Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A shlushy slump...

It has been about 5 months of winter here. The snow and bad weather started about November and it really hasn't stopped. Needless to say, we are starting to feel the effects of it. And when I say it, I mean everything that comes with running in the winter. The slushy roads, the cold feet, the icy wind, snowed in trails, and so on.

Now it is not all negative. We do try to make the best of a situation. When the weather is bad we try to just get out there and go, when the weather is good we take advantage of it and go for the long runs, and everything in between (well there really is not in between...)

So how do we make the best of our situation?

For starters there is the random knocking over of big chunks of ice as demonstrated in this video...

Then there is playing catch with the random orange you found on the beach....

And Eric's favorite, jumping off anything you can climb on!

I personally am not as optimistic as Eric, so most of my time is spent frustrated and expressing that concern as seen in this photo:

With that said, I never come home after a run and not feel energized, happy, and accomplished. I can not wait for the first spring run post this season, and I can not wait for it to happen...but for now, we will stay stuck in our slushy slump.

What gets you into a slump? What do you do to make the best of a bad situation? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The not quite spring run...

The weather out here in Alaska has not really been cooperating with us. Well when I say not cooperating I mean that the weather doesn't give a damn about us and is probably wondering why the hell is it that we live out here. With that being said, gearing up properly has become of the up most importance.

As you can see in this photo, a proper toque (beanie for all the Americans reading this), sunglasses, face mask and coat is required. The goal I always have before an intense winter run here is to not leave any exposed skin. Not always successful, but the little patches left open to the elements tend to freeze and lose all feeling, so overall not bad.

Now throw some wind, snow and hills into the mix, you have a challenge. When I started experiencing ice cream headaches I knew that I was running into the wind, and when I would fall flat on my face I knew that deep snow was ahead. When you are out in that type of weather all depth perception ceases to exist, so you have to be willing to fall. I am not a huge fan of it, but it is growing on me. Eric on the other hand, well he lives for this extreme weather/running.

As you can see here he is bombing down a hill.

Enjoying a celebratory hand stand for all the cool miles we covered (it was like three but took us an hour, the terrain was not pleasant...)

And a hand spring. My camera doesn't have the quickest shutter speed so this was the best shot I could capture. But I think I have made my point. Eric loves to run in the challenging weather. The moment I think "Its to crappy to run", he says "Awesome".

After we hit the hills and made our way home we captured what tundra running in the winter looks like:




Is there any weather that stops you from going out on a run? Or do you just go for it not matter the rain, snow, sleet, or wind?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Things that strength training has taught me about life...

For the past couple months, I have been starting to take strength training more seriously. For one, I want to build muscle and not look scrawny (which is ironic if you knew me even three years ago) and two, I just want to be stronger. Even when I was 'big', I was still weak and have always felt that way.

To obtain my set goals, of not looking scrawny and building strength, I have been using body weight exercises. A simple circuit of push-ups, squats, pull-ups, and planks. Usually there is only a slight rest after one circuit, with only doing total of two for a day. Each individual movement is done to max, with different variations done to my level of fitness. An example is: only performing knee push-ups until I can do 50 in a row for two circuits (I know knee push-up right? Not as easy as it sounds and I have yet to get to 50 in the first set!) This work out is a slightly modified version of the Primal Blueprint Fitness. When we first started this fitness program, we followed it verbatim. Slowly, we modified the details (like always doing a minimum of two circuits, now we only do one on weekdays) and adding our own elements (like a hackie sac warm up...). So far it has been a good system, and works great on running and swimming off days.

The results have been pretty good. Starting to tone muscles, add a little bulk, and improving strength (noticeable by the increase in number of reps done to max). What was not expected was life lessons this non-gym fitness program has taught me. Sounds dramatic and exaggerated? Maybe. But I will list what I have learned at let you be the judge:

1. You can usually do more then you think. This is a surprise to me. Since our strength training plan requires us to work towards total muscle exhaustion, I keep over-shooting my expected max number of reps. Take for example pull-ups. I usually only think I can do three, but I have recently been able to push myself to 5. Not a dramatic number, but more then I expect. This is only a life lesson because when I start to do the pull-ups I ignore my expectations and push till I can't lift myself anymore. I usually end up having my muscles give in and fall to my feet pretty quickly. If I was to give in to my expectations of what I can and can't do I would never hit my true max and probably never improve. Not a bad way to live my life in the future for everything else I do, eh?

2. If you work at something, there will be improvement. I know this sounds like common sense. But when you first try the self assessment found in the Primal Blueprint Fitness eBook, well I have to say I felt week, unfit, and thought I would never accomplish any sort of improvement. I hated squats. I mean I loathed the thought of even doing 1. Now I can do 2 circuits of 50 and actually I am starting to enjoy the challenge they present, not to mention some of the results (including more strength while hill running and improved sprints). So I have learned (luckily by just simply enjoying some improvement) that no matter what challenge it is you face in life, if you work at it there will be improvement. Duh, right?

3. Excuses are lame, and it is better just to get it done. This goes for anything you don't feel like doing and any challenge you are about to face. Many days when I come home from a long day at the office, I don't feel like strength training. In fact, it is rare that I really ever feel like doing it at all. However, every time that I have gave into an excuse or just skipped a circuit, I set myself back or feel lame the next day. When I forget the excuses and I am actually accomplish my training I feel great and better for it.

4. I can do hand-stands with the help of a wall. That is either here nor there, but since we have been body weight training, we have been having office work out challenges. When no one is around we do max reps of push-ups, pull-ups (yea we have a improvised pull-up bar in the office!), or whatever. One day we just started seeing if we could do hand stands as a challenge and well the rest is history...How cool is it to navigate through life knowing you can stand on your hands? That question is open ended and there is no word limits to the answer.

