Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Mileage Challenge

Long time, no post!  Here's my explanatory make-up report...

In November I signed up for a "mileage challenge" with a large group of folks, many of them Austin paddlers, but also people from all over the US and athletes doing various disciplines.  There were conversions for swimming (1:4), mountain biking (2:1) and road biking (3:1).  The main goal was to reach 100 miles between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We joined some friends as "Team Vignette" to have our average miles compared to other groups as a friendly competition.

Because, yeah, a mileage challenge for me is always about competition, and it's highly motivating for me for some reason.  I start planning every day around maximizing miles, it gets addicting, and by the end it gets a little crazy.  But it's excellent training and all in good fun  :)

Other motivation = the food we ate for Thanksgiving:


The first day, being Thanksgiving with family and all that, was light - hill repeats at the Beard Farm.  The next day I started in earnest with a long run around Tyler.

Some photos from that run, including one for our nephew David:


Foliage at UT Tyler:


And my favorite picture of the day, the "East Texas Watch Dog":


The next week involved running at the track, riding in Tyler, two big loops on foot at Tyler State Park, and riding & running on the fast trails at Faulkner.  I also discovered Lindsey Park and it is now my favorite place to ride, 13 miles of fun singletrack.

It soon became clear that having a choice between running and riding a bike was very helpful.  Running was a bit more efficient (usually) and easier to do in cold weather, while riding was easier on my legs and a nice way to run errands around town and see more things.

The next weekend I ran 51 miles at the 12-hour Circus race at McKinney Roughs.  Lots of rain and mud and lots of work, but it was an excellent and memorable challenge.  On the other hand, between tapering for and recovering from the race, my daily mileage average for that weekend wasn't anything special.

I didn't expect to drop off the blogosphere at that point, but a couple things happened that took away my time and energy after that.

Next up was the last week we were stationed in Tyler.  I went back to Lindsey a couple times and rode around Tyler (including stopping at Einstein's for a bagel) a couple times.

We moved to Austin (hello Austin!) and immediately drove away.  We found our friend Art at Brazos Bend State Park, in the middle of running his first 100-mile race.  Go Art go!  John and I took turns pacing him during the night and enjoyed the company and seeing the trails along the swamps in the dark.  Art went on to finish strong the next morning, congratulations!

I, however, couldn't hold up my part of the pacing duties.  In the middle of the night I came down with a stomach issue - not sure if it was food poisoning or a bug, either way it knocked me flat.  Hate to be graphic, but stuff was coming out from both ends for a while.  Yuck.  Thank goodness no one around me was inflicted.

That took me out for about 4 days as my stomach (and appetite and energy) slowly recovered.  Setback for the mileage challenge.  But a bonus loss of 3-4 pounds.  Not a recommended diet plan.

I ramped back up slowly, started feeling better, and started exploring Austin.  I discovered that Bruegger's Bagels in Westlake is reachable from Town Lake with only a couple hills in between, yay!


That started a trend of taking pictures of what I was eating in the middle of workouts.  Yay, my appetite was back!  Hope you aren't hungry while reading this.

But first, more training.  Some Hill of Life repeats (great for climbing practice).  Riding over to McKinney Falls to find out that I have close access to those trails (excellent).  Then a long ride around Austin.

Some photos from that ride - up to Mount Bonnell:


I hadn't been here since this was added at the bottom of the stairs:


An excellent Christmas Duck on Mesa Drive (my favorite holiday decoration perhaps ever):


Take-out sushi:


View from my lunch spot:


The really-cool graffiti park that is way bigger than I expected, wow, that's awesome:


I stopped here A LOT - love that TJ's is now in downtown Austin, right off the hike and bike trail.  And my customary mid-workout snack (I'm working on reducing sugar intake, but make an exception for riding/running fueling):


My timing heading home was perfect - I managed to catch the World Championship Beer Mile going on in the Statesman parking lot.  Ridiculous, amazing, and geez, these are some fast runners doing this now.  The leader, downing a mid-race beer:


Taking off for another lap (4 beers, 4 quarter mile laps):


A couple of the chasers:


The winner took it in 4:48, what?!  Not a world record, apparently it was a little too humid for drinking plus running plus breathing all at almost the same time.  Whatever, that's crazy fast.

