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The Shawnee Peak Challenge

Posted by Superfiend Oct 24, 2010

I woke up yesterday morning at 6:30 with my friend, Rob, who had come up to Boston to accompany me to Maine for the event. I had no desire to eat anything that morning, but I did manage to choke down a Clif Bar and some water.

 

 

I did most of the driving on the way to the event (about 3.5 hours from Boston to Shawnee Peak). We arrived and I was immediately overcome with exhilaration and anticipation. I got a few of my things together and headed for Registration where I picked up my t-shirt and packet. I attached my bib (Number 11) to my shirt, fixed my timechip to my ankle, and put my hoodie back on to keep warm while I waited for my wave's start. I ate another Clif bar and had my Endurance Booster mix about a half an hour before my run, which was perfect.

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The first wave underway, we were able to watch some of the people leading the heat and admiring their speed. The announcer for the event stated earlier that day that they estimated people would finish the course in around 50 minutes. This proved to be a gross overestimation of the course, and underestimation of the competitors. One guy finished the race before the second wave started, his final time being 28.13. Shaking our arms, jumping around and breathing nervously, we lined up at the start awaiting the siren for the second wave.

 

 

No obstacle on the course even remotely approached the hills themselves in terms of difficulty and simple, masochistic punishment. The race begins with a short jog up what is called "Long Gun Alley" which, according to the website, is 250 yards long by 100 vertical feet. Most competitors stop running halfway through this short jaunt, or are stopped by the time they reach what seems, comparatively, like a plateau.

 

 

This hill weeds out the weaker runners, or those who delude themselves into some form of illusory pacing strategy. After this first hill, you are made to run diagonally across the slope, while still slightly uphill, towards the first obstacle.

 

 

A few haphazardly constructed frames of wood compose what is meant to be the Balance Logs obstacle. My shoes, the Mudclaws, are NOT conducive to such an event. My Parkour experience, however, paid off in spades as far as balance and coordination. I deftly made my way across the beams and on to what is, in my opinion (one shared by what I imagine to be the vast majority of those involved), the worst part of the course: The B itch.

 

 

The aptly named B itch is a debilitating and seemingly indomitable gradient of a Black Diamond ski trail. Its slope is such that one cannot even see the top of the hill from a vantage point at the bottom. The website claims that it is a ratio of 100 yards long to 400 vertical feet. Running on this gradient is, for all intensive and realistic purposes, medically disastrous if not simply physiologically impossible. I began by briskly walking. Then I noticed my feet turning out to the sides to give myself more leverage against the incline. As I desperately looked up at the few competitors ahead of me I noticed that they were actually using their hands to advance. I soon followed suit. After what seemed like mere seconds of attempting this strategy I looked up again to see that they were now literally crawling on their hands and knees. Again, I conceded to imitate this strategy in an effort to gain headway against this awful predicament. I remember being passed by one person on the hill who called out to me “Great job, man, don’t stop.” This was extremely reinforcing for me, and I surged forward. About halfway up The B itch, my body gave up. I literally had nothing left to give. My mind raced. “Am I done? Am I going to simply collapse and be carried off the field? Can I psychically withstand such humiliation? Wait, am I even going to physically survive long enough to be humiliated?”

 

 

To hell with that. My boys don’t stop. I did not stop. Not once. I rallied energy from somewhere and trudged on, eventually making it to the top of the hill and after what seemed like a century of crawling on my hands and knees, I was able to stand up and to my surprise – I was running again.

 

The coordinators for the event, in their infinite wisdom, found it appropriate to allow a short downhill run after The B itch. These downhill sections were my saving grace and I regained an incalculable amount of time and distance in the run thanks to what seemed like a rest compared to the previous inclined struggles.

 

 

I should take time to mention the view from the top of the mountain. The weather yesterday was absolutely perfect. There were clear, blue skies with not a cloud in sight. The temperature was brisk and the air crisp. From the apex of the slopes one could see out in all directions around the mountain and the sight was, in a word, sublime. I had lamentably few seconds to enjoy the view, however, because the next obstacle found its place immediately around the next corner.

