Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012 Mid Winter Parkway Ride

     In keeping with my goal of spending more of 2012 being more recreational, I decided to add some photography entries to my blog. I spend a great deal of time running and cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway, yet my experience is mostly documented with just numbers and statistics. The calling to venture outdoors and explore the world around me is a big part of why I do much of what I do, so I am going to do a few picture taking expeditions and document on my blog.

     This first one did not go exactly as planned. My SD card became corrupted and I lost about 15 pictures and 1 video. I may be able to recover them later, but for now here is what I got. <update> I got some free software off the web, Zero Assumption Recovery, and was able to recovery 80% of my lost photography!
Starting out at my door step.
Map of my route.

This is the overpass above Rainbow Forest Dr. I start timing almost all my running and cycling workouts at this location 2/10ths of a mile north of milepost 105. It is about 1/2 mile from my house which is a good warm up distance before doing the high intensity stuff.
 
Short video of the 2nd half of the 1st mile as I am approaching the intersection with 460. Favorite fact about this particular mile is that it is the site of my fastest self timed 1-mile run. It has about 200-300ft of elevation loss and I knocked it out once in 5:35.
Coyner Mountain Overlook a few feet south of milepost 107.

Cow field.
Cow fields are the typical scenery from mile post 107 to 109
Way off in the background is the Bonsack Lowes and Walmart.
I just like this shot. No earthly idea why.
 The 2nd overlook I get to heading south is this view of Read Mountain which is just south of milepost 109. This is the turn around point for my 20 mile Overlook to Overlook Time Trial route.
 Continuing south from the view of Read Mountain is about a mile or so of thick tree cover followed by horse pasture land. The horses were out today.

 Easily the best scenery on the route is here at the bridge over the Roanoke River.

 Right after crossing the bridge is a nice overlook with benches to sit at and a trail down to the river. I took a few pictures there, but they were unrecoverable. Immediately past that overlook is this sign indicating the entrance to Explore Park, a favorite trail running site of mine. I'm continuing straight for now, but I will swing by Explore Park on my way back.
 Many cyclist were out today. I counted 7 in all, 8 including myself. Most vehicles are very mindful of us slower moving cycling types as indicated by the picture below.

 There are two overpasses in the 4 miles south of Explore Park. I photographed both, but the first one was unrecoverable. Straight ahead and to the left on the Horizon is Roanoke Mountain.

 That is Yellow Mountain Rd. below me and my turn around point for my ride today. At this point I have gone just over 14 miles south which places me about 1/4 mile past mile post 118.
 Small streams of water litter the landscape all along the parkway. Many of 'em dry up during periods of little to no rain.
 Approaching Explore Park from the South this time.
Look Ma! No Hands!



 Heading down the steep hill into Explore Park is always a blast! The video doesn't do it justice. I can usually get above 40 mph heading down the hill!
 This is a big landmark for me. The sign in the background marks the start of the 8/10ths mile beginner trail, where I go to run trail laps. I always start at the shown rock and circle it for each lap. When cycling, I do my dedicated Parkway/Explore Park 1/4 century ride and this is my turn around point after crossing the yellow speed bump.
 After exiting Explore Park, there is a nice parking area on the right. Pictured above is the sign and pictured below is the scenery at the back of the parking lot.

Another shot of the Roanoke River. This time on the opposite side of the bridge.

My bike enjoys reading these parkway signs (above). It also likes to hide behind the signs and watch cars (below). These are taken at the Roanoke Basin Overlook across from mile post 113.

Shadow.
Intersection with rt 24
Rangers station across from mile post 112.
Part of the Stewarts Knob trail that runs from the Stewarts Knob overlook to the Rangers Station.
Stewarts Knob parking lot sign (above) and trail head (below).


Glade Creek bridge from the south.

Mile post 107
Seeing the N&W Railroad overlook means I'm almost home!
Approaching the 460 intersection from the south.
The Peaks of Otter is just a 20 mile ride from my house! I really should ride their more often.
Thats mile post 105 in the upper right. The green paint is the chalk outline of a dead body and the red flower was placed there in memorial. I don't have any other details. When it first appeared a few months ago I asked a park ranger if it was legit and he said it was.
Almost finished. Just gotta get past this creepy looking tree and I'll be back where I started almost 2 1/2 hour ago.
Elevation Profile

Friday, January 20, 2012

Observations from a recovering zombie.

     At least two combo meals a day with a steady inflow of soda and snack type foods plus a more traditional dinner on many days. That about describes my typical daily caloric intake from 1994 till 2010. No wonder I was obese and steadily gaining. Many who might read this already know my weight loss story so I'm not going to dwell too much on it, but I do want to mention a few things I learned and some habits that I picked up.

