Saturday, September 16, 2017

Metro Wildlife

I've bounced around the idea of doing a weekly post on wildlife, but as I thought about it more, I decided it would get pretty redundant. Yeah, I see a lot of wildlife, but generally it's the same animals throughout the week. So, instead, it seems better to do a little general post about wildlife.



I've already written a couple posts about my various wildlife sightings, although not nearly as many as I would have thought. If you're interested, you can read them here:
A warning: This post is long. Really long. I've been running in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Area for over seven years now, so there's a lot of wildlife encounters I've stored up along the way.

One of my favorite parts about running is being outdoors enjoying nature. I wish I could run on un paved trails more often, but for convenience's sake, I usually run on the paved sidewalks and bike paths near my house.

Fortunately for me, even running through suburbia, there's a great deal of wildlife within the Minneapolis and St. Paul metropolitan area. Eagan, where I reside, has ample green space. According to the City of Eagan's website, Eagan has 56 city parks, along with a county park and an adjacent state park. I've run by and through many of these parks, and seen an amazing variety of wildlife within the city limits.

Besides Eagan, I also get around the Twin Cities area for other runs. Many are urban, but even on those routes I often end up running along a lake, river, or stream, through a wooded area, or a restored prairie. In 2011 I did a lot of training in Afton State Park, and have run at several other county and regional parks over the past several years.

I don't have a single favorite place to run--either in general or for seeing wildlife. Some runs in places I'd expect to see wildlife--wooded parks, along rivers--end without seeing much of anything. Other runs--through suburban housing developments or near businesses--bring some of the most interesting wildlife sightings I've had while running through the twin cities.

Here's been some highlights of my year so far, along with some past sightings of note:

Mammals:

I see tons of the two most common city mammals--squirrels and rabbits--as well as the semi-common ones--ground squirrels, chipmunks, muskrats, and deer. This year I've seen lots of all of these animals. Though squirrels aren't generally noteworthy, it is interesting to catch sight of a black or white squirrel. One of the coolest squirrels I saw was black, but it had a reddish brown tail--first time I've seen one like that.

I seem to see deer in spurts. Generally I see them early in the morning or later in the evening. Pretty much anywhere there's a patch of trees--even if it's in the middle of a housing development--there's a chance to see a deer. I've gotten pretty close to several deer. One morning I was running through a residential area, and in some pine trees I encountered three deer no more than forty feet away. All three kept munching on whatever they were eating and only glanced at me, obviously not considering me a threat. The other day a deer stood in the middle of the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail and allowed me to walk within twenty yards.

A little less common are raccoon--especially in the daylight hours--but last week I saw one climbing a giant cottonwood tree. I was running around Blackhawk Lake, and I was admiring a tree that's about twenty feet taller than any of the other trees. It just so happened that a raccoon was making her way up the tree as I was looking. I took a second lap around the lake, and when I came by the next time, several park goers had stopped to watch the raccoon moving on the cottonwood's thick trunk.

Beaver are another less common mammal to see--especially within the metro, but they can be spotted in some of our lakes and in the tributaries of the Minnesota and Mississippi. I see signs of beaver--houses, dams, felled trees with the tell-tale beaver gnaw mark--all the time when I run on the Fort Snelling Trail in Eagan, but seeing an actual beaver is pretty rare.

Some mammals I haven't spotted have in the past include a long tailed weasel, red fox, and coyote. The weasel was in Lebanon Hills Regional Park, and I saw it last spring. In was jumping in and out of some brush next to the trail about twenty yards ahead of me. It was pretty cool as I'd never seen a weasel before.

The fox was in what I would consider to be a pretty unlikely place. Central Park in Eagan is not a very "woodsy" park, geared more toward the playground, picnic areas, band shell, and outdoor workout equipment. Still, one evening as I was running near Central Park, a fox appeared on a small hill in one of the fields adjacent to the park. I've only seen a few foxes in the wild, and this one was by far the prettiest. It had a thick, auburn coat with black and white patches on its fur, and it seemed well-fed and healthy. Though I've unfortunately seen some roadkill foxes since, that's the only live one I've seen in Eagan.

Though I've read that there are quite a few coyotes in the metro area, I've only seen a couple. Once I was running on the Highline Trail in Eagan early one morning,. About twenty yards ahead of me a coyote was just standing in the middle of the trail. It stared at me for a while, and I stopped running to take a look at it. The other time I saw a coyote was when Laura and I were running early--before the sun came up--and a coyote was right next to the sidewalk just outside a copse of trees and a drainage pond. Pretty neat. Most recently I saw a coyote running out of a cemetery while I was coaching and running with the Burnsville High School Cross Country team.