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Though the event was only yesterday, the order of the obstacles blurs in my mind. I believe the next obstacle, located at the top right-hand corner of the mountain was the Barrier Walls. Again, my Parkour training was infinitely helpful here. I approached the walls with two fellow runners at my sides, and I vaulted them with finesse and power while they struggled, out of breath, to hoist their limp exhausted bodies over the high wooden walls. I used a specific technique, the Kong Vault, to bring my feet up and over the walls without losing any momentum and I was through this obstacle section in a very short time.

 

 

More downhill. Sweet, sweet gravity, do your thing. We came around what was supposed to be a smoke bomb, but I suppose it had petered out by the time we got there. Back up another small hill before the next obstacle.

 

 

It is worthy of note that no competitor was running up these hills. Some were walking, some using their hands to push on their knees, some power-walking. None ran, not even me.

 

 

I was relatively isolated at this point, having distanced myself from a great majority of the other competitors in the race, and I turned a corner to encounter another obstacle, the Normandy Walls. It was essentially a small field of wooden Normandy Wall structures enclosed in a diagonal path between ski slopes. You are not allowed to put your feet on the walls, you must jump over them. I had some difficulty in coordinating my foot placement on the first few jumps. I quickly found the right rhythm, however, and overtook another competitor who was struggling with his placement as I was.

 

 

There was a long downhill run which lead to the next obstacle: High Crawl and Tires. The Tires were the most difficult for me. I attribute my difficulty to the obstacle being on a downhill slope and the size of my feet. I had a hard time keeping the placement clean and not hitting the tires. Luckily, I didn’t fall. I made it through the first set of tires and hit the ground, moving in a quadrupedal fashion under the net only to be greeted by another set of tires. I managed this set a bit easier than the first, and hit the deck again for more net quadruped movement. Two people were crowding the exit of the net, and I politely pushed my way past them, which essentially put me two more ahead. I was now in fifth place although I didn’t know it at the time.

 

 

I came down a large hill and was met at the bottom by a group of fluorescent girls toting cups of water. I grabbed one even though I didn’t want it, took a small sip, and crushed it in my hand while splashing the water all over myself. I decided not to simply toss the cup on the ground as it seemed like a lot of people were doing before me. From the bottom of that hill they make you turn around and go right back up the SAME DAMN HILL. We walked. Another obstacle affronted us: the Uneven Fences.

 

 

These are simply wooden walls, but offset at such an angle as to make vaulting them impossible, especially since you’re going uphill as you climb them. I managed these easily and was closely followed by a fellow racer named Matt. I was picking up some trash on the hill after the Fences as we made our way up. Matt stopped at one point close to the top, doubled over and hyperventilating. I said “Come on man, don’t stop. We got this.”

 

 

I started running again, making my way around the corner, picking up a piece of paper, and then going downhill towards another obstacle. The Monkey Bars were next. I made my way to the bottom of the hill, handed the trash I had collected to an attendant, and jumped up to the Monkey Bars. They were loose and spun in place as you climbed them, which made it extremely difficult to get a good grip. I was very glad to be wearing gloves. The Bars are set above a nasty pool of water. The rules state that if a participant fails at an event, they must try it again. If they fail a third time they are to be given a thirty-second penalty.

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I dominated the Monkey Bars and ran off in front of the crowd at the bottom of the hill exclaiming: “This is so fun!” to which they cheered. I ran around the bottom of the hill in front of the registration tent and the announcer to find the next obstacle, Hay Bales, which were partially destroyed as a result of some previous ungraceful participants. I vaulted the still-intact section and continued on up a small hill towards the next obstacle: the Commando Rope.

 

One is to hang upside down from the rope and shimmy across without touching the ground. I sacrificed the integrity of the skin on my legs to slide with powerful pulls from my arms, Matt right beside me. I finished first, and turned only to see another HORRIBLE hill, the simple sight of which was demoralizing.