     1) There is no such thing as "good" food. I am amazed to no end at the way main stream society constantly describes any given food as "good". What a joke. Food is a necessary evil. If a social encounter happens to force me into a situation where I must describe a food, then I choose to describe it based on its nutritional value.
For instance, after preparing a meal of steamed vegetable mix, macaroni and cheese, and a 4 oz pork chop, my wife, Denise, may ask..."So honey, how was dinner?" To which I would reply "The overall caloric intake will have to be justified by a 90 minute, high intensity physical expenditure. In addition, there is significant debate with regards to the value of steaming a vegetable that was already perfect in its raw form. The processed cheese sauce will require significant biological resources to metabolize and I question the need for animals as a source of nutrition when most of the nutritional value in animal based products can be obtained from other sources, however, I noticed that at 4 oz the portion was perfect for the sake of variety."

     (Only people who enjoy scientific debate or analysis ask me how I like a given food or meal)

    2) Most of the foods that are widely available and consumed have only existed for a few decades. CDC statistics show a significant growth in obesity rates over just the past few decades. Granted that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but I choose to put two and two together and frown greatly on most modern packaged type foods and restaurants in general. As a rule of thumb, if my grandfathers grandfather wouldn't immediately be able to identify something as a food, then I greet it with skepticism and caution.

     3) Education opportunities are everywhere! Thanks to the internet and netflix, research has never been easier. Google search something before you eat it. Don't believe everything you read. Go to several sources. Go to competing sources. Eventually a pattern will emerge.

     Netflix has many documentaries about food. I highly recommend Food Inc., Super Size Me, Fast Food Nation, Forks over Knives, King Corn and The Gerson Miracle.

     4) Salt, sugar and fat turn people into zombies and/or sheeple. This is perhaps the most shocking discovery that I made. The government will go to extreme measures to make some addictive and habit forming substances illegal, but the most mind altering and health deteriorating stuff on the planet is deposited directly into the food supply. It is easier for me to quit smoking than it was to change my diet away from salt, sugar and fat. Not to mention a ton of chemicals used in processed foods and drinks...the human body was simply not designed to run on this stuff, but people will flock to it like crazed brain dead creatures just to satisfy a craving, and then sit around and talk about how "good" it was...pure insanity!

     5) Exercise alone got me from clinically obese to overweight, after that I had to change my eating habits in order to get down to AMA guideline statistical perfection. I don't know the exact ratio, but at a guess I'd say weight is 70% what you eat and 30% exercise. Notice I said "what" and not "how much". At some point you have to put the brakes on and not be glutenous, but quality is king over quantity. I still gorge a little everyday, but its on foods that kill my appetite, like celery, carrots and cauliflower.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Taking it to the next level...Base Maintenance

     Strength training as a primary disciple ended on Dec 26th which was the start of the week that reestablished my standard run base. I didn't quite achieve all the results that I had set out for during the Nov 13th-Dec 25th time period, but I'm not overly disappointed either. As always my primary goal was just to lead an active and healthy life and I certainly did that as documented in my 2 part (Vitals & Mileage) "By The Numbers" posts.

     Breaking it down further, the Nov 13th-Dec 25th time period was focused on 2 things, marathon recovery and strength training. Marathon recovery essentially meant 1 week of not running followed by 5 weeks of gradually increasing speed and mileage back to a standard level. (Which for me is an 18 mile week consisting of a 4 miler, a 6 miler and an 8 miler. Ideally the 4 miler paces in the 6's, the 6 miler paces in the 7's and the 8 miler paces in the 8's.) These goals were achieved relatively effortlessly.

     My strength training goals during this period were to achieve intermediate strength standards in 5 key power lifts and that didn't go quite as well. I had concerns about the safety of the Power Clean, so I abandoned that lift. With the Bench Press and Military Press I did meet or exceed intermediate standards, but with  the Squats and Deadlift I only made it into Novice territory. I'm not disappointed. I don't lift for sport, but rather just to promote healthy muscle and reduce the risk of injury for my other activities.

     My current training cycle is called Base Maintenance and it lasts from Dec 26th to Feb 13th. During this phase of training my goals are just to maintain what I got with running, focus high intensity efforts on mid range (20-25 miles) cycling workouts on the Blue Ridge Parkway and to plateau my twice weekly lifting routine. I am going to tweak my lifting routine just a bit to include Deadlifts, but Squats and Military Presses are out. I'll be throwing in the occasional swim also just to keep my water skills from getting rusty.

     Feb 13th marks the start of a 10 week training schedule for the Blue Ridge Half Marathon and the next 3 races in the RNUTS races all fall within that schedule too, so while I won't be specifically timing my athletic peaks around the trail races, I do expect to be increasing in running potential during that training phase and peaking on the day of the Blue Ridge Half.

    
   

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 Frozen Toe 10k / RNUTS 1 of 6

     Bloated, haggard and desperate, the middle aged fitness enthusiast approached the start line of the 3rd annual Frozen Toe 10k trail race. The circumstances were less than ideal and the repercussions for a sub maximal finish were extraordinarily high. This was no PR race (to the extent that such things can be discarded). No..., this race was about the very fabric of reality itself!

