Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bloomsday Blues

Late afternoon light casts a rainbow below Palouse Falls as it rages with spring snowmelt, Central Washington, Olympus E-PM1, Olympus 14-42, 16mm, F8, 1/640 sec, ISO 200
On our way to the Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Washington a few weeks back, my wife and I took a short detour to Palouse Falls. It was a warm spring day and the falls were raging. This 200ft waterfall exposes the layered Columbia River Basalt lava flows that were carved out by the great Missoula Floods thousands of years ago. It was fun to check this place out for the first time, as well as snap a few pics. In the end I liked this vertical composition the best. As tempting as it was to camp out at this spot, we were still a few hours from Spokane and I had to be ready to race early the next morning. It was hard to go, as it was the night of the full Super Moon and I'd brought my 8 x 10 camera to photograph it.

Pre race photography with my Olympus E-PM1. I love that little camera. Photo by Katie Rablin

Until last summer I thought I was completely done with competitive running. I left it behind in '98 after quitting college and never looked back. I think I had a hard time with the structured training required to compete at a high level. It didn't help that the majority of my runs were on roads instead of trails. I wanted to backpack, travel and learn the art of photography. Perhaps it wasn't my time to be a student/athlete. Now, at 33, after backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail (a lifelong dream of mine) and many other trails in the Pacific Northwest, my love for wilderness adventure has led to trail running. I've recently begun combining this with photography and it's like a whole new world has opened up for me artistically and athletically. As someone with a fairly high competitive spirit, my desire to see how I fare running against others is a natural progression of my development as an athlete. Trail running is growing by leaps and bounds here in America and there are more opportunities that ever before to take part in organized races. Distances range from a couple miles to over 100. Some races, such as the Western States 100, have been around for over 30 years. With only a few years left to hopefully compete at a high level, I'm finding myself putting in more miles than ever before. The only reason I find any interest in doing this is that it allows me to be out in nature doing something I love. I wish I could say my first year of real training has resulted in competing in new races and posting fast times, but it hasn't. Yes, I've been on some epic runs and captured some decent pictures, but for the most part it's been a very bumpy road. I had 3 minor soleus strains last fall/winter which kept me out for 4-5 days at a time; a minor strain to my inner quad left me unable to run for a week; and then the "barefoot incident" last January set me back almost 2 months. I had a very good base going into winter so I was able to start back up fairly quickly. After 2 weeks of training I was able to run the Portland Shamrock Run 15km, where I placed 10th. I followed that up with the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 miler a month later, where I placed 4th. If you don't count the Wilson Creek Frozen 50km, in which I stopped at mile 20 after running 12 miles barefoot, Peterson Ridge was my first ultramarathon. It was also the farthest I'd ever run by about 3 miles.

While the Lilac Bloomsday Run was an awesome event, it wasn't a race I was all that focused on. I was simply using it to work on my speed for future ultra's. I was confident I could maintain 5:15/mi pace for the 12km course so I asked to get placed up front with the elite runners. I provided the race director with a link showing my two best times in the Portland Shamrock Run. This qualified me for elite seeding. With 50,000 finishers, the Bloomsday Run is one of the largest runs in the nation. There might have been 50 elite runners up front, some of whom were from Africa. Some of the fastest runners in the world run this race as it offers decent prize money to the top finishers. Feeling more at home running steep mountain trails, I felt way out of my league among many of the runners. That being said,  I still felt I had a decent chance of finishing in the top 20 or 25 which would have required close to 5:00/mi. over the 12km course.