 

 

We made our way to the hill and started our walk back up. I held my position and made it to the top. I began to run again once the terrain leveled out. Once again the run was downhill but we had some High Crawls to do. Matt was, at this point, right behind me. The High Crawls went by easily enough. The downhill run from there was punctuated with what they call The Trenches, which are essentially big gaps which the runner must jump over. I held my own as far as downhill speed, but as we turned the corner at the bottom of the hill towards the next obstacle, The Pipe, Matt cut in front of me and took fifth place in the heat. I was still, at this point, unaware of my ranking. I was of course, for the most part, generally unaware of everything else in the world with the notable exception of pain and determination.

 

 

We crawled through the Pipe which was tastefully decorated with barbed wire. After the Pipe we ran downhill some more, jumping over gaps until we turned a corner for the Mud Pit. It’s just shallow hole in the ground full of muddy water. I didn’t even have enough presence of mind at that moment to do anything spectacular or interesting, so I simply ran through it.

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The Cargo Nets, the last obstacle, were next. This obstacle comprises a series of three nets, one 12’ high, the following 10’ and the last being 8’. I had little difficulty in physically climbing the nets; it was more a question of logistics and courtesy as far as me not crushing Matt or some other guy who came out of nowhere as I descended the backside of each net. I got over the last net to see Matt crossing the finish line and I sprinted through to complete the madness.

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My name was announced as I finished so I went to talk to an official to see why. It turns out that someone had reported me picking up trash on the course, and I was to be rewarded with a metal token in addition to the medal necklaces everyone gets. I grabbed a water bottle and a banana and plopped myself down on the hill, savoring the validating exhaustion.

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I met a couple guys who were in the heat with me, and I eventually got my individual results.

 

 

I placed 6th in my wave, which was the second of the day. I placed 11th in the Men’s Open Division – which, coincidentally, matched my bib event number! – and I placed 13th overall out of the 209 official competitors in the event.

 

 

There was the option for competitors who place in the top ten percent of their division to participate in what’s called the Champion’s Heat. I qualified for this and was hesitant about actually doing it. I was worried about competing again amongst the best of the day which definitely would have inspired me to push myself even further, thereby effectively increasing my chances of injuring myself. My muscles were really tight after my wave and I eventually decided against it. It turns out that a very small number of qualifiers actually ran in the Champions Heat. The officials also opened the final heat to anyone who wanted to participate which further reduced my interest. I had a short moment of deliberation as I looked at the prize helmets which had been spray-painted gold. Somehow their cheap aesthetic appealed to me in a way which defies logical explanation. I believe that it was the right decision to not participate, however.

 

 

Rob and I went into the lodge to get some food, expecting at least a free burger or hot dog and beer. They were charging four dollars for a cheeseburger and two fifty for a hot dog while beers were five dollars. This was outrageous in my opinion, considering the registration fee. We gave in to bodily necessity, though, and ended up buying a bunch of burgers. After talking with a few fellow participants and making some friends, we left.

 

 

I am very happy with my results since it represents the first time I’ve participated in such an event. It’s significant to note that my specific training has only lasted for less than two months now, and I’ve made such progress in that time as to be able to do so well in something so difficult.

 

Outside of the physical aspect of the race there is the mental dimension which encompasses the drive, grit and motivation. In this respect there is one major aspect of my run which I believe contributed significantly to my success in this race: I never looked behind me. I had no conscious thoughts about my place in terms of other competitors (until the end when Matt and I were neck-and-neck), and I only ever brought my gaze up from the trail to assess obstacles or to enjoy the view. This focus was infinitely helpful.

 

 

I am currently extremely sore. More than I’ve been in a long time, despite how much protein I’ve consumed in an effort to effectively recover. I’m giving myself a few days of stretching and conscious dieting to get myself back to normal. So far I see no signs of imminent shin splints.

