Archive for December, 2009

2009 in review: The good, the bad and the ugly

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2009 by Trail Boy

   

So, another year draws to a close. That means it’s time for a Year in Review, also known as raking up old wounds, kicking myself for missing some goals and doing a victory lap around a few bright spots. So let’s get to it!       

Bright spots:  

* I ran my first ultra, the Buckeye Trail 50K, finally achieving a five-year dream.  Bring on more ultras! (See link here.)  

* I ran my first ultra relay, Dances With Dirt, a 50-mile scramble on a hilly trail course at Brown County State Park, as part of a five-person team.  (See link here.)      

* I set a PR at a 5-mile road race, 35:01, at the Hit the Bricks race in Zionsville. (See link here.)      

* I finally broke two hours in the Anti-Mini Marathon, a trail half-marathon, 1:59:47, taking nearly five minutes off my previous best time, despite muddy conditions.  (See link here.)

* I launched this blog and kept it going, week after week — whether or not I had anything new or interesting to report!  (See link here.)   

* I celebrated my 50th birthday by running a 10-mile race on flooded trails, with 26 creek crossings, despite a slight fever.  (See link here.)

* I ran 11  races this year, about par for the course. In the process, I racked up a second-place and a third-place (in my age group). Of all the races, seven were on trails and four were on roads. The race distances, from shortest to longest, were: 4.5M, 5M (2), 10K, 15K , 10M (2), half-marathon (2), 50K, 50M relay.     

 Dim spots:       

* I didn’t run a single marathon this year, for the first time since 2002.  That was a bummer. I’m still not sure why I let this happen.   

* I notched up my first-ever DNS (“Did Not Start”) at the Monumental Indianapolis Half-Marathon, due to a fever.  (See link here.)     

* After training hard and hitting my major goal (50K in July), I kind of drifted for the second half of the year.        

* I still haven’t found a steady training partner. I do 95 percent of my runs alone, due to my weird working hours and too many other commitments.     

Most insane moment:       

Running a 2-mile loop on the Lawrence Creek Trail 14 consecutive times during ultra training.  By the 10th or 11th loop, I was going loopy.  (See link here.)     

Biggest vicarious thrill:       

Learning that a friend from Cleveland, Kevin Cartier, qualified for the Boston Marathon by pushing himself to the limit at the Cleveland Marathon.   (See link here.)    

Lowest moment:       

Learning that another running friend, “Voodoo Joe” Truini of Akron, died in his sleep at the age of 37.  (See link here.)     

Biggest joy (tie)   

* Watching my sons chase their own endorphins: Steven at cross-country and tae-kwon-do, and Jake at soccer and baseball.   

* Every time I get back to Ohio to run trails with Denny Gordon.  (See link here and here.)     

Most frustrating moment:

The countless times I brought my running gear to work in hopes of doing a lunchtime run, only to be forced to work through lunch on a big assignment.     

Biggest regret:   

Not running a marathon this year.   

Biggest hope:   

Peace on earth, goodwill to all. And more trails in Central Indiana.

Why did the trail runner cross the creek?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 26, 2009 by Trail Boy

No, this isn’t a bad riddle. It’s a trail runner’s constant challenge, especially in the winter.

I was at Fort Harrison State Park this morning, running on the Bridle Trail.

One minute I was trotting through the woods, as carefree as a bird. The next minute, boom, I found myself at a swollen creek.

There were a few stepping stones, but many of them were covered with ice or submerged in water. And the water looked cold.

What should I do?

A) Splash right through the icy water.

B) Hop from rock to rock, and pray for the best.

C) Look up and down the banks for a better place to cross.

D) Turn around, retrace my steps, and find another trail to run.

It was a doozy of a choice.  But it was really a problem of my own making. I’ve run this trail dozens of times, and know perfectly well that this creek is here. In the past, I’ve made it across just fine.

But today was different. I was surprised at how high the water was, probably five or six inches. We’ve had lots of rain in recent weeks, including an inch or two on Christmas Day. Many of the stepping stones were slippery or under several inches of water.

And with the temperature at 29 degrees, I didn’t feel like splashing across, soaking my feet with icy water.

So that kind of ruled out Options A and B (splash across, or jump from rock to rock).

So I stood there, at the water’s edge, wondering what to do. My options at that point were C and D (look for another crossing point, or turn around).

I looked up and down the creek for a better place to cross. Here’s what I saw.

I decided to walk upstream, along the banks for a few minutes, to find a better place to cross. I trudged through snow and mud for a few hundred feet.

