Archive for September, 2013

UMKC Regalia 5K

Monday, September 30th, 2013

It’s fall racing season. That’s why you’re getting this newest running post. I only have two more scheduled through the end of the calendar year (so far), so you won’t have to endure this too much longer.

Sunday was the inaugural run of the UMKC Regalia 5K. I went to the University of Missouri – Kansas City for graduate school many years ago. (Also, I attended the University of Missouri – St. Louis for undergrad. At the time, it went by UMSL, which we said was SLUM spelled sideways.) So when I learned that my old school was going to have a 5K run, and that it would be the first time for it, I found I still had a sentimental attachment and signed up.

They had posted the route map more than a month ago, and Libby and I had walked it just to get a sense of the hills and valleys, the shade, the busy intersections, and such. It was a nice loop walk from the campus to the art museum and back, and for the most part, it was downhill for the second half.

But as the race date grew closer, the route had changed. Instead of leaving the campus and rambling through a nice section of the city, the entire 3.1 miles would be run within the campus. It was now an out-and-back course, which meant we would run out to a given spot, turn around, and run the very same course back to the start, which would then be the finish. I’ve done those before, and they’re actually not so bad because you can get an up close and personal view of the route so you can better manage your return run.

It was 46 degrees when I woke on Sunday morning. The race apparel you see in the photo above quickly got modified. I supplemented the UMKC ROOS shirt (the ROOS are kangaroos, which are the school mascot, and the original was designed by a fellow named Walt Disney, who lived in KC for a time) with a long-sleeved compression shirt that I wore underneath. And I replaced the skimpy shorts with my new long running pants, which also weigh about the same as air but do a little better job of keeping a guy warm on a cold morning. I topped it off by wearing a cap on my head. Oh, and I did not wear those mismatched short socks. (I don’t know why my socks are generally mismatched.) Instead I wore my knee-high compression socks. I did this not because they are warmer but because my shin splints have been asserting themselves lately, and the compression socks help relieve that. Everything else you see went with me, including that suspiciously low bib number.

We got to the campus about an hour before the run, which is my usual, anxiety-driven way, and we wandered around a bit. Slowly people were gathering and trying to stay warm. I had my blood pressure taken (it was within the good range) and eyed the apples, bananas, and glazed donuts that were not yet being served. Soon one of the physical trainers from the university gym led a jumping sort of warm up that gave me a head ache. (I would have done better to run around the Quad a few times.) Then we were all herded over to the start as we waited for the gun.

I could tell by the space they had reserved for us to line up that this inaugural race had not attracted a large number of runners. I learned afterward that there were 200 of us, which is not the smallest run I’ve ever done, but may be the second smallest. Thus my low bib number and, I suspect, why the course was changed. They probably couldn’t justify closing roads outside of the campus for such a small run. Anyway, I was nervous waiting there, not because of the run ahead of me but because I had to tell my running watch to find some satellites, and then it had to hold that signal long enuf for the run to get going. (I had to do this twice before I timed it right to be “online” as I crossed the starting mats. Such are my first-world problems.)

And we were off.

The start was a sweet downhill for about a half block, and I was holding back to marshall my energy for a long, hilly run. As a result, dozens and dozens of people were passing me, but not only have I grown used to this, I know that I will eventually pass some of these people as they burn their energy too soon. The university had published the new route within the campus, and I knew what hills we were going to be climbing. Remember, it was an out-and-back course. They had found every hill they could inside the campus, squeezed them into this 5K, and then made us run them. TWICE.

By the first half mile, when we were actually going downhill for a long stretch, several people were already walking. I don’t disdain them because I was certain that I was going to have to walk some of this run too. I knew the hills before me, and I had run too much (and too fast) the day before, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run the whole thing. (Which is a little sad since it’s only 3.1 miles.) But I plodded along, not “feeling it” but throwing one leg in front of the other nonetheless. Not long after this the course turned and I began my ascent of the really long hill. I’d say it was every bit of three-quarters of a mile to the top. It was here I was sure I would need to walk. But I kept plodding, trying to keep my mind off of the growing agony. A nice trick is to look only at the ground directly before me. If I pull my cap low, I really can’t see anything but three or four feet ahead, and even the steepest hill looks flat that way. By this point everyone who was going to pass me had already done so, and I was beginning to pass some runners, which is still a novel experience for me. Also at this point, some of the elite runners were on their return leg and passed me going the other direction, making it look effortless and fluid.

