Friday, April 29, 2011

New dog, old tricks...

Today I decided to take Tephra on her first, by my counting, trail run. She's getting good with our no-leash understanding and we've done enough walking on the streets and paths of Virginia City, since her arrival about 10 days ago, that her feet might be ready for the trail.

My once-a-week Ophir Loop run is a little over five miles, a distance I thought worthy of our first test.  This short route heads through the Yellowjacket mining pit behind my office and joins a steep set of switchbacks to Ophir Grade.  I've read that Comstock-bound elephants once walked this path, but today it was only a little black dog and me.  Once we hit our pace on the grade, a cool wind reminded me of the snow last night and our good luck in the clearing day.  Tephra got the groove immediately as she settled into an easy draft just behind my heels.  She would stay there most of the run.

I had feared she might lose interest or get distracted, and yet it never happened.  Sure, she would pause to catch the scent of something, but I would look over my shoulder and see her pick it up to get back in stride.  I could hear her light feet and an occasional clink of her name tag, always there.

The single snow-fed creek on this section of the grade provides a rare sound of flowing water. Tephra wasn't really interested in it, though I paused to let her test a little pool.  Water isn't her thing, but I expect her interest will increase as the days grow warmer.

Our route turns onto a single-track at three miles out and begins a somewhat technical winding descent back to the Yellowjacket pit.  I love this section.  Where the climb and the grade is calm with wonderful, south-facing views of McClellan Peak and the Sierras beyond, this two miles of single track focuses your attention on proper foot placement among the cobbles and brush as it slices its way across the steep slope.  A grove of juniper is an immediate diversion from the sage and horsebrush that will soon grab the ankles.  And yes, there's a border collie at my heels picking her way at an easy trot; do they really smile?  Too bad our lunch break is finite and soon over.

My original canine partnership began with a run. I noticed a neighbor had begun to express her frustration with her "pet" by releasing it into the front yard. I observed a second release as I was headed out my front door for a run on Peavine Mountain on the north side of Reno, Nevada.  When I confronted my neighbor, she gave a long, sad story about how busy she was and that "this just isn't a very good dog."  So I offered to get her (the dog) some exercise and we leashed up for our first steps together.  On the trail, I broke our physical ties by releasing the leash, but with each step the connection between me and Abbey (not coincidentally, a black border collie) grew stronger.  Abbey ran the hills of Nevada for almost 13 years after that day on Peavine; and always, "she was pretty good, for a dog."

Tephra now takes up the partnership with a steadiness that can only help me improve my pace and discipline; these collies want to work, and if running is our work, then let's do it.  So when I see her ready stance, I'll reach for my shoes.  And we'll go...

Ophir Loop: 5.4 miles (+860 ft); 10.5-minute pace

Note: I'm working on creating some links to my collection of trail maps.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday at Iron Mountain: A brief geography of running

I am not new to running. I understand vaguely that it burns calories, refreshes the mind, and allows us to be in the land around us. I have enjoyed routes in high places, traversed deserts, and stumbled in the darkness of tropical trails. But something changed in all that today. I think I get it.

Recently my brother, an ultra-runner, opened the door to a new kind of running.  Because I knew he was out there covering mile after mile in the hills around Reno, I began to believe I should get out too. Add to this the fact that my parents have taken avidly to the trail and track to augment their backcountry prowess and ensure coming years of good health. So I began running, again, not in a sense of familial competition, but to grasp the challenge and occasional pleasure of the run. And to join in a shared practice with our little team, the Young Mountain Runners.

I now run about four times a week, sometimes reaching 25 miles in that interval.  Hoping to see my weekly totals increase, I clamber out of my office before lunch to break up the day and loosen the cobwebs of concentration. I save Saturdays for what I call a "moderate run", typically another four to six somewhere around Virginia City. I once joined Darren on a "long" one to Fort Churchill and I got in a personal best of just over 17 miles (Darren jogged to a comfortable 30 miles somewhere ahead of me). To my surprise I have started to enjoy the time on the road or, preferably, the trail. Pain creeps in, of course, some days are good, some bad, but I have now been reminded that suffering is optional (borrowing from Haruki Murakami).

