2013: A Year in Running

As 2013 comes to a close, I was able to get out for my last run of the year earlier today. Fittingly, this run came on the beach as has become somewhat the norm since I moved to the greater Charleston, SC area this past June.

To the Beach!
To the Beach!

This running terrain was also fitting as it was quite the opposite as my running backdrop on December 31st of 2012. On that day, I ran a little over four miles on the single track trails of Eno River State Park. Back then, those trails were my go to spot when I needed to get out for a run (and boy, did I “need” to get out often). It was in late 2011 and early 2012 that I began to identify as a “trail runner”. Running had never felt so free, liberating, or natural as those times out on the forest trails trying to outrun the sun, avoid twisty and tricky roots, and race along side babbling brooks and rivers. Ultimately, it became more of an expectation than an oddity that 90% or more of my monthly miles were put down on forest trails.

Thus, it was somewhat of a buzzkill when I moved to the Charleston area since (shocker!) there aren’t a ton of trails near coastal towns. I know…who would’ve thought? The lack of trails combined with the sweltering heat that my body had not yet adapted to made for one unhappy and grouchy runner. This overall runner’s funk persisted until one July day when I was running a greenway loop in a local county park. I was thinking a lot of Debbie Downer thoughts to myself such as, “Why do they call them greenways anyway? It’s just a bunch of blacktop. I don’t see any “green”! Stupid people…”, when I came across something rather spectacular. There was an alligator just chilling in the pond along side the trail! Yes, I know that gator sightings are far from rare down in this neck of the woods (heck, I was seeing one in a county park!), but it was a sight to see for this transplanted Jersey boy.

This reptilian sighting automatically boosted my mood and put a bit of a pep in my step for the rest of my run. It was then that I decided to make my terrain work for me in terms of my running and embrace what I had in front of me. Hey, it isn’t exactly torture living ten minutes from the beach.

Embracing the terrain has definitely meant a lot of beach running at times. Maybe in some other post I’ll get more into my thoughts about running on the ol’ sand, but for now let’s just say that the lack of elevation change isn’t ideal but the reduced impact on one’s knees is a positive. Plus you get to see some epic sunrises and sunsets, and let’s also not forget that in the end you’re on the beach…which is awesome.

I’ve still made an effort to hit the local trails whenever time allows (a 45 minute car ride one way is somewhat of a day drain), and I think that’s kept my running sanity in check somewhat. I have definitely found this past year that varying one’s running terrain goes a long way towards keeping things fresh and avoiding a rut (though those inevitably come).

Looking back over this past year, I can say that I feel more like a true “runner” than I did as 2012 came to a close. What defines a runner in my mind? Well, that’s probably a lengthy discussion and a thought that I haven’t fully fleshed out yet. Suffice it to say, I have a low threshold for looking in the mirror and calling yourself a runner. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking about running when you’re not actually doing it or if you’ve gone for a run when you definitely did not feel like doing so or had others questioning your “need” to run…well, then you’re probably a runner.

With myself, I’m a bit of a harsher judge (I guess we’re all our own worst critic, right?). There are definitely times when I feel like Pre reincarnated (ok, maybe not that extreme), but there are also times when I think I barely qualify as a glorified walker, let alone a runner. Running’s like that, ya know? There are definitely ebbs and flows, but we keep coming back for more. I think my improved consistency over the past year is what makes me feel more like a true runner, and hey, I’ll take it!

Looking forward to 2014, these are a few of the running goals that I have for myself:

  • Finish my first full marathon
  • Run a total of 1500 miles
  • Beat my buddy in the Krispy Kreme Challenge again
  • Run more often with my lovely fiancee (when she allows me to!)
  • Run more with the forever lazy Puppy Pete
  • Get involved in a running club again
  • Run a relay race (not sure if that one’s feasible, but I’d like to do it!)

