January 30, 2011

Trail Cop...Run!

Forgive me officer, I am a runner.  I run these trails with no malicious intent.  I just like...."do you want to be arrested son?!  This could cost you $1,600!"  No sir....

Moments after being "busted" by Irvine Police (photo J.Rowland)

January 28, 2011

Socially Awkward?

"Men and women who race at distances longer than marathons—also known as ultrarunners—are by reputation and reality a strange, obsessive, and somewhat socially awkward lot."

Ok, they're taken from last year's Runner's World article on Scott Jurek (the King of Pain), but do these words really describe us ultra runners?  Ok, I can handle strange--I'll even consider this a complement in a world of plain vanillas.  I can deal with obsessive--hell I'm now counting my weekly elevation gain.  But socially awkward?  Man, that one hurts.

Thanks Runner's World for describing us so equivocally.  Oh, sorry, that's a little awkward.  I meant go *#!* yourself!

January 18, 2011

Avalon 50 Mile - Race Report

Bino M Finishing the 50
Have you ever seen the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean? Stood 20 feet from a wild buffalo?  Peered 1,000 feet over a school of dolphin?  If you haven’t, it's time you check your calendar and run the Avalon Benefit 50 mile run on Southern California’s Catalina Island. Avalon 50 is an old school ultra, now in it's 30th year, predating most ultras around the country.  The course, with over 7,300 feet of elevation gain, is challenging yet offers some of the best scenery in southern California.

The race started at 5 am when the race official simply said "go" in a voice soft enough to be mistaken for a church prayer.  Then some 250 runners scampered into the darkness up the streets of Avalon until we reached the trail head. From there we started the 2 mile, 1,600 foot climb to one of the Pacific Coast’s most glorious trails, the Trans Catalina Trail.  As we climbed, I glanced to my right and for a second I thought I was peering over a glassy lake, with the stars above shining up at me from the darkness below.  But the illusion quickly revealed itself when the reflection morphed into flashlights of runners on the trail below me.

Once to the top of the trail we continued in the darkness for another 30 minutes until we were greeted by the glow of an amber winter's sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.  Next to me were two masters runners clipping along like they were running a 10k.  Ray, a 54 year old runner from Long Beach, was training  for Wasatch 100 mile run in Utah.  We talked over several miles, covering many topics, from how we got into running to the ubiquitous lotteries of 100 milers.  “Its all about the money” Ray laughingly said as we each descended into our own 50 mile odyssey.

I continued down the trail, feeling pretty smug listening to the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Asleep From Today,’ Moby’s ‘Hotel Intro’ and other trance VO2 vibe.  The only hiccup listening to music on trail is that it has a limited life.  Don’t expect to use it for more than a few hours, because the mind also needs to connect with the natural sounds around it.  If denied this primitive need, my mind will tumble into a dark place I don’t want it to go.

The trail didn’t disappoint as it traversed dozens of miles of remote territory around Santa Catalina Island.  Just after spotting a school of dolphin while cresting a hill hovering above the Pacific Ocean, I ran upon a giant buffalo right in the middle of the fire road. Do I run right by and hope for the best?  Or do I saunter by gingerly to avoid a confrontation? Glancing for escape routes as I approached the behemoth, I chose the former, and got through unscathed.

At this point I was nearing the turnaround so I started counting the number of runners coming back to me. This was when I realized my goal of a top ten finish was in serous jeopardy.  One, two, six, ten, twelve, fourteen...ok I got the message and just stopped counting.  From here I resolved to do two things for the next several hours: keep my feet turning over, and pick off as many in front of me as possible.

So I kept on moving, through several aid stations where the volunteers worked tirelessly to help us tired runners, and through many miles of running in solitude.  One by one, six runners came back to me, beckoning me toward the finish.

Then, finally, I turned the corner for the 2 mile, 1,500 foot decent on the paved road to the finish line.  Wow, I thought, who ever thought of this punishing finish deserves a place in the funny farm.  What we runners do for tradition!  8 hours 13 mins.  14th overall.  A good day on trail. 

January 6, 2011

360 Degrees of Motivation

Today’s run almost didn’t happen.  As I sat at my desk this afternoon feeling run down from working through my second cold in a month, my head felt like it was full of enough Elmer’s glue to supply a second grade craft project.  I coaxed myself into it by making a promise just to go out easy on a 10 miler. What the heck, I thought, maybe I’ll feel better once I’m out there.

So there I was. Running along on a familiar trail, trying to determine how the next hour and half would unfold.  As I moved through my playground, the motion took control of my mood, while my eyes feasted on the spectacles around me.