Probably the coolest mammal I've seen was a river otter. On the way to the FANS 12 and 24 Hour Race to run a few laps with a couple buddies, I ran past some river backwaters in Fort Snelling State Park. In a pool of water near Lake Snelling, a river otter was floating on its back.


Birds:

I could go on for pages about birds. My friends know me as a little bit of a bird nerd--not only do I actively look for birds when hiking, running, walking, driving, canoeing, or doing pretty much anything outdoors, I also have several bird feeders in my yard.

This post is already outlandishly long, but, as always, feel free to skip the next several paragraphs if you think watching birds is a waste of time, and reading about them is even worse.

There's an amazing variety of birds in the twin cities metro area; raptors, songbirds, and waterfowl are some of the major groups.

I really enjoy seeing raptors when I run. Some of the most interesting are the sharp-shinned, red-tail and Cooper's hawks, barred owls, and bald eagles. The other day I was running on a trail that passes through a wooded area interspersed with some marsh, and on a fallen branch within a few yards of a trail were a crow and a Cooper's hawk. It happened to be one of the few times I was running with my iPod, so I attempted to get a picture. The crow flew away as soon as I stopped, but the hawk moved to a higher branch. Unfortunately, by the time I had the iPod out and the camera turned on, the hawk was gone.

Bald eagle sightings are common. Generally I see them soaring in the skyline, but occasionally they're doing something interesting while airborne. I've witnessed a few engaged in mid-flight acrobatics. Just the other day, I saw an eagle carrying some type of mammal--possibly a rabbit or muskrat. Besides airborne eagles, I occasionally see eagles perched in trees or nests. On a run on a Fort Snelling riverside trail, a fledgling bald eagle squawked, presumably signaling its eagle parents that it was time to eat.

Songbirds are another of my favorites. Scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, cardinals, and various warblers always add nice splashes of color to runs.

A couple years ago was a particularly good year for bird sightings. I saw good amount of birds less common to my part of the metro including pelicans, an indigo bunting, and a cormorant. I've also seen lots of the semi-common birds like oriels, northern flickers, cat birds, yellow warblers, and ruby-throated humming birds.I also spotted a couple pileated woodpeckers.

I always have my eyes open for birds--scanning the trunks of oaks and cottonwoods along the Minnesota River for hairy, downy, and red-breasted woodpeckers; gazing into the distance at the sound of a pileated woodpecker; squinting into the sky wondering what waterfowl or raptor is soaring above my head.

Reptiles

Spring and early summer are a particularly good time for spotting reptiles. Snapping turtles leave the wetlands to lay their eggs on higher ground. Western painted turtles sun themselves on logs and rocks in lakes and ponds. Garner, bull, and fox snakes warm themselves on bike paths and sidewalks.

I never tire of watching a painted turtle stretch its head out, its neck reflecting translucent rainbow hues. Or of a snapping turtle crossing a sidewalk or sitting by its edge, laying its eggs in soft dirt, ready to snap out with powerful jaws at careless observers.

Once, I was running down Blue Cross Blue Shield Road. Across the street from Blue Cross is a large pond. A small snapping turtle had made its way from the pond and up to the sidewalk and decided that the best place to dig its nest was about six inches from the sidewalk. As I ran by, I gave the turtle a wide berth.

...

Some people avoid being alone with their thoughts as they run, or, worse yet, thinking about the running itself. More often the not, runners I pass have earbuds, presumably listening to music, podcasts, or, less likely, recorded books.

I don't mind occasionally listening to music, an audio book, or a podcast, though I mainly distract myself with such things in the winter while running indoors. Occasionally, as I put in more miles and longer runs by myself, I'll take along my iPod and listen to something once or twice per week.

Still, I prefer focusing on my surroundings, and, if at all possible, nature. The varied colors of the sky, the many hues of green in the spring and summer woods, giving way to splashes of auburn, maroon, and reds in the fall--these sights along with the accompanying animals--whether mammal, bird, or reptile--all add to the experience of a run, quieting my inner monologue as I make my way down paths and trails, streets and sidewalks.

Thanks for reading.

Happy running.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Goal Reviews

I maybe should have done this halfway through the year, but I thought I'd come back to my goals to give some progress.

