one ugly mudder.

By Monday morning it was evident that Piper Bea had something far worse than the common cold.  Infants can be cranky and sport runny noses with enough frequency to often have it seem the norm.  Piper had crankiness and snot in spades but was listless in a completely unrecognizable way.

All week long we monitored a whip-sawing fever that would leap to 102.9 before vanishing entirely only to reemerge at a heart-stopping 104.  We visited the doctor on three different occasions and had taken the prescribed chest x-rays that thankfully revealed no major respiratory concerns.

Basically, our week looked (and sounded) a lot like this:

At bedtime on Saturday evening and with the prospect of another restless night looming, I was still uncertain of whether I'd make it to the start line of Pretzel City Sports's Ugly Mudder.  Another Ron Horn creation, the Mudder travels the rocky, rooty and, you guessed it, muddy trails of Mt. Penn above Reading, Pennsylvania in all their post-snow glory.

Jefferson had made up his mind to test his knee at the event several weeks earlier and I'd caught the bug myself.  At just a hair over 7 miles, the Ugly Mudder was shorter than the events that I was training toward tackling later in the year, but would be a great chance to see if I had any fleetness whatsoever and an opportunity to "race" early in the season.

Besides, there was a killer hoodie to be had.

We arrived with a good half hour to spare before the 11:00 start time and the place was packed.  Really packed.  I believe that there were nearly 600 signed up beforehand and there were enough walk-ups to push the start time out by a good 40 minutes as the good folks at Pretzel City kept registration open.

That is a whole lot of bodies leaving a start line headed for the beginning section of single-track on a course that consists mostly of the same.  In other words, this was not an event at which to get buried in the pack at the start.  But, true to form, Jefferson and I managed to do just that.

As Ron went over final instructions, I searched desperately and unsuccessfully for cracks in the crowd that might allow passage to somewhere closer to the front of the line.  When the gun went off, I was feeling frustrated and wasted adrenaline because of it.  By mile 2, I was feeling plenty gassed and wondered what the next 5 miles would bring.

Thankfully, I settled into a rhythm and my spirits started to pick up along with my pace.  The course overlapped periodically with the Ghouls n' Fools track and it was interesting to see in full daylight what had been cloaked in darkness back in October.  We passed beneath the storied Pagoda and Reading spread out in all directions below us.  A right turn dumped us back into the woods and off we went, up and down, sometimes on all fours.

Apparently some vandals removed a stretch of trail markers that led to some confusion in the middle of the course.  I'm pretty sure  I covered a small section of trail twice, but that didn't bother me nearly as much as it seemed to those individuals who'd had some hope of placing near the top of the standings.  I suppose there are some benefits to being short on talent.

Late in the course there were some wild downhills that included treacherous footing, loose rocks and tons and tons of thorns.  I had blood pouring from my knees and legs but dodged a real bullet when my shirt bore the brunt of what could've been a wicked goring from a downed tree limb.  I knew I'd totalled the shirt, but it wasn't until I got home later in the day that I realized a huge chunk of the shirt had actually been removed entirely. 

A final unpleasant uphill clamber that mirrored the end of Ghouls n' Fools deposited me at the finish line a couple minutes over an hour from when I started.  Especially considering that I'd boxed myself in at the start and felt fairly miserable a short while into the race, I was rather pleased.  I believe I ended up just outside of the top 30 which is about as close to the top as I can realistically hope to be.  More importantly, I'd had a wondrously enjoyable day on the trail (and before and afterwards) with an extended family of trail runners, including Jesse and Derek whom I hadn't seen together since they began their shared march to tackling a 100-miler.

Erin, Noah, Finn and Jefferson's mum-in-law were waiting at the finish and it was a joy to see the boys light up at the sight of their dad approaching.  As soon as Jeff appeared at the bottom of the last climb, their encouraging shouts drowned out the voices of all the other supporters on the course.

That was awesome and made my thoughts return to Piper.  Though she was asleep when I got home, she woke from her nap with bright-again-at-last eyes and a glorious grin that hinted her illness might finally be on the wane.

I couldn't have asked for a better end to an Ugly Mudder of a week.


lumberjacket (a review of the Mountain Hardwear Dry.Q Effusion Jacket).

In the days just after the turn of the new year, a package arrived for me at work with the promise of it being my lucky day.