The aftermath, with the guys mostly keeping their cookies (these are the professionals):


It was time.  I decided to make a serious run at the mileage challenge title.  Only 8 days left, which is a reasonable time frame to focus on something.  I took the week off from everything else and devoted my days to running and/or biking from 8 to 5.  It was like a self-created stage race.  Get up, eat, get out and explore Austin, come back before dark, shower and eat, fall into bed.  For some reason I really enjoy that, a week at a time.  Nothing else to do but run (or bike)!  And figure out where to go tomorrow.

When it was cold (and it got pretty cold), I ran.  When it warmed up (which it did, because this is Texas), I biked.

I ran to Town Lake, up the Greenbelt and out at the Hill of Life, over to Bruegger's, down to Red Bud, back along Town Lake, with a stop at Trader Joe's.  Where I found this on the bathroom wall - fun!  And yes I do!


It's a take-off on a local mural, as is this iconic (but slightly modified) frog:


I spent the next cold day alternating biking (cold feet!) and running (warm up the feet!).  Repeat.  At least the sun was out.

I was excited to spend most of the next day trekking over to McKinney Falls and running/walking all of the trails including the paved loop.  I added some biking at the end, returning to the park to ride the Homestead Loop.  Excellent.

It finally warmed up, so I rode to Westlake, stopped at the Bicycle Sports Shop to replace an almost-slick tire, and then up to Walnut Creek park to try to figure out the trails now that there's a paved path right through the middle of the park.  Should have brought my orienteering map.  And the paved path goes all the way to Mopac, that is so weird.  I found a half-decent route back down through east Austin to cap off the day.

The next day was fairly epic.  First I tried out the new (at least to me) Walnut Creek bike path up the east side of Austin, along the railroad tracks and behind Freescale all the way up toward Manor.  Nice!  Then on roads up to Round Rock, with a slight uphill and headwind.  By the time I reached Dave's house I was starting to wonder if I had enough time to get back before dark.

Proof of arrival in Round Rock (my friends weren't home, I probably should have checked that before I rode all the way up there, but it was still a fun destination):


Happily the tailwind and slight downhill helped me get back to south Austin at a good clip, and I even had time to stop at Kerbey Lane for a pancake.  This sure has been a fun week.

Last big run in Austin - of course, I had to go here:


There was a brass band playing Christmas music at the Capitol, neat!


A sculpture on the UT campus that I haven't seen before (except the version in Las Vegas):


Lunch at Thai How Are You? which I was hoping would be better because I love the name and the pad Thai/sushi bento box idea, but it was only just OK.


Hey Kip, it's a Google bike (sort of)!


Second-to-last day was some running at the Frankston track during our brief Christmas weekend there.  Easy to log a few miles later in the day, and nice for working off some holiday food.

The final day involved Christmas morning with the family, driving back to the Austin, then running in the evening.  I lasted almost to midnight (I had to stay up for something else anyway, so it wasn't completely idiotic) and optimized my mileage challenge time.  My only regret was that I had remembered my mileage wrong and missed a round number by 0.1 miles... as problems go, that's not one of them.

Phew!  A good solid finish to a very interesting month.  Big thanks to Brian for setting this up and maintaining the tracking for a huge bunch of people!

Final tally = 539.9 miles and top overall of 357 people (with a couple very strong challengers)
And top team, with Team Vignette averaging 205 miles per person - go Team V!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Circus 12-hour race

[Most photos courtesy of Spectrum Racing]

Well, it was a wet one!  And a muddy one!  I signed up for The Circus to run in loops for 12 hours, partly because I really like the trails at McKinney Roughs and also for training.  At various times during the day I was "training" for upcoming trails races like Bandera, adventure racing in the rain, and occasionally even a tiny bit for the nasty weather/steep slippery hills of the Barkley.  I have no idea whether I'll ever get into the Barkley again, of course, but the thought of it is always good motivation when the conditions are less than ideal.