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Opération Mousquetaire

Posted by Superfiend Oct 21, 2010

I've gone trail running three times since my last entry, and each time went well. It's become something of an obsession.

 

The first couple minutes of the run are still the worst, but I attribute that to the lack of warmup before the run and the incline of the initial hill. The first of the three most recent runs saw me more motivated than usual. I grabbed a log off the ground around the 1.5 mile mark and ran it down the hill to where I usually rest. I took a short break, grabbed the log, and ran it back up the hill while people looked on. It destroyed my legs by the time I reached the top of the small hill, which was only a short distance, so I placed the log at the top of the hill and kept running. It certainly added a dimension to the run, but it made me wonder how the log part is incorporated into the actual races. In the videos and pictures I've seen it seems like the people are simply walking the logs up the hills instead of running. I figure that if I train by running I'll be a lot stronger in the walk, or I'll just end up running the damn thing up the hill anyway.

 

I also noticed that the trail run itself is longer than I initially estimated. The run from the beginning to the Museum section is about 1.5 miles, which makes the round trip around 3 miles total, which is perfect for these events. I'm running the three miles of trail hills in around a half an hour.

 

I was initially apprehensive about running this morning considering the forthcoming event's proximity. I decided to just run anyway and it seems like I got out unscathed. I slowed down by the end of the run because my calves were crying and I was worried about shin splints. They seem fine now; I think the protein shakes have a lot to do with avoiding that condition. My recoveries have been swift and I haven't had any soreness after even the most intense exercises.

 

I have another friend coming to visit this weekend, and Saturday is the Shawnee Peak Challenge. My friend will accompany me, but not to participate. I'm considering dressing up in some ridiculous costume which I'll likely find tomorrow. I'd rather not be another run-of-the-mill competitor with UnderArmour uppers, gloves, shorts and running shoes.

 

I'll be writing in again after the event with a full report. I expect it to be not only a great time, but a springboard for my training and a gauge of my current level as compared to the other competitors.

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Hipoteza izostazji

Posted by Superfiend Oct 14, 2010

I woke up and got ready for my trail run. I ate a Clif bar, drank the Endurance Boosta, and had a packet of medicine-flavored Gatorade prep juice stuff.

 

I drove to the trails, got my Mudclaws on, stretched a bit, and took off up the trail. The weather was great and there were a few people walking on the trail. I ran to the Museum end without any difficulty. My arms were a bit stiff when I started, and as usual the first few minutes were the worst. Once I worked through the lethargy at the outset it felt like I was running downhill the whole time. The inclines were no trouble at all, and almost felt good.

 

I hurdled a high gate after reaching the bottom of the hill at the Museum, walked around twice in a circle, and resolved to just power right back up the hill without any significant rest - which was meant to simulate the amount of rest I might get before an obstacle in these events. On the way back up the first hill from the Museum, which is very rocky, I remember thinking "Wow I didn't get enough rest, I don't think I'll run the whole thing" but I basically just told myself to shut the hell up and run it.

 

And I did.

 

I ran the whole rest of the trail back to the entrance and flopped down on the grass to stretch and breathe the fresh air. It was terrific. My stretching habits are getting better (usually isometrics every day I run and regular static/dynamic on Strength days).

 

I have a friend coming to visit this weekend and I have to make sure this doesn't interfere with training. Only a short time before Shawnee, but I'll be ready for it. I'm beginning to, perhaps naively, imagine being amongst the top finishers. I've also been eyeing this log which would fit nicely on my shoulders for the run...

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Lithobates brownorum

Posted by Superfiend Oct 10, 2010

I woke up this morning at 10am, went to the bathroom, looked around my apartment, and went back to bed at 11am. It sucked. I've felt pretty mediocre for the last couple of days. I worked out on Friday, went to NYC and gave myself Saturday as a rest day since I wouldn't have been able to work out properly anyway.

