Sunday, April 28, 2013

Social Media Humanizes the Competition

Normally when someone asks me a question, I try to see both sides of the picture. I avoid choosing an answer because, at the end of the day, I want everyone to agree with me. Not so with this month's topic posed by Trail Runner magazine in their blog symposium. I finally have an opinion! Social media, though seemingly impersonal, humanizes the competition for the interested "masses" and will thus serve to strengthen the trail running community.

I've heard a lot of people, including myself at times, criticize social media. When immature people use the internet as a way to interact, two negative things can happen. Let's get those out of the way. First of all, people can use social media as an anonymous platform for criticizing people. Second, people can become too consumed with the ease of gathering all of their information online and forming opinions without actually meeting and talking to people within the community. Here's the thing, we can't do anything about those immature people but they most definitely form a minority. When these people interact poorly on a social media platform, the majority of people step in to teach them a lesson or a moderator bars them from participating in future conversations.

Okay, now that that is past us, we can move on. It is almost impossible to talk about social media's influence on trail running without mentioning the website started by Bryon Powell, now a contributor for Trail Runner Magazine as well as others. What started out as a personal blog became a running news source and, after a few years, Bryon quit his job to maintain iRunFar full-time. Now it's the website we all know today where we get world-class race coverage and articles by a number of both elite and lesser-known athletes. Other people and companies have used social media to fulfill a similar niche in the trail- and ultra-running scene, but iRunFar is arguably the most well known among the trail-running community.

The amazing thing about iRunFar's contribution to the trail running community is that you can feel like you know an athlete without even meeting them! Through watching athlete interviews pre- and post-race you can know quirks about individual athletes that you would never be able to pick up on through print media alone. At the risk of seeming creepy, you can know things like how Karl Meltzer is, shall we say, quite colloquial... or maybe unedited when he talks. You can know that Geoff Roes is modest and has a gravely voice. You can quite easily see that runners like Rory Bosio or Jorge Maravilla emanate joy in their daily endeavors and it positively impacts their running as well.

Why does this matter? Because knowing these things humanizes these runners who are at the forefront of our sport. Suddenly you can't just make some mean comment in an online forum because if you do, most of the community, including those who have never even met the athlete you criticized will come out in support of that person. People across the country or even in other countries can be united in their knowledge of a given race or certain athletes who are doing well. They are no longer just elites, they are real people who have real feelings.

For the sake of demonstrating my point, let's look at a controversial athlete who was in his prime just before social media became more widespread: Lance Armstrong.  People don't really think of him as a man, he's more a machine, or a symbol of athleticism (among other less positive things). Because not a lot of people really know him personally, and because people generally like to take down the person on top, an overwhelming majority of people seemed happy to see his life's work stripped away from him because he made some really big mistakes. I am most definitely not trying to defend him, but I think if people knew more about him, they might not have felt so noble in tearing him apart.

When Rickey Gates wrote an incredibly humanizing article about Lance in Trail Runner Magazine (January 2013), a lot of people wrote in saying that they were appalled that Rickey wrote a "puff piece" on such a terrible guy. At first I was kind of shocked that people were so quick to criticize both Lance and Rickey. Heaven forbid, that someone reach out to a guy when he's at his low point in life and invite him to go trail running. Maybe if we had seen more athlete interviews with Lance throughout his career and read heartfelt opinion pieces on what he believes about his sport, then people would have responded to recent events more moderately.

In addition to that fact that social media allows people to know top runners more holistically, it also gives people a chance to interact with others who share a passion for the trails. I live in Denver, Colorado right now and I have the luxury of knowing other like-minded runners. But most people don't have that. A lot of people live in places where meeting other trail runners is difficult and meeting ultra runners is even rarer. Even when you go to race, it can be hard to get to know the competition, because everyone is preparing for the race in their own way. Afterwards people are tired and like to retreat to the comfort of talking with their own friends and family. Social media platforms allow us to connect with the trail running community as a whole and on all of those days between races.