Several bright sides - it was obvious that it would be raining all day, so we could prepare.  It wasn't cold (low 50's), actually perfect running temperature.  It wasn't pouring rain, just rain.  I was running loops and could make adjustments frequently if needed.  And there was a warm building - with warm bathrooms - with a covered patio.  That last part made everything way better for spectators and crew.  Like John!

Part of the start/finish area, under gray skies:


Course marking arrow leading runners out on the "pink" 7-mile loop:


I suspect the photographer snapped those two photos during the lull in the rain early on.

The 12-hour solo runners and teams started at 6 am, in the rain (of course).  We had a choice of which loop to start on - 3-mile, 5-mile, or 7-mile.  Finish a loop, get it recorded, pick another loop and head back out.  The one rule, which made everything interesting, was that you couldn't repeat the same loop back-to-back.  How to maximize your miles and finish with the right combination of loops?

That line of thought went out the window when we ran into Joe Prusaitis before the race.  Hi Joe!  It was so great to see him again.  He had the super-awesome suggestion that it wasn't worth running the 7-mile loop - too much deep, sticky mud in the fields.  I had originally planned to start there (before the 30K and 10K runners stampeded through it a couple hours later).  Time to reassess and think about sticking to the 3- and 5-mile loops only.

Well, one decision to make - which loop to start on?  I had no idea what the trail conditions would be like, how my legs would feel, how the trails would degrade after repeated exposure to runners' feet, how my legs would degrade after repeated exposure to mud.  Maybe I could get 50 miles?  Starting with the 3-mile loop would be the most obvious way to reach that goal, so that's what I did.

Starting into the dark, rainy night, I tore off down the trail, trying to catch all the quick little turns right at the beginning.  The trail was great!  For a mile, anyway, nice wide flat gravel.  I scared up a rabbit, that was funny!  Next a double-track road, still good footing.  A runner came by asking how many had started on this loop, not a clue, sorry.  And is this the right way?  Yes, you're going the right way.  Yes, you're still going the right way.  The route was well marked, plenty of flagging along the right side (and along both sides in the out-and-back sections).  You just had to pay a bit of attention in the dark.

Down a long slightly-slippery hill, then into The Swamp (part 1).  The trail along the river was muddy and would only get worse every time someone ran through it.  I managed a combination of running, slogging, hopping, sliding, and eventually got through it.  The uphill on the other side was a bit slick but manageable.

Up to the top of a local maximum (and later a nice view of the river, once it stopped being dark).  I picked up a blue wristband, then continued on trails up and over a ridge, down some fun switchbacks, up another small hill, and back to the excellent gravel trail leading back to the start.  3 miles down!

Let's see what the 5-mile loop has to offer.  The long windy trail along the plateau was in great shape, ins and outs, little downs and ups, fun running.  Oh look, a road.  Oh wait, there's a huge puddle across the whole road.  I tiptoed around the edge, not minding getting my feet a bit wet but trying to avoid the deep wading while I could.

Good road running, and with glimpses of a zipline course that looks like fun.  At one turn the flagging all said to go left, but there was also a "wrong way" sign in the direction - ?  I flopped the sign face-down, figuring the flagging was correct, which turned out to be true.  Over the top of a high point with a nice view, quite lovely.

The trail dropped down into a drainage and along a little creek.  A group of runners was coming back toward me - ?  They thought they had missed the out-and-back and were coming back to look for it.  I assured them (or tried to) that we still needed to go up and over another ridge first, having memorized at least one section of the map beforehand.  Yep, there's the start of the out-and-back section, they had turned around just a short ways from it I'm guessing.

Down toward the river, it was getting light enough to actually see the river now so that was nice.  The first part of the river trail wasn't too bad, as long as you made it down the slippery chute without landing on your butt (somehow I managed).  But The Swamp (part 2) was worse over here.  Once we were right next to the river, the trail was covered in deep mud.  Wading required.  I tried various things like skirting the edges, running through the middle, walking in other footprints, nothing worked.  It was all deep and slippery.  I'm down with going through the middle of puddles if that's where the good footing is, but that wasn't the case here.

