two years.

Just to be clear: trails are still God’s gift to the world. But roads have a place, too, especially for speedwork.

This race was something called the Crossroads of America 30K. It had three distance options: 30K, 10K and 5K. Most of the runners were doing the 30K, trying to get their last licks in before a fall marathon.

I would have signed up for the 30K too, but I just didn’t have time to spare. I had a busy morning.  So I had to settle for a 10K.

The course was nice: quiet roads on a Sunday morning in the heart of downtown and the university district.

It started at the IUPUI campus, then wound along the White River, past the zoo, through downtown, around Memorial Circle, a bit through Old Lockerbie, and back across downtown to the finish line at Carroll Track and Field Stadium.

So we got an eyeful of city landmarks. And I got a big ole heaping of endorphins that lasted me for hours.

My time was 46:48, for an average pace of 7:33 a mile. That’s not speedy, but faster than I was expecting, because I haven’t been doing much serious speedwork in recent months. In fact, I consider this race to be the start of my speed training for the fall and winter.

In the 10K division, I finished third out of eight in my age group (male, 50-54) and 16th out of 127 overall.

A few frriends of mine ran the 30K, which had a bigger field, 190 runners. One is training for a marathon in Ireland next month, and another is training for the Marine Corps Marathon.

I also ran into Steve, a greyhound and very friendly guy I’ve run with once or twice, but haven’t seen in a few years. I knew he would tear up the course and he did, finishing with a 6:36 pace in the 30K, finishing sixth overall.

The 5K race had a tiny field, 34 runners, and I didn’t recognize any of them. They started 20 minutes after the 30/10 K crowd, and presumably finished before us.

The only fly in the ointment was near the end. After the 30K and 10K split up at mile five, my field suddenly shrunk way down, and I was the only runner in sight. I guess others were way ahead and way behind. I didn’t know the course. Luckily, there were arrows and signs at many of the turns, but not all.which way

In the last quarter mile, I came to an intersection and had no clue which way to go. There was a traffic cop at the intersection, but she was talking to another cop, who was in his car.

“Which way?” I yelled. She stood up, looked at me like I had three heads. I shouted again, running straight through the intersection. “No, turn left for the 10K,” she called back. I stopped, and turned, wasting about five seconds. But I wasn’t that close to a PR (my PR for the 10K is 45:30) so it didn’t make much difference, I suppose.

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The whole weekend has had a running motif, so to speak. I started Saturday with a nice and easy trail run at Fort Ben, by myself. The weather was perfect, crisp and cool. I enjoyed about five miles of trails.

Then came home and cleaned up in a hurry, and the family headed up to Lafayette to watch Steven run in a cross-country meet on a very tough, hilly course. Steven ran well. Of course, it was gratifying to see him dig down near the finish line.

Then on the drive home, I was thinking about all my friends from Ohio who were running the Akron Marathon, and wishing I were there with them.  That got me thinking about new goals, including a big one for next year. I have it in mind, but I don’t want to say anything yet. I’ll sleep on it for a few days.

This morning, even though I had a busy day ahead, I bounced out of bed, determined to run this 10Krace, even though it required a lot of scrambling. I’m glad I did.

Then for the nightcap, I plan to watch episode one of Ken Burns’ documentary on national parks at 8 p.m. on PBS. How could Trail Boy miss a show like that? It just wouldn’t happen.

Hey, I might go soft now and then, and run a road race. But trails and parks are the major reason for getting up in the morning. Or for kicking back with a TV special at night.

Say hi to Bill Rodgers for me

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2009 by Trail Boy

One of my favorite American runners is Bill Rodgers, the legendary marathoner who won the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon four times each between 1975 and 1980.

This was during the tail end of the first running boom. I was as caught up in this hysteria as much as the next runner, reading all the bestselling books, magazines and news articles on running.

I was in college at the time, running and racing, with lots of heart and very little talent. But it was fun, and I followed the sport closely.

Of all the American running superstars and big names of this era — Frank Shorter, Steve Profantaine, Kenny Moore, Rudy Chapa — I always liked “Boston Billy” Rodgers best.

