Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cross Training and Date Lines

A shadow of my former self.. Arizona desert in the AM.
So I find myself at that age where you never bounce all the way back. You just do your best with 85% and a Walgreen's Rewards frequent shopper card. You can get pretty far, with lowered expectations and a basket full of Tiger Balm, Moleskin, and Halloween candy. I gimped through the summer and finally decided I had rested enough. Returning to arch support, I find myself able to run. While barefoot walking and even standing left me crippled for days, a 2 lb, 28 mm heal-to-toe drop Saucony, propels me to speeds approaching 6.6 mph relatively pain free. 

My arches are still week. My latest barefoot experiment, performing a motorcycle valve clearance, ended in a three day limp. Suddenly, standing unshod on concrete for 5 hours is out of reach? So maybe running Umstead marathon, months ago, under trained in minimal shoes caused a few lingering issues. But that's ok. I'm embracing the role of a minimal heretic. A barefoot backslider. A perfidious Paleolithic. I love the idea of healthy strong feet. And getting kicked out of grocery stores without shoes on indulges both my freaky and rebellious streaks. But the quality of my clay appears wanting. And the theology isn't worth the sacrifice for me. 

Its back to high heals. Mizuono Waves, Asics Nimbus, Brooks Glycerine, Saucony Triumphs. The big ones that would challenge the most experienced exotic dancers. My closet is going to suffer. 20 pairs of minimals were evicted and three cobwebbed pairs of neutral plus moon boots emerged from under my bed for the first time in four years. Barefoot Josh may issue a foot Fatwā, but I'm willing to risk it. I might need training wheels, but I'm finally running semi-regularly now. And a full 2 inches taller.

This taller version of myself can participate in my favorite American tradition. The collection of little red squares on Garmin maps. I may not be the fastest person in the world, but I'm diligently working on my world footprint. 

a policy of extending one's red squares and influence through running: or mostly running with limited walk breaks if the terrain is really difficult. 

Still limited to a single continent. Hawaii and New Zealand belong to Oceania.

To punish my wife for eating the last of the Lucky Charms, I took her on a three week touring trek of Arizona, the north island of New Zealand, Hawaii, and Las Vegas with only a backpack and a 27 lb carry-on. Cleverly disguised as a combination birthday and anniversary celebration, my secret campaign for tiny red square neocolonialism launched just as my range slowly edged back toward 5 mile runs. My squares were getting crowded, it was finally time to break out of North America.

My rules of engagement are as important as they are arbitrary. To qualify for my map, Garmin recorded squares must:

1. Be a minimum of two miles. 
2. Be run. (With the exception of pausing for a picture, or when safety dictates. Or to consume any food item discovered on said run. Or for amazing views. Or when a bear has the right of way). Pretty much run the whole time, except for times when not running.
3. No HR monitors. Other than the camera and the blood sugar meter and the candy to treat low BS and the passport and/or travel documents and car rental keys and hotel keys; no distractions.

I've marked my territory in some semi exotic places. And gathered gps data. I've run to a glacial summit in the Canadian Rockies, run it's American counterpart in Montana, the Strip in Vegas, across Bermuda, parts of Cuba, Texas, Florida (several at the Mouse's house), a few states on parts of the Appalachian trail, near a few Great Lakes, the Big Apple, and several exotic parts of Durham. I've missed a few. Tragically, my Iceland trip preceded my first Garmin 205 Forerunner purchase by a few weeks, and once I forgot my watch entirely on a work trip to Illinois. My coastal highway tour of Highway 1 and parts of Cali, and Oregon were all surgical boot and no GPS. With few exceptions, though, the Garmin is packed immediately behind my diabetic supplies. 

Running a new city or trail exhilarates me. Its such a personal way to see a new place. The slightly dangerous parts are second only to the private views in permanently etching the experience into memory. I love running with a passport. I love being warned about high bear activity. Or snakes or criminals or police or whatever new thing could get you. I laugh a lot on these runs. Their tough too. The most beautiful places are all uphill and on uncertain terrain and a lot of them have flying criminal snakebear cops. I've had a few close calls. I ran out of water on my glacier run 4 miles away from the trail head and came back beyond dehydrated and more delirious than usual. (Why didn't I put some snow in my empty water bottle at the top?) I've found myself pretty lost occasionally. Hundreds of ankle rolls and many near misses in foreign traffic add to the excitement. Every near miss just enhance the waterfalls, mountain views, herds of wild horses, sailboats, eagles, and once, a naked sunbather. Vacation runs are the only runs I've found more fun than races.