And it was an out-and-back, oh goodie we get to do it twice!  I went over and collected a green wristband, then made my way back through the muck.  Eventually I'd start resorting to wandering through the weeds to the side, which was equally slow but at least the ground was solid.  I suspected there might be poison ivy in there (later confirmed that there was, but at least most of it washed off my legs in the rain).

Back out of the mud and up some nice stairs, a good solid climb toward more solid ground and another good view.  The road up top had a lot of puddles, but it was in pretty good shape in comparison to other parts of the course.  After a long gentle climb, it was back to the start.  5 more miles down!

I was running in shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, plus a rain jacket, and that combination (along with the speed I was keeping up) was plenty warm.  A Buff and cap on my head, thin Smartwool socks, that was working too.  The only change I made was swapping my overmitts for a thin pair of Smartwool gloves (just purchased the day before - thank you, REI!).  The overmitts were collecting water, I suspect rain that was running down my sleeves and into the gloves.  Not cold, but not fun to deal with.  The thin wool gloves were perfect for that day.

John and I developed a system where he'd put some water in my bottle, I'd drink some Spiz, we'd record my lap time, and that was pretty much it.  Quick turn-arounds once we got going.  I told him he didn't need to hang around all day just for that, but he found a place inside to do some work while I was running and it was awesome to see him as I finished each lap.

The next part of the morning went great!  I was running faster than I had expected, the rain slowed way down, and it was mostly fun running (except for the swamps, but they were relatively short).  I was so glad Joe had suggested skipping the 7-mile loop.  The 5-mile loop was in great condition (except for the swamp, which continued to get worse) - the road coming back actually dried and had fewer puddles for a couple laps.  The 3-mile loop was not so great.  It kept deteriorating, not just by the river but the entire climb back up.  Slippery gray mud, hard to find purchase to get up the steep slope.  But at least it wasn't raining much.

The 30K runners started at 8 am, doing the 7-mile loop twice.  I did not envy them.  Our friend Art was running, and the photographer got a couple shots of him (I don't see how it was dark, not sure what's up with the lighting in these photos):


And oh yeah, it was raining again - hi Art!


The 30K'ers finished with one 5-mile loop so I saw some of them, but missed Art.  It was fun seeing him after his finish later, and John got to hang out with him for a bit.

The 10K was all on the 7-mile loop (slightly shortened for them), so I missed that crowd entirely except they were waiting to begin as I came through the start/finish area at 9:45 am - hi and bye!

My running was going well and I started wondering if I might be able to fit in an extra loop at the end for 56 miles total.  I had some leeway, but I knew I would be slowing at least a little over the course of the day.  The problem was that this slowing occurred right as the rain came back in force and the trails got significantly worse.  I pushed hard around the 3-mile loop, putting in some extra effort but still losing quite a bit of time because of the mud.  Dang it.  Then the 5-mile loop started getting crappy too!  Mud, mud puddles, sloppy mud, slippery mud, sticky mud, squishy mud.  Hey, I never lost a shoe in it (it was close), that was something.

The photographer didn't capture any photos of me (and it certainly wasn't a priority for either me or John to get our own photos), so here's a stand-in of someone else's feet that pretty much sums up the situation:


I wasn't running quite fast enough to look like this, however:


I finally gave up on the 56-mile goal and figured that 51 should be straightforward as long as I held it together.  I also gave up on the rain ever going away.  It's wet.  It's muddy.  Just run.  The best thing about going through something like this is gaining perspective - because I could honestly say I was happy it wasn't snowing (a la The Bear a couple months ago).  And that it was only 12 hours long.  I knew the hardest part would be the middle miles, and that was true, just get through them.

My acceptance of the situation seemed to help with my lap times too - they slowed to something manageable and then stayed there for the rest of the race.  Wow, I actually could have ALMOST fit in another 5 mile loop if I had been 10 minutes faster overall.  Well, what can you do.  It's not like it mattered.

