Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Christopher McDougall, Author of Born to Run, To Visit Gear West

To claim Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run is a popular read among runners would be a serious understatement. McDougall tells a fantastic story about the running secrets of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. This story alone is enough to read the book. But, it's one of their secrets has had a huge and dare I say controversial impact on the running community – that, according to McDougall, running with minimalist shoes or barefoot (or in the case of the Tarahumara, in sandals) is the key to enjoyable and injury free longevity. Since then, countless coaches, shoe companies, and runners have weighed in on the topic. So you want to join the discussion?

Here’s your chance.

Gear West and The Bookcase are hosting Christopher McDougall to the Gear West Store in Long Lake on Wednesday, September 15th at 6:30 in the evening. The store is located at 1786 West Wayzata Boulevard. Tickets are only $5.00 and are available at either Gear West or The Bookcase.

Check it out and see what all the fuss is about!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday Trails: I'll be back in 2 weeks

This week and next week I need to devote my full attention to my other job (the one that pays). I'll be back in 2 weeks with another trail report!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday Trails: Book Review - Minnesota Running Trails

Hello loyal Tuesday Trails readers! I'm still recovering from my light ankle sprain, and while I ran Hyland and Lebanon Hills this past weekend, overall, I've been doing less mileage as I try to heal. Less running = more time for reading! And so that makes this the perfect week for the first (and probably last) Tuesday Trails Book Review! (my English teacher would cringe at that transition).

I counted 9 Minnesota trail books in my own library (7 of them pictured above)

There are many guidebooks to trails around the state of Minnesota. Some focus on certain regions (North Shore, Metro Area) while others look at the most popular trails around the entire state. A quick search on Amazon found that most focus on hiking (69), some on walking (which may be different than hiking?), some on cross country skiing (21), several on bicycling (9), but there's only one guidebook that is dedicated to the trail runner.
Truth in advertising, it IS a great guide for hikers too
"Minnesota Running Trails", by Kate Havelin, a St. Paulite, is the only book that I've found that gives trail reviews from the perspective of a trail runner. You may be wondering why that is important distinction from "hiking". There are at least 2 major differences in running and hiking reviews:
  1. Distance. This is the big one. To a day hiker, 5-6 miles is a nice, long hike, worthy of a trail review. To a trail runner, 5-6 miles isn't worth the drive. We're looking for 8, 10, 15, 20+ miles of scenic trails.
  2. Surface. A rooted and rocky surface on a trail may not even warrant a mention in a hiking trail review, but that is an important feature for a trail runner. 2 years ago, after reading a hiking trail review of Cascade State Park on the North Shore, I decided to check it out. I found much of the trail unrunnable due to the heavy roots throughout the trail, while just a few miles away, the state parks were just as scenic, without all the ankle-turners. (Confession, I'd run Cascade again, it just would have been nice to know about the trail surface ahead of time.)
"Minnesota Running Trails: Dirt, Gravel, Rocks & Roots" was published in 2006. A disclaimer on the inside reminds the reader that they are to run trails "at their own risk"! I'd add that we are to run trails to our own enjoyment as well! I picked up a copy of this book 4 years and have used it several times.

The book (like most guidebooks) is organized geographically: North Shore, Headwaters (Itasca area), Red River (NW MN), Prairie (SW MN), Bluff (SE) and Twin Cities trails. As with most guidebooks, the North Shore and Twin Cities areas have the most trails listed, with 13 and 15 respectively.

Each trail review starts out with the basics: Mileage, surface type, hilliness, races, directions, other uses for the trail, and directions. While Kate then suggests a single route for the park, there are often many other routes in the parks too. Those extra routes are shown on the map, but not specifically reviewed. For the selected route, the book gives pretty much a turn by turn review of the park. Kate ends each chapter with her personal reflections on the trail.