At one point, I saw a fallen tree that spanned the creek:

 

If I were younger and more sure-footed, I would have chanced it. But I didn’t feel lucky today. I had visions of slipping off the snowy log and splashing in the creek. So I kept walking.

After a few more minutes, I saw a wide bed of stones in the creek. Yay!

 

I decided that this is where Trail Boy finally crosses the creek.

And, indeed, with a few well-placed steps and jumps, I made it safely to the other side.

I rejoiced and took a photo to mark the happy occasion.

Once across, I ran for about another half-hour, for a total of about an hour and 15 minutes.

So to answer my original question: Why did Trail Boy cross the creek? Because that’s what trail runners do.

Even if it takes 10 minutes some days to figure out how to do it.

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A beautiful, snowy vacation

Posted in Uncategorized on December 22, 2009 by Trail Boy

Trail running in December doesn't get much prettier than this. I ran with an old friend, Denny Gordon (shown here), along the Buckeye Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, near Peninsula, Ohio.

I saw this Hallmark scene on the Towpath Trail, just north of the Ira Road trailhead.

I'll never get tired of seeing this sign.

A wintry scene along the Cuyahoga River.

Mrs. Trail Boy is all smiles as she finishes a hike on the Dogwood Trail at Sand Run Park.

It's amazing how a little snow can make the woods so beautiful. Why would anyone run anywhere else, if they had a choice?

I have miles to go before I stop running trails.

 Ask and you sometimes receive.            

Last week, I moaned  about the brown, bare, depressing woods in December. I hinted that a bit of snow would make everything look and feel better.              

What do you know? We got a few days of light flurries. And now everything looks beautiful again.              

To make it even better, I spent the last four days in Ohio, visiting family and friends. We ate a little. We drank a little. We laughed a lot. We hit the trails. The snow put me in a great holiday mood.              

The Cuyahoga Valley looked spectacular: about an inch of snow on the hillsides and the trails and meadows. It was picture perfect.              

So I took a few pictures. Here’s a bit of what we saw and did.              

On Sunday, the Trail Boy family hiked the Dogwood Trail at Sand Run Park. The boys did some snow-boarding on the coasting hills, and had fun running up and down the ravines.              

On Monday, I ran about six miles on the towpath, between Botzum trailhead and Bolanz Road, and back.              

On Tuesday, I met an old friend, Denny, at the Boston Store trailhead, and we ran a favorite course: south on the towpath to Pensinsula, east up the steep hill on Route 303, and into the woods at the Pine Lane trailhead, for a hilly, scenic run back to the starting point on the Buckeye Trail.              

Here are a few shots of a very fun visit.              

Steven rides his snowboard down the Hawkins Coasting Hill. Another inch of snow would have helped!

Jake finds a ice-covered straightaway.

Steven looks for a new challenge: taking his snowboard down a steep section of Dogwood Trail. Mrs. Trail Boy follows behind.

My boys were made for the outdoors. Here, Steven mugs for the camera, before hitting the trails.

Jake prepares to lead the way.

Mr. and Mrs. Trail Boy, still dressed in our Sunday church clothes. Who has time to change clothes when the beautiful winter woods are calling?

I think winter is the most beautiful, peaceful season for a run or hike on a trail.

Denny hops over a fallen log on the Buckeye Trail, near the Pine Lane trailhead.

Denny and Trail Boy in the woods. What's not to smile about?

This long uphill was good for a few endorphins, even if Trail Boy had to downgrade to a power hike on these steps.

Then it was back to Indy, to return to the real world of work, last-minute Christmas shopping and home life.              

But we have snow on the ground, so for the moment, all is right with the world.

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How now, brown woods?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15, 2009 by Trail Boy

It doesn’t get much browner than this: a trail through the Indiana woods in mid-December.

It’s a sad sight, indeed. Bare trees. Leaden skies. Muddy leaves all over the ground.

You can look at it one of three ways:

1) Oh my God, how depressing. What’s on TV?

2) Yeah, I need to run, but not like that. Time to head to the gym and jump on a treadmill.

3) A trail! What a great way to get some endorphins and jazz up my mood. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll see some deer or wild turkeys, or maybe a waterfall or ravine I hadn’t noticed before.

Yep, that’s the choice. Door Number One, Door Number Two, Door Number Three.

Guess which door I chose?

I’ll go with Number Three every time, no matter how brown and dreary it looks. I know that at the end of an hour or two, I’ll be smiling ear to ear.

That’s what happened today. I was slightly down in the dumps, due to the cold weather and gray skies. I knew I needed to find a trail.

