September 29, 2016

While I'm being positive, and because nominally running blogs do this sort of thing from time to time, here is some music I am presently enjoying. Most of it is screaming. 

Tolkien nomenclature is omnipresent in the black metal scene, which is odd, because the man himself was emphatically Catholic, insisted his most famous work was "essentially Catholic", and black metal... isn't. Most famously, Burzum and Gorgoroth borrow their names from his canon, then scream about satan. Barrow Wight, thus, is something of an overcorrection: A band that takes its name from Tolkien, then writes songs almost wholly in-universe. If that sounds silly--and fun!--that's because it is. It's black metal in the style of proto-black 80's giants like Venom, Celtic Frost, and Bathory. Which is to say, it rocks. 

Black Fast is a bit of a throwback also, insofar as thrash metal basically always is. 

I didn't set out with a theme of "bands that sound like they could maybe be 20-30 years old", but here we are. Venom Prison are death metal without any tech/prog wankery, and a bit of hardcore edge. 

I saw Cloud Rat open for Wolves in the Throne Room last week, which is a bit odd, in that WITTR is one of the more famous (and famously overserious) atmospheric black acts out there, and Cloud Rat is just a ripping grindcore three-piece. I also mistakenly always assume they're a straight edge band, because they are vegan, and those things are weirdly intertwined in my head--at least, when it comes to bands whose genre ends in -core.

Elder is nominally doom, but like many in the genre, take a lot of cues from older psych rock. The opening guitar noodling gives away that much. 

Mgla is impossible to pronounce, less hard to describe. It's modern black metal, that has no interest in gazing back towards Helvete, or playing with other genre's toys. 

Here's an acoustic thing, with clean vocals. I know, right?

September 28, 2016

Worth remembering--and noting--after spending a few thousand words angsting over a bad race: This jogging thing is actually pretty fun. There are worse things than traipsing towards a horizon that looks like a crumpled up white tablecloth soaked with pink lemonade.

September 20, 2016

What we really want

There's a reasonably profound clarity provided by declaring one's self bad at a thing, so it's pretty nice to say that I suck at ultras. Not that I'm especially pleased with that reality--but I am pleased to know it with the degree of certainty that I do. Of course, people have pushed back a bit against that notion, which is both expected and fair. Coworkers who do not run suggest that completing them is transcendent in and of itself, and people I know who have done them simply respect the challenge, and the possibility of failure.

They are all right enough, but I think we must have a certain right of self-determination, when it comes to such things. I have wanted various things when starting ultras, and mostly, I haven't had them when I finished (or didn't).

Of course we first must grant that my expectations were inflated. But I'd suggest that doesn't contradict the stated sucking, but rather is a natural component of it. Optimally training for an event gives one a pretty good picture of what is possible, and then proper execution makes is real. If I expected too much, it's because I failed at one or both of these components.

Addressing the second point first, because it's a short answer: I pace like an idiot.

On training, I could actually write even less: Specificity matters.

Not really a shock, that. And it's something I knew, but to be human is to be capable of a pretty staggering degree of hypocrisy and self-delusion. So that which I would suggest to others is not that which I have done consistently. Simply, I've been unwilling to abandon my "template" week. You know what this looks like without my telling you: Track on Tuesdays (or hills), Tempo on Thursday, a long run (rarely a back to back) during the weekend, with moderate to high (for me) mileage sprinkled throughout. This is, generally, what everyone does. so it's not that the template itself is in error, as it's my stubborn adherence to a stricter version of it.

People will argue this point forever, so I certainly don't claim the last word on it, but: My long runs aren't long enough, or hard enough, because I don't want to thrash myself so horribly I can't get my other shit in, because god forbid I lose some races during the local summer 5k series (I still did lose one of the four though), and hell, there's a road mile, let's hammer that too, etc.

Prolific masters runner Pete Magill has written that, for most average hobbyists, it's possible to stay in reasonably good shape for 5K to half marathon all at once. The marathon, he suggests, is a different beast. You have to sacrifice some things if you're going to tackle it. He's not written about ultras (that I know of), but I can only imagine that's even more true as the mileage increases.