 

I mulled around the apartment until around, eating oatmeal and numbing my brain on the computer like an idiot. I eventually summoned sufficient motivation to choke down the Endurance Booster mix, a multivitamin and get dressed. I got my stuff together and drove out to Blue Hills again, determined to do something resembling productivity with my day. I got to the park, laced up my Mudclaws, set my music to "Get Me Pumped" mode, and did some moderate stretching before taking off.

 

The weather is gorgeous today and at a crisp 58 Fahrenheit in the early afternoon the air tasted sweet running amongst the trees. The first quarter mile of the run was just awful. My whole body cried out to stop and I was experiencing what was, in my opinion, the lowest level of overall motivation I've ever known. My arms were sore for no reason. I ran through it, though, which was the best thing I could have done. I took the same path as last time. Many people were out walking on the trails with their dogs and/or children which was an interesting contrast to the last time I came out in the rain and cold to barren intimidating trails. I think their looking on gave me some incentive to push through the lassitude.

 

I came down the last hill leading to the Museum and shook my muscles up a little while walking around the parking lot. I did some stretching, some shadow boxing and "Foot-Fist" routines from Jujitsu and a bunch of pushups. I queued up a new favorite on my iPod and sprinted up the root-laden hill into the second half of my run.

 

This half was easier. The difficulty lay in my cardiovascular fatigue and not so much the muscular. It was sheer force of will, again, which brought me to finish the second mile without stopping for a break (a rationalized break, what's more: what I tend to do is stop to look at signs, convincing myself that this is an acceptable reason to stop since I don't want to get turned around...it's a lamentable self-sabotaging habit that I'm mercilessly breaking).

 

I was, at one point, verbally coaching myself up a hill saying things like "Go", "Come on", "Finish", "Don't Stop", even though I couldn't hear my voice over the music. It probably worked.

 

I finished the run (a little over 2 miles, with a short break at 1 mile for the pushups and such) and did some real stretching to limber up my muscles which were quite tense. I enjoyed the fresh air a while longer there before driving back.

 

I'm getting the hang of this.

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I went trail running this morning at this place.

 

It was fantastic. I'm going to try to incorporate a lot more of this since it's one of the closest things I have to the actual event as far as the running element is concerned.

 

I got up and had the Endurance Booster, a Chocolate Chip Clif Bar, and I had a packet of the Gatorade endurance gel stuff on my drive to the location. I was even more motivated by the "bad" weather (50 Fahrenheit, raining hard). I got there, put on my Mudclaws (that I'm using for the first time), cued my music, got out of the car and did some brief and insufficient stretching (dammit), and took off up the hill.

 

I went down a different trail this time which leads a mile and a half out to what they call their Trailside Museum. The incline varied, but it felt like more downhill on the way to the Museum, which was perfect for my pace at the time. I got my bearings halfway through and continued in the direction of the Museum, leaping from wet rocks, splashing intentionally through huge deep puddles (despite the decidedly NOT waterproof Mudclaws) and thoroughly enjoying the ambiance and my music. The Mudclaws were perfect for their grip and responsiveness. I felt like they might have been an overzealous purchase as most of what I'm doing on the trails could be done with the Roclites (which are 100% waterproof). I'm reassured in the assumption that the Mudclaws will be MUCH better on slippery, muddy, worn hills of the slopes I'll be running later this month and finally in April.

 

The run to the Museum went well, and I wasn't too tired, but noticeably winded. I shook my muscles a little while walking around in circles, took a sip of repulsive low-calorie Red Gatorade from my canteen bottle, and leaped back into my run in the opposite direction.

 

This portion was considerably more difficult. Steeper incline, I was wetter than before with sweat and rain, my headphone cord was flailing everywhere...and my mental grit was slipping. There was a distinct moment in the run back where my body wanted to give up, and, as is normal for people, my spirit was in tandem apathy. I know now that as a result of intense training one can separate the body's surrender under physical stress from the mental hold on the original motivation. The body's tendency to give up must be linked to a survival skill of some kind which must have developed through millennia in an effort to preserve presence of mind in reaction to the Fight/Flight reflex.