Apparently, the kind folks at Mountain Hardwear had either no idea of my slovenly appearance or were willing to risk folks seeing me in their wares in trade for some user feedback on the Effusion Jacket that is bound for the consumer market in Fall 2011.

To be frank, the jacket looked way too sharp for me and my modern lumberjack fashion leanings.  My love of black-and-white does the jacket a cruel injustice by failing to portray it's deep orange-on-charcoal gray coloring.  Various tonal highlights on the torso, sleeves and shoulders provide high reflectivity for night and low-light use without popping off the jacket in a bling-y way that turn me off on other running apparel.

Moving forward, Mountain Hardwear will no longer be partnering with GORE-Tex, instead employing its own proprietary waterproof/breathable fabrics, most notably Dry.Q which it is touting as being superior to other fabrics on the market in its ability to keep the user dry both inside and out by improving on air permeability.  Dry.Q will be utilized in three different offerings with slightly different characteristics based on expected conditions and demands.  The Dry.Q Active on the Effusion Jacket is lightweight, stretchy, extremely breathable and fully waterproof.

Or so the claim.

I decided to not jump immediately to conclusions and instead put the jacket through the rigors before chiming in.

But before I do that, I'll call out some of the other features.

Remaining true to a straight-aerobic focus, the Effusion Jacket isn't overstocked on pockets, offering just a single, low-profile (but sizable) Napoleon-style pocket high on the left chest.  The pocket has nicely accommodated my smallish digital camera and done so in a fashion that keeps me from even noticing that I'm carrying the camera while running.  Which, for the record, is stellar.  The mesh backing on the pocket includes a reinforced pass-through for headphone/earpiece wires that make it ideal for iPods, mp3 players or whatever else those types of things are called.  Additionally, there is a nifty little tab on the collar of the jacket (see below) that I would assume keeps headphone wires out of the way.  I don't run with listening devices any longer but thinking back to when I did, I believe this feature would prove out as a slick addition.

The jacket does not employ true waterproof zippers, but an overlay design provides a protective flap over the full-length front zipper as well as the zipper on the pocket.  I would assume that this will help keep pricing down and may also improve overall breathability.  I'm no engineer, so don't quote me on that but it seems to make sense.

Some jackets seem to me to have too many adjustment points that result only in the extra weight of buckles, closures, etc. and additional manufacturing costs (passed along to the consumer) while only being called into play infrequently.  The Effusion Jacket has a single adjustment point with a drawstring closure placed in an offset position that rests internally on the right side of the jacket.  This placement makes it easy to reach but also keeps it from being a potential annoyance.  I never noticed that it was there while wearing the jacket which is all I ask.

Some people don't like thumb loops.  I am not some people.  For Winter wear (and a good bit of Spring and Fall), I crave thumb loops.  I should clarify.  I actually couldn't care less about the loops themselves, but they are there to pull a sleeve forward and eliminate the space that tends to open up between gauntlet-less gloves and most base layers or jackets.  In some cases, this little bit of extra coverage is enough to keep gloves at home.  The Effusion Jacket has the feature but also an extended cuff that Mountain Hardwear touts as "better than a thumb loop".  This cuff can be pulled over the fingers entirely and serve as a make-shift mitten.  Personally, I didn't find that to be very comfortable but I would employ it in a pinch on colder than expected days.

 Targeted body-mapping makes the Effusion Jacket move nicely with the wearer, bolsters potential wear points and manages overall weight nicely.

Mountain Hardwear is sure to have all kinds of facts, figures, charts, graphs, etc. to back their claims of breathability, air permeability and waterproofness.  As well they should.  Overcoming GORE's looming shadow will surely be a challenge, at least in Dry.Q's first couple of seasons.

This uneducated blogger doesn't have much in the way of figures, charts and graphs so you'll have to take my word on it.  The Effusion Jacket breathes better than anything that I own or have owned.  I should add that despite my lumberjack claims and lack of fashion sense, I don't run in canvas or flannel and do have some performance pieces of which I'm quite fond but less so since my care package arrived from Mountain Hardwear.  We've certainly had more than our fair share of wind in the Mid-Atlantic this winter but none of it found its way inside the Effusion Jacket.  In the past my go-to pieces for wind protection needed to be worn in conjunction with other layers if I also needed warmth or further weather protection.  The Effusion Jacket cut the wind, shed water and held warmth pretty well considering that it is an uninsulated piece.  Yes, there were days when I generated enough heat to sweat inside the jacket but only because of the effort given and the temperature not because the jacket itself wasn't breathable...wrap a furnace in chicken wire and the furnace is still going to be hot.  Right?