If reading or watching an athlete interview doesn't make you feel more invested in an athlete's success, then chances are they have a blog that you can read. Every writer has a different voice and sometime's when you happen upon some athlete's blog entry and you happen to realize that they think about some issue the same way you do, you can feel incredibly connected or perhaps even derive some motivation for your personal training. When I look at an athlete's blog for the first time I like to go back and read the first blog post. Geoff Roes, for example, has been blogging since 2007! It is empowering to be able to look back and see how an athlete has changed throughout the years. You can see how they endure through hardship and how they experience breakthroughs.

Even as you prepare for individual races you can probably find some other runner's blog entry reviewing the race and talking about their experiences. You can see if they plan to run it again and how they are training for it. Some runners even take videos and pictures during a race and put them on YouTube or Vimeo for other runners to enjoy or learn from. If it's not possible for you to become familiar with the course beforehand, using these resources can take away a lot of the race day jitters and can help you plan for race more effectively. Suddenly that person that you may have never met has helped you get the success that you want to achieve for your own racing.

It would be easy to just list a whole bunch of reason's why social media positively effects trail running, but to list them all would take away from the most important reason: Social media brings people together through humanizing other competitors and allowing communication pathways between people across continents, of different abilities, and in varying life situations.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gear Review: Title Nine Stand-Out SWB

I'm a little biased since T9 pays my bills, but I just have to mention this new running skort that I am in love with! At T9 we calls skorts "SWB's" or "Skirts With Benefits." The benefits are many in the Stand-Out SWB including a great print, perfect length, comfortable waistband, lightweight shorties, a roomy zippered pocket, and a concealed waistband pocket. I was slow to warm up to the idea of running in a skirt, but this one isn't too girly. Here's the deets.

Let's start with the print: It's awesome and has pretty much every color imaginable in it besides pink and purple. Perfect - matches everything I own. The hem of the skirt is a gray mesh fabric that weighs it down just a little so that it doesn't flip up on the run. The gray shorts underneath are definitely short. Some people have complained about them bunching a little. I don't really care about this, though, because no one sees the shorts underneath anyway since the skirt stays down so well. And I don't get any chafing from the shorts. That said, if you are a woman that has inner-thigh chafage and/or you are worried about your toddler pulling up your skirt, then check out this longer SWB.

Next up: Pockets! A lack of pockets can make a pair of shorts a no-go for me. When I do a long run or a race and I'm not wearing a vest, then I need enough pocket space for my food. I've been seeing more shorts with pockets the size of gel packets, but lately I've been using Clif Shot Bloks which come in a bigger package (two gels worth of calories per pack). In a race situation I need a pocket to hold ATLEAST 400 calories (or two Shot Blok packs). This SWB has a large zippered pocket that can hold even more than 400 calories! I like that the pocket is zippered so that I can also store a key or something without worrying about it falling out. I was worried that the contents of the pocket would rub against my skin, but it hasn't bothered me so far.

Deserving of it's own section: The Waistband. If you look at the reviews of this skirt, you will see that most people complain about the waistband. When people first put it on, they love the feel and how soft it is. Many women have exclaimed that it makes their muffin top disappear. I don't have any muffin top, but I do appreciate that it doesn't dig into my skin. The problem I have is that it starts to fall down as I run, especially when I'm cruising downhill. The other day when I was coming down Mt. Falcon I literally had to hold my skirt up for the last 4 miles. This problem was easily solved in two minutes by adding in a drawstring. I like my drawstring on the outside so that it doesn't dig into my skin, so I just cut two small hole and easily strung a tie through. The waistband channel is seam-free on the inside and so it literally took 60 seconds to string it through. Now the skirt is perfect! The waistband does pill a little bit, but I don't care. I'm running, not getting dinner at a country club.

My added drawstring

Overall I would say this is my ideal running bottom. And I'm a pretty tough consumer to please. With a few adjustments, this sucker is ready to wear to a race. You can buy this pretty little thing here.

We need the precipitation, but why does it have to be snow?

It's just another day off from work in a line-up of other days off where it snowed. I was hoping to hit the trails, but now there is a new layer of snow covering the slushy stuff that had ALMOST melted. Fortunately we were able to squeeze in a long run on Sunday just before the weather changed. We started at the Apex trailhead, went up Argos and around the Grupstake loop, up to the top of Lookout Mountain, down Chimney Gulch. Then we turned around, went back up the mountain, and came back down through Apex Park. It was tiring, full of sludge, and fun. It was warm enough to wear a sleeveless shirt!