Which is not to say you ignore the faster stuff. But priorities have to shift. Most coaches (I know, I know, there are exceptions) suggest long runs of either half the time or half the distance for 100s, because the race doesn't care who could run a decent half marathon every day for a week, but rather who can keep their legs moving for one day. Maybe there's not any physiological justification for this. I can go on about mitochondrial biogenesis being maximized at 120 minutes--or whatever--but the pain in your legs isn't going to listen. And anyway, there's something to be said for doing what works for most people, most of the time. I'm too contrary sometimes, too willing to think I've got a better idea. That's not always a fault--people at work like that I suggest novel things, for example--but in this case, there's something to be said for the wisdom of accumulated experience.

So for this 100, I hit 30 miles three times, and 20+ more than I can recall. I was in great shape to run a 50K! Probably a good 50 mile, had I not jacked my ankle. But even if I hadn't done that, 100 was going to be a disgusting, shuffling affair. (This is the part where I acknowledge that some people do indeed crush 100s on nothing but 20 mile long runs. They usually race ultras a lot, though, and have more lifetime miles in general.)

That brings me back to point two, which I (for some reason) addressed first: I could've just paced better. Conservative training can pay off with a conservative race plan. But you can't cash chips you never won.

Having spilled all these words, the logical question is, of course, so what? Are you prepared to do things differently? To that I would say yes, while simultaneously acknowledging that saying a thing isn't doing a thing, and often, there's a massive gap between them. So really, I don't know. My ankle is still clicking around and sometimes burning a bit, so it's all hypothetical anyway. I can say for certain I'm excited about some half marathons this fall and winter, though, and a couple races in the neighborhood of 50 miles in the spring. 100 is a long fucking way though, and it's important to consider whether I want to do it--and do it right--or simply want to have done it.


You know what's cool, though? My dad finished his first marathon at the same event. Proving what I mentioned at the outset, he's not at all happy with his time, but I'm very pleased with it for him.

Also, my cousin finished her first 50-miler the following week (her first marathon too, simultaneously), taking second at the North Face Endurance Challenge, Wisconsin edition. She did not share my specificity problem, doing 30-mile long runs every weekend.

September 12, 2016

I suppose the shortest possible version of this ersatz race report is this: For all my talk about taking any kind of finish I could get, regardless of time, I definitely DNF'd.

The slightly amended version would note that, because the race is generous, I'm simply listed as a 50-mile finisher, because I did at least that much. But I will know that's not what I wanted, as will various others I've told.

I'm not as bothered about this as I perhaps ought to be, for reasons I'll attempt to expand upon, but also because my present concern is almost 100% allocated to the fact that my left ankle is pretty fucked. I care more about my ability to run daily, and race often, than to obtain any single result. And if I've compromised that for any significant length of time, I will be pretty unhappy.

But I am not altogether unhappy as I write this, ticking my left foot back and forth, typing along with the too-loud clicking of that tendon I can feel snapping about. There are several real-life circumstances that, as ever, highlight the frivolity of these manufactured adversities--running isn't life or death, and some things are--but for now I'll stick to the race.

The race was to be a 100-mile trail race but instead became a 100-mile road race that I quite midway. Half of that was my choice. The other half was the rain, and the existent policy for the trails, being in a state park, that no race gets to tear them apart for all potential users.

So we got the rain course: Four 25-mile loops, consisting of a 21/4 road/grass ratio.

I ran the first one in four hours, which was both stupid easy and (probably) stupid fast, given the circumstances. I ran the second in five hours, because the last 15 were basically on one leg. I really don't know what happened to the ankle. It was working until it wasn't, and I don't recall stepping on or in anything. I'm neither mad nor disappointing, so much as embarrassed.

That's not to be taken as a criticism of the local community, but precisely the opposite. Everyone--or as close as humanity allows--in the Lawrence/Kansas City (and broader midwest) trail/ultra scene is awesome, and has been for the five years I've been a part of it. Bombing in front of nice people who are encouraging you by name is worse than doing it anonymously.

And in longer races, I've made something of a habit of it. That's really just the reality, not self-deprecation. I'm very consistent from 5K to half marathon (relative to my slim talents); and against local competition, I'm usually pretty competitive. But, against many of the same people--and, generally speaking, the same regional level--I perform far less well. I've done 14 such races now, and would only suggest three of them went as planned/hoped--whether grading by time or place--so I don't think that can be considered a fluke.