To my surprise, I found myself at the top of the hill not too long after this, having continued to run the whole time. It often happens to me in a run like this that I realize I’m going to finish successfully. It’s usually some combination of understanding how far I have gone in relation to how far I have left and a general sense of how much energy I have in me. That realization hit me as I crested the big hill. There was a short loop ahead of me, and then I would be running down that long hill. But there were two more hills to conquer, so I didn’t run lickety-split down the hill. That might gain me some time, but it would still tire me.

I came to the big turn in the course again and faced the first of the two remaining hills. By then I was running on will power alone. I was determined to run every step of that course, but my body was trying to tell me this wasn’t such a great idea. Will power won that debate and I once again found myself at the top. It was about at this time that I understood that I should have stuck with the skimpy racing shorts rather than the long running pants. I was hot. I might have had a bit of discomfort at the start, but I would have benefited at the end.

Remember how I said that the course began with a sweet downhill? Since we were retracing our steps that downhill became an uphill.

Now, who designs a race with an uphill finish?

That’s just mean.

As I rounded the corner to face this last hill, Libby was there on the sidewalk, shouting out my time. (Note: This is NOT something you do to a runner. They either know their time based on their watch, or they don’t want to know their time.) I might have been annoyed by this had the number she shouted not been so surprisingly good. I had only a few hundred feet to go, and I was still three minutes ahead of my best time ever for at 5K!

Of course, they were a few hundred uphill feet.

The last chords of Pomp and Circumstance were blaring out of the speakers as I hurried up that stupid hill. (Remember, this was a university-sponsored run.) I managed to cross the finish mats just as the last notes sounded. At the time I didn’t know what kind of performance I had turned in. Despite Libby’s encouraging number, I really doubted that I had run it well. The hills had killed me. I felt as though I was doing little better than a walking pace up the big one near the end. I suspected that Libby got the time wrong.

I surrendered my right foot to the man who cut the timing chip off, and I told him I got an F. F for FINISH, which was about all I felt I could be proud of for this run. He appreciated the scholastic humor of it, handed me a bottle of water and sent me on my way. The next person in line handed me a blue and gold graduation tassel, which I thought was a nifty and appropriate alternative to the finisher’s medal many races give.

Libby was waiting for me on the sideline. It was only then that I looked at my watch to see my dismal numbers.

Not so dismal, it turned out. Not bad at all. Great, in fact. On that horribly hilly course, I had set a race PR. I had set a personal record for my fastest 5K in an organized run.* I was amazed. And had I known I was building to such a successful finish, I would have pushed myself much harder out on the course, hills or not.

So, of course, I will run it again next year. And I plan to do even better.

Libby and I wandered through the booths at the finish area. I had intended to get a post-run blood pressure reading, but I forgot about it. That might have been interesting. I hadn’t forgotten about the glazed donuts and managed to eat three of the damn-them-to-hell things before I stopped myself. There were no bagels, and no chocolate milk, which really seems wrong. But there was face painting, though I didn’t take that consolation.

It was a good run. I hadn’t expected to do well, and I surprised myself. I’m just 51 miles from breaking 1,000 for the year. There are miles to be run out there. And I’m going to get them.


*I have actually run a 5K faster than I did at the Regalia Run. In fact, I had done it the day before on my regular Saturday training run. Normally I run these solo and meet up with the club at the end. But for some reason, one of the runners wanted to run along with me. He caught me at mile 1 (of our 4.5 mile run) and we trotted along together for the duration. He’s a much better runner than I, and he had pushed my pace then to an all time fastest 5K (according to my watch, which is pretty much gospel to me). It was one minute and ten seconds faster than what I had done at the Regalia Run, but it was “unofficial” so I’m taking that course PR, dammit!