I liked the fact that he was a bit of slacker as a young guy. He slept in, ate junk food and drifted around a bunch of dead-end jobs.

Finally, he got serious and stared training hard.

It took a while at first, through trial and error. He DNF’d his first marathon — and seven more over his career, as he struggled to learn such basics as hydration and recovery.

But eventually, Rodgers got so good he practically owned the biggest races in the country, winning them over and over.

One year, he was so far ahead at the Boston Marathons that he came to a complete stop for water three or four times, and stopped to tie his shoe on Heartbreak Hill — and still won the race in a breeze.

He inspired everyman runners everywhere, including me. (Of course, he had talent and good coaching, too. Desire gets you only so far, as I well know.)

For years, I read everything I could find about Bill Rodgers. He was just an interesting guy, and represented the American glory days of distance running.

Two years ago, I had the minor thrill of finally meeting Rodgers.

I had just finished running the Akron Marathon, and was strolling around the finish area in Canal Park Stadium. I looked around, trying to find a friend, and who should I see walking my way but my hero.

“Bill, great to see you!” I stammered. “Can you sign my bib?”

He did, with a smile. A few seconds later, someone else approached him, asking for the same favor. Again he complied. Rodgers was the marathon’s celebrity spokesman and showed up faithfully every year to sign autographs, draw national attention and sometimes run the lead leg of the five-man relay.

I still have that bib he autographed. It is tacked to the wall of my garage, along with all my other race bibs.

So why am I bringing all this up now?

Well, this year’s running of the Akron Marathon is on Saturday. Unfortunately, I won’t be there — only the second time I haven’t been there to run or cheer since the race’s inception in 2003.

But Rodgers will be there. And this morning, on Facebook, one of my old running acquaintances from Akron, Jim Chaney, posted this message: “Bill Rodgers and I will be tied at the hip for the next three days.”

It turns out that Chaney, a serious runner and all-around good guy, will be picking up Rodgers from the airport and escorting him around town during his visit. That lucky dog!

Well, I can’t do anything about that. But this is what I can do: Next year, I am running the Akron Marathon again.

And if I see Bill Rodgers, I’m going to tell him what an inspiration he’s been.

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Yesterday, I went running at lunchtime, and got my shirt soaking wet. It was that warm and humid.

Today, I went running at lunchtime, and got my shirt soaking wet again.

This time, it was not hot. It was raining.

I ran about six miles on the canal towpath, from 30th Street to 52nd Street and back. My time was 51:45. 

The gentle rain didn’t bother me. It kept me pretty cool. I had the towpath nearly to myself, and enjoyed the fall scenery.

My downtown oasis, and a Sunday scramble

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2009 by Trail Boy

Every time I run at lunchtime on downtown streets, I somehow end up at Military Park.

It’s an open, green space about a half-mile west of my office. These days, it’s probably the largest shaded area downtown. I enjoy it, but I always wish it were about five times as big, with a few trails.

The whole thing is less than a square mile, maybe the equivalent of four or five city blocks.

On weekends, it’s often used for music festivals and rib cook-offs. But during the week, it’s mostly empty, and I often get it to myself.

There are no trails, just a beaten-down path on the lawn (probably my doing) where I run loops a few times a month.

Today I ran for about a half-hour. The weather was warmer and more humid than I expected.

As I ran around the park a half-dozen times, I saw a few other runners. But they were all on the sidewalk, near the street. I guess they were allergic to dirt.

Incidentally, the park is known as Military Park because it was a mustering area for Union troops during the Civil War.

At least I won’t have to worry about this park being developed into condos or a strip mall. It is one of three properties in Indiana that cannot be sold, under the state Constitution.

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This weekend, I have a hankering to run a race downtown, the Crossroads of America 30K.

The race is on Sunday morning, the course seems interesting and scenic, for a road race. (See map here, noting how the course crosses the White River numerous times. Of course, the crossings are on paved bridges, which will take a bit of adjusting; I’m used to getting my socks wet when I cross a river.)

