Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Random Laurel Highlands trail running and training

The bearded Woodz Ninja @ Middle Fork overlook 
The weeks are flying by and I've been running as much as I can.  Training has been improving with my increased intensity.   The last couple of weeks have been productive as recent runs reflect.  I've begun light weight work on my shoulder without any pain.  Lots of time to get it healthier before the ice begins to form later this year.  I feel like things are setting up for continued running and a good winter climbing season (weather permitting). Running has been a lot of fun lately.  Miles have been blurring together, each run more fun than the last.  I've enjoyed sharing trail time with my wonderful girlfriend Laura.  We spent a few days hiking on rest days from separate solo runs.  Several days were spent in Quebec Run on the great trails that reside there.  Hill training has become a staple once again.  I love climbing, rocks, ice whatever.  It's only natural that I like the climbs in running as well.  My focus has been on the larger vertical rises in the region.  I've spent a few heart pounding days doing hill repeats (4 mile laps) down and up "Heart Attack Hill" on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (mile 8 to 6 then back up to 8).   Great for building hill climbing efficiency and endurance.  "Heart Attack" along with many other up and down runs are helping a lot.

Statistics for July:
Miles - 185
Duration - 40:48
Elevation - Gain 39,362' - Loss 38,539'

Miles per week is down, but elevations have greatly increased.

Some run highlights since last post:
July 19
Bear Run Nature Reserve, I went and ran the super fun 5 mile trail sprint we call the "Tiny Tulip Traverse" This was my second time running this challenge.  I lowered my record to 44:16 from 45:41.  A slight improvement.

July 22
Ran 14 miles of the LHHT.  Gate to 7 and back in 2:46 for a pace of 11:51.  Elevation: gain 3700' loss 3700'

July 25
On a whim, I enjoyed a nice long run from Ohiopyle to Hickory Flats Road (38miles).  Thursday night around 11:00pm I was talking to Laura, telling her I wanted to do a long run, but was uncertain where I wanted to go.  Laura offered the idea that I should run as much of the LHHT as possible, she'd support along the way.  I quickly accepted and stayed up a few more hours.  With 3 hours of sleep, Laura lovingly dumped me in Ohiopyle the following morning.  Early on I could feel my elevation workouts paying off.  I starting slow and calm,  but couldn't help kicking it up a notch on the long climbs.  A 15 minute or so emergency bathroom stop and chaffing had me burning and doubting early.  This was around Maple Summit.  Luckily an emergency Vaseline tube kept things only slightly uncomfortable until Laura saved the day with some Mission Anti-friction cream and replacement shorts at  Route 653 trail head.  The rest of the run I ran at a comfortable pace enjoying the views, cooler temperatures and empty trails.  I was expecting to get water at 7 Springs, but upon arrival the faucet was damaged and running.  The continual flow was spewing nasty, orange iron water.  Skipping the refill and stretching what I was carrying sent me to  Route 31 parking area and Laura with clean water.  My 50K time was  6:18 despite my breaks.  A slight discomfort was developing in my left foot.  I was aware, but not concerned.  I refilled and continued on as did the pounding on my left foot.  I met Laura at Hickory flats Rd. (MP 38) where my foot was considerably more tender than before.  Fearing that continuing might lead to missed running days ahead, I finished there and ended with an elapsed time of 7:45.  I was happy with how fresh and spry I was feeling, but disappointed random pain kept me from continuing.  A good nights sleep and a couple easy days had my foot back to normal and doing "Heart Attack Hill" repeats again.  In retrospect it was a good call!  Here are some photos from my run.  It was one of the sunniest, driest days in the last couple weeks.  It was great to enjoy a long section of the trail on a glorious uncrowded weekday.  Elevation: gain 7100' loss 5500'

Clouds over the Youghiogheny River valley
Overlook of Middle Fork at mile 21.3 on the LHHT
Turnpike bridge over the PA Turnpike mile 36.75
Trail sign at Firetower Rd., Rt. 31 intersection.