Skywatch Friday ~ blue sky and green leaves

Friday, September 27th, 2013

My Ozark forest is still green, though the turning isn’t going to be too far off. Already some of the early changers are getting busy: some of the vines and shrubs are beginning to drop bright red leaves.

But the sky overhead on our last visit was a vivid blue. I understand that the sky appears more blue in the fall because there is less humidity in the air. That seems reasonable. But I’ll enjoy the blue whatever the reason.

anybody home?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Here is a fresh look at that critter den opening I wrote about a few weeks ago. At the time I wondered if anyone was still using the den. On a subsequent trip, I found the opening covered with a nicely woven spider web, which certainly implied that the hole wasn’t being used.

But I set up one of my game cameras pointing at the opening, put in fresh batteries and a large-capacity memory card for holding all of the photos I expected to garner, and even remembered to turn it on. After dinner that night I set a plate of beef fat (trimmed from our steaks) on the ground before the camera. I figured even if no one was using the den, some critter was surely going to chew the fat and smile for the camera. In the morning the plate and the fat were still there, but we weren’t for long because we had to get back to faraway suburbia.

About two weeks passed before I was down to Roundrock again, and one of my first chores upon arrival was to hike over to the camera and see what images it captured.

The plate was empty.

So was the camera.

It had not taken a single photo, and I suspect that it is an ex-camera. Seth, who was with me at the time, noted that when the family got me the pair of game cameras, they had purchased the least expensive ones available, thinking that I could upgrade eventually if it became really important to me.

I’ve gotten some fun and interesting shots with the game cameras, but if they are defunct, I guess it is time to upgrade.

And it may be that someone is upgrading the den too. You can see in the photo above that there is no longer a spider web across the opening. I’d like to visit this spot often to see what I can see, but I don’t want to harass whatever resident might be using it.

shady porch

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Sometimes, when I lament that I don’t get out to the Cabin at the End of the Road often enuf, I think about the kinds of things these photos show. Even when I’m not there, someone or something is making use of it.

The photo above shows what we found when we arrived last weekend. Some critter feasted on a walnut on the porch floor. I’ve seen this several times before, and I imagine the porch gives long lines of sight to prey animals so they can take the time to stay in one place long enuf to eat a walnut. Sometimes we find hickory nuts there too.

This upended turtle shell was moved here from our collection several feet away. I’m not sure what any critter would want with it, though when we have turned them over we’ve sometimes found toads and various insects, so maybe some critter was foraging and found something tasty on the underside of the shell, then moved up to the porch to eat.

That makes sense since that’s where the humans tend to eat their meals too.


Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

I think there are probably more little mysteries in my 80 acres than I’ll ever know, much less understand. And much of it lies in sandstone.

I hope you can make out what is really interesting in the photo above. This is an image of a piece of sandstone that I stacked on a larger piece of sandstone (on top of another, larger piece of sandstone). And in it are sure what look like the initials C G. I don’t suppose that is even possible, especially since they are raised letters rather than carved in. But even the possibility of it lets my little mind wander and imagine how that could have happened.

These stones are at the highest point of my woods, in a place where the sandstone bedrock has broken through the surface of the ground here and there, begging me to quarry it and do interesting things, like build walls and such with it. There are some really sweet large blocks that I would love to transport to my fire ring and use as seats, but they are too large for a one or two man effort with a two wheeler. A bobcat is needed, but that will be another job for another day.

So who might CG have been? One of the ranchers from the days when my woods were part of a cattle operation? Someone older? A settler or pioneer? A wanderer who wanted to leave some evidence of his or her passing?

Or, more prosaically, is it just some random moment in the settlement of this sedimentary rock that resulted in what my monkey mind sees as intentional patterns?

Yep, that’s my foot. The CG rock is in the center of the photo, sitting atop a rock that is atop a rock.

late season garter snake

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The things you find when you’re out looking for rocks! We were near the highest point of my 80 acres, scouting for some large pieces of sandstone to use for the wall behind the cabin when we came upon this fellow. I don’t think it was even sixty degrees yet that day when we were out, so I was surprised to see a cold-blooded critter abroad at all.