Actually, it almost mattered.  There was another woman making a run for the top female spot, Lise from France.  Toward the latter part of the race, John started giving me reports of how I was doing, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that I was in 3rd overall and currently the top woman.  In fact, I might have made a mistake in starting with the 3-mile loop.  As it turned out, I would have had time to get 53 miles if I had started with the 5-mile loop instead.  And Lise might have been able to do that too.  Except she went for the 7-mile loop early on, and now the math wasn't in her favor anymore.  Phew, that was almost quite unlucky!  One of the attractions of this race is the fact that it's a "3-ring circus" and there is strategy involved.  Definitely something I would love to try again, especially in better weather  :)

In the end, I had only to finish what I had started - 6 times on both loops plus an extra 3-mile loop for 51 miles.  Lise was far enough behind me (15-18 minutes) and lacking enough time to run an extra loop.  I could (mostly) take it easy on the last 3-mile loop, finishing right past the 11 hour mark and glad (very glad!) to be done.

That was a lot of fun, and that post-race shower was the best!



The relay teams were fun to watch - some very fast runners kicking up all kinds of mud and water while tearing around the course, and a woman who could run uphill in the mud, inspirational.  I was really glad I didn't have to run, stop and wait (and get cold) and then run again.  Kudos to all runners out braving the elements that day!


And I love that one of the teams is named "Taco Cat" (it's a palindrome...):


Thank you Spectrum Racing, and THANK YOU JOHN!  Big hugs (after I got clean and dry).

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tiny House at the Beard Farm

Just a short post to brag about what my in-laws have put together - they built a tiny house!  It's on their farm property, and we think it's really cute  :)

My one tiny contribution is helping them list it on AirBnB - my first listing (and a side plug for AirBnb who makes it really easy to list and book places like this).

Some photos to show off the space:


The open downstairs area which includes the kitchen, living room, and even a TV (on the wall behind me):


Stairs up to the loft:


The downstairs bedroom:


Nice tile work in the bathroom:


The cozy loft:


View down from the loft:


Pastoral scene out the kitchen window:


And a photo of the outside; this picture is already out of date after some recent landscaping work (and Jerry is working on adding an outdoor BBQ grill):


The AirBnB listing is here if you want to see it:
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15720752

Thanks for reading my shameless plug!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Random recent photos

A collection of things we've been doing around Texas lately.

I've been riding around the streets of Tyler, and one notable stop was at the Tyler Rose Garden:


I found an interesting, nonstandard Peace Pole there:


Also a pretty pond and fountain:


And of course, lots of roses:


Finally a bit of sunshine to light up the flowers:


Our first Austin orienteering meet of the year, at Walnut Creek.  It was a bit of a mess, with trails not always matching the map and checkpoints placed in precarious positions.  John adapted the best of all of us (I'm sure he enjoyed it the most too) and came in 2nd overall.  Dave and I saw each other briefly in the middle of the course, before I started floundering, misreading creeks, and attempting a route along the top of a cliff that didn't work.

Here's Dave at the next-to-last control, photo courtesy of John who was hiding and taking pictures of us:


Making a plan to the last control:


And off he goes...


I apparently made up some ground in the second half, because I arrived at the same control just a couple minutes later:


Making a plan...


And away we go:


Hi John!  Displaying my "blazing speed" to the finish line:


Somehow it was enough for 4th place, with Dave just behind me in 5th (out of 10).  Certainly an interesting day, and good practice for adventure racing  :)

More practice - a fun day riding on gravel roads with Sheila and Sheila - thanks for letting me tag along!


My bike finally made it into a photo of "fun things along the roads of Texas" (not sure what Looney Litter is, but the sign sure is eye-catching):


Another day, another workout - this time back to the Barton Creek Greenbelt (yay!), finding trails mostly how I remembered except for a couple small detours, a bit of wet feet training, and a discovery that Bruegger's Bagels isn't all that far from the top of the Hill of Life (especially if you're doing a long run) - perfect mid-run refueling:


Jumping back to East Texas, and a Thanksgiving feast with the family, yum!


It's a good thing I've been doing all that running and riding lately...


John demonstrating the quadcopter to Collin:


Giving the kids a chance to try - and it turns out that a hay field is a perfect place for a hard landing, plus this quadcopter is (so far) pretty indestructible, surprisingly:


A short example of the quadcopter in action:


Fun times!