So, my AZNZHILV (Arizona New Zealand Hawaii Las Vegas) running recap and gps red square press into new red square territory:

My company invited me to The Boulders Resort in Carefree, AZ. Carefree other than snakes, coyotes, 110 degree temperatures, and frighteningly high restaurant prices. The opportunity for this leg of the trip arose after I had already purchased and scheduled parts of our anniverbirthday. In spite of the logistics involved reworking the dates and fees for airline rescheduling, we decided to work it in. There really was not much choice. I had no red squares in AZ and I've always been a sucker for a good business meeting. 

I enjoy seeing new places. Its kind of my wife's and I together thing. To maximize my meager means and thereby my exposure to new places and experiences, I tend to sleep and eat frugally. Penny goes along with it mainly because I hide her wallet in the morning when I wake up early for a run. My philosophy always spends money at the spa, then sleeps at the flea bag hotel. Buy a nice souvenir, dine on cans of tuna and trail mix smuggled from home in the luggage. This place was decadent almost to embarrassing and set a horrible new precedent. Here, our bathroom and closet were about the size of my bedroom at home. The minibar was stocked with Ketel One Vodka! My money prefers Popov cut with paint thinner. Afraid to temper our upcoming airport hotel experience in Vegas and to avoid taking on airs, I sagely suggested we sleep on the floor. Penny declined.

The hotel facilities lavished the traveling cross trainer. Hands down, one of the best equipped gyms I've seen. I found it on our second day and used the free weights, row machine, and a self-spotting bench press that allowed me to finally safely max out on weight. The outdoor bug splat shaped pool had a single Olympic lane down the middle. You did have to multiply your laps by 1.15 to take into account swerving around the slightly inebriated obstacles that kept drifting into the lane. The skinnier, less visible, revelers caused me the most issue, as my goggles did not make the weight cut off for luggage and were left home. Overall a very successful cross training outing, with the exception of my new found awareness of what drunk, wet, lane drifting, hairy man feels like. 

Selfie Rock.
The two desert runs I squeezed in were just shy of amazing. Both were taken early in the morning in exhilarating low temperatures. The 4 miler, interrupted by a few pics and a bunny, was long enough to end pretty warm. I discovered a trail ending in a steep climb up several stacked boulders. The second run ended in an OJ Simpson speed chase as 9 hot air balloons drifted toward me. (only neunzig luftballoons shy of a pop song?) Best of all, no snakes. But I did find a skin, to add to the danger flavor. Overall, my first desert runs were beautiful. The colors and shadows were in constant flux, the cacti made it feel authentic, the odd shaped stacked boulders lent a whimsy to the landscape. I did leave with the feeling that desert runs 3 through infinity will likely feel pretty similar. 

New Zealand arrived three flights and a whole in the wall Vegas hotel layover later. The nastiest leg was a 9 hour 20 minute hop where I lost the last of my flight phobia to shear monotony. Though now, I am terrified of coach airplane seats and I strongly suspect a newly developed pretzel bag allergy. My recollection of this part is pretty hazy, due in part, to insomnia, Olde English 800, and a handy Clonazapan prescription for anxiety. In total I flew, bused, delirium tremored, and hobbled for 36 out of 48 hours. The end arrived only after bending several laws of the space time continuum. At some point I crossed the international date line and finally landed in NZ when Elvis was still a delivery truck driver and phones were tethered to a wall. I arrived at our hotel about 12:30 AM. I think it was 5:30 pm, Tuesday July 34th in Raleigh. I combed my teeth, brushed my tongue, and passed out for a period of several moon cycles. 

After emerging from a refreshing coma Penny and I toured the city of Auckland at an airplane seat crushed hip flexor tame 2.8 mph as we re-acclimated to the world of bipeds. We got a set of wheels in the form of the popular Nissan POS SE (I don't know what the SE stood for) the following day and began a whirlwind tour of the North island. Our second day awake delivered us to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. I'll try to spare the travel details and focus on the running highlights. If you wish to know about glowworms or any part of any of my vacations, just ask. I will happily treat you to a 6 hour slide show with interpretive dance of the local customs. These caves were formed from water flow, and other than the glowworms were pretty much just caves. I found the area surrounding them to be magical. 