Goal 1: Set a PR at the marathon distance.
  • A PR at Grandma's didn't come close to happening. Illness kept me from training well, but I did manage to run a BQ time of 3:04. 
  • I'm taking another shot at a marathon PR at the PNC Bank Milwaukee Marathon in October.
Goal 2: Break 17 minutes in the 5K.
  • I've run one 5K, and it was in 17:38, so I was nowhere close. 
  • I've been having some better 5K paced workouts, so I think I might have a shot at my next 5K.
Goal 3: Set a new indoor mile PR.
  • This is the one I'm closest to. I ran a 4:55 in January and my PR is 4:52.
  • I might give this another shot in December.
The running season is winding down, and I've only got one more shot at a marathon PR and likely only one more shot at an indoor mile PR. Meeting all three goals will be a stretch, but I'm optimistic.

I'm also going to track my goals a little differently from past years. Since I only have three goals, I'm going to use percentages, so here's how I stand on percentages of goals met:

Marathon PR: My PR stands at 2:50:28, and I ran 3:04:26 at Grandma's, so that gives me 94% of my PR.

Break 17 minutes in the 5K: A 17:38 puts me at 96% of breaking 17.

Set a new indoor mile PR: My PR is 4:52, and I ran a 4:55 in January, so that puts me at 98.9% of my goal.

Looking at my goals this way, I feel a lot better. Although I'm zero for three in meeting my goals all out, I'm averaging 96.3% of meeting my goals.

Tomorrow I run a 5K. It's a pretty casual affair, so I'll probably be running by myself for the whole race. Although it's pretty much going to be a solo time trail, if I run smart I'll have a pretty good shot at breaking 17 minutes.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Another Shot

It's been over a month since I've posted a blog, but I've resolved to do better.

Sometimes, things don't go as planned. Last fall, I was hoping to train hard enough to set a new personal record in the marathon. Also, I was planning on that training cycle being my last try at a marathon PR. Training for a marathon is time consuming. It's not just the weekend long run that can chew up close to three hours--it's also all those days trying to carve out an uninterrupted hour for a training run. Put on top of that some more time for injury prevention exercises, and you're looking at a significant commitment.

During my peak weeks of training for a marathon, I'm putting in between seven and nine hours just running. That doesn't count the time spent getting ready for a run, supplemental exercises, or driving to run somewhere else. So, I figured last fall would be my final go at setting a marathon PR.

Things didn't go as planned. You can read about it in my PNC Bank Milwaukee Marathon race reports. The short version of those reports is that the race was mis-marked, and as a result I ended up covering around thirty miles.

Coming up short of a PR would have been one thing. I told myself that I'd be satisfied with giving it my best effort and coming up short. The thing was, if the course had been marked properly, I would have set a PR. Instead, my official time was over four hours (I haven't even looked it up).

The only silver lining was that I set a new half marathon PR at a build up race during the training cycle, but otherwise it was pretty disappointing.

So, I decided I'd give a PR attempt another shot. Running on an erroneous course didn't seem like I had a fair attempt at a PR, so I set my sights on a PR at Grandma's Marathon. You can read what happened there, but again, things didn't go as planned. Some sort of gastrointestinal issue severely curtailed my training, so by the time the race came a PR was out of the question.

I could have called it quits after Grandma's. Maybe I should call it quits, but I can't help but think I still have one more PR marathon left in me, and I still want a shot at it. I decided to give the PNC Bank Milwaukee Marathon another shot, mainly because it's late enough in the season that I could recover from Grandma's and still have a good training cycle, and because we have some good friends in Milwaukee.

My official training plan started after I finished coaching the Burnsville Cross Country summer running program, but during that time I was running with them almost every day, so it wasn't like I was doing nothing until the plan started. I don't think I'm in quite as good of shape as I was at this point in my last training cycle, but my mileage is high (for me) and my workouts are getting faster.

 I'm crossing my fingers that everything falls into place--that I avoid illness and injury, that the course is properly marked and measured, and that the weather is favorable for fast times.

Run well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Grandma's Marathon: Race Report

Near the finish of Grandma's Marathon

Grandma's Marathon weekend was supposed to be a PR race. After training hard to set a PR at the Milwaukee Marathon last November and having a mis-marked course thwart that PR attempt, I decided to try again for a PR in a spring marathon.

Unfortunately, several weeks into my Grandma's Marathon training, I knew I wasn't going to set a new personal record there either. In the first three months of my training for Grandma's, I dealt with a gastrointestinal issue that reduced my running to two or three days a week as opposed to my normal six or seven. Three months is about 75% of a training cycle, so a PR was out of the question by the time I was feeling better.