Today I set out for an unknown distance with the goal of circumnavigating Iron Mountain, a low volcanic bump east of Dayton, NV. Virginia City, my home, was veiled in a wetness of cold Spring clouds, but a six-mile drive down Six-Mile Canyon brought me to a relatively dry start-point at Highway 50 and the Road to Fort Churchill. Drizzle touched the windshield and teased me as I laced up. It was enough to make me put on a shell, but after this first mile I stowed it away as I watched the clouds retreat to the mountain tops. As the overcast thinned, the desert warmed nicely. The sandy track of the road passed quickly, I thought. Soon I turned to climb the low pass on the eastern side of Iron Mountain, padding through the shorelines of an extinct glacial lake and the dunes of the Carson River. The trail changed at abrupt intervals from packed silt to loose sand to volcanic talus, and the pattern reversed itself as I dropped down the north side of the pass toward Highway 50.
East side of Iron Mountain, north toward Highway 50.
My pace was steady and easy and I soon turned onto a beat-up trace of the Carson River Route of the Overland Stageline. Though marked by little crosses of recycled railroad track (there's an irony here somehwere; the railroad chose another route), the supposed stageline is now a motorcycle highway paralleling 50 and shows little resemblance to romantic visions of horse teams, wagons, and, more often than not, dire emigrants. Thankfully, neither motorcycles nor wagons were on the trail today.

I traversed my route's highpoints along the mountain's north flanks and began to realize that I felt exceptionally well. I was hoping I would hit a total of 10 miles, but I was feeling like I had hardly been out at all. Dark clouds still covered the mountains, but I could see a gap to my house in Virginia City high above me; maybe I should go that way. Although my legs told me they'd been busy, I began to feel something like exhilaration.  It's not quite that. It's more like the feeling you have after you've been laughing one of those good laughs that drowns your breath in spasms, yet now you can finally breathe, but don't think of the punchline because that will bring the fits again; you're happy and you breathe deeply feeling momentarily euphoric. At Iron Mountain, as I jogged up to my end-point at the truck, I endeavored to hold onto that feeling. It is one of the simpler pieces of how and why running becomes a part of our lives. Whether we go around the block, moderately around a hill, or along the physical and mental geography of an Ultra, we come back to the bits of happiness wrapped up in challenging and maintaining our selves.

Get out, and keep going.

Iron Mountain Loop: 10.74 miles (+500 ft); 11-minute pace  (seemed quicker, but trails don't lie)

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's all in the hips

Completed the first physical therapy session yesterday.  I had done the Office Loop of about 4 miles at noon and followed that with a drop into Reno to Peter Barbieri's office.  I always want to see Tony Marek (the magician, says Dez), but I was prescribed to see Jon the PT before seeing Tony.  It's the system I guess.  Jon was very good, however; and I expect I'll soon get him to transfer me into Tony's hands.

Because I had put in a few miles, my back was feeling fine.  Actually better than it had for a couple weeks, outside the time I'm actually running (a great excuse to be pain-free on the trail).  Jon said the yoga work I'd been doing along with running was fine, and that sometimes we simply need a little manipulation.  And boy did that hurt!  Achilles had his heel; I'm doomed by hips and hams of steel.

Feeling a little tightness today.  Have some miles for tomorrow (Darren?).  Have to lay off the golf course this week, keeping things in opposition.  Yet Jim Carter plays left-handed and I could simply change for every other shot, but I got a handicap to think about.  Spring-like, unsettled weather in store anyway, so trails it is; probably as it should be.

Get out.  IWWD.


A New Team Member

Tephra arrived early on Wednesday morning.  She's a bit shy but seems ready to go, getting used to her new humans and the new setting.  Of course, I'll have to get used to trails on a leash, for a while anyway.  I'll drop in a better photo when we get going.  I have already seen her speed in pursuit of our neighborly bunnies, not deadly but in for the chase.  I'm looking forward to a new shadow.