Sure, the dirt turned to sludge under my feet, and mud rose to my ankles, but when I looked up, the sky drooped with golden clouds that glowed like magic plumes.  Yes, a favorite trail of mine was closed, and I couldn’t run down my preferred route, but when I turned around, Saddleback Mountain glowed from the sun’s nascent rays.  Of course, I could feel the grasp of a stubborn cold, and my breath struggled to find its place, but as I stood under this inviting sky, I turned, and turned, and turned.  By the time I turned 360 degrees, I knew I’d made the right choice.  Indeed, I found my motivation.

I felt better being out there. 

Here is what I saw when I turned all the way around. Be sure to click on the enlarge icon on the bottom and listen to the sounds.  

360 Degrees of Motivation from Will C on Vimeo.

January 2, 2011

Suunto t3c Heart Rate Monitor Review - 4 Things to Know

"Black Move"
Ok, I admit, I’ve been a Polar heart rate monitor (HRM) purist for more than 20 years.  I’ve owned dozens of Polar HRMs, so many that I’ve started to discard them like old socks.  Well, now it’s time to try out some new socks.   

I recently contacted Suunto, another manufacturer of HRMs, and asked if I could test drive one of their monitors designed for runners.  Suunto’s been around for a long time, since 1936 in fact, 41 years longer than Polar.  Like Polar, the company is based in Finland.  It is the subsidiary of sports giant Amer Sports Corporation, the parent company of Precor, Wilson, Atomic, Saloman and Mavic.  Despite an extensive history making compasses, dive watches, and other precision instruments, Suunto’s foray into the world of HRMs came only recently, in 2004, when it introduced the t6.  The company now offers an extensive array of monitors for all sports. They sent me the Suunto t3c designed for runners to test.  Here is what I found: 

Exit Star Wars, Enter Vogue –  The way I see things, if you’re going to shell out a couple of hundred bucks to buy a HRM, you should be able to wear it as a watch, not just as a workout gadget.  The problem is that most HRMs (Polar, you listening?) look like bling from a Star Wars costume party.  Hello?  Who designs these things?  If you dare wear one to a social function you might as well yell “hey, look at me, I’m an athlete with no taste!”  What is cool about the Suunto t3c is that it doesn’t look like a heart rate monitor.  It looks like a well designed watch.  Ok, sure, some of you would never wear your HR monitor after a workout.  Others, well, you might like standing out in all your glory. I prefer to go undercover, and the Suunto does that very well.

What Size is Your Bra? – One of my biggest gripes about heart rate monitors is the transmitter belts you have to wear around your chest.  They’re dreadful. I couldn’t guess how many times I’ve tightened my transmitter belt sooo tight around my chest, only to have it slide down to my waist less than an hour into a run.  Heaven help me if I’m running for 4, 5 or more hours at a time (yes some of us do that).  Do I stop and tighten the strap every hour so it stays put?  Or do I keep tugging at it like an oversized male brazier?  The belts made of hard plastic are the worst. The harder I run the faster they fall!  NOT so with the Suunto t3c comfort belt. This belt is the most comfortable and secure transmitter belt I’ve ever worn.  I’ve run for a couple of months now with this belt, including several 5 to 8 hour runs, and I’ve had zero issues with it.  Once on, it stays on.  It’s soft, wider than other belts and its elasticity is extremely resilient.

Don’t Forget Your Reading Glasses! – Of course, with every rose comes a thorn.  While the Suunto t3c casts a vogue pose, you might need to exchange your sunglasses for reading glasses to read its display, not a good scenario during difficult endurance events.  I’m using the Suunto t3c “Black Move” which has a black face and light digits. There is a large display section on the watch face, which allows you to scroll through time of day, real time heart rate, or training effect.  There are also two smaller displays, which allow the user to scroll between elapsed time, calories burned, average heart rate and a few other data points. The problem, at least on this model, is that both the large and small display sections are too dim to read even in some daylight situations, and the smaller characters are just too small and difficult to read during an endurance event even in the best light.

Big Brother in a Watch.  Seriously?  Suunto offers a feature called the Training Effect which is designed to show you the degree “your individual workout improves your aerobic fitness”. It is said to be accurate measurement of how hard you have trained by using data from your own fitness profile and combine it with an analysis of your physiological progress in real time. The Suunto HRM then formulates your Training Effect, presented as a number on a scale from 1-5.  This system could be useful for some, but for me its a little too rigid. In order to use the system properly the athlete is supposed to record every single workout with the Suunto HRM. Since I like to run gismo free sometimes, that is without a GPS and HRM, I wouldn’t be “compliant” with the Training Effect.  Sometimes it nice to just for a run without monitoring everything!

White Display
Of course Suunto makes many different styles and models of HRMs, including the more advanced T6 which offers more features than the t3c.  It also offers the “Black” option of the t3c which is a white display with black characters which I’m guessing offers better visibility than the Black Move style.  All in all, for the price of around $170, I found the Suunto tc3 to be a pretty good HRM with great looks, a snug transmission belt and decent functionality.