I drove to Brown County State Park, about an hour south of my house, for a solo run on some of the hilliest trails in Indiana.

You can definitely say that things looked brown in Brown County. If this were a painting, it would not be a Bob Ross happy sky. It would be something dark and heavy by Van Gogh, right before one of his nervous breakdowns.

To keep my mood light, I played a few games: Run to the top of the hill. See what’s around the next bend. Take this downhill as fast as possible. Jump across the creek.

It was like being a kid again.  At the end, I was the Endorphin Boy.

Trails will do it every time.

I need it bad

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14, 2009 by Trail Boy

God, do I ever need it bad.

It’s been so long, I can barely remember what it feels like.

I’m about to lose my mind.

.

But just in time, I’m getting some.

Yes, a vacation. I’m finally getting time off from work. Eleven days in row.

Man, is this a gift from heaven. Like I said, it’s been way too long.

The past month has been an absolute blur. I’ve worked too many ungodly long days to count. Busy, busy, busy. 

And guess what has suffered? That’s right. Trail Boy has become Desk Boy.

But now it’s time to change all that. I get to have some time of my own, a chance to catch my breath, sleep in, do a few long runs in the woods, read a book or two and generally feel human again.

Well, yes, I’ll also do a little Christmas shopping and go to Ohio next weekend for a holiday visit with family and friends.

But mostly, I get to relax and do what  want to do.

I started the vacation two days ago, on Saturday, and in the perfect way. I went to the woods and ran around for a few hours.

OK, it wasn’t exactly a long run. I was there on an orienteering lesson with my son’s Cub Scout troop.

There we were, 10 or 12 kids, a bunch of dads, and the woods.

For three hours, we hiked and ran, along trails, through fields, along creeks, even a little bushwacking. We were armed with topographical maps and compasses. Our goal was to find a few dozen hidden “controls” — or markers, where we could punch our cards to prove we had read our maps correctly.

I must say, I was a lot of fun. After weeks chained to my desk, this was the perfect primal release.

And it was different enough to be interesting. Usually, when I go on a trail run, I’m thinking about the scenery and the trail. I’m not trying to figure out where someone has hidden a marker, down a hillside, in a thick, wooded area. So it was running through the woods with a purpose.

We weren’t alone. There were a few hundred others (not Cub Scouts; mostly outside adults). A lot of them looked like hardcore orienteer buffs, stampeding through the woods, with maps and compasses. The event was sponsored by Indiana Crossroads Orienteering, a group that holds these competitions every few weeks all around the state.

Our little ensemble of Scouts was lucky. One of the Scout dads is an orienteering expert. He can look at a map for 10 seconds and say: “OK, next we have to go 200 yards up this trail, take a right down the ravine, follow the creek for about 50 yards, and look for the control near a big rock.”

Of course, he didn’t say this every time. He wanted the Scouts to learn how to read the map, too. So mostly, he asked good questions, and acted as a coach.

How good of a coach? Well, within a half-hour, even Trail Boy could get the hang of it. And have some fun.

So that was what we did for three hours on Saturday: run, hike, bushwack, scramble and in general, behave like kids in the woods.

It was the perfect way to start a vacation.

On Sunday, I took a 45-minute run through the neighborhood, just enjoying putting one foot in front of the other, and breathing deeply. It felt great, even though I was running a little slower than a month ago.

And today? Well, the day is still young. I’ll probably get in a trail run before dinner.

No need to rush. I’m on vacation. Let’s enjoy it. Make it last.

Yep, it’s all coming back to me.

Trails or shopping? Hmm, tough choice.

Posted in Uncategorized on December 6, 2009 by Trail Boy

It’s a weekend in December, and that means I have to make a brutal choice:  

1) Go Christmas shopping at the mall, and wander aimlessly around the stores until I collapse from a monster headache.  

2) Go running in the woods!  

This is NOT Trail Boy's habitat. This is Trail Boy's idea of hell.

  

That, dear readers, is the story of my life. When faced with a choice of fighting mobs of people in an insane, frenzied atmosphere, or soaking up the peacefulness of winter woods, you know where to find me.  

So there I was, at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, trotting along the frozen, hilly trails of Fort Ben, with a contented smile, while the rest of the world was circling the parking lots, fighting over spaces, and watching their blood pressure hit the red zone.  

I ran about seven miles enjoying the solitude and the chilly air. I ran a bit stiffly for the first 40 minutes or so, but then warmed up and got my butt into third gear for the last 30-35 minutes.  

As I kicked through the leaves and watched my breath in the air, I had three main thoughts:  

1) This feels really good.  

