Monday, January 25, 2010

A Long Time Coming...

The most difficult task is that task performed alone.

Teamwork undoubtedly brings about the best outcome.  It provides a safety net; a refuge.  Teamwork allows for different perspectives and angles that may have been overlooked to surface and be contemplated.  This union also allows each member to learn from the other.  Each member comes away wiser and evolved as the goal grows nearer.

As I have progressed in my running career, I've experienced much and learned lots.  My richest moments have been when I've shared those moments with a fellow runner, coach or loved one.  By including others in what I'm doing I've enriched my experience and, hopefully, their's as well.  Rarely are you the only individual who's experienced what you have just went through.  Utilizing what others have observed and learned and applying that to your own situation is one of the best self-improvment methods.  I've benefited greatly, both in my running and life-related situations, from insight gleaned from those around me; those who've been on my team.

This time its my turn to share what I've learned and gathered over my twenty-five years of running.  I'm excited to put to test my knowledge and experience toward a sport that has captured the attention of a relatively new and passionate growing number of runners.  I am equally as thrilled to continue to build on my own skill set as I work closely with different athletes and mentors.  The opportunity to do so has presented itself (thanks Greg)!

So let's get this ball rolling...

I'm proud to introduce:  Personal On-Line Ultramarathon Coaching with Ian Torrence.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Running into the Blizzard

There are two things you can do:

1)  Complain, whine, and hole-up.  Watch the world from your window...
2)  Take advantage.  Get out and participate.  Succumb.

True, these choices could go for just about anything, but today, in this blog, we're talking about them in one particular context.  You see, if you've not already heard, Flagstaff, Arizona (yes, that state that most of the population assumes is a dry, dusty desert) is in the full brunt of one of the largest snow storms in its history.  It started on Monday and may, perhaps, end on Saturday?  Six days and seven feet of snow!

Personally, I've never seen so much snow fall in one place at one time.  I can't keep up with the shoveling any longer.  Like my neighbors, I've just about given up; to heck with city ordinances.  Only heavy equipment works at this point...not just snow plows but graders that are used in heavy duty road construction are the vehicles of the day.  Snow blowers lie alone along side of roads and sidewalks; lack of gas, tired operators and thick wet snow make them so.

Perhaps I should escape?  Wrong, the interstates and state routes are all shut down, closed.  Honestly, no way in or out.  The two hour drive to Phoenix or the four hour drive to Las Vegas aren't even options.  Besides, my truck is buried.  How about hopping a plane, yeah, good luck...airport's shut down.

But now allow us to get to the real nitty-gritty.  Can you run in these conditions?  Of course you can...remember option #2 as stated above?  Just succumb to it and become one with the snow.  In blizzard conditions it is truly easier done than said.  All one must do is simply step outside.  So I did just that.  In doing so, I wanted to witness first hand how others were handling it out there.  So this here is a photo documentary done in a single ninety minute run.  What do folks do or don't do when the crap really hits the fan?  Let's take a look shall we:

Okay, still driving autos here...but by the consistent siren sounds of emergency services maybe not the best of ideas?

Better to get around on some of these.

Diggin' out, again...and, um, blowing the snow into the right-of-way?

Walking with the dogs.  Good, safe option.

Doggie parties rate high on days like these.  (note:  Yes, Shelton, that is a HUSKY!)

Getting snow off the roof.  Productive use of time, energy and resources.

Uh, these folks clearly gave up a long time ago.  Hopefully they are enjoying their hot coco and have plenty of canned rations.

The road less traveled and plowed.

Now we're talking!  Small problem, he didn't know what address he was suppose to be clearing...couldn't see the house numbers.  So he just did them all!

Skies and more dogs.

Fellow runner, Vince Sherry, had the same idea as I did.  I joined him and the pace quickened.

Still saving the roof.  Group effort this time.

The Weatherford Hotel and closed downtown streets.

Piling up snow in downtown Flag.  I want to know who's gonna ticket that pile of snow on Monday?

Snow, slush and ice...perfect combo!  I didn't fall once on this run; course record!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Climb On Aboard...

...Giving it a little bit more!

Yup, that seems to sum up what McMillan Elite has been doing lately both on and off the track.  This past weekend was a blow out.

One place to escape the snow...the NAU Skydome.

The roundy-round inside the dome.

Let's start with Saturday which saw some excellent action at the Lumberjack Invitational held at the Northern Arizona University's Skydome.  This was McMillan Elite's indoor track seasonal opener, if you will.  Ian Burrell, Matt Clark, Jordan Horn and Jaime Canterbury would line up for the mile race to see what kind of fitness they had developed over the lengthening cold and snowy Flagstaff winter.

Jaime Canterbury leads in the mile.