But there’s a problem. I will be under a huge time squeeze. The race starts at 8 a.m. and I need to be somewhere else, cleaned up and presentable (OK, at church, where I am helping to lead a service) at about 9:30 a.m.

Obviously, I won’t have time to run a 30K race under these time constraints.

Luckily, there’s a 10K option. So if the race starts on time, and I don’t run into any other problems, I’m pretty sure I can squeeze this in. 

But it won’t be a slam dunk. Once I cross the finish line, I have no time to rest. I need to zip over to work (five or six blocks away), use the locker-room shower, change and get to church (about four miles away), all in about 45 minutes.

It will be tight. But I think I can do it.

Heck, I’ve done it before. About five years ago, after a half-marathon, I took a birdbath in a metroparks’ outhouse, including a shave and shampoo, without any mirrors or much privacy, using just a primitive outhouse sink.  I got the job done, and made it to a birthday party, all cleaned up and presentable.

No sweat, brother!

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A QUICK UPDATE: I can see clearly! And download/upload photos! And other stuff! Mrs. Trail Boy and I finally broke down and replaced our old, dying computer with a brand-new fancy one, with a wide, flat screen and other cool features and apps that my sons love. So here’s to better blogging — and better graphics, photos, data and other swell stuff.

The most confusing sign in Indy

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2009 by Trail Boy

When I go out for a trail run, I’m runner.

I’m not a hiker.

So what am I supposed to think about this sign, which I see every time I go out to Fort Ben?

What do you think? Are runners allowed on this trail or not?

I’ve actually run this trail a few times. It’s a fun, scenic, loop, probably about three miles around. It connects with the Lawrence Creek Trail (a hiking trail), and winds through a rolling part of the park, with several creek crossings.

During those runs, I’ve never seen a horse on it, although I’ve seen lots of horse poop.

I’ve also never seen a park ranger. But if I did, and he told me to get off the trail, I would say: “Hey, what’s the problem? I’m not a hiker.”

According to Webster’s, a hike is a  “long, vigorous walk, especially through the country or woods.”

When I run trails, I’m usually going about nine minutes a mile. In my book, that’s not hiking.

The sign is ambiguous. What bothers me is that it implies that there are only two possible activities for this trail: hiking and horseback riding.

This is what logic professors would call a false dichotomy — a choice between only two alternatives, as if there were no other options. Like running.

The reason I bring this up is that central Indiana has a shameful shortage of unpaved running and hiking trails. I need every trail I can find.

So when I see signs like this at Fort Ben, I want to know for sure. Does this mean me?

Unofficially, I have heard that this trail is closed to foot traffic from April through October. Yet I can’t find that spelled out on the official park brochure, which contains lots of other rules and regulations.

So, over the last few years, I have occasionally run this trail, and enjoyed it.

Last Sunday, I went to Fort Ben and ran all the hiking trails. Then I started toward the horse trail. And this time, I noticed something different.

About 100 yards into the trail, there’s a new sign that I’ve never seen before.

I guess that clears it up.

I turned back, disappointed, and went back to the “hiking trails.”

Trail Boy loves his trails. But he’s no lawbreaker.

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MAKING EVERY STEP COUNT

Because there are so few trails near my house, I run pavement more than I’d like to.

This morning, I ran five miles on roads — five times around a one-mile loop in my neighborhood.

It was a bore. I was falling asleep on my feet. Honestly, I don’t know how road runners do it, grinding away these mind-numbing miles on the roads, day after day.

In fact, I got so bored, with no challenging trail under my feet, or interesting scenery to occupy my mind, that I got really desperate.

I began counting footsteps. How many times would my feet hit the ground in one mile?

So on the next full loop, I began counting. My count: 1,346 foot strikes per mile.

I told you I was bored.

But when I got home, I wondered: is that a normal number of steps?

I did a quick check of various web sites dedicated to walking (including The Walking Site) and discovered that 2,000 steps per mile is average for walkers.

OK, but what about running? Remember, I’m a runner — not a hiker!

