21 July 2014

A New Form of Abuse

To hear the crowd talk, you’d be forgiven to believe that leaving the streets and heading for the trails cures cancer, feeds the hungry, and brings peace to Gaza. Or if you don’t want to go that far, you might at least believe that trading pavement for the soft, comforting terrain of off-road will relieve your aches and pains and help you avoid injuries.

Er, exactly which injuries were they talking about avoiding? Today I sit with wounds aplenty, ranging from scrapes and cuts and bruises to things that I’ve considered might be broken (only later to decide likely not, though said judgments may have been endorphin-influenced). And this isn’t the first time this has happened since the trail running bug bit, not to mention plenty of other bugs on those trails. Maybe I’ve avoided some injuries, but clearly I’ve just traded them for an entirely new set and discovered a new form of bodily abuse.

I’m by no means new to trail abuse. I’ve been doing it for decades, but generally at slower speeds and in hiking boots. This year’s latest entry into that category so fondly known as the Death March came on our annual escape to Acadia. Dearest Daughter the Younger announced that unlike our usual leisurely Acadia outings, this time we’d traverse the entire east side of the island, touching almost all the significant (and a number of less significant) summits in one shot. Thirteen summits, seventeen miles, six thousand feet of up and another six thousand down, ten hours on the trail (portrayed nicely in the attached summit collage she put together, you’ll have to click and expand that one to hope to see any detail!). To tell you that no body parts were harmed in the making of this movie would be a bald-faced lie. Abuse was heaped on plenty of parts, toenails were sacrificed, shins scarred, you name it. But that’s not news.

Nor is it news that while in our favorite park, DDY and I once again enjoyed a number of delightful runs on Acadia’s vaunted carriage roads. It’s noteworthy that DDY stretched her longest to eleven miles – and a tough eleven at that – “Around the Mountain” for those of you familiar with the area – in preparation for her upcoming first half marathon (while Dad rather irresponsibly changed plans mid-run and tacked on a few more for a hard fifteen before going back to meet up – yeah, I needed that).

But it is news that one of those carriage road runs started with a couple miles on trails, a rare outing for me and a new experience for DDY. She found it rather cool to have to slog across beaver bridges on a run; a bit more interesting than counting telephone poles. And the unpaved surfaces did, at least at first, feel better on my rather battered body. So the stage was set, my interest piqued, and I was just waiting for a catalyst, which conveniently arrived several days after returning from Maine in the form of a notice that a certain corporation to whom I’ve sworn non-disclosure was sending a pair of trail shoes to test. Well, that sealed the deal. If they were sending me trail shoes, I guess it was time to dive into trail running.

Courtesy of the shoe deal, I’d suddenly shifted from rarely running a trail outside of cross country season to having a weekly quota of trail miles But I didn’t have to look far to find the trail running community. A group within my local club that calls themselves the Water Buffalo Faction (an unauthorized faction they like to say, the name obscurely pulled from the classic Veggie Tales tune – trust me, if you’ve had kids, it is classic) already had the trail disease and was just waiting for a new host to infect. Let’s just say my resistance was down. And once infected…the disease begins to do its damage.

Really, I should’ve known better. A year or so back, dragged into a trail run with some of my Greater Boston buddies, I’d come away battered and bruised, doubting my eyesight or at least my sure-footedness. But when they called this time, I was so chomping at the proverbial bit that it didn’t matter that the trail shoes hadn’t yet arrived. Into the woods!

Upton State Forest proved no match for our intrepid quartet that morning; its trails tame and serene, far from the alpine stumbles to which I’m accustomed. But Hopkinton’s Whitehall Reservoir changed our tune, turning significantly more ‘technical’ as the jargon goes. Technically, it just means something closer to what I think of as a trail: rocks, hills, turns, fun, and…ten miles in, a toe failed to clear a log, and you know what comes next. You really don’t think you’re going all that fast on these trails until you’re plummeting headlong into a date with the dirt. This time I was lucky, hitting soft stuff with an artistic three-point landing consisting of face, chest, wrist doubled under. Though I quite literally ate dirt, no blood was shed. Not so lucky was buddy Barry, who bought the farm a mile later with somewhat nastier results.

A few days later the bruises made themselves known, but these are badges of honor, right? Keep in mind that I’m no fan of the “show me how tough you are” fad events (or as the Center for Disease Control has called them, bacterial love-fests for your digestive system); I’m rather on the purist side. But these aren’t artificial hazards, they’re about as real as rocks and roots and slick hillsides can get. And there is no hefty entry fee. So yes, I guess these are badges of honor, and they multiplied over the next several weeks, setting the stage for Sunday’s arena of abuse, the Mammoth Trail Half Marathon, an inaugural event brought to you by The Water Buffalo Faction.

With a target half marathon coming up in only a week, I jumped into this as a last minute last big training run before the main event. Goal Number One was simply to not hurt myself. And based on how this article has progressed so far, you can guess how well I attained my goal.