We started off at what felt like a sprint. While my legs weren't used to the pace, I felt quite good aerobically. I hadn't done any speedwork leading up to the race, just hills, hills and more hills, often times with my camera. The small amount of extra weight when running with my camera adds just enough difficulty that when I run without it I feel a little lighter on my feet. The fastest runners immediately sped ahead. I found my place somewhere in the middle of the pack I started out with. The weather was sunny and the air was cool. It was a perfect day for a race. At 5 miles I was feeling awesome. I felt like I actually had something left for a strong kick over the remaining 2 miles. Then at 5 1/2 miles I felt a sudden tinge of pain in my right calf. I wasn't sure what it was at first. I thought it might be a cramp. But over the next 1/2 mile it gradually got worse and I was eventually forced to stop. I felt pretty defeated. It's frustrating when the body doesn't work like it's supposed to. I looked up at the clock and I'd done 6 miles in close to 30 minutes. I was stoked about my time but totally bummed I couldn't continue.

It's been just over two weeks since the race and I still can't run. I found that out the other day by running a mile and having to walk back. To say that it's been a rough start to running competitively would be an understatement. Out of the six races I've signed up for in the past six months I've only been healthy enough to run two. It does make me question what I'm doing. For now I'm going to continue trying to figure out how to get my miles in while staying healthy. As for Bloomsday, I think I underestimated what racing on the roads would do to me when my training has been completely geared towards mountain/trail running. Lesson learned. Next time get at least some speedwork in on the roads or track.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ruckel Ridge-Ruckle Creek Loop

The Ruckel Ridge route up to Benson Plateau was one of the more interesting and fun trail runs I've been on in the Columbia River Gorge. The trail is a consistently narrow, moss covered, basalt ridgeline in the middle of the forest. It climbs 3700' over 4 miles, before leveling out on Benson Plateau. It was my first time tackling the exposed, precipitous route. The trail was primitive but easy to follow. Most of it, while technical and steep, was still runnable; the other 10 percent or so was a scramble. There were a couple really nice hanging meadows lower down which afforded some nice views of the Eagle Creek drainage. These meadows were completely covered in wildflowers when I went up.

Due to the weather and the fact that I was underdressed, it wasn't the most comfortable run I've done. I was soaked and shivering most of the time. Temperatures were in the low 50's down low and low 40's up top. The snow level hovered around 4000'. Wind, showers and hail prevailed, save for occasional sunbreak. During these short sunbreaks Eagle Creek Canyon would come alive in swirling streams of sunlit mist. The last 1000' up to Benson Plateau was steep and unrelenting. The trail was white with hail and the forest was thick and very dark. Once on top I lost the trail under a foot or so of winter snowpack. I went cross country for a quarter mile or so to Ruckel Creek and then up the other side. The snow wasn't as deep here and I could easily see Ruckel Creek Trail. It was a cold and very wet run back down. Here are a couple quick snaps from the climb up.

Eagle Creek Canyon as seen from Ruckel Ridge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M.14-42mm, F7.1, 1/200sec, 42mm, ISO 200

A fir along the rugged slopes of Ruckel Ridge is momentarily backlit against the shaded western slope of Eagle Creek Canyon, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. Olympus E-PM1, Olympus M.14-42mm, F5.6, 1/160sec, 42mm, ISO 200

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Presley's Meadow

I found this small meadow covered in Grass Widow's while on one of my weekly long runs in the Columbia River Gorge. These beautiful flowers added some nice color to the otherwise, cold, soggy, gray day. I stopped to photograph them right in the middle of a 3000 ft climb up Casey Creek Trail. After shooting for about 20 minutes I willed my heavy legs to continue on up to Nick Eaton Ridge. Once on top the narrow 4000 ft ridge I descended through patchy snow back down to Herman Creek.

I'm naming this meadow after my niece, Presley, who came into this magnificent world early this morning. Welcome Presley Renee Fisher!!

Grass Widow wildflowers, drooping from the cold, rainy conditions, carpet a small hanging meadow in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, Olympus E-PM1, 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R, F11, 1/60th sec, 23mm, ISO 320
Grass Widow wildflowers, speckled with raindrops from a passing shower, show off their vivid color under a light overcast sky, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, Olympus E-PM1, 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R, F11, 1/60th sec, 42mm, ISO 400