Here are a few of the final stats for 2013:

  • 1381 total miles (707 Road/523 Trail/161 Beach)
  • 18 total races run (including the infamous Krispy Kreme and Doughman races)
  • 10K and Half-Marathon PRs
Bibs o' 2013
Bibs o’ 2013

 

Here’s to another year of happy running to all those out there in 2014!

Festive Times Call For Festive Brews

I’m a little late in posting this, but given the Christmas season, I decided to indulge in the 2013 incarnation of Sweetwater’s Festive Ale.

South Carolina Winters Are Rough
South Carolina Winters Are Rough

In my heart of hearts, I’m an IPA guy who dabbles in some hoppy lagers and maybe the occasional Belgian. However, I’ve been trying to expand (read: develop or establish) my beer “palate” and thus have been attempting to broaden my horizons a bit as of late. Also, I’m striving to get more badges on Untappd (terrible, I know).

Back to the task at hand–Sweetwater Festive Ale is a yearly winter seasonal released by the Hotlanta mega craft brewer and is classified as a “winter warmer”. When living in Jersey or even in Durham, NC, there were definitely times when any type of warmer would have been welcome when the temps started to dip. However, here in Charleston, SC, a “cold” day is seemingly when the thermometer drops below 50F. I know the locals view such days as cold because that’s when the puffy winter jackets, ear warmers, and UGGs come out of hibernation. I guess you really do adapt to your environment. Even though I may not be in need of any warmer per se, one is always in need of good brews…

I am happy to report that Sweetwater’s Festive Ale definitely does fall into the “good brew” category and did also pack some warming powers even on a rather temperate SC evening.

The brew poured a very deep and dark Coca-Cola like brown color. There was little head and what head was present was thinner than I would have expected. A medium level of carbonation helped make the brew quite drinkable. Nutmeg and cinnamon dominated the initial aroma and taste on the tongue, with cola and ginger lingering later.  Overall, there was definitely a significant spice character but this seemed to be balanced quite well by the overall maltiness. However, the spices did make their presence known to bring forth thoughts of snow angels, presents, and Santa sliding down the chimney.

Given its pretty hefty 8.60%ABV, this brew hid the alcohol taste well and was very drinkable.

The final verdict is that Sweetwater’s Festive Ale was an enjoyable and surprisingly complex brew that seems very well suited for the holiday season!

 

 

18.76 Miles and Broken Down

So I opted to complete my long run for the week today (Friday) rather than on a weekend day as I typically do. I had the day off as part of my holiday vacay and you take what the week gives you, am I right?

Given the clear schedule that inherently comes with a holiday day off, I set off for my favorite local-ish (45 minutes from my front door) running spot, Francis Marion Forest. This national forest is a vast stretch of undisturbed, natural forest and wilderness, and it adds even more reach to its vast domain as it merges with Sumter National Forest. Thus, the possibilities are seemingly endless! Great trail running, camping, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, and much more–it’s all here!

Myself, I set out for the Swamp Fox Passage, a 42 mile portion of the much longer Palmetto Trail that lays down some of its length within the boundaries of Francis Marion. I’ve run portions of this trail numerous times in the past, and it always makes for a great run. The trail is far from technical with no elevation gain and largely smooth trails (aside from the occasional stumpy areas). The trail meanders through pine forests, pass the Halfway Creek campground, and over the occasional small bridge. It’s largely well-groomed single track and doesn’t see too much foot traffic so you don’t find yourself elbowing your way past others.

Boy oh boy, was it a beautiful day to hit the trails! The sun was shining brightly and temps were hovering in the low 50s. Perfect weather for a romp in the woods.

