Sunday, December 29, 2013

20 Miles with a Camel [on my] Bak

Last Sunday afternoon, I did my second real long run with my newly gifted Camelbak Rogue (70 oz). I've done some shorter trail runs with it, but nothing really long, or with a specific pace goal in mind. I also hate carrying anything in my hands while running, and anything resembling a fanny pack is out, so this seemed like a good option. We live in a great place for trail runs, and there are decent options for long street runs too, but if want something that's not always going either up or down, you pretty much have to drive to it. All of my flatter route options within running distance involve running on a much busier, speedier road with no good exit strategy if things start to get scary, and honestly, I live on a flipping mountain: nothing is that flat up here.

The route is just over two miles out (mostly uphill), then a series of 2.7 mile loops until I have enough miles, at which point, I head back down those same two miles (mostly downhill now). The loops are about a third uphill (170 ft, give or take according to Garmin), a third rolling, and a third downhill. It's not the easiest route, but it's manageable, and I tell myself that I'll be glad to have the bonus hill training.
I love this chart, but man, it's a bit of pain to make it.

My training schedule called for an 18 miler two weeks ago, and a 20 miler last week. I normally find that I need water on anything longer than about 13 miles (and that's a stretch in warmer weather). First off, filling this thing up is no problem. At no point did I feel like I was in any danger of spilling. Judging by my ability to keep pace with the thing on my back, it does just fine on the run too. There was some initial, "Woah, I'm running with a thing on my back, and it's making a sloshing noise," type feeling, but after a mile or two, I was used to it. I was worried it would start to feel heavy as the run went on, but since I was technically lightening the load with every swig I took, it actually felt lighter as I went along. It was also nice to grind out a hill, drying out my mouth breathing heavily, and then take the edge off with a nice, cool shot of water no matter how far away I was from the nearest water fountain. Speaking of taking a drink, you have to bite the mouthpiece before drawing in order to do that, and even when I was tired, gasping for breath at the top of those hills, this wasn't a problem. Even on the 20 mile run, I wasn't close to running out of water either. Finally, if you are the sort of runner who likes to listen through your headphones on the run, the top zipper pouch worked well as an iPhone storage compartment (forget accessing it without taking off the pack though).

If I'm honest though, there are a couple of small nitpicks. My 140 pound frame doesn't exactly have the broadest of shoulders, and I have to cinch the chest strap pretty much all the way tight to keep from feeling like the straps are going to fall off. When it's cinched all the way, I don't get this sensation, but as I kept running, I felt the chest strap start to loosen, and I started catching myself tensing my shoulders to keep the shoulder straps in position. Concerning cargo space, there's plenty of it for a runner (certainly for a 20 mile run). Though not to the same degree as I dislike carrying things with my hands on a run, I dislike carrying things in my pockets. I found that I actually preferred carrying everything on my back instead. However, I ended up having to unhook the chest strap, unhook the drinking hose, and take the pack off of one shoulder when it came time to take a Gu. After fiddling with it some more, I found that the lower zipper pouch can be accessed without partially removing the pack, but it's still not as convenient as I would have liked. Finally, I found that I had to disconnect the drinking hose in order to take a drink. The angle required of my neck to accomplish this without disconnecting it just wasn't practical.
It's even UGA, I mean, "Racing" Red

All things considered, I'm glad to finally have one of these. I've heard of people shunning the aid stations and wearing them through marathons, but I think I'll stick to aid stations during races for now. I've never really had a problem with crowded aid stations anyway. I do intend to keep wearing it on long runs, and I certainly feel like I could have used it this previous summer. It a good piece of kit to have for when you need it, certainly preferable to dehydration.

Update (2014-01-05) - I've got some more quantifiable information concerning just how long I can go on a fill up since the original post. Granted, it's winter right now, so on a warmer run this might be a different story, but I can go 2+ hours on half a fill up. Given that the pack is rated for "2+ hours," I'm going to go ahead and say that Camelbak is sandbagging on this one. Also, running while wearing this thing makes me feel like I can run way farther than I'm actually planning to run. One passerby remarked that I look like I "just summited...something."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Unicoi Trail (Helen, GA)

This week, we took a family trip to Helen, GA for an early Christmas with my wife's folks and sister's family. Helen is a small, Bavarian themed town along the Chattahoochee river in the north Georgia mountains.
Low and behold, a trail!
Lately, I've found it a bit difficult to cobble together anything resembling a consistent string of training runs, so beyond looking forward to some time with family away from work, I was really looking forward to having a extended window to go for run for 5 days straight. I've been to Helen before, but not in my running life, and as it turns out, I've decided that Helen has exactly one of every kind of run a runner could want.