Today, I'm trying to hold on to those warm thoughts while looking at pictures from the run. 2.5 weeks until Cory's first 50 miler and 5.5 weeks until my first 50k!

Up Argos and Pick-N-Sledge

View of Table Mountain

Cory on Grubstake

Cory's home-modified bottles: Nathan bottles with Camelbak straws

Cory in the slush on Grubstake switchbacks 

Coming down Sluicebox

View from Hardscrabble

View near Windy Saddle

Heading back up Chimney Gulch

Clear Creek Canyon views

Back down Apex

Back on Grubstake

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring 2013 Top Ten Running Playlist

We've seen a lot of late snow in Colorado this Spring, so I've been utilizing the good 'ol iPod for running motivation. Music is my other love, so here's my top ten favorites to listen to on the run this Spring.

1. When I'm Asleep - Jesca Hoop

2. Houdini - Foster the People (definitely worth watching the music video)

3. Diet Mountain Dew - Lana Del Ray

4. Devil's Spoke - Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Dharohar Project

5. Tulip - Jesca Hoop

6. 25 or 6 to 4 - Chicago

7. It's Time - Imagine Dragons

8. Razorblade - The Strokes

9. Never Going Back Again - Fleetwood Mac

10. Race You - Elizabeth and the Catapult

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Oh Sedona! (I sing this in my head to the tune of My Sharona...)

We spent the last week of March in Sedona, Arizona with my parents, and I was reminded of how the desert can reinvigorate a tired soul. Sedona's one of my favorite places and I would move there in a heart beat if it worked out. The week leading up to Sedona, I was dragging. Every run felt like a chore, but at least I had something to look forward to. Saturday the 23rd was my birthday and we planned to leave after work, but due to a snow storm, we didn't get to leave until the following morning. After seeing many stray dogs in New Mexico, we finally made it to Sedona. Instead of telling this like a story, I'm going to break this up into 3 sections: The trails, the food, and the shops (really the shop).

The Trails

Monday 3/25
AM: ~9 miles. Went from the Chamber of Commerce to Schnebly Hill Road (dirt 4-wheel drive road), up 2 miles and back down to Huckaby trail out and back.
This was a very runnable route with a bit of elevation change. You can also go up to Schnebly Hill via Mund's Wagon Trail, but it is rockier and harder to follow. The 4-wheel drive road is beautiful with water running alongside of it and plenty of shade. There are lots of Pink Jeep Tours that go by, but it's a kick to run alongside and show the passengers that you are having a lot more fun than they are and that you are going almost as fast. The Huckaby Trail is also beautiful and a little more technical. You wind down some rocky canyon edges and come out at Oak Creek.
My dad and Cory enjoying the views while mountain biking up Schnebly Hill.

Tuesday 3/26
AM: 5.5 miles Bear Mountain
Cory and I planned to run Bear Mountain, but we soon learned that very little of it was runnable. It was very technical and steep. Fortunately there are cairns marking the whole route otherwise the trail would be difficult to follow. About 1/3 of the way up you reach a plateau with great views, but it gets even better. Another rocky scramble brings you to another plateau and finally you can see the top of Bear Peak where you are headed. At the 2nd plateau I hit my head on a tree branch hard enough to see stars, but we were so close so we continued on. The view at the top is worth it. 360 degrees and a glimpse of the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks. I found the way down to be more difficult and twisted my ankle badly. I think we were the first up the mountain for the day and it was worth it. As we came down we there was a lot of slower traffic.
We ran into my parents and Mayla on the way back down, just under the first plateau. Mayla was so happy to see us! 

Mayla pensively gazing across the valley. 

PM: ~6 miles Marg's Draw and Broken Arrow back to Marg's Draw and back to the campground
These trails are probably the most under-rated trails of Sedona. I rarely see other people, probably due to heavy off-road jeep traffic nearby. Even though these trails are relatively flat, the views are stunning and the slick rock is invigorating. In my opinion, the best time to run this route is just before sunset.
View near the Marg's Draw trailhead.