Trees For Days
Trees For Days

Sticking with my trusty Hal Higdon Novice 2 Marathon Training Program, I was slated to run 20 miles today. For better or for worse, today’s run was also meant to be my longest of the “long runs” with tapering afterwards until the much dreaded/anticipated marathon in 3 weeks (aka “The Real Show”).  So I set off on the trail…

At first, I felt good. In fact, I felt surprisingly good. So good that I daydreamed of someday running a trail ultra and also envisioned myself as an ancient Tarahumara superathlete runner (perhaps I was hallucinating already at that point…). At one point, I even considered taking what I told myself would be a “slight detour” down a side trail that I had never travelled before. Luckily, my sane mind chirped in and told my illogical Tarahumara wannabe mind to hush up, and ultimately the wiser mind prevailed. So there I was bouncing along the trail, trading pleasantries with a couple of backpackers I passed and snapping the two photos you see in this blog. Life was good! After all, I was a future ultramarathoner envisioning future trail conquests.

At mile 9.5, I started to tire (I should mention that despite how great I felt early on, I didn’t push my pace as I feared such a move could only end poorly). Though I began to feel a bit fatigued, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary–legs a little heavy, pace dropping a bit–you know, the kind of stuff you may expect after 9.5 miles of running.

Around mile 15, I started to feel much worse. I was very weak and fatigued, as well as uncertain as to whether I could make another 5 miles. I slowed my pace and went into “survival mode”. Jack Johnson’s “Breakdown” ominously came onto my iTunes shuffle.  I continued to take a swig or two of Gatorade every mile, and then began to do so every half mile or so. I continued to consume a couple of Clif shot bloks at regular intervals. However, none of it mattered. I continued to fade more and more. I tried to look at the run as half mile increments, telling myself to just make another half mile. And then one more half mile. And then one more…

At 18.76 miles, I had to stop. I felt as though my body was shutting down. I was nauseous, light-headed, and my feet/legs didn’t seem to be doing what my head was asking them to do. In addition, my shoes suddenly felt very tight on my feet. I stopped and sat down on two occasions, the second of which I untied my shoes to loosen them up a bit and even gave my screaming feet a bit of a massage in an attempt to quiet them down a little.

The 1.24 mile walk back to my car was much more difficult than it should have been. I drank the rest of Gatorade I had in my handheld bottle hoping that it would bring a bit more energy and a bit less light-headedness. It didn’t. I felt as though I may faint numerous times on the short trek back to my car. It was scary and something I haven’t experienced before. Sure, I’ve had my share of painful and draining runs, and I’ve hit “the wall” tons of times in the past. This, however, was different…

Ultimately I did make it back to my trusty chariot. I immediately plunked down into the driver’s seat. My head was still swimming and my legs were shaking as though I was taking them dancing after all this. I drank the rest of the Gatorade I had in my car and forced myself to have a few bites of an apple I had brought along as a post-run treat. Let’s just say that the apple and Gatorade decided to make the visit to my stomach a quick in-and-out affair rather than making a weekend of it.

I lied down in my car for a bit until I felt well enough to make the 45 minute drive back home. Ultimately, I clearly felt better after some time, a hot shower, and some homemade pizza.

Still the question remains as to what caused this less than optimal ending to my already shortened trail run? Hyponatremia? Dehydration? Simply not taking in enough fuel before and during the run? I’m thinking it may have been a touch of hyponatremia given my symptoms though I don’t think low sodium to such a degree to cause this picture usually happens at 18ish mile distances. Plus I was consuming an electrolyte enhanced drink during the run.

The most disconcerting aspect of all this, however, is that it clearly does not inspire much confidence in my ability to run 26.2 miles in roughly three weeks. Yikes.

Maybe a handful of pretzels along the run is the only solution I need…

Hey, a boy can hope!

Still The Best!

With only 4 minutes remaining (at least in Eastern Standard time) in the 2013 edition of Christmas day, I think it’s safe to say that Wham!’s chart topping holiday jingle, “Last Christmas”, remains the quintessential Christmas tune. Now I’m not ruling out the possibility that some musical artist somewhere out there could release a comparable jam in the next few minutes, but it seems unlikely at this point. Plus who could top “Last Christmas”? Unless Wham! reunites for the sequel (which I assume would be entitled either “This Christmas” or “Next Christmas”), I don’t think anyone’s taking down those two British lads.