As I discover more life lessons as my fitness regime increases I will add to this small, yet exciting list. I think these four should be enough to get anyone excited in beginning to develop a strength training regime of their own, or at least stand on their hands if they haven't yet (prolly should have a spotter if it is your first time since grade school). Also, for those out their grinding it out at the gym and dropping money on memberships, check out Primal Blueprint Fitness. You can get the eBook for free and you can do everything at home (just gotta a buy a pull-up bar, worth every penny if you stick with it).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fastpacking Gear: Cooking

First off, I need to clarify that I enjoy backcountry cooking. Many people recommend just carrying prepackaged food and energy bars. However, I consider cooking up a good meal at the end of a long day one of the joys of backpacking. I am not willing to give that up.

Also, I have some unique dietary preferences (I have been Primal for over two years) that make finding adequate prepackaged food difficult. I will talk about food selection in a later post.

Anyway, I will be cooking my morning and evening meals, and therefore must have some sort of cooking gear.

For now lets start by taking a look at my current backpacking cooking system. Like most backpackers, I already have a fairly light weight cooking set up. It was built more for versatility and dependability than being truly ultralight. In fact that is true of almost all of my gear (not to mention that most of it is for winter camping.)
Here is the MSR Whisperlite International (an old model), and Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cook Set combination I have used for a number of years.

It packs down fairly small, and the stove fits nicely inside the pot. However the stove weighs quite a bit (and that is without a fuel bottle.) It was designed to be a sturdy, reliable multi-fuel stove, not ultralight.
The other problem with this system is that the two were designed with different uses in mind. The pot was designed for use with a butane canister stove. It is a very nice pot (I really like Snow Peak), but the tall narrow design, while a perfect fit for butane canisters, is naturally unstable.
Basically the stove is designed to handle much larger pots (yeah, the wind screen is way to big too,) and is far to heavy for fastpacking.

Several lighter solutions are available to the prospective ounce counter (the lightest solution would be to just build a fire, but I don't expect to have the energy for that).

Butane stoves: These stoves can be very light weight, but the canisters are fairly heavy (and impossible to find around here.) I had one years ago (when I first started backpacking), that broke the first time I tried to cook (it was a cheap off-brand model, but was very proud of it when I got it.)

Fuel tabs: An even lighter solution is solid fuel tablets such as those made by Esbit. Fuel tabs are interesting, but they don't seem to offer much versatility as far as cooking goes. They are ideal for someone who just wants to boil water.

Alcohol stoves: Another solution, favored by many ultralight enthusiasts, is the alcohol stove. These come in countless variations from homemade to expensive titanium models. Basically, you pour alcohol in the burner and light it on fire. That is pretty much it, no mechanical parts to break. There are far to many models and variations to compare benefits and drawbacks of them all. Instead I will give you a brief overview of the main contruction types: homemade aluminum, titanium and brass.

Obviously homemade is the cheapest, but these "soda-can stoves" can be very effective if properly constructed, and extremely light weight. However, aluminum can also be crushed pretty easily if you are careless.

Titanium is also very light, but extremely durable. The only downside is they are expensive.
Brass is much heavier (though still pretty darn light,) but does have a couple advantages. The stoves made by Tiangia and Esbit come with a lid (so that the fuel may be stored inside the stove,) and a simmer ring (to allow much better control.)

Personally, I require something reliable and reasonably durable (I have a thing about being prepared). Also, It needs to allow me to actually cook, but still keep weight to a minimum.

I chose the brass Esbit alcohol burner, along with a titanium Clikstand pot support and windscreen. I also picked up a new Evernew 900ml Ti DX2 Non-Stick Pot Set to match the set.
The combination is considerably lighter than my old one.
It also works together very well (the Snow Peak pot was to small for easy use with the stand.)
It also packs down quite well.
The pots are both 900ml, but the frying pan is much larger on the Evernew model. The only down side is the design of the handle on the Evernew frying pan. It does not work as easily with the wind screen as the Snow Peak design.

Did I make a good choice? Did you have better recommendations? Let me know what you think.

Next time, I will be doing some initial testing of the setup.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Winter Blues, and New Adventures.

The long dark of winter has been marching slowly on around here. We have had considerable snow (which is nice) but the weather has been a bit rough for any good adventures. I've had several good runs, but nothing exciting. Well, I did climb several mountains... and snowboard down. Oh, then there was the day hike to the other side of.... Okay it hasn't really been that bad. I guess seven months on our little rock has just started to get to me a little.

That said, it is time to start planning for the future. I have been daydreaming about all sorts of ways to get myself into trouble this summer. Aside from the road/camping trips I have planned with my family (which should be interesting), and finishing my flight training, something a bit different has caught my interest: a multi-day trailrun.

Sort of like backpacking but faster. I have been backpacking and trail running for years. Why not combined the two? I had no idea when the idea first came to me, but this is what has been called fastpacking (so much for being original).

Obviously, it will take thorough planing and preparation (an excellent way to relieve a bit a cabin-fever, perhaps.) I need to lighten my pack to a reasonable running weight, and find a manageable solution to the water issue (it will probably be in the 90s or 100s), but still have enough equipment to make my overnight reasonably comfortable and restful between full days of running, and prepare meals that will keep me going.

Over the next few weeks (or months) I will discuss my journey into the realm of fastpacking, including gear selection and decision process, initial testing and reviews. Along with any other preparation that seems worthy of note, and eventually a report of my first trip.

First up: Cooking Gear