July 28
I recently signed up for Strava GPS run tracker and have been having fun with their "segments."  Runtastic is my normal GPS of use. (I find both equally inaccurate, but help in tracking elevation).  I'm new to using Strava so I don't understand all of it, but segments appear to be short challenges (segments) created by Strava based on runs by users.  You can compete against all others that have completed each "segment."  Many segments exist along the LHHT due to Laurel Ultra racers using Strava on race day.  I decided to set my sights on some of the current Strava records for local "segments".  The segment I was excited to try was named "Conn Rd Climb."  This segment starts at Bidwell Rd. and climbs 1.6 miles and 1,264' of elevation to Conn Rd. It has an average grade of 15.4%.  There have been 19 recorded users on the segment.  The record of 25:27 was held by Jim Trautmann of Pittsburgh.  He set the record on June 12, 2010.  Seventeen runners have done the segment since him.  I would be number 18 to try.  I parked at Conn Rd. and walked to milepost 8 to begin.  I did 2 slow warmup laps of MP 8 to 6 to 8 repeats sans GPS.  I used my watch to clock splits.  On my way back up on repeat 2 (mile 7.25) I stopped and grabbed my phone.  I started it at mile post 8.  My third time down to 6 I picked up the pace increasing my cadence as well as stride adjusting to the high turnover about to commence for my record attempt up.   I turned around at milepost 6 and started the long grind up with vigor.  I ran close to red line for quite a while until I broke to a power hike.  I kept attacking "Heart Attack."  The grade backs off just before MP 7.  I picked back up into a sprint at the shelf and continued past 7 and up to the next steep section.  I ran all I could from MP7 up to the finish at Conn Rd.  I wasn't sure where it ended, so I  kept my effort up all the way to MP8 where I ended my lap.  I uploaded my run and it was official.  I squeaked by the old Strava record for Conn Rd. Climb.  My  time was 24:56.  A minor record, but still cool in my eyes.  I'm sure its been run faster by others.  It would be cool to get a King of the Climb going on for "Heart Attack Hill"  Mile post 6 to 8 which I officially clocked (with a watch at mile posts) 27:56.  After spending some time looking around Strava I've noticed that Jim did quite a few quick trail runs on the trails in the Laurel Highlands.  How cool! Hope to see you out there some day...

July 29
I decided to run the Route 31 to Route 30 section of the LHHT.  Another glorious day with plentiful sunshine and temps around 68°.  I had the trail to myself.  I passed one lone hiker on this roughly 15 mile section.  This time I went with limited water, no electro replacement capsules and only 1 gel as a slight handicap.  The whole section went well and I cruised along at a good pace finishing the section in 2:35.  Elevation Gain 2805', Loss 3202'.  The trail was recently maintained in this section and is in wonderful condition where thick spots usually exist.

So many good runs recently, I could mention them all.  To end this and save you from a longer post.  I'll leave with some recent photos.  Happy trails!

First Copperhead I've ever seen on the LHHT! I can't believe it...
Quebec Run, Hess trail
Quebec Run, Hess trail, Photo L. Hahn

Laura and Elmo
Grove Run Trail head, Linn Run State Park

Monday, July 8, 2013

Trail Running Challenges

On the way to the trailhead... Ehhhh
On the way home... Ahhhhh
Recently running has felt different.  It seems summer has finally hit the Laurel Highlands.  It's been really warm and humid, with storms plentiful especially this past week.  I managed to get rained or stormed on several times.  The weather was in the lower 90's with the humidity similar or higher.  My body has been holding up well to the quick increase of mileage.  I've been pushing a little harder, but trying not to overdo things.  Being able to run again feels so good and I don't want ruin it.  I've been rebuilding my ski injured body with the dreams of pulling off a LHHT double as early as fall (or spring '14).  During this rehab and training I've been reading more on Challenges and FKT's (fastest known time's).  I'll try to explain the way I understand them.  Competing for a FKT's is simply trying to achieve the fastest time over a predetermined course/trail, alone or in a group, but not an organized race on a designated day.  They can be short 5K runs or long trails like the Appalachian or Continental Divide.  They can be completed any time you choose. No set date, even worse yet, weekend.  Only success or failure awaits with only one person holding the FKT.  The honor system applies, although for major or serious FKT records tracking devices are utilized for proof.  Challenges are different because they're a personal goal to complete, not a race.  Did you accomplish the course set out and if you have already, could you do it quicker?  Challenges are more about personal accomplishment, although most have a FKT as well.