Despite being within running distance of home, I’d never set foot on any but about a mile of the course, so it made sense to hang with one of its creators. He warned be repeatedly about the back side of Cedar Hill, where he’d dropped – literally – one of our local running buddies a few days earlier. Reaching that spot, it really wasn’t so bad – until he reminded me again, and like an idiot, I took my eyes off the trail, glanced around to view the scene of that former crime…and it was dirt-eating time once again. This time the landing wasn’t so soft as back at Whitehall, and for the next couple miles I had to think about whether there might or might not be a crack in my right ulna. At least this pondering distracted me from the continuous thorny leg assaults, imposition of various bruises, and other similar insults.

I’d bargained to stick with my native guide, but by mile eleven the flies grew so thick (see the postscript) that I had no choice but to high-tail it out of the swamp, take the lead, and take the event – not all that much of an honor being there were a mere thirteen of us brave souls – but a nice culmination to the last few weeks of trail-mania. It was a fair trade, a win in exchange for only a moderate amount of blood.

Run trails! Avoid injuries! Right, who are they kidding?

Flies, Damn Flies, and Statistics! One thing I’ve picked up on quickly running local trails – or perhaps it has picked up on me – is the astounding local population of deer flies: big, annoying, painful (if they get you) and stupid, but mostly annoying. But our Water Buffalo Faction lit me up on a low-tech yet effective weapon, the deer fly patch available from Tred-Not. Effectively a simple glue trap, when stuck onto your hat, the annoying dummies (recall I said stupid), who have a habit of dive-bombing your head, pretty quickly get lucky and get stucky. As it turns out, I seem to have an attractive aura about me, making me not only the favorite of the flies but also of my fellow runners who know that if I’m around, they’re that much safer. What an honor!

06 July 2014

Soviet Revisionist History

There is, as they say, a first time for everything. Since I started penning this blog, I’ve never missed entertaining my throngs for a whole month. Yet it’s happened. June came, June went, and you found yourself with a surprising extra twenty minutes on your hands, having not been distracted by my blather. I know that you all put that time to good use, solving world hunger and analyzing the chemical mix that produces the odd orange glow on the Speaker of the House. But if you spent a moment of that time pondering my whereabouts, please call off the All-Points Bulletin. I am alive and reasonably well, and I have no intention of stopping this periodic nonsense.

But, you beg, why the absence? I could simple say I’ve been busy, and it wouldn’t be a lie, however it’s actually a bit more curious than that. While you might find it hard to believe, I am sensitive to avoiding undue repetition of theme. The whole idea of this running column, pun intended, is to celebrate the adventure of running into the later years, when we’re not only not spring chickens, but we’re fast approaching, if not already past, the mid-summer poultry stage. A lot of the story of running hard and competitively as a master – no, wait, make that a senior now – is dealing with inevitable injuries and health issues. But how many times can you hear me whine about stuff that hurts? I’ve got to keep this upbeat, or I will inspire you to run…away.

In late May I’d written a column called “Bozo”, referring to that famed blow-up punching bag of our youth and waxing poetic on how Bozo always got back up again. Keep it positive! I wrote how my training seemed to be turning a corner, and how things were looking up. But a more timely issue popped up demanding air time that week, and Bozo was put on the shelf for the following episode.

Only days later, another issue popped up – this time in my right hamstring, this one sudden, painful, and in the middle of a set of two-hundreds on the track. Coach Dad had devised a diabolical workout for Darling Daughter the Younger where we’d start at a relatively easy clip, and reduce our target by a second on each rep. Since I spotted her ten seconds on each, the difficulty level was just about right for each of us. But on number five, Mr. Hammy went pop about fifty meters in.

The good news of the night was that DDY not only finished the workout and made her time target on number ten, but I had the fun of watching her discover a new gear from the sideline, watching her stride, rather than from behind playing chaser. But my frustration over this bodily failure made the pain of the injury that much worse. Another training break, right when I’d hoped to ramp it up!

It just didn’t seem like the right time to opine on how well things were going, so Bozo went back on the shelf, and after a few hyperactive weeks of work and vacation thrown in for good measure, suddenly, it’s July. How did that happen?

By now the ham is healed, and while other stuff still hurts (what else is new?), the big issue is that rather than having seven weeks of solid prep before my next target race, I’ve gotten in only one good one and have a mere three remaining. But that’s how life goes. I’m be playing catch-up in my training, and I’ll also be playing catch-up on a few interesting topics here, so stay tuned.

Now you know the rest of the story, but there is still that blow-up punching bag sitting on the shelf…what to do? I hate to let a bit of polished prose go to waste, so here’s the plan. Those of you old enough to remember the cold war knew how our comrades on the other side could rewrite history to match their world, and do it with a completely straight face. So I’m taking a page from the manual of Soviet Revisionist History. What was that I mentioned about not posting in June? No, that was simply not true, comrade! Look, my last column was published on the final day of June, and you can read it here! Do not believe that propaganda! We speak only the truth!