Wednesday 3/27
AM: 11-12 miles West Fork Trail
This is probably the most stunning hike in all of Sedona. Plenty of water and lush vegetation surround you with steep canyon walls on either side. The trail map says that round trip should be about 6.5 miles, but it is difficult to know when the trail terminates and every time we've done this hike it has felt longer... not to mention that it takes a lot longer than a 6-miler should. My dad brought his GPS watch and it said that we hiked 12 miles. Not sure if it was quite that long but Mayla was about at her physical limit by the end. We always bring extra socks or water shoes so that we can go an extra mile or so at the end. Most people turn around when the dirt stops, but we wade through the creek. There were still patches of snow so the water was so cold it made you want to pee your pants. Mayla, the anti-water dog, actually seemed to have a great time (probably because we let her off leash).
Family photo on the West Fork Trail.

The water was freezing, but it's worth wading through for these views.

PM: ~8 miles Campground to Marg's Draw to Broken Arrow to Chicken Point and back.
If I lived in Sedona I would probably run this route every day

Thursday 3/28
AM: 3-4 miles Cathedral Rock
This trail is beautiful, but because it is one of the town's major "vortexes" it is annoyingly overcrowded. The problem is that this hike is very technical and a lot of people make the climb who simply shouldn't be on the trail. Near the top there is some class 5 scrambling and nearly everyone heads for the easiest crack which causes a bottle neck. People just keep coming down while people at the bottom anxiously await their turn to get up. There is no organization and nervous dads try to help their crying 6-year-olds while old couples nearly die of a heart-attack hand in hand. As a WFR I might add that it would be extremely difficult to do an emergency rescue on Cathedral Rock. Anyway, if you can get over all of these annoyances, this hike is amazing. The view from the saddle is stunning and it is fun to climb up some of the "harder" cracks and routes and get past the masses. Oak Creek meanders past the trailhead and it's nice to splash around and cool off at the end.
With dad at the Cathedral Rock saddle.

After Mayla stole a little girl's snack, the dad offered to take a family photo for us...

PM: 4 miles Huckaby Trail
While Cory and I ran, my parents enjoyed their last hike with Mayla.

The Food

We have tried a few restaurants in Sedona, but there's one we just keep coming back to: The Oak Creek Brewery. I come from beer country and this brewery makes my favorite beer. All four of us (Cory, me, mom, dad) go nuts for the Orange Blossom beer. Fortunately it is popular enough that they have made it a permanent seasonal beer. It is the most flavorful "light" beer that I have ever tasted. Though they garnish it with orange slices, the beer itself doesn't taste like oranges. It has a robust blossom taste with a smooth vanilla after-taste. I'm salivating thinking about it. The food here is also excellent!
We like sitting outside so that we don't have to wait for a table.

Orange Blossom beer in the moonlight.

If you are doing a hike along Oak Creek Canyon and you need some lunch for the trail, you should stop at Oak Creek Market along 89A. They serve delicious sandwiches, coffee, beer, and pastries (some of my favorites like Rugulach and Hamentaschen). There is a nice garden to sit in in the back and the people take pride in what they make.

The Shop
Sedona has a lot of tourist shops. Skip them and go to The Hike House. The Hike House has a selection of both technical and lifestyle clothing as well as a few hardlines like shoes and packs. They also have a great energy cafe where you can load up on some of the world's best (and biggest) oatmeal cookies, make your own trail mix, and get some smoothies in a hydroflask to enjoy during the heat of the day. But what really makes this place great are the people. Owned and operated by Greg and Gracie Stevenson, a dynamite couple full of life and energy, they go out of their way to provide a great experience for tourists and to make an impact in their local community.  Greg recently came out with a book detailing his favorite trails in the area and they have a well-designed website where you can also find great descriptions of local hikes. If you stop by and Mike is there, he can whip out a map and give you some dynamite route ideas... he used to do more trail-running before he injured his knee and he can tell you where to get in a great run while avoiding the masses.

Bonus Videos of Mayla Being Hilarious
Mayla prancing around like a cat in the bath...

She somehow thinks rolling around on the rocks will make her dry.