What perplexes me about this is, I'm sort of the "volume guy", locally. I'm usually around 70 miles a week, and in the buildup to this 100, I had ten weeks over 90 miles, with a high of 123. You'd think that would be enough, and yet, it clearly didn't work. I say that because I'm not willing to chalk-up whatever happened to my ankle as a fluke. I didn't step in a hole or on a rock, and more often than not, injuries just come from fatigue exacerbating biomechanical weaknesses.

A casual evaluation would suggest I might have been better off deemphasizing overall volume, and hitting longer long runs. Maybe--probably--I don't pace well. (A four-hour first 25 of my planned first-ever 100 is objectively pretty stupid, after all.) Perhaps there's also something biomechanically "off" that simply doesn't hold up. Shit, maybe I'm secretly hording some sliver of extra intermediate fast-twitch fibers, and would be better off hammering intervals, focusing on 5Ks, and stretching to the odd half.

I don't know, which is ok, because I'm not fast enough to have any sponsors to lose anyway. I don't need to do anything but enjoy it. And I still--despite the last few paragraphs--mostly did.

I like this event and basically everyone associated with it a great deal. No matter how my day goes, it's hard for me to feel too bad about the whole endeavor. A lot of people did have great days, and I'm happy for them. The RD, given the circumstances, did a phenomenal job, as did the volunteers, who had to remark a course and set up new aid stations with less than a day's notice. I've been a part of this event since the first, in 2011, and each has been memorable and valuable to me. This last one will be also, even if I don't quite know how yet.

Still, maybe I should be angry. Maybe I'd train harder or better if I were. But I don't think that's a switch you can flip--and I wouldn't, even if I could. Of course I don't really know what I'll do now at all, besides spin on the stationary bike/elliptical until I can move my left foot in at least one direction without pain.

When that happens, I suspect my ambitions will focus on those shorter distance, which have been kinder to me in the past. Ticking down under 17 on a 5K in a couple months would feel good, hypothetically, and there's a trail 25K in November I'd like to run. Still, maybe I'll just go powerwalk a goddamn 100. But for now, mostly I'd like to run at all, hopefully in a few weeks.

I don't really have a very interesting conclusion to write regarding myself, which is probably for the best, as I should shift focus anyway:

Here are the people who got the 100 done. For now, I still don't know how anyone does it, from the guy who hammered it in 16:16, to the folks pushing 30. These portraits are one of the coolest things the race does, and I'm genuinely thrilled for everyone pictured here, in all their exhausted, filthy glory.

September 2, 2016

I am a week from being a day from running--or walking--my first 100-miler. It is a week from being a day from being five years since I first volunteered at this race, mostly by accident, falling into a hobby which has defined me, in the way that the meaningless things we occupy ourselves with do.

The field is good. It is good although it's local--thus lacking name elites--and it is good because it's local. There is last year's winner, and the first winner. There is the accompanying 50-mile race's course record holder, and the marathon's course record holder. There are people who aren't from here, but mostly, there are people who know this place, have done it or something like it before, and yet are drawn back for reasons I can't articulate but can feel, as I'm one such person myself, being the marathon record holder to whom I just referred.

I don't think I'll win, though, I should say that. Or perhaps I shouldn't, as many people argue you need all sorts of confidence heading into any athletic endeavor, much less one that will, to put it gently, fuck you in several viscerally severe ways. And it's not that I lack confidence, so much as I can read past results, and I know I'm not the best guy there--certainly not at 100 miles.

There is also the fact that, most crucially, I don't really care.

It is a run, or a walk in the park, or some other half-winking understatement that actually mirrors how I feel quite accurately. I want it to be a nice day, perhaps a bit cooler than usual, and I want to enjoy myself while getting it done.

I am not a meme and I just can't register that snarling passion it takes to regard this as the ultimate test of one's self, that running means I can overcome anything, can do anything! :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)


But I do care, in the way that one cares about a thing that does not matter at all, and yet has given life its present contours. I know it is manufactured adversity for a man who has known nothing but a comfortably middle-class white male life. But I know also--because I went to college, see previous sentence--the knots one can get tangled in, attempting to discover, discern, define life's purpose--thanks philosophy classes!

My next post will probably be ex post facto. I really hope I will tell you I didn't quit.