My favorite part of the book comes at back of the book. Each trail has a small index card that can be cut out and carried on the trail during the run to help with directions. My biggest frustration with running unfamiliar trails is getting lost or the fear of getting lost, which causes me to stop every half mile at EVERY trail map and reassess my location. I can't count how many times I have stared at a trail map online for a new park, trying to memorize 8 different turns so that I only run 15, not 50 miles. Usually by mile 5 I miss a turn and have to readjust. Running blind like that can be fun when that doesn't result in running way too long, or when one has enough time to get lost. Unfortunately. I don't usually allow myself enough time to get lost. I probably should simplify my life a little, but that's a topic for another blog post!

Tear-out, turn-by-turn directions set this book apart from all other guidebooks

As I eluded to above, one thing that really sets this book apart from the other guidebooks I have is that these are running routes, not short hikes. I understand that the hiking guidebooks are trying to serve a larger market of hikers with all levels of abilities, but even when I'm out for a hike, I don't care about the 0.8 mile round trip route from the parking lot to a waterfall overlook. I want a substantial hike/run with some challenging terrain. So whether I'm running or hiking, I use Kate's book to help plan the route. I may modify her route when I want to run a little longer, or cut a bit out if I'm out for a hike, but her suggestions are the best first cut at routes I have seen.

If you want great trail reports that are perfect for running (or hiking - I've given this book as a gift to hikers too), you can't do better than "Minnesota Running Trails". It is far better than any other trail guidebook I've seen, and is a more consistent and comprehensive resource than anything I've seen online, including this blog (OK, ESPECIALLY this blog).

There are only a few things I will caution you about regarding the guidebook:

  • The book is REALLY light on trails in southwestern and northwestern Minnesota, so if you're specifically looking for trails in that area, you may be disappointed.
  • The book has only one edition that I'm aware of, so some trails may have changed slightly since 2006 when the book was published. I know that the Africa Loop at Afton has changed some and the directions in the book aren't exactly as you will find them at the park.
  • The book doesn't review every trail in every season. For example, there may be times (spring) when a trail is waterlogged, but Kate may have reviewed the trail in late summer and so all trail conditions may not be in the book. I know that 4 years ago I used the book for some runs on a camping trip to Itasca State Park over July 4th weekend. I was not prepared for the apocalypse being ushered in by biting, black flies. Obviously, the book doesn't cover every possible trail condition.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy! I know Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble have them. I've seen copies at running stores too. Maybe you can even get a signed copy like I have!

Enjoy the trails!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday Trails: Afton 25K Race Report

Happy (belated) Independence Day! What did you do with your extended holiday weekend? Did you shoot off fireworks? Watch fireworks? Roast a pig? Read the Declaration of Independence?
With my extended weekend I decided to run the longest trail race I've competed in to date: the Afton 25K in beautiful Afton State Park. The race was held Saturday, July 3 in conjunction with the Afton 50K. I opted for the shorter distance.

Beautiful Prairies and Wildfires Steal the Show in Afton

I have run at Afton a few times and I love it there. The rolling prairies, steep ravines and sweeping vistas of the St. Croix River are breath-taking. Their hike-in campsites are some of the best and most-remote feeling in the Twin Cities.

Here's my promised race recap:

I made a series of errors leading up to this race (errors I'm sure I'll repeat again). The first was that I ran a marathon only 2 weeks prior.

I set out for Afton with my lovely wife Friday evening to meet some non-running friends for some summertime camping. We hiked in the 1 mile of steep terrain with all our gear and set up base camp. I then realized error #2: I had neglected to read all the email communications and didn't realize that everyone else had dinner before we went to Afton. So my pre-race dinner consisted of trail mix and S'Mores. Not too far off from my normal dinner, actually.

Our campsite was at Mile 10-ish

So then my wife takes off to sleep in our comfortable bed, and I decide that sleeping under the stars sounds like a great idea. So while all my friends pile in tents, I stretch out to gaze at the sky. However, that was hard to do since my view was blocked by hordes of angry mosquitos. So I crawled deeper in my sleeping bag. Problem was, it was still about 80 degrees at midnight. I had to decide whether to A) Be cool yet eaten alive B) Avoid the bugs but roast or C) Crawl into a friend's tent. I chose B and roasted all night. In spite of that, I still woke up in the morning with my face covered in mosquito bites (including one bite INSIDE my mouth.) We'll call that collectively error #3.

