Monday, November 24, 2014

A Runner's Thanksgiving Holiday Survival Guide

Author's note: The following article was originally published Nov. 21 in the Sierra Sun.

Fall colors on the PCT at Donner Pass

Another Thanksgiving, and your Aunt Marge’s house is already filled with the smell of turkey and pie and the sounds of squealing children, boisterous relatives, and football games on TV. By 3:00 you’ve had your first glass of wine and an unknown number of Triscuits with some weird cream cheese spread.  You’re hiding in the kitchen trying to avoid a cousin who wants to do nothing but talk politics when Grandma corners you to inquire why you still don’t have kids and don’t you think you’re getting a bit old and tick-tock. When you finally sit down with a mountainous plate of potatoes, turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole to accompany a third glass of wine, you realize you’re already exhausted and not even very hungry. At the end of the evening you’re painfully full, incapable of any more polite chit chat, and profoundly intoxicated. You beg your husband to drive and roll out the door, falling asleep on the ride home.

How are you ever going to make it through the holidays?

While I do hope that description doesn’t capture your Thanksgiving exactly, there is very likely at least one element of truth in there for most of us. I love the holidays, but all the excessive eating and drinking makes me feel fat and grumpy. For athletes, it can be an especially challenging time, what with trying to maintain training during a busy schedule while simultaneously avoiding too many See’s chocolates. So, here is some advice for getting through Thanksgiving, and the holidays beyond, with your sanity and your training schedule, if not fully intact, at least not completely obliterated.

When it comes to squeezing maximum workouts into a minimum of time, I suggest modifying your run instead of skipping it. If you nip out for an easy three miles Thanksgiving morning instead of bailing on your workout because you’re too busy, you will be in a better mood to socialize and carry less guilt when you can’t resist that second piece of pie. The same holds true for Friday’s workout. You don’t have to do anything high quality, but nothing cures a hangover like sweating it out on a run. (Not that I would know.) Save high quality workouts for Saturday and Sunday.

If at all possible, try not to overeat. I mean, do as I say, not as I do. If I’m not sprawled on the sofa in pain at the end of Thanksgiving with the top button on my pants undone, I consider it a major accomplishment. But if you have even a modicum of self-control, you can probably avoid this situation. Just remember that you don’t have to taste everything on the table. It all pretty much tastes the same as last year, right? Try to skip a few items, and keep your mountain of potatoes to a mole hill. Also, save room for dessert. I mean, you’re going to eat it regardless, but you’ll be happier if there’s room.

You can also be the instigator for a little more physical activity. Try gathering family and friends for a friendly game of flag football instead of watching sports on TV. More time spent running around on the grass means less time drinking beer! If you suck at football like I do, you may want to push for capture the flag or ultimate Frisbee. I’ve found that those games often favor distance runners in the second half. Most people seem to get really tired, and that’s when good endurance can make up for poor sprinting and crappy hand-eye coordination.

Even if you’re not training for anything specific, it is truly helpful to maintain something of an exercise routine through the holidays. You’ll stay a bit fitter, feel less guilty, and be in a better mood. Plus, a long run is a great way to avoid everything when obligations just become too much.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Savvy Trail Traveler

Author's Note: Because I don't seem to be writing a whole lot of other things at the moment, I've decided to republish some articles here from my Sierra Sun column. The following article was published in the Sun on November 7th, and republished in the November 13-19 edition of the Lake Tahoe Action.

The Savvy Trail Traveler

The last several weeks have offered up some incredible trail running conditions here in the Truckee-Tahoe region. Few crowds mean you will often get even popular trails all to yourself. (Hello, Judah Loop!) Cooler temperatures mean you can run farther without the need to carry water. And, fluctuating weather systems mean you are equally likely to be dazzled by late fall colors as by ice-covered trees and fresh snow. While I would deem these conditions to be perfect, it is also a great time of year to review some safety principles for being out on the trails.

Know where you’re going. This doesn’t mean you should only follow routes that you have travelled before. If you’re headed down an unknown trail, you simply need to do your research. Find out the mileage and what type of terrain you’ll be travelling. Be sure to carry a map! Check the conditions as much as possible before you head out, including the weather forecast. Some trails are in perfect shape this time of year, while others are already buried under snow. Although often times travel over snowy terrain is still possible (and even enjoyable!), it is typically slower, and can present navigational challenges. An area that you know like the back of your hand in summer can be completely foreign territory under a mere 4 inches of snow. Social media is a very effective way to learn about current conditions on local trails. One final tip about your route: Be sure to let someone at home know your plans. This is extremely important in the event that you get lost or need help.

Bring a friend. Depending on where you’re headed, the conditions, and the forecast, sometimes running with a friend can provide an important safety benefit. If you plan to run farther than usual on unknown terrain, having one or more friends can be helpful in the event that something goes wrong, like an injury. Moving over challenging terrain is often made more fun with good company, as well.

Bring the right gear. First and foremost, this means dressing appropriately for the weather. It feels very much like tights, jacket, hat, and gloves weather already! Even on those days that start out balmy, it’s a good idea to bring one or more extra layers if you’re going to be out for more than an hour or so. Some other items to consider, depending on your distance – water bottle, snacks, phone, GPS, and a map. A note about music – I personally am not a fan of music on the trail for a few reasons, not the least of which is that your safety is compromised when you can’t hear what’s going on around you. If you can’t live without your iPod, please follow the “one ear-bud only” rule!

Know and follow the local regulations. Some areas, like Desolation Wilderness, require you to register at the trailhead and carry a permit before entering. No matter where you run, you need to practice Leave No Trace principles. That’s more of an ethical tip than a safety tip, but important nonetheless. Plus, avoiding practices that attract wildlife will certainly help everyone’s safety in the long run!

Whether you’re headed to the Emigrant Trail, or still trying to squeeze those last days out of an already snowy high country, keeping safety in mind will ensure that everyone’s wilderness experience is as fun as possible!