So, back to Grandma's Marathon. My weekend started with a ride to Duluth from my friend Brittany. Her, her twins, and I drove through horrendous traffic from Eagan to Duluth. We got to the expo as vendors were beginning to close down, but still within plenty of time to pick up my packet.
After a delicious dinner provided graciously by Brittany's sister-in-law, we talked about running. There were quite a few of us there, and four of us were running the marathon the next day: Brittany's sister-in-law Madeline, and her in-laws, Jen and Wayne. We then settled down for the evening to get some sleep for an early morning.

That morning we all grabbed a quick breakfast and made a short walk to the bus. The ride to the start was in a coach bus rather than the standard school bus, and it was nice to have a comfy ride. At the start was my only complaint about the race: long lines for the porta potties. I was in line for almost forty minutes, and made it to the start line with about five minutes to spare.

My plan for the race was to go out at about a 7:00 - 7:10 first mile and see how I felt from there. Instead, I came out at about a 6:45. I thought to myself, hey, that didn't feel so bad, so I decided I might as well go for a sub three hour finish--about 6:52 a mile.

The course was nice--more rolling hills than I expected, but scenic. There were nice views of forest, rivers, and Lake Superior, as well as the singing of white-throated sparrows. Along the way to the finish, I saw about half-a-dozen people I knew either running or spectating. As we got closer to Duluth, there were more and more spectators along the course, which gave a nice boost.

One thing that was bothering me was the outside of my right ankle. It'd been giving me a little trouble off and on throughout my training cycle, and about seven miles into the marathon it began to hurt--especially when I was running on the cant on the left side of the road. After a while, it felt almost as if a tendon was flapping around in there, but after several miles of discomfort, it pretty much faded away.

With the scenery and the ample runners, the miles really ticked by. Then, it started to warm up. The race had started overcast, but it wasn't long before the sun came out. At that point, I really started to feel the humidity as well. The heat had me drinking more than I had in any previous marathon. Every aid station I would grab a drink of water, then a drink of Powerade, then another drink of water. When I could, I would grab a cup of ice to and pour water or Powerade in that.

By mile 21 it'd become clear I wasn't going to break three hours. Though I'd slowed a little, I was still on pace for a sub-three, but my legs were telling me it wasn't going to happen. For a while I thought maybe a 3:02 would be possible, but I soon gave up on that as well.

By mile 23, I'd decided to be satisfied with a Boston qualifying finish of under 3:05 (later I learned my BQ time is actually 3:10). I came through the finish at 3:04:26, so mission accomplished.

After the race I ran into a running buddy and we chatted for awhile. He hadn't hit his time goal, mainly due to the heat. After we talked, I headed to the food. Unfortunately, my stomach began to hurt. I ate a fourth of a bagel, then gave away my drink ticket to a grateful stranger.

I lay in the grass for about ten minutes, then headed over to find Brittany and her family. I checked on them, watched Jen and Wayne finish, then walked over to a park bench to lie down. An hour or so later, I went over to watch again, but right away I began to feel nauseous. I went back to my bench to rest so more, then made another try at watching the finish. I didn't make it long, and a few minutes later I threw up into a storm drain.

At that point I felt fine. I watched Madeline finish, then we went over to a restaurant near Madeline's house where I had a big dinner.

All in all it was a fun weekend. I did about as well as I thought I could considering my horrible training, and ran my first Boston qualifying time since 2014. Now it's on to my next marathon this fall.








Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Back from a long hiatus

For anyone still following my blog(s), you may have noticed that I haven't posted for months. This was not really intentional--it just sort of happened.

The main reasons I stopped blogging was that my running wasn't going well and that I just wasn't interested.

So, this will just be a quick update, and I'll let you know what's in store for my blogging future. First, the update:

This past year both Laura and I have had some health problems. Thankfully we're both recovered, but for a while things were a little on the hectic side.

My issue was some sort of gastrointestinal problem that had me nauseous almost every day, and sick enough to throw up at least once a week. After numerous visits with doctors and several tests, I was never given a diagnosis. Fortunately, the issue has largely cleared up on its own, so for the last month I've been doing pretty well.

A month, however, is not enough time to get in a good marathon training cycle. For the first three months of my training cycle, I was only running three days most weeks as opposed to the six or seven days I'd normally run during a training cycle. The only fortunate part of my training was that I was usually feeling well enough on Saturday or Sunday to get in a long run (though I was often feeling too sick to run on the other day), and I only missed one long run the whole cycle.