This is, I’m pretty sure but correct me if I’m wrong, a garter snake. It obliged me to take this photo and then all three feet of it slithered slowly away. I suppose it hadn’t warmed up enuf to make a speedy escape.

When I got back to the cabin to look in the reptile book, I found that there are something like thirty varieties of garter snakes. I might have looked up a more specific account of it, but I was sitting in the comfy chair, trying to soak up some solar energy myself and just didn’t feel the need.


Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

This is a view of the southeast corner of the cabin, about a foot off the ground. Some critter has been gnawing on it and the southwest corner. I’m not sure why. The other corners of the cabin are unmolested, as are the four posts that hold up the porch roof.

The damage is minimal, and with so much that goes “wrong” out at Roundrock, there’s not much I can do but shrug it off. I can’t be there constantly to chase them off, whatever critters they are. And they’re not causing any structural problems that need to be stopped. In fact, they took a few chews out of the corner when the cabin was new then left it alone for several years. Now I see some fresh gnawing, but it looks unenthusiastic. I suppose if it ever became a serious problem I would simply replace the two boards the comprise this corner. Or I could just sand it a little smoother and then stain the cabin, which I really need to get around to doing (but there’s so much running that needs to get done).

The bluish area on the left in the photo is the concrete floor of the porch. The bluish area on the right is part of the foundation and some of the gravel that surrounds the cabin. I’m not sure why my camera does this. I am clearly not a photographer.

turn of the tarp

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

You’ll remember my recent post about how I used the old shelter tarp to kill the grass and scrub that is growing in the gravel around the fire pit by the cabin. I had left the tarp in place for more than a month before removing it, and I’d say nearly all of the growth beneath it was dead. (I tried to take a picture of it, but the sunlight and shadow was so mottled that the point of the image did not come across.) There were a few pale green shoots of grass still lingering, but after I raked away all of the dead stuff, I was able to pull those up easily. On my next trip I’ll probably dress the area with a little fresh gravel and call it good.

In the meantime, the tarp has been moved to another area rank with grassy growth. What you see above is the place where I generally park my truck. The grass was coming up luxuriously there, so it was target number two. I first used the grass whip to cut it down closer to the ground, then Libby and I spread the tarp and laid the scrap lumber over it to keep it in place.

I don’t mind leaving it there for a month again. That seemed to be an effective amount of time. I’ll just need to park my truck elsewhere on the next few visits. And then it will be time to move the tarp to a new area. I love that the old tarp is still finding uses around the cabin.

Plaza 10K – accomplished

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Don’t ask for explanations. I don’t have any. I ran the Plaza 10K yesterday, and I turned in the best running performance I ever have. I blazed past my best time by more than 5 minutes. I’m astonished with myself.

But let me start at the beginning.

I’m always nervous about these “official” races. I don’t know why. A 10K is 6.2 miles, and I do that several times a week on my training runs. Thus I should have seen it as just another run that I’ve done scores of times. Of course, I didn’t. Or couldn’t. Add to this the fact that the Plaza 10K was going to be my 4th run of the weekend. I ran early Friday morning (thus declaring the weekend begun) and did a fine job with 5.3 miles. That was a confidence builder. Then I ran another 5 miles on Saturday morning with the running club, but I took it easy, knowing I had the 10K the next morning. Then I ran again on Saturday night, but only for 1.5 miles at a Dash & Dine the club held. (It had a Hawaiian theme, and my contribution was some Hawaiian beer and a Hawaiian pizza from one of the national chains. The pizza was devoured, but I had to bring most of the beer home. I’ll do something with it, I’m sure.) Anyway, that 1.5 mile run was tough. I think I was probably feeling the effects of the 10 miles I had already done in two days. My aching legs left me worried about the 10K the next morning.