2) I kind of wish I was about 60 miles south, in Yellowwood Forest, running the Tecumseh Trail Marathon. The conditions were perfect for a trail race in December: no snow, no rain, no sleet, no slush, just a hard, frozen trail without a trace of mud.  But that’s what you get when you don’t train for a winter marathon. And I knew I didn’t have time to train for another long race this year.  

3) That being said, I’m looking forward to my next major trail race, the Buckeye Trail 50K next July in Ohio. Yep, I had so much fun running it this year that I have to try it again. I signed up this afternoon, on the first day of registration. I’m sure the race will fill up quickly.  

So that was Saturday running: about an hour and 10 minutes through the quiet woods. The rest of the day was filled up with yardwork, chauffeuring kids around, a trip to the library, and relaxing in front of the fire.  

On Sunday, the weather was still nice, no snow or rain, although the air was a bit cooler, in the high 20s. After church, the whole family went out to Fort Ben for a hike in the woods. We enjoyed stretching our legs and throwing stones in the frozen creeks to hear the ice crack.  

Then we came home and watched the Colts game. But it really wasn’t much of a game. The Colts dominated the Tennessee Titans, winning by 10 points, and extending their undefeated record to 12-0.  

So it was kind of a lazy weekend. We should have done a bit of shopping, or at least decorated the house.  

There’s always next weekend.

Trails can wait. Get me rewrite!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3, 2009 by Trail Boy

I wish I had time for a long run.

I wish I had time to blog about it.

But I’ve been so busy at work for the past week that I’ve barely had time to sit down for meals.

I’ve been working 10-12 hours a day, covering a bizarre and extremely complicated case of an Indianapolis businessman whose offices have been raided by the FBI. The guy is under investigation for running a possible Ponzi scheme that might have cheated thousands of investors.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had nine stories on the front page.

Here’s how weird it’s been. Last Saturday (a holiday weekend, no less), I went to Fort Ben for a 45-minute run on trails, about six miles. When I got home, I took a look at my e-mail. I saw that a source had sent me some court documents that were very newsworthy on this case.

So right then and there, while still wearing my sweaty running clothes, I pounded out a quick story, from home. 

I called my editor, who was also at home, and told him I was about to e-mail him the story.

He read it and sent it to the weekend editor downtown. Fifteen minutes later, the story was online. The next day, it was the biggest thing in the paper, right at the top of the front page. It hit the wires and was all over the country.

So who has time to blog when I’m trying to beat the competition on a big story?

The answer: not me. This week, I’m not Trail Boy. I’m News Boy, in desperate need of sleep.

For the past week, I’ve been squeezing in an occasional run, here and there, when I can. 

And I usually don’t have time to blog about it. There’s not much to blog about anyway. I’m doing short runs (six miles and under), by myself, on local trails and roads. It’s not that interesting — to anyone else at least.

But I’ve felt funny about just letting my blog languish. It was a bit like a Navy submarine going quiet on a super-secret mission. There’s no word and no explanation.

So this is the explanation.

And here’s the other thing: On the days I don’t have time to run, I suffer twice. First of all, I’m not getting a workout and clearing my mind.

Second, I go home late, with my mind racing and my body crying out for a workout.  I eat dinner and head to bed. And then I lie awake for hours.

The next day, I wake up exhausted, and have no energy to go running again. Arrgh.

Covering a big story can be fun and stimulating. Everyone wants to read about it.

But it knocks the hell out of your running. And no one wants to read about that.

**************************************************************************************************************

I went running today at lunchtime for about 5 1/2 miles on the towpath. It was my first run in three days. It felt great, although I was moving very slowly.

I was amazed by all the wildlife in the canal: ducks, geese, herons, turtles, fish. I felt like I was running through a set of Wild Kingdom.

It gave me a little peace and helped me re-energize for a long afternoon. I finished up in 48:31.

I love running. When I have time to actually run, that is.

****************************************************************************************************************

The Tecumseh Trail Marathon is this weekend. It’s a tough, hilly, race through the woods of southern Indiana.

I ran the race last December as my first trail marathon. It was difficult and fun and exhilarating and exhausting.

It was also fun to write about. I wrote this report last year, before I had a blog — before “Trail Boy” was even a twinkling in my eye. But I’ve since added it to this blog, just for fun. 

I’m not running Tecumseh this year. As I explained before, I’m doing just shorter races and runs this fall and winter — half-marathon and under.

I’ll jump into marathon training in the early spring. Meanwhile, I wish all my trail friends a wild, wacky outing on Saturday at Tecumseh.

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