Other than getting to test drive the jacket, I didn't get any kickbacks from Mountain Hardwear or promises of any further gear by agreeing to the test drive.  No one at Mountain Hardwear even knows that I bother with this humble blog (though I intend now to share the link) and I was fully prepared to share a thumbs down if I was unimpressed.  In fact, because of the bold claims being made in the presentation of the new Dry.Q technology, I was going to need the jacket to exceed by a healthy margin the performance that I've coaxed out of other pieces.

And, it just so happens, it did.


week seven.

As much as I've enjoyed logging my recent runs, I'm disappointed that I haven't managed more non-log bulletins.  I'm in no position to change that tonight, but here at least is a photo that doesn't consist of a pair of my running shoes and a GPS readout:

I snapped it of Jefferson on Sunday morning as he neared the top of the climb back up from Camp Mack just off of the Horseshoe Trail near Brickerville (I didn't do him or the climb any justice with that camera tilt). He's been battling some knee issues and showing patience I wish I possessed in rehabbing with discipline instead of charging ahead prematurely and ending up on the shelf entirely.

We went a bit further together on Sunday morning than we had for a while.  It was good to have company and be in the woods.  A lot of my recent miles have been roadwork which takes good advantage of my available time but lacks the joy of any time spent on the trail.  Needless to say, getting in two nice trail runs over the weekend was a blessing.

Week seven consisted of a lot of individual runs, but many of these were short on mileage and time required.  Still, the miles added up and I am pleased to have goteen out with enough frequency to make up (somewhat) for the lack of long runs.

Here's the full rundown:

Monday, February 14 - AM Run to work - good pace after 10+ trail miles the day prior.

Monday, February 14 - PM Run home from work - pace dropped off considerably from morning.
Tuesday, February 15 - Short AM run to work after dropping the van off for inspection.

Tuesday, February 15 - Another PM run home from work (van still at the shop).

Wednesday, February 16 - AM run to pick up the disappointment of a van.

Thursday, February 17 - Finally a chance to settle in for a few miles on a meandering run home from work.

Friday, February 18 - Back to work to finish the work week.

Saturday, February 19 - Pre-dawn run up the Horseshoe Trail to Eagle Rock, down to Camp Mack and back through State Game Lands - wicked winds (60 mph gusts!) had littered the trail with limbs and branches.
Sunday, February 20 - Backwards loop of the day before plus additional short loop - legs feel strong.


week six.

My fingers are crossed that this week was the start of a positive trend.

I was able to log a run or more every day of the week save one.  I was pain-free and didn't even experience any of the stiffness I often do on back-to-back days (especially mornings after evening runs).  I felt strong over sustained distances and quick-footed on shorter runs.

I'd still like to inch up my mileage a bit by getting in longer runs and with greater frequency.  With daylight showing its slow, subtle growth towards Spring and with temperatures hopefully beginning to creep upwards, I expect that early morning runs will become easier (and safer) to accomplish.

In the meantime, here are the stats:

Monday, February 7 - Run to work at decent pace - Felt good despite two hard-running days beforehand.

Monday, February 7 - PM Run home - Slight fatigue but no pain.

Wednesday, February 9 - Set the alarm for 5:30 but sat bolt upright before 5:00, ready to run - Pleased to run steady 8:05 pace throughout cold, windy loop in farmlands west of Manheim.
Thursday, February 10 - In contrast to day prior, I decided to really push th pace for the first time this year - Stoked to manage a sub-7:00 pace on the run home from work.

Friday, February 11 - Decided to push again and ran 6:34 pace from home to work - Been awhile since I've covered 3 miles in under 20 minutes.

Saturday, February 12 - Purposely ran slow/controlled after the preceding days but felt strong throughout.

Sunday, February 13 - Slow, steady early morning run on the Horseshoe Trail in packed ice and snow - Included a new variation that added some extra climbing - Fun run.

Sunday, February 13 - Returned to the Horseshoe Trail a few hours later to search for the car key I'd managed to lose on the morning run - Found it perched in the snow about 2.5 miles in and felt good enough to keep going - More heavy footing but the legs felt great (especially after finding the key).


week five.