 

Anyway, I wasn't about to take that infirm sappy misdirected evolutionary attempt at reasonable behavior. I recognized it as straight bullshit and outright refused to stop. To my amazement, I kept running. Luckily a great song came on and I simply powered up a relentless hill and was rewarded by a slight decline in the terrain for a while. At this moment I became idyllically aware of the environment and my own complacency. It was extremely validating and I specifically remember remarking a big dopey smile on my face that remained without any conscious effort.

 

I coasted downhill, tackled another before enjoying the slight decline to the beginning of the trail. I ran to my car and did some halfhearted stretches before contentedly driving back to my apartment.

 

I ran a total of 2-2.5 miles on the trails.

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No Room for Humans

Posted by Superfiend Oct 5, 2010

My workouts have been going rather smoothly, with the exception of one last week.

 

I had recently got some bad family news, which was a major contributor to my mood and motivation. I went out for my Endurance routine anyway and it was much more difficult under the relative emotional duress I was feeling. The run was awful, but I made it the 1.5 miles to the gym. I got on the elliptical and had zero interest in the exercise. I stopped after 30 minutes, which is still decent, and attempted some pullups. They didn't go so well, and my left shoulder started feeling out of whack.

 

I went to the pool to see if I could make up for the slack on the elliptical and my shoulder wasn't cooperating with my strokes or the legwork I usually do (as I use a kickboard held out in front, it was still placing some pressure on the shoulder). With a sigh of exasperation I got out of the pool, got showered and sauntered home.

 

Fast-forward to yesterday's Endurance workout, which was perfect. I started out with the Endurance Booster, a Clif bar and some of that Gatorade gel stuff in the little packet. I loosened up and stretched before leaving for the run. It was cold and damp.

 

I ran to the gym, feeling loose and energetic despite the weather and the buffeting headwind. I changed and got on the elliptical. It was a different machine this time, and I had to choose an unfamiliar program. It has you run up a huge hill and then back down over the course of about 10 minutes with 3-4 minute valleys of rest in between hills. I wasn't particularly enjoying the program, but stuck with it at the default time setting of 60 minutes with a 5 minute cool-down. I had my Endurance Booster in a Propel bottle, and would sip that during the valley rest. I kept the Resistance factor at 8, and the incline would vary automatically with the position on the hill. I had some great new music blasting and I was practicing some breathing techniques to keep my heart rate down. The elliptical was horribly inaccurate at monitoring my heart rate, so I had to estimate by how I felt. I kept a routine of powering through the minute or two at the peak of each hill at high speed and intensity, and cooling down during the descent.

 

At the end of the 65-minute elliptical session I wasn't even winded, but my legs were definitely shot. I went and did ten pullups and ten chinups as I usually do, then I went to the pool. I swam my normal routine for about 45 minutes.

 

Once I get a firm hold on this workout (which I'm rapidly approaching), I'll start mixing in some other stuff. Maybe some plyometrics or plate tectonics or thermos osmosis.

 

Something I realized: I NEED TO STRETCH MORE, DAMMIT!

 

I really just don't stretch enough and my flexibility is lamentable at best. I've been sporadically incorporating some isometric stretching into my Strength days, but it's not regular enough to make a difference. I'm going to have to resort to behaviorally conditioning myself to stretching more often (even when not working out).

 

Today was a Strength day, but it was relatively unremarkable, besides my inclusion of kettlebells and a chair into my one-leg squats. I do five reps on each leg with the kettlebell, which, after yesterday's run and such, was not fun. My pullups are getting much better.

 

Physically and aesthetically I notice the difference that this vigorous routine has created. My diet is getting more reliable, and I'm taking the supplements as they're needed. I still think I'm losing weight, though, so I'll be packing in more calories as time goes on, especially on Endurance days.

 

Shawnee Peak Challenge is in a couple weeks. I feel like I'm going to do well.

 

I'll eventually put up a video of my routine. Until then you'll just have to use your imagination.

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