In the women's mile, Jaime would lead for much of the race only to be out-kicked in the last quarter mile.  She'd finish third in 5:24.60 and returned a few hours later to run the 800 meter race in 2:30.79.

Ian Burrell leads Jordan Horn in the mile.

Matt Clark digs in the final lap.

In the men's race McMillan Elite would go one, two, three.  Ian led the way in 4:10.36, Jordan followed closely in 4:11.37 and Matt finished third in 4:24.26.  Keeping in mind that these times were run on a 300 meter track at 7,000' one could say that things look promising for the rest of the season.

Alvina Begay, as seen five days before her Rock and Roll Phoenix Marathon.  The smile says it all.

Down the street, Alvina Begay stepped it up a notch and tore into the Rock and Roll Phoenix Marathon.  She crossed the finish line in fifth place with a time of 2:37:14; good enough for an Olympic Trials "A" qualifying time.  We shouldn't forget that it was more than a five minute PR as well.  Alvina had help from her friend, team mate and pacer Emily Harrison for part of the distance.

Further south big things were brewing at the Houston Marathon.

Paige Higgins at Houston.

Paige Higgins announced she was back in a big way with a suburb showing.  After some tough, trying times with a serious knee injury, she calmly and confidently returned in top form.  She blazed a 2:33:22, mere seconds off her fastest marathon time ever, and solidly finishing in fourth place.  Sean Wade, the men's masters champion, worked along side Paige the entire distance to keep her honest.  Paige has several other marathons lined up for her as she builds off this excellent performance.

Brett Gotcher at Houston.

The biggest news catcher of the weekend was Brett Gotcher's run at Houston.  Splashing onto the marathon scene for the first time, Brett ran the fourth fastest debut marathon ever for an American.  His 2:10:35 netted seventh overall, and set a new American course record on the way.  He was paced by good friend and team mate Andrew Lemoncello.  Brett looks very hungry for a re-match at the distance.

Brett and his coach, Greg McMillan, share the spot light.

Congratulations all!  Clearly, these folks have climbed aboard and are giving it a little bit more...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You Must Respect It...

The Grand Canyon, snow covers the higher slopes of the South Rim

Yesterday I ventured ninety miles north with a few friends to a place that will never grow old to me.  Every time I step to its edge and look in I have to, well, just gulp.  On my part it's a commitment.  If I'm going down, all the way down, I have to seriously check myself and make sure I'm all in order.  Can I get myself out under my own power?  No joke, people die down there and I wholeheartedly prefer not to join their ranks.  As long as you respect the Grand Canyon you'll do just fine.  Remember that you're much smaller than it and you'll be able to enjoy that beer at the El Tovar or that burger at the Maswik at the end of the day.

Looking Straight Down

No matter how many people are in your group its mostly an uphill struggle to home for each.  Even if you're right behind your buddy looking at the soles of their shoes as they forge upward, you could begin to care less.  The group you started with has slowly dissolved into a much smaller world as the ascent lengthens.  All you begin to care about is just reaching the top.  Once there you may have just enough euphoria to celebrate briefly before the fatigue sets in.

Jamil Coury (foreground) and his brother Nick prep for a trip to the River and back.

I enjoy that finite time I have when it's just me and the trail heading ever upwards toward the sky.  I've been on these Canyon trails enough to know their every twist and turn.  This familiarity fosters reflection.  Memories always flood back to me in this place.  You see, when you do something this epic, like descend into the Grand Canyon, you can't help but remember the last time you did it or the time before that or the time before that.  I remember who I was with, what interesting things happened to me while I was down there and who or what was waiting for me at the top once I got out.

Looking down on Indian Gardens, only a short 4.5 miles away by trail.

A good view of what the last two miles of trail was, snow and sunless!

The first time I saw the Canyon was as a part of Allegheny College's Track Team.  It was Spring Break and Flagstaff was chosen as our training grounds for the week.  I remember hiking down a half mile on the South Kiabab Trail with part of the Team and being simply blown away.  I knew I'd return one day.  I did, but this time I was wearing fire fighting boots.  Fire suppression on the South Rim ain't half bad when your daily PT consists of hiking in and out of the Canyon.  I could think of a million places with worse scenery.  Years later, I'd have saw and herbicide in hand as I did battle with nasty non-native plants on the Canyon floor and in many of its side-tributaries.  Then for one winter and summer season I'd have pionjar, pick and bucket at my side as I worked repairing the very trails that afforded me the runs, hikes and views that I loved so much.  Throw in a bunch of Canyon runs with the likes of Eric Clifton, Nate McDowell, Hal Koerner, Josh Brimhall, Tony Krupicka, Mark Godale, Erik and Kyle Skaggs, Paul Dewitt, Scott Jurek, Justin Angle and the Coury brothers and you've definitely got a lot of stories and memories to share.