The whole island is volcanic and the lush green it mothers could make Ireland jealous. The caves butt up to a hiking trail that weds farmland and a lush jungle environment. I convinced Penny that this might be the only trail in the country and left her in the car for a brief running exploration. (Relax she had a book, and I left the windows cracked.) I started running through Jurasic Park like trail for a mile and suddenly stumbled through a few lingering ferns into Kentucky (a more beautiful, less methamphetamine ridden Kentucky. Just focus on the green rolling hills.) One of the most beautiful runs of my life. Too amazing to spoil with bloginess. The pics follow. They can speak for themselves. Or let the Hobbits try.

I managed a total of 4 NZ runs. The green blanket above, and two through cities, which though fun, were not overly remarkable or unique. The last trek was a safari of fun, overreach, exhilaration, and near disaster. On the waning days of our NZ leg I found a trail through the rain forest. 

The Bay of Islands on the northeastern side of the island are in a tropical zone that border the coast. Our hotel, the Copthorne, resided adjacent to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The Reservation of the Polynesian decedents include some jungle trails. I found one at 7:15 PM and assumed I had about an hour until twilight faded into night. On an island without snakes, what could really go wrong? The rain forest trail ranked as nearly magical. The earth was teaming with life. It felt primordial. I quickly lost myself in the soft dirt and green fauna. Even the trees seamed sentient. A dazzling sunset, a waterfall, and a huge jungle chicken combined in awing and overwhelming my better sense of time. Sometime later, I regained my awareness and turned back in the faltering light. My Garmin battery failed when I was just under 2 miles out from trail head. Playing jungle scientist, I discovered the effect of diffuse light on subcanopy trails. My thesis: it gets damn dark fast! It went from funny to serious pretty quickly, but I had my headlamp and I reigned in the pace to account for roots, poisonous frogs, super occult chickens, and cannibal snares. 

A quick selfie pic by an ancient tree became exciting when something overhead started a growl-snarl-yelp-howl. I made a quick last minute will and testament on a close to full speed run. I am uncertain as to whether the legality of an iTouch video made in a foreign country at 10 mph would have held up in our court system. But upon further review, I do know that I successfully gave away my dignity in that video. I arrived at the trail head about 15 minutes after nightfall. Delighted, charged, piqued, anxious; alive. My last NZ run has become the standard for adventure to beat. Its going to be pretty hard to beat mystic yelping giant chicken jungle trail with night chase.  

Just 4369 easy air miles later. We were back in Hawaii. I managed 2 runs in 3 days. For one I conquered 90 flights of steps (6 up and downs in the hotel) for a very not very picturesque Hawaiian concrete landscape view, but it ended on top of the hotel roof for a pretty spectacular finish. And then I had a touch of inspiration insanity. I left my hotel early and ran to Diamond Head Crater. I arrived soon after it opened and before it filled with cameras, water bottles and general public. Public admission without a vehicle is only one dollar. The aerial view of Honolulu, stoking of ego, and the value of a taxi ride saved made the venture as profitable as it was scenic. When added to the miles already covered over the Auckland volcanic field, the emerging fiery volcano pattern reminded me of the Greek Phoenix mythology and my own recent running resurrection. Its been a long slow climb, but I think am starting to feel my wings flex again. Of course, that got me thinking about the University of Phoenix and then I thought about the time I waste on game apps. Could I have achieved a Master's in the amount of time I wasted on CandyCrush? Then I remembered where I was and tried the view again. Just under 6 miles and another beautiful vista enjoyed. 

The Las Vegas Strip provided the venue for the final leg of my three week running tour. I totaled 26.9 total run miles over some 25,000 total traveled miles. A record either in covered ground or my longest time for a marathon yet. I liked the way the numbers worked out. Another marathon still seams pretty far off into the future, but the upcoming Medoc 10 miler trail run seams doable. I am so much better rounded as an athlete (or at least an amateur, approaching 40, with athletic tendencies) than I was when I ran my best time at the Disney Goofy. My body certainly looks healthier. I lost that heroin chic, starving puppy body type that the 5 marathons per year were perfecting. Its of great interest to me what the results of a stronger more well proportioned me will produce when I finally get back to the marathon + distance. Look out front of the mid-pack of the masters age group!

Rotorua Museum, NZ
NZ coast on a morning run.
Best reason to run.

Polynesian geothermal spa. Second only to beer for reasons to run.
Speedo drag suits, second only to thongs for indecency.  

Morning run, ended in a traditional  Burger King and this giant Kiwi.

Diamond Head stairs leading to the crater's peak.

A few more stairs to the top.

Honolulu selfie from the top of the crater.
Diamond head.

Staircase vistas.

Hawaii from the top of the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki.
Serendipity, Las Vegas. The third best reason to run.