According to the MD Sports Weblog, the average number of steps required to run a mile ranged from 1,064 steps for a six-minute-a-mile pace for men to 2,310 steps for a 20-minute-a-mile pace for women.

When you run faster, you take more steps. It’s a function of leg turnover. So my count of 1,346 falls smack on the faster side of this range.

But was I really running fast? My time was 40:43 for five miles, which works out to an average pace of 8:08 per mile.

Not fast, but not slow.

I can’t wait to get back to trails.

Weekends were made for trails

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2009 by Trail Boy

The Camp Creek Trail at Fort Ben meanders through the woods. I snapped this photo during a 90-minute run this morning.

Finally, another helllish week comes to an end, and I can get back to the trails.

Thank God for weekends.

This morning, I went out for a 90-minute run at Fort Ben, and reveled in the sights of autumn — the first batch of turning trees, a few crisp leaves on the trail, my breath in the air.

It was just the right tonic.

For the past week or two, I’ve been spending too many late days at work. I’ll spare you all the details, except to say it’s one of those weeks that comes along every six months or so and tries to see if it can kill me.

It couldn’t end soon enough. And I happy just to survive.

I was happier still to get out early this morning and take in some beautiful sights, during a solo run, and not think a single thought about work.

For an hour or so, I took a breath and enjoyed life again.

I think this photo says everything.

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I once saw a T-shirt that said: “Cross country is the only sport where the spectators get to run.”

How true that is.

I spent the better part of yesterday in northern Indiana, running back and forth across a city park, watching hundreds and hudreds of middle schoolers compete on a hilly, challenging course.

Steven, my pride and joy, competed in the very last heat, so I had to hang around for nearly three hours before I could see him run. He ran strong, 12:44 for a 3K course, or an average pace of 6:49.

That sounds fast in my book, but the winner finished about two minutes faster. Those kids were flying.

Steven sprints to the finish line.

It was cool to watch the young athletes stampede down the trails and across the fields. I hurried from point to point, so I could see them take the hills, round the corners, jockey for position at every chance.

Afterward, the team and the parents went to Indiana Dunes State Park, about 15 minutes away, and enjoyed splashing in Lake Michigan, racing up and down the huge dune piles and playing football in the sand.

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My computer is slowly dying. I have dozens of great photos that I want to upload onto my computer, but that will have to wait for another day.

My hard drive is sputtering, coughing, gasping. I think it’s time to visit Best Buy and try to replace this 10-year-old dinosaur.

Back from the dead

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16, 2009 by Trail Boy

It’s remarkable what a good night’s sleep will do for you.

A day after I was stumbling around like a zombie, I have a spring back in my step.

Who would have guessed? Rest is important. My mother was right, after all.

So, feeling refreshed, I went out this morning to run mile repeats. I did my newest speed drill — mile loops on neighborhood roads without any rest breaks, each lap faster than the last. (Read about my last one here.)

I wanted to run five or six of these mile laps. But alas, I had time this morning for only four. (I had to get back to the house to let the electrician in.)lazarus

Here are my times:

Loop 1 — 9:01

Loop 2 — 8:14

Loop 3 — 7:44

 Loop 4 — 7:21

I would like to say that loops five and six would have been much faster, possibly a sub-7:00 pace. But to tell the truth, I was getting a big winded, and was glad to have an excuse to stop. It would have been tough this morning to keep pushing the pace.

It’s been just one day since I was stumbling around in a fog, barely conscious. I called myself a “dead man walking.”

If I had tried another lap or two this morning, I might have been “dead man sprawled flat on the ground, in need of an embalmer.”

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A RACE I HATED TO MISS

I love running DINO trail races. They are always interesting, fun and well-done.

Over Labor Day weekend, while I was traveling to Ohio, I missed a 15K trail race at Town Run Trail Park.

The park has a fun, winding singletrack, enormously popular with trail runners and mountain bikers.

Here are a few photos of the DINO race there that I found at the Indiana Trail Running web site. It shows what a cool, fun trail this is — especially for a city park just three miles from my house.

 

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