This day's characters (l to r):  Jake Zalewski, Nick Coury, Ian, Jamil Coury

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Saturday Morning Group Run - Schultz Creek Road

Every Saturday the Northern Arizona Trail Running Association meet for group runs.  Locations and distances always vary, but the faces remain the same.  You can learn more about the group and their runs at the Flagstaff Trail Running blog.  The runs are open to the public and don't cost a dime.

This past Saturday I met up with the crew for a jaunt up Schultz Creek Road.  Luckily for me the trail was packed out well.  I quickly found that I might have to get myself a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes in order to fit in around here.

Here's a clip of the run (taken by Neil Weintraub) and what the Flagstaff back country looks like currently. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

If Trees Grew on the Moon...

...I'd imagine it to look a lot like this!

Pines on the Moon

Nestled neatly between Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, the Strawberry Crater Wilderness Area and Wupatki National Monument is a unique place.  Just twenty-five minutes from downtown Flagstaff on the back side of the San Fransisco Peaks and spread-out directly under the shadow of O'Leary Peak lies O'Leary Basin.  Elevation, slope and aspect coalesce here.  Juniper trees give way, as if a line was drawn in the landscape, to the mightier ponderosa pines.  The tall, orange-barked pines grow among the black cinders; a product of the volcanic cones that form the topography here.  Almost a thousand years ago the cones spewed forth layer upon layer of black ash and cinder to give the land it's current moonscape-like character.

The mighty Pondo likes its elbow room.

Looking toward the San Fransisco Peaks.

My father took me here almost ten years ago.  It was his favorite place for escaping the snow, ice and crowds that can sometimes make the popular winter trail heads closer to Flagstaff uninviting.  I immediately took a liking to the place for many of the same reasons.  The cinders drain well (no mud), they are dark in color thus absorb the sun's heat and melt the snow faster and it is far enough from town that only the more adventurous tread this way.  The Forest Service roads that criss-cross the spacious landscape offer plenty of running options.

Typical running terrain on the moon.

Zoroaster, my running partner, found the cinder coals were good for warming her belly post run.

It was good to be back running among the pines on the moon.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reinventing Marathon Tempo Runs

You know you're ready when you cover ground effortlessly.  Both McMillan Elite's Brett Gotcher and Alvina Begay did just that this morning out on Lake Mary Road.  This was to be their last long tempo run (15 miles) before their ever-present marathon races.  Brett has his marathon debut on January 17th at the Houston Marathon.  Alvina gets 2010 started with a bang the same weekend at the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in Phoenix.

I had the privilege of tagging along with these two and their coach Greg McMillan on this morning's jaunt.  It went down this:

Brett Gotcher switches from his trainers into his Adidas Adios.

Alvina Begay (left) and Trina Painter warm-up.

Greg picked me up this morning at my abode in downtown Flagstaff.  We drove to the 9am meeting place at J. W. Powell Blvd. and Lake Mary Road.  Alvina and Brett were already there.  We chit-chatted until Trina Painter arrived.  Trina (a McMillan Elite assistant coach and impressive runner to boot) will serve as Alvina's support crew during the tempo run.  I rode with Greg in his car and helped support Brett during his fifteen miles.

Coach Greg McMillan mans the wheel, both literally and figuratively.

Brett heads up Lake Mary Road in the early miles.  Yep, that's ice on the road up ahead!

Brett nears the half-marathon mark, still just as smooth as when he started.

After a few miles of warm up both Brett and Alvina were ready to go.  Without fan fare they blasted off on a fifteen mile point-to-point run down the wide shouldered Lake Mary Road, a undulating paved road that passes both Upper and Lower Lake Mary situated 7,000 feet above sea level.  Greg and I drove just behind Brett as he rolled along.  Emergency flashers a go-go and Pearl Jam on the radio.  I felt as if I was in a Flotrack video.  We took splits, handed him drinks every five kilometers and offered verbal encouragement.  Trina did the same for Alvina, who started a few minutes after Brett.

Brett takes fluids.  5K and 10K Gatorade.  15K and 20K Coke.

When all was said and done both runners had an excellent day!  Brett, who ran twenty-one miles yesterday, passed through the half-marathon mark in 1:07:30 and averaged 5:07/mile for the full fifteen.  This was his fastest fifteen mile tempo to date.  Alvina started her run with a few 6:30 miles then slowly put the hammer down and finished with a few sub 6:00 miles.  Smooth and consistent, both these runners seemed to get stronger as the distance increased.

The final mile: 4:52! 

...And he's done.
Greg might be more psyched than Brett?  Just touching him to make sure he's real.

Alvina digs in for the final 100 meters.

Greg, Trina and Alvina debrief. 

Personally, I was impressed and inspired.  Both the runners and coaches made this entire exercise look easy, almost run of the mill...well, I guess, in fact, it was just another day at the "office."  Nice work guys and gals!