While browsing around, I stumbled upon this challenge here in my back yard.  Its called the Ohiopyle 50K (Gate-to-8 X 2)   posted on the North East Ohio Trail Club (NEO Trail Club) website.  I'm not a member of the club, but found the posted challenge.  Whether you have to be a club member to be listed after completion I don't know.  Either way, it gives me a goal to accomplish that I haven't done.  I know I'm not in super woodz ninja shape right now, so I figured it was time to incorporate the Gate to 8 section of the Laurel Highlands Hiking trail into my week of running as well as some other quicker tempo runs.  

Recent runs
The Barn at Bear Run Nature Reserve

Tuesday 7/2 Laura's Tiny Tulip Traverse, 5 miles - This is a run that Laura put together after my Bear Run Trail Run challenge.  What a great 5 mile (apprx.) loop in Bear Run Nature Reserve. It follows Tree, Rhododendron, Tulip Tree, Snowbunny, Rhododendron and Tree Trails in a counter clockwise lollipop.  The route climbs 718' and is on some pretty amazing trails (especially Tulip Tree)  It was my first time running this route and I wanted to apply a reasonable effort.  I ran the wonderful course enjoying the steepening climb from the car up to Tulip Tree... Tulip Tree is freakin' fun.  What else can I say.  This is the best .8 mile trail I've ever run.  It is so fast and dabalicious.  Quick footwork on slightly downhill single track, runners high for sure!  It had to be built by runners.  I wish it was way longer.  Snowbunny leads back across the hill and down to the early trails you started on, then finishes at the sign-in.  Warm and humid as described above.  Ran the course in 45:41, with one routing mishap.

Wednesday 7/3 LHHT Gate to 8, 15.75 miles - I was planning on running to MP 10 and back for 20 miles, but...  Everything was going well.  I ran an "easy" pace NOBO, hiking most of the hills.  I was hearing some distant thunder while climbing up "heart attack hill" towards MP7.  By the time I had MP 8 in sight, the sky was quite black and the thunder was persistent.  Retreat was my thought.  I barely took 20 strides SOBO and the skies opened up and the rains came... and came... and came.  I bombed heart attack hill in a muddy running creek with extremely limited visibility.  My visor helped, but I found its limitations.  It was similar to winter white-outs I've experienced.  My nonchalant pace quickened on the return trip with rains stopping and skies clearing briefly for about a mile.  Despite the heat, slippery trail and slug like pace I managed a 3:23:44 overall.  X2 laps would put me under 7hrs for the 50K Challenge.  Seems like a good start.  Elevation +4081, -4064.

Thursday 7/4 Bear Rocks Loop, 4 miles - It was the Fourth of July.  I squeezed in a short, slow, road run in the sun.  Ran the loop in 29:03.  Elevation +416, -406.  Not much to say.

Thursday 7/5 Yough River Trail, 2 miles - Ran with Laura and her sore knee.  Rest day, spent most of it lounging by the river at the Oasis...AHHHHH!  Then went running.  22:08.
River art = Rart at "The Oasis"
Friday 7/3 LHHT Gate to 8, 15.75 miles - It was 91° which seemed perfect for another training lap of Gate to 8 ;)   I figured that If I practice in conditions like that, surely a more comfortable day will feel slightly easier?  The cooler months have been when other (wiser) people have done it.  I'll try in August and then hopefully improve on that later in the year under favorable conditions.  I went out intentionally slow trying to adjust to the heat.  Humidity was really high and in no time I was sweating buckets.  The overall trip was very hot with a flash storm popping up and tagging along with me for about 45 min.  Compared to the dumping on Wednesday this was nothing.  I did pass another trail runner around mile 4.  We were both moving quickly and gave a wave without stopping.  I ran out of water coming up the last hill before MP 3.  I should've stopped at the stream to at least fill a handheld.  Finished the run in 3:31:03, incredibly hot and thirsty.