February has arrived and I'm still trying to find some consistency.  The legs feel great one day and less than good the next (though, thankfully "less than good" has yet to include pain or injuries).  I've been able to sneak in a fair few short runs but haven't strung together long runs.

Still, twenty+ mile weeks are helping to establish a good base for the year ahead.  Dealing with the strange footing of pock-marked ice and enduring the cold should pay dividends later.  Or so I hope.

Here's the recap (excluding two runs that I included in last week's totals):

Wednesday, February 2 - Ran a short, icy loop around Manheim Central HS on my lunch break.
Friday, February 4 - Short session of post-work hill repeats on Power Road.
Saturday, February 4 - Freezing rain and mixed terrain at Middle Creek - The trails demanded post-holing and the roads were treacherously coated in ice.

Sunday, February 6 - Microspikes were mandatory in the rutted, pocked ice at the R2T - Even so the footing was still ridiculous - I'd hoped to log more miles but the 7 I managed was work enough.


"i just wanted to say that i'm a nerd."

In December, I formally laid out my if-all-goes-well race plans for 2011.  It was (and is) a pretty ambitious schedule but leaves some room to sign-up for additional events depending on when they are being held.

Last month, the 2011 La Sportiva Mountain Cup series was announced.  If you're unfamiliar with this series that began back in 2008, it consists of 10 trail races ranging from 10K to marathon distances held between March and August at various sites scattered throughout the country.  Runners tally points based on where they place (closer to first, the higher the points) in their five best finishes in Mountain Cup races and after all races have been run, La Sportiva posts the winning results and award cash prizes.

I've never taken part in a Mountain Cup race and other than a passing curiosity, I wasn't expecting to do so anytime soon.  That changed the second I saw the final date for this year and my determination to get involved solidified as I further investigated the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase.

For the 19th consecutive year, the Mountain Trails Foundation will be putting on this challenging event at Utah's Park City Mountain Resort.  A 16-mile sufferfest, the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase starts at 7,000 feet, gains more than 3,000 feet of elevation by the halfway point and then leaves you with an 8-mile run back down from its 10,400 foot high point.

That description alone was more than enough to pique my interest but travel plans also happened to already be in place that coincided perfectly with the date of the event.  As a gear buyer for Backcountry Edge (http://www.backcountryedge.com/), an online retailer of backpacking, hiking and camping equipment, I would be in Salt Lake City that entire week for the Summer Market Outdoor Retailer trade show.  A little creativity in my scheduling could free up enough time in the morning and afternoon of August 4th to allow me to make the drive up to Park City and the slog up to the top of Jupiter Peak.

I immediately logged onto the Mountain Trails Foundation website and attempted to follow the provided link to register for the event.  With a 400-participant cap and the inclusion of the event as a Mountain Cup event, there was a good likelihood that registration would close long before race day.  Unable to complete the sign-up, I became nearly frantic and fired off a message to the race director.  Minutes later I received a very kind and patient response that pointed out the big bold letters on the event homepage that spelled out the fact that registration opened on February 1st.

I was as apologetic as I was embarrassed.

I marked my calendar and waited.  Having checked back on the Mountain Trails Foundation site to find that registration was slated to open at 12:01 AM on the 1st, I decided to stay up late on the 31st.  Moments after midnight, I logged onto the page and was disappointed to find that sign-up was still unavailable.  Recognizing that the event is being held in Utah, I assumed that I was jumping the gun by a couple of hours and set my alarm for 2:00 AM.

Turns out the registration page is hosted by a west coast administrator.  In other words, I caught another 60 minutes of shut eye before rousing at 3:01 to try again.  As my sleepy eyes adjusted to the light of the monitor, I gasped to see that the beautiful "add to cart" icon had been activated on the website.  A running tally indicated that two other runners had already managed to sign up ahead of me.  I hurried through the registration process, hit "submit" and smiled to find that I was on the roster.

After patting myself on the back for not having foolishly waited until morning, I settled into sleep, dreaming of high altitude adventure.

Roughly 19 hours later, the roster shows that a grand total of one more runner has signed up and there are still 396 slots available.

Boy, am I one sleepy running nerd.  And a happy one.

So worth it.