Timeless Poetry
Timeless Poetry

According to Wikipedia (aka the website where only factually correct statements make it into print), “Last Christmas” has entered the Germans singles chart every year since 1997, and even managed to peak at #4 on the chart in 2007 (23 years after the song was originally released!). What does that tell me? It tells me that Germany knows what’s up! It also tells me that Germany is a bit slow on the uptake. Seriously, the song is released in ’84 and isn’t hitting the German charts until ’97? Well, at least they’re recognizing its timeless and transcendent qualities now!

So again, thank you George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley for penning such a holiday masterpiece and for laying down the killer vocals that shall echo in time forever.

Selfies are acceptable on Christmas, right?
Selfies are acceptable on Christmas, right?

Christmas Eve Bridge Runnin’!

For today’s run, I took to the Arthur Ravenel Junior Bridge (aka the “New Cooper River Bridge” aka “The Only Incline in the Lowcountry”) which connects Charleston to the faraway and Cary-esque (North Carolina humor) land of Mount Pleasant.

Up up and away...
Up up and away…

One of the coolest things about living in the NC Triangle (where I spent the past four years) and in Charleston is that these are both very fitness oriented communities. Such a collective mindset can be at times inspiring, humiliating, or depressing depending on which lens you’re choosing to view it through. The Ravenel Jr. Bridge is perhaps the best example of a stomping ground for the active community of Charleston as its pedestrian pathway is frequently packed with runners and cyclists that appear to know what they’re doing (translation: they’re fast, dressed in high end performance gear, and have huge quads). Today was no exception, but I chose to be inspired rather than downtrodden given the fact that it was the day before Christmas after all.

As per usual, I set off from Memorial Waterfront Park (hey, you can’t beat the free parking!) and decided to take the “long way” over to the bridge itself (ie, up Hallmark Boulevard and past the corner gas station where many park to utilize the bridge rather than thru the park walkway directly to the bridge). Surprisingly, I felt solid while running the bridge with its significant (for this area) climbs. In fact, I felt so good that I decided to let loose a bit and treat today as a pace run. Ultimately, I ran the 6.5 mile out and back segment with an average pace of 7:46 min/mile including a 6:38 mile on the 5th mile (which was 75% downhill). FYI these times are extremely fast for me, and I’m only mentioning them for the reason that such above the norm paces (for this guy) put a bit of a bounce into my step and inspired at least a small bit of faith that I can actually survive my marathon coming up in less than a month (yikes!).

 

Let’s Get Industrious

Diamond Knot Brewery is apparently in Mukilteo, Washington. Why does that matter? Well, simply because Mukilteo is an awesome name and because the numerous great craft breweries is just one of a growing number of reasons (phenomenal trail running being top on the list) why I feel I need to get out to the Pacific Northwest. But I digress…

Industrial IPA in its Natural Habitat?
Industrial IPA in its Natural Habitat?

In any case, I picked up a bomber of Diamond Knot’s Industrial IPA at the local Total Wine & More the other day and got a chance to crack it open tonight! What drew me to grabbing this particular bottle, you may ask. Well, the short answer is that it was $4.99 for this bomber at 7.9% ABV (hey, I’m a baller on a budget!). In all seriousness though (though those prior reasons are indeed fact as well), I’m a big IPA fan and haven’t seen or had this particular one before.

All in all, this was a solid brew. It wasn’t as hoppy as I tend to like my IPAs, but smooth and tasty nonetheless. It poured a light amber/orange color with a medium head and decent lacing. Not extremely carbonated and with overtones of a citrus/fruity taste. I typically don’t like my IPAs on the floral or fruity side, but I enjoyed this particular DIPA as there was also a nice balance of earthy tones.

Easy and enjoyable drinking, I would definitely go back to this brew in the future!