Weekly rundown
5 runs
42 miles
Elevation +9,405', -9,306'

Monday, July 1, 2013

Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes (600+ mile review)

Altra - Lone Peak trail running shoes after 600+ miles
In past blog posts I've touched on gear that I find extraordinary.  I was surprised how many people read my write-up on the Lowa Mountain Expert ice boots.  I'd like to highlight my favorite " 3-season" shoes, The Altra Lone Peak.  Since purchasing these about a year ago, many of my trail runs have been done wearing the Altra Lone Peak Zero Drops.  What's zero drop?  Zero drop means that there is no height differential between the front and rear of the shoe.  Note that most traditional shoes have a higher heel than toe.  Primarily the higher heel is designed to cushion the hard impact of heel striking runners (those who's heel is the first part to impact the ground during running).  Zero drops are intended to promote forefoot or mid-foot striking by not having a thick heel to get in the way, helping the runner to land mid or fore foot.  Instead of me trying to get all tech-savy on you, simply check out Altra's website for a lot of information about running form, and how their shoes can help make you a stronger, healthier runner.  For the record, I'm not affiliated with Altra in any way.  Nor is this a paid review or did I get free shoes like some reviewers. This is simply a write-up on a pair of shoes that I think are top-notch and that fellow runners might benefit from.  I've read other reviews, but most seemed like blah,blah "out of the box" reviews.  I figured I'd share my thoughts after some lengthy trail use.  For those who don't know me, I'm your average trail runner/climber who happens to spend a great deal of time on the trails and rocks in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania.  I usually run 5 or 6 days a week (not always in the Lone Peak).  I'm 6' tall, weigh about 155lbs, size 12  and normally cover between 50-100 miles per week.  I've primarily used these shoes for trail running on technical single track, but they've also been worn as climbing approach shoes and general hikers on many occasions.  The 600+ mile estimate is most likely very low, but we'll just call it 600.  I decided to take a brush to my shoes, clear away all the trail debris, and show how great they've fared thus far...

Zero drop = no raised heel
My Lone Peaks are the first generation model.  Designed for running many miles, over rough terrain.  I originally read about them shortly before their release.  I was excited by the wide toe box design, lighter weight, some rock protection and zero drop platform.  I guess I liked most everything about them.  Very close to what I would want if I designed my own shoe.  Around that time I was happily running a lot of road miles in the first edition NB Road Minimus.  Pleased with the lower heel and wide toe box on that model, I was in the market for a new pair of trail shoes of similar design.  I purchased the Lone Peaks shortly after their availability.   Fast forward over last season and some months off due to ski injuries.  They've covered a few miles and are holding up very well.  I will admit to being pessimistic about their durability since this was their first release of the Lone Peak model.  So far they're holding up better than any other trail shoes I've used  in the past and I expect that they'll continue.  Here's a photo review with some comments on the current state of my Lone Peaks.
The toe cap material ripped or split, Barge cement holds it in place...Usually
The toe cap failure doesn't seem to impede performance, but requires maintenance every couple of runs ;)
Stitching and the upper are holding great. The Wasatch Range is cool
The heel lining doesn't look so good, but still very comfortable
Not the sticky, climbing rubber of LaSportiva's trail models, but better thanothers I've tried. The center forefoot lugs and midsole are wearing down as expected
I really like the traction of the simplistic lugs, great for the trails of Western PA
Factory insoles, still intact with no comlaints
The trail rudder is awesome for "skiing" down steep, slippery slopes. I also like the minimal heel structure.  somewhat changed in the newer Lone Peak ver 1.5
Overall, these will see many more miles and I look forward to wearing them
Personal Experience:
I'm always excited to put these shoes on and hit the trails.  I will admit that they took some time to get used to.  There is much less cushioning than what is found in most traditional trail running shoes, but a lot more than in a model like a NB Trail Minimus, etc. This means that if you do strike your heel on rocks and other trail obstacles, you will feel it.  Most runners do experience some growing pains converting to this type of shoe.  Worry not... In a short time, your feet and legs will transition into the shock absorbing machines they were designed to be.  In past years, I've always had some type of leg pain that slowed my training.  Since switching my running form and going to flatter shoes (especially Altras) I've been able to keep training without interruption.  Its great to feel sore after a run, not injured.  I'll be looking to get a pair of the new Lone Peaks (when these get a little closer to death).  I'm curious to see how Altra made improvements on a damn fine, trail running shoe!  In a nutshell, I'd HIGHLY recommend giving the Altra Lone Peak's a try.  I'd be surprised if you don't fall in love with them like so many others.  If you have any questions regarding me, my shoes or whatever... feel free to drop me a message or email.  Climb High, Run Far!