I made sure to get to bed early on Saturday night, thinking that maybe there really was something to the admonition that a person needs sufficient sleep to run well. Still, I woke with no less of the nervousness I’d had all week. Libby, of course, was doing her best to assure me I would do fine. So we got down to the Plaza about an hour before the run was supposed to start. The Plaza, or Country Club Plaza as it is properly known, is the swanky, upscale shopping and dining district in Kansas City. The area is quite beautiful. It’s supposed to be the inspiration for shopping malls, though whether that’s a claim to fame or shame, I’ll leave for you to decide. As Libby and I milled about, we met up with several runners I know from the club, and since we all ran around the same pace, we decided we would run the race together. I knew what that meant, of course. Within the first quarter mile, they would be far ahead and soon after that they would be out of sight. But it was nice to stand around with them and kill time talking about our anxieties. Two of them had never run a 10K before, and the third was coming off of injuries from a bad fall. She even had her ankle wrapped for support.

The race started about two minutes late, which for an event with 3,700 participants is not bad at all. Of course from our place at the far back of the pack, we didn’t cross the starting line for about 5 minutes more. But we were timed by electronic chips we wore on our shoes (except for the barefoot guy who tied it to his ankle), so when we crossed the starting line, that would be when our individual clocks started.

I managed to keep up with my friends for about a quarter mile, but I could feel the burn in my lungs and began to fall back. This, I told myself, was the consequence of the tough 1.5 mile run — and the three beers — of the night before. For maybe a mile I could still see them ahead of me (but only because one of them was very tall), but by then I was concentrating on running my race, which is to say trying to shout down the voices in my head telling me I needed to stop and rest or just stop altogether. I’ve learned that distance running is at least as much mental as physical. I had been telling myself all week that I needed to find a pace that I could sustain for 6+ miles, and I would just need to keep pushing myself to keep going when I got farther along.

Of course I was being passed by thousands of people in the first half of the race. This used to bother me, but I am so used to it now that I don’t much care. It’s not like I am racing them. Just being out there running is still an astonishment to me. So I let them fly by, hearing snippets of conversation or the music from their iPods or the people on the sidelines cheering or the sound of my own breathing. It’s a place I’ve gotten familiar with, and despite the agony of pushing myself physically, I seem to be happy there.

But then something happened.

At around mile 3 I caught up with two of my three running friends! I followed behind them for a while, and I’m not sure they even knew I was there. (We were running into the sunrise at this point, with about a mile and a half of sunrise before us until we turned.) But — get this! — they were slowing me down. I had to slow my pace to stay with them, and that was an odd experience. Clearly they were already feeling worn out by their runs and had slowed. So after a short distance, I decided to pass them. I was going to pass some actual runners! As I did, they spotted me and shouted words of encouragement. I thought they might speed up to stay with me, but being a solo runner by nature, I didn’t pay attention other than to look for bottlenecks in the road ahead of me.

And then something else happened.

I continued to pass runners. I ran at what I thought was a sustainable pace, and runners kept appearing in my field of vision, directly in front of me. (Something like tunnel vision often strikes me on a tough run. I lose focus on details, what’s around me, that kind of thing. Simple math — like how far I need to go to a turnaround point, for example — is pretty much beyond me. And spelling is out the door.) So as these runners loomed into my path, I ran around them. And then the next ones. And the next. And it continued like this for the second half of the race! I was passing other runners. Still passing them when I should have been feeling burned out and staggering on fumes.

But I still had half of the race ahead of me, and I was sure I was going to run out of energy, so I told myself just to run at a pace I could sustain for another three miles. But that pace kept bringing me up behind other runners who needed passing. And I did. I don’t know how to account for this. Where was the energy and stamina coming from? Whose legs was I running on? Who had lent me their lungs?

I don’t want it to sound as though I was breezing along effortlessly. I was not. I was breathing hard and arguing with the voices in my head the whole way. I was pounding the pavement with threats of personal disappointment if I didn’t keep going. I was fighting myself. And at the water stations they still did not have Bud Light!