With a terrible training cycle (if you could even call it a training cycle), I had a hard time deciding a race plan for Grandma's Marathon. In my next post, I'll write a quick race report to let you know how it went.

On to my blogging future:

I'm going to continue this blog, which will be mostly about running, but will definitely have some other stuff thrown in as well. The big change I'm making is retiring my coaching blog. I'll still do some coaching, but I won't be advertising or seeking new clients. I'll leave the blog up, so if anyone wants to read any of the posts or contact me about coaching--great.

That's all for now. Run well.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

There's ice ahead and other setbacks

Last week was supposed to be the first week of my training plan for Grandma's Marathon. Unfortunately, it didn't go so well.

Two weeks ago, I went on a final longish run before my official training plan started. It was beautiful in Minnesota--warm enough that I was wearing shorts, a long sleeve, and no gloves. My plan was to run somewhere around ten miles.

The run started out great. That morning we had taken little one-year-old Calvin to baby swimming lessons at the YMCA, so I threw my bag in the car and ran home while Laura drove Calvin. The YMCA is only four miles from our house, so I headed south to run in a u-shape to hit ten miles or so.

I wanted to run a hilly route, which is easy to do in Eagan, but I wanted a really hilly route. There's this nice paved trail called The Highline Trail that has two really steep hills and a couple more gentler ones, so I decided to run there.

 Besides the hills, the other nice thing about running on The Highline Trail is its beauty. It goes through a restored prairie and by a couple of ponds, so there are often birds, turtles (not so much in the winter) and deer to be seen. Though it's not as pretty in the winter, it's still nicer than running along one of Eagan's busy streets.

So, as I was enjoying the hills and the beauty, I came up on a group of walkers. "Watch out," one said. "There's ice ahead."

"Thanks," I said.

The walker wasn't kidding. At the top of a hill there was a twenty foot section of ice shaded by the trees. In my infinite wisdom I thought, OK, I'll just run this section really slowly--I'll keep my strides short so I don't fall. It was a brilliant plan.

Or not. After a few strides, my feet flew from underneath me and down I went. I was able to keep my head up, so I didn't get knocked out, but my back, glute, and pelvis didn't fare so well. I landed hard on my right side, slid about five feet, and came to rest. I'd landed sort of on my lower back, slightly to the right, so the bulk of the force went through the top of my pelvis, my glute, and my lower back--all on the right side.

Unfortunately I was still three miles from home. So, I hobble-ran the last two miles, which gave me pain in my hamstring the next day.

Due to my stupidity, I had to take an entire week off of running--which really stunk because we had amazing weather for three of those days.

But, I was thinking it wasn't a huge deal because my marathon training plan didn't start until the next week. Then, another setback.

Last Saturday night I started feeling nauseous, and by Monday, the first day of my training plan, I wasn't any better. Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting kept bothering me, and last week I only felt good enough to run on Tuesday and missed the entire rest of the week.

Yesterday I finally went to urgent care, and the doctor there sent me to the ER. At the ER, after a CT scan, they diagnosed me with colitis. They gave me some prescriptions for medications for the nausea and stomach pain along with an antibiotic for the colitis.

They also gave me some medication in for the nausea through an IV, and after the third try and second different medication, my stomach finally felt better. After getting out of the ER I was able to eat real food for the first time in four days.

I took the nausea and stomach pain medications this morning, and as of right now I'm feeling pretty good. I'm optimistic that I'll actually get to start training for Grandma's this coming week.

Run well.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Unplugged


Social media use can lead to depression. You heard me right--that mindless scrolling, looking at your friends' pictures, political postings, and status updates can leave you depressed. According to an article from Forbes.com, "Research Links Heavy Facebook And Social Media Usage To Depression," researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have found a link between a high amount of social media use and depression.The study states that, "highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives."

One thing I enjoy about running is the ability to be unplugged. Sure, I sometimes listen to podcasts, recorded books, and watch T.V. on the treadmill, but for the most part I run sans technology. Running unplugged takes me away from the informational stream of social media--Facebook in my case. I wouldn't call myself a heavy user, but I use it often enough that it definitely affects me.

Running unplugged helps me clear my head. I'm not reading news articles posted by Facebook friends. I'm not scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook feed, looking at people's status updates and photos. Instead, I'm spending time in motion, enjoying the outdoors, and being able to think without the "noise" of technology.

Regardless of whether you run or not, I encourage you to spend some time unplugged. It's nice to have a mental break.

Run well.