Pete, on the other hand, was less than impressed as he lounged on the couch and rooted against the Atlanta Falcons.

Cheers!

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Trail Run Day (aka Long Run Sunday)

So I’m currently training for my first marathon (I probably should have mentioned that in the “About Me” blurb since it’s been taking up a lot of time and been a big part of “me” as of late…whoops). This will actually be the second marathon that I’ve trained for, but hopefully the first one I complete! I was hoping to run the 2012 Tobacco Road Marathon over in Apex/Cary, NC, but I suffered a pesky stress fracture in my foot a mere two weeks prior to the race. I toyed with the idea of running the race regardless, but a painful 10 mile run and a visit to an orthopedic doc convinced me otherwise.

Training for that run was pretty brutal (I guess I’m not a distance running guy; oh, I’m also not a sprinter or even a middle distance dude for that matter). However, after a sufficient amount of time, selective amnesia took over and thus I decided a few months ago that running a marathon seemed like a good idea again. After a bunch of half marathons, this seems like the natural transition, right?

Well, like all newbie wannabe marathoners, the amount of faith I have in myself varies wildly as does how I feel during my runs (particularly the long runs). Everyone has those varying levels of confidence, right? Right?

Today’s long run was a “shorter” 12 mile jaunt pancaked in between last weekend’s 19 miler (that was rough) and next weekend’s 20 miler (I’m already scared). The training ground I chose for the run was the beautiful and secluded Dungannon Plantation Heritage Preserve out in glamorous Hollywood, SC. I had stumbled across this spot on-line in the past while combing for possible hiking/running spots in the area and then fortuitously drove past it with my lady friend last weekend while on our way to pick out a Christmas tree. We promptly checked out the preserve on the way back from Christmas tree shopping, and also took our pups out there yesterday for some hiking shenanigans.

The thing about Dungannon Preserve is that its trails are not what you would call “well marked” and it seems that numerous different trails have blue blazes (that just adds to the fun, am I right?!). Coming into this morning’s run, I wasn’t even sure how much dedicated trailage there was within the park. The info board at the parking area stated that there are 5.5 miles of marked trails and 5 more miles of fire roads and other offshoots that can be hiked/explored/enjoyed. Since the info board shows only one long (by scope on the board) and meandering trail, it’s natural (or maybe just hopeful?) to think that this trail would be 5.5 miles in length, right?

Well, the moral of this story is twofold: 1) Distance measurements are a bit screwy in SC (I’ve run into similar measurement shenanigans in the past) 2) Don’t be a hopeful sap.

That meandering trail is 2.25 miles one way for a total of 4.5 miles out and back (nowhere near 12 miles!). Thus, today’s 12 miler had to be a bit creative. I ran that main stretch twice and probably hit every possible off shoot from the trails as well as made many of my own “trails” out in the forest. Every now and then I would run into random trail markers out in the woods, but they would seemingly be associated with only a couple hundred yards of “trail” (which could be seen only with a very healthy imagination).

Don’t get me wrong, though–I had a great time and the plantation is absolutely beautiful! Longleaf pines, swampland, the possibility of seeing alligators, boardwalks, and a wood stork nesting area–this place has it all! I just don’t think it’s the best spot for a longer run is all (unless you want to utilize a lot of creativity).

Not Too Shabby a Running Spot!
Not Too Shabby a Running Spot!

During the run itself, I felt great at times and super sluggish at others. All in all, I didn’t hit the overall pace that I was aiming for. I’m rationalizing it by telling myself that the random forest detours and running through thick leaves and thicket at times didn’t do my pace any favors. Yes, all that may be true, but I still worry that with performances like this I may be unable to run 26.2 miles let alone finish in a sub 4:00 like I’m aiming for.

What will ultimately happen? Well, I guess both you and I need to keep tuning in. Regardless, it’s never a bad day when you can run 12 miles in a beautiful backdrop and in 70 degree weather in late December!