     Even the most casual of outside observers would inescapably notice that the weak and the infirm had yielded to the hearty and robust for participation in what could easily be considered the Roanoke Valleys premier extreme weather racing event (fate, however, would dictate that unlike in years past, extreme weather would play no role in todays event which rang in at a pleasant 55-60 degrees and clear skies.) Even among the hearty and robust, however, most were unaware of the dynamic forces at play in the Frozen Toe trail race. Perhaps less than a handful knew it was even possible for trail race results to leave the fabric of reality hanging in the balance.
Turns out 24th place does not get a medal, but in a quirk of fate it does get a 21 day supply of the HERBALIFE herbal cleansing program! Thanks HERBALIFE!

     "Reality", thought the enthusiast, "Reality is always changing anyway, so maybe its time for me to adapt to this new reality where guaranteed PR's are a thing of the past." Having failed to PR at the Drumstick Dash 6 weeks ago the enthusiast frequently found himself mulling over race goals and redefining his motivations. Sure, he had spent much of November and December focusing on strength training instead of cardiovascular fitness, so expectations of a PR at today's 10k trail race were far fetched to say the least. Still, this was a race, and mentally he had only one place to go...balls to the wall, give it all you got, don't stop, and cross the finish line on fumes with NOTHING in the tank!

     Realistic expectations could easily be a 49 to 51 minute race based on recent statistics. but realistic expectations wasn't something that the fitness enthusiast had a lot of experience with. Having ran this race every year since its inception back in 2010, the enthusiast wanted to go for a streak. The 2010 time was 58:31, still overweight back in 2010 following it up with a 47:30 in 2011 was a relatively simple task. Two consecutively faster times is nice, but it takes three to officially be a streak worth mentioning.

      With the pre race greetings, warm ups and announcements complete, the athletic field exchanged final well wishes and awaited the start horn...3...2...1...HORN BLAST.

Mile 1 included the 4/10ths mile asphalt stretch for spacing out and approximately 65' of net elevation gain, knocking it out in under 7 minutes was encouraging.
Mile 2 was rolling hills with about 80' of net elevation loss taking it out in 7:21 represented solid effort.
Mile 3 was essentially equal parts gain and loss, running that mile at a slower 7:55 was still consistent with the high end of recent training stats.
Elevation Profile as recorded by my Garmin.

Mile 4 included the most challenging hill climb of the route and around 100' of total net elevation gain...9:08 on that one tackling it with steady effort.
Mile 5 was rolling with about 60' of net elevation gain and running it in 8:08 still represented an above average effort, but the burn was starting to set in from lack of speed training at this distance.
Finally mile 6 and the sprint to the finish had over 100' of elevation loss, but with spent legs,  capitalizing on the elevation loss with faster speeds was not an option so finishing that with an 7:59 pace was not a strong finish, but still respectable given the lack of specific training.

     48:06 was the final time on the clock...36 seconds slower than last year. No PR, no 3 race progressively faster streak...as a matter of fact the only trend developing was one of failing to achieve better year over year results for two consecutive races in a row...reality as he knew it had changed!

     A weaker man, at this point, might give up or walk away from racing for good. Being enthusiastic about fitness in general though had given him insights that separated him from the "weaker man" mentality. "Actually, this was great result!" he thought, "And a great day all around. I ran hard, finished on empty, got to visit with a lot of  my race people and finished 4th in my age group, which is my best age group placement at this race yet!"

     He knew he was making a trade off to spend so much time focusing on strength training lately and he still walked away with a result that exceeded his greatest expectation of 49 minutes. Furthermore, the focus of his fitness strategy would soon be shifting back to speed which could only mean something good was in store for his next race on March 3rd...at Explore Park.

     Yes, reality had changed...with a VENGEANCE!

Final Results:  2012-time 48:06.59, pace: 7:49/M, Place 24/217 overall, 4/21 in my age group, 24/142 among men. Garmin Data Here

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

                                                                                          
     New year = new opportunities to get in shape. Way back in 2011 I started to notice a pattern taking shape that would make training easier to accommodate into my busy schedule of family life/work/house chores and other such comings and goings. That pattern was splitting the year into 4 month segments with the first 4 months focused on trail races, the second 4 months focusing on triathlons, and the final 4 months focusing on street races. This is by no means a concrete plan, but more of an abstract focus for what type of event the majority of my training will be focused on.

     That is just a broad outline for the year ahead, but it is new years day and I want to use the opportunity to establish a more specific goal. I'm not going to call it a resolution because my past resolutions have tended to be idealistic and unrealistic, when the resolution is broken it can be discouraging and it becomes more of a set back mentally. A goal on the other hand is just something to reach for so as long as I'm striving I'm not going to disappoint myself.

     So my big goal for 2012 is going to be to just put a little more focus on enjoying the ride. Fitness is a journey, not a destination. It is easy for me to get caught up in PR's and faster finish times, and finish places, and I still hope to set a few new PR's this year, but I don't want to lose sight of the big picture in the process. I've been hard at this fitness bit for 3 years now and its been extremely results driven. As far as health stats go, I'm about as statistically perfect as a guy can get, so without that motivation I hope to use 2012 to just relax more, move at slower paces more often,and to just enjoy the plateau that I'm currently on. If 2012 shapes up to be just an average year I can be ok with that. Regardless of how it goes, I suspect my best days are still in front of me.