And I continued to pass other runners. Obviously they had started out too fast and were slowed in the second half of the run. The course was mostly along both banks of a river, so the way was flat and I could see the tall buildings around our starting/finishing point. Thus I knew that I was nearing the end. Yet I still seemed to have the energy to push myself hard, so I did. (I knew what my fastest 10K time was, and it would have been nice to beat it, but I was not paying attention to my running watch. That tends to be counterproductive. Either I’m disappointed in the performance it reports, or I am terrified by the “too-fast” pace it reports and convince myself to slow or even stop. So I don’t look at the numbers until I am finished.)

The last mile of this course diverted from the river for a few blocks and then got on a road heading back to it, with a sweet downhill to the finish arch. By then, the voices in my head had lost their battle. I knew I would finish, and I thought I would finish well. As far as I knew, my two runner friends were only steps behind me, but I was deep inside myself by then, concentrating on squeezing the last bit of performance out of legs. As I made the last turn to the final stretch, I hit the afterburners. I was running hard — and fast. Somewhere in there I heard Libby cheering for me and managed to look up in time to see her on the sideline. And in the last hundred feet, I found even more energy and was really pounding. I haven’t seen the finish photos yet, but I’m sure I had a look of absolute agony on my face. Mouth agape. Eyes wide. Strain everywhere.

And then I was across the finish mats. Beat, but not beaten. I had the timing chip removed from my shoe. Someone handed me a bottle of water.

And then someone put one of these around my neck:

It’s a finisher’s medal. Everyone who ran across the finish line got one, but it’s the first one I’ve ever received. (Sadly, I have relinquished my place as last in my age group. I haven’t won that coveted place in quite a few runs lately.)

I staggered around the finish area for a while until Libby showed up. Then it was time for chocolate milk and a few dozen bagels. The place was packed with runners and their groupies, but we did manage to find the chocolate milk, and I quickly downed two cartons. Then we pushed our way over to the bagels. I had about two bites of one, but it was awful. So I got myself two more cartons of chocolate milk. About then my two friends were crossing the finish line. They had not stayed two steps behind me after all. Somehow I had gotten far ahead of them. (My third friend had finished about five minutes ahead of me, but we never did find her in the crowd.) There were hugs and hand shakes all around, and we all admired the medals hanging from our necks. And though we were all giddy and happy to share our experiences, we also had the rest of our days to begin and parted.

When I got home — and peeled myself out of the plastic compression clothing I wore, took one of the best showers of my life, and snuggled into some soft sweats — and plugged my watch into my laptop, I was able to review my run in better detail. What I found surprised me. During the second half of the race my pace actually increased. I was running faster then. Not only that, but on average, my pace kept increasing throughout the second half. The farther I went the faster I was running. That’s counterintuitive, but that’s what my watch reported. And to be honest, that’s what it felt like as I was fighting my way through those second three miles. I was in agony, but I was also feeling I could do it.

So it was a great running weekend for me, capped by a really transformative run. But the trouble with setting new personal records is that you know you can do it, and so you pretty much have to strive to do even better next time.


sticky situation

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

If you look closely in the center of this photo, you can see what I think is a bald faced hornet, which can be a nasty piece of business if you get one riled. But this one was busy and didn’t pay any attention to the two warm-blooded mammals sitting in comfy chairs on a shady porch not five feet away.

The tree the hornet is on stands in front of the cabin on the southwest corner. It’s a double-trunked tree, and I thought that by now it would be dead since the cabin’s slab rests on its roots. But the builder assured me it would survive, and it has, so that’s a good thing. And as I think of it right now, I can’t even tell you what kind of tree it is. Hmmm.

Anyway, a great deal of sap was running down the side of the tree on our last visit. I suspect some woodpecker had bored some holes in it higher up, either to get an insect or to attract insects to harvest later. I don’t know what that woodpecker would think of this hornet and the others that were with it.

They were busy, apparently drinking the sap, and gave no mind the the fellow with the camera getting in their business. That’s also a good thing.

Good for the hornets, but I hope the tree will be fine. If it did die, it would be a mess to get out of there without damaging the cabin some.

You can see one of the two trunks of the tree in this photo. It’s on the left inside the stone wall. The trunk that had the hornets on it is behind that white oak tree trunk in the foreground.