Sunday, March 15, 2009

Over the runoff and through the woods, a trail running we go

I may never run on a road again. Or at least not when the option of a trail is available.

I went running on the trails of Afton State Park Sunday, approximately 10 miles worth. The trails were covered with compacted snow that was slow to melt. But melting it was. I soaked my shoes, socks and kicked slop onto my calves.

Afton State Park is on the western shores of the Mississippi. The river is protected by bluffs and hills on either side by hills further inland. Afton is bordered on its western edge by Afton Alps Ski hills. Those geographical characteristics appropriately define the trails within the park's borders.

I ran about 10 miles (16.6 km) over the course of 80 minutes. Up and down hills, almost falling hard once. I ended up starting running down a hill that became steep as I descended and slop prevented me from stopping. High step turnover saved me from a fall, and sped me up the immediate uphill.

Uphills on trails are difficult to run and many ultrarunners walk up them. This is in stark difference to hills on road races. In road races, the roads are designed to that cars can safely get up in all seasons. No so with trails. They are designed for walking, at best an ATV or a horse.

Running the uphills was a immensely difficult and draining on my legs. I understand now why runners walk up them. Fatigue is inevitable, but postponing its onset is key (paraphrased). I was shocked by the energy I expended up the hills; that said, I ran up them to prove try and prove a point. I will continue to run up these, but when push comes to shove I will likely walk up them when the 50 miler comes.

All of this is in preparation for the ultramarathons this year. Trail running is a whole different beast that breathed more life into my already over-excited exercise schedule.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Swimming back into academia, and other things

As a student, all things non-academia can take a pretty sharp turn toward "irrelevant" pretty quick. Now is one of those times. A few midterms are fast approaching and being out every weekend for the past six has not encouraged my study habits. But never fear, drafts are being compiled and three full-length gear reviews will drop this week.

On a gear note, for some goofy reason a few discount codes came out for 40 percent off anything at The crazy sale, or fluke, is over now - speculate as you will - but not before some folks dropped some serious cash on some crazy items. Western Mountaineering bags received the discount, as did other stupendously expensive stuff. My brother scored a Marmot Hydrogen for approximately $190 - a steal.

Myself, I ponied up for two items: Patagonia Capilene 1 bottoms in black, as always, and a Mont-bell U.L. Down Inner Parka. As for the Capilene, my current running top (and 3 season hiking top) is a Capilene 1 long sleeve. Thus far, I have found it to be the best base layer material I have ever used, especially for warding off stench. The Inner Parka is a conscious decision to reduce packweight. After reading about how much warmer the U.L. Down clothing is over the U.L. Thermawrap pieces (a must read for anyone ready to finally ditch fleece), I decided take the plunge and pick the Down Inner.

My other alternative was the Ex Light Down Jacket. I knew I wanted a tight-fitting insulation piece, and originally I thought I needed a men's medium - at the time I was perusing Backcountry's sight, they only had the Down Inner in small and Large. After measuring, I once again realized that I am really a men's small for most purposes. Out went the Ex Light, in with the parka.

Although I read through all of the Ex Light reviews on BackpackGearTest, I really, really like hoods on my insulation pieces. The Ex Light is essentially a down sweater that has a single feature - a full front zip. If I am going to do a mid-layer, I have plenty of lightweight fleece jackets to use in winter. So, I really didn't need it.

The addition will save me at least 5.33 ounces over my Thermawrap if you trust manufacturer specs. That number should be higher because the jacket's list weight is for a men's medium - one size larger than mine. I do not think it will significantly affect the weight. The issue now becomes as to when to use which insulating parka.