Error #4 came moments later when I'm trying to put my contacts in and decide to use my friend's saline solution. Which turns out to be hydrogen peroxide. So now, I can only see out of one eye, and I have a race in 45 minutes!

I wince and jog down the hill to the start. I bump into some racers I know, and meet some others for the first time. Soon, we're off and racing!

I quickly settle in about 15th place or so and attack the hills. There's a TON of tough uphill in the first 5-6 miles, and this is where I excell. I attack the uphills, press hard on the flats, but then, the really, ridiculously steep downhills come.

This was WAY steeper than it looks in the photo, I swear!

Now people are flying by me on the downhills, and I'm passing them again on the uphills. For the most part, I'm coming out ahead on this, as only one person of many that I was playing leapfrog with beats me. Unfortunately, my timidness on the hills starts to quickly wear on me physically. By about mile 7 of gingerly stepping down the hills, my left ankle is tense and feeling sore. From then on, I'm practically walking the downhills.

At the 10.5 mile checkpoint, I'm around 1:15, a 7:10 pace. The next 1.5 miles are the flattest and straightest section and I start to fly again. I'm thinking that I have sub-2 hours in the bag! No WAY can I not break 2:00 with only 5 miles to go! In fact, with 3.5 miles to go, it's looking darn near impossible that I won't be breaking 2:00.

Well, hubris on a dreadfully hot day and on a ridiculously hilly course will come to bite you, and it did me in quickly. After mile 12, the race ascends from the river up the "Meat Grinder". I know this is bad, and I'm ready for it, and I walk faster than others are running. I'm still looking good.

Then I get to the last 2.5 miles of the course, a single-tracked, super hilly and twisty section in the SW part of the park. Again, I'm attacking the hills, but now there are no more flat spots to cruise, and the downhills are obscene and very dangerous. I am walking parts of EVERY downhill. At this point, honestly, I'm limping. My left ankle is hating me and I have zero stability.

That is not the facial expression of a happy finisher

I limp across the line in 12th place, just a few seconds over 2 hours. I grin through the pain and greet my friends who have come down from the camp to see me finish. Then I cheer on my other friends racing, grab the best tasting hot dog I've ever had and... start the sloooow walk uphill to get back to camp. (let's call that error #5).

MDRA's very own Andrea looks like she enjoyed this race WAY too much!

Highlights of the race include:
  • Seeing (at least) NINE hawks flying over the ski slopes around mile 3. Inspirational. At mile 14 they would have appeared to be vultures.
  • Cheering on the 50K runners. These are people who ran the same sick course I did and thought, "That was nice, how about another lap?"
  • Seeing my friends at the finish after I missed them by the campground because I thought I was faster than I actually was!
  • The AWESOME wicking race shirts that look like a concert t-shirt for a death metal band. My father-in-law thought I was pretty cool in that one.
  • Meeting a bunch of die-hard trail runners and getting a glimpse into the trail-racing culture that is quite different than the road-racing culture. The Finn-Sisu runners are awesome! If you're interested in trail running, check out their class!
  • Setting a PR at 25K, a PR for a TRAIL 25K and a PR for the Afton Trail 25K. The best part about racing trails like this is that no time is transferrable to another race. It's just you and the course. I'm hooked!

Sweet shirt! Rock on!

  • Spraining my ankle. It's a mild sprain and you'll still be seeing me pound the pavement the next month or so, but I'm off of uneven terrain for at least a few weeks. Look for me, I'll be the guy running around the lakes in an ankle brace.
  • My downhill running is terrible. I lost literally minutes of time on the downhills and ultimately hurt myself by running tensed up. Any suggestions out there on downhill trail running form?

One last look at the St. Croix River! Afton SP, July 2010

Enjoy the Trails!