I started out with what was supposed to be an easy 7 or 8 miles on Saturday, but turned out to be the biggest road climb of the week (hill work, check). It wasn't much compared to what I normally climb (250 ft versus 600 ft), but it was a little cold, and I was pushing it a little more than usual. After I got back down the hill, I ran around town for a bit (4 to 5 mile easy loop around town, check). On this part of the run, I also came across a flat stretch of pavement that was low on automobile traffic and went on for a little over a mile (speed work, check).

It started raining that night, rained all day Sunday, and was still raining on Monday, so by Monday afternoon, we were all feeling a bit angsty. Enter flat, paved mile. Let the mile repeat stress relief commence.
The trail ran along (and sometimes over) the river
I looked at where I supposedly should have been as far as pace goes according to my original training plan, cinched up my Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LSs and decided to give my best shot at 3 5:51s. Happily, I nailed the first two repeats (5:50 and 5:51). It started raining again during the second repeat, and coupled with fatigue/gut issues, I fell off on the third and final repeat (6:05), but on the whole, I was encouraged.

I decided that I had done all the exploring around town that I cared to do, and turned to Garmin Connect to see if anyone else had posted a good route. Low and behold, a trail! Just to round off the "one of everything" rule, the Unicoi trail is there for the fun of it. I had just received a Camelbak Rogue for Christmas, and a trail run seemed like the ideal way to take it for a test run. I'll save more remarks on it for after I've used it on a proper long run, but I will say that my initial impressions were positive. Anyway, I hadn't counted on a trail run, so even though I brought 3 pairs of running shoes (yes, I'm a dude who travels with 4 pairs of shoes for a 5 day trip), my trusty Trail Gloves weren't among them. Having run trails in my Road Gloves and VFFs, I know that both of those are less than ideal, which left only my Merrell Bare Access 2s.
Lake Unicoi
BAs are my goto road distance shoe, and I honestly didn't know how they would do on the dirt.

The trail surface was mostly dirt with a few rocks and roots poking through here and there. It was a bit soggy from all the rain, but it was well kept double track all the way. Bikes aren't allowed on the trail either, and there aren't that many visitors to Helen this time of year, especially during the week, so you really feel like you have the whole forest to yourself. The sun had just started to poke through the clouds, and the air was crisp and cool. I snuck up on a blue heron at one point, and on the way back, a white tail deer and I startled each other. The first couple miles were flat to rolling hills with one good ascent/descent and a good long stretch right along the river as well.

At this point, the BAs were doing well enough.
I bet it's awesome to sleep in one of these when it's raining.
There is enough material underfoot that the roots and rocks don't get through, but there isn't really much in the way of tread so there was a noticeable lack of traction in mud, particularly on the ascents/descents. One advantage that they do have over my Trail Gloves on a non-technical trail like this one is a wider base. I hadn't given this much thought before this run, but since the trail was wide and wasn't changing directions, elevations or surface quickly, I didn't really need to be as nimble through it. The wider base was more stable, of course, and that meant that I didn't have to be as intentional with each footstep.

Just before mile three, the trail dumped out onto a road, where a sign read "Lake Trail" ahead. This sounded like a pretty good idea to me, so I followed it. Dead ahead, there was Lake Unicoi.
Sorry, no bikini girls on the beach today.
The lake itself isn't so big. The trail around is just under two miles, but it's flatter and wider than the trail leading up to it, and while not as secluded, it's plenty peaceful. Oh, and of course, the trail comes with a great view of the lake. Apparently, you can rent cabins which look like giant silos or steel drums turned over on their sides too.

After completing the Lake Trail, I jumped back up on the road to make my way back to the Unicoi Trail. Immediately upon stepping back onto asphalt, it felt like my BAs let out a sigh of relief, and you could almost hear them say, "Now this is more like it!" I've felt this same kind of transition only in reverse going from a trail to the asphalt in my trail shoes. The shoes gripped the pavement evenly, my transitions became suddenly super smooth, and my pace quickened with what felt like the same or even less effort.
A little mud on the tires
As capable a stand in for a trail shoe as the BAs had been, there was no denying at this point that these are road shoes. The road is where they belong, and the road is where they want to be. I crossed over dam, and started back down the Unicoi Trail towards home.

I liked the trail so much that I ran it again the next day. On the whole, I'd say it was a good running week, certainly the best that I've had in a while. I logged hill work on 3 days (counting the trail runs as hill work as Garmin is giving me about 900 ft of total ascent for each one), and had a good speed work session too. If you add the miles I ran after we got back, I'm at 31 for the week with a long run to go. It's not a monster number of miles, and I really could have used a tempo run in there, but it's much better than it has been lately. There are 11 weeks until Albany, so I'm starting to feel the pressure to focus in on my training and bit more.

With all that said, here are a couple more shots from the trail that I wanted to include in this post:

A pretty good panorama of the middle of the lake

...and one of the dam too.

Lake side of the dam

The river along the trail

I'm sucker for good footprint pics