Sunday, November 22, 2015

the agony of almost

data log... or it didn't happen (click to open map)
Today I almost joined the 10 mph club. Key word: almost. Total elapsed time was 1:00:36. The venue: our backyard trails with 2-mile out-and-back addition to tail end of 8-mile loop. Weather: overcast in the mid-60s. I carried my phone with GPS. Weighing almost as much as my racing flats, it seemed rather silly to lug along this mini-computer, but the 58 pings do tell an interesting story.

I started way too slow with a couple of 6+ minute miles, but rallied with a solid middle third. At this point, only the most heroic negative splits could've pulled me from my deficit. In short, I didn't pace myself that well. What's more, the route may be up to a quarter mile short, so "almost" is a relative term. Still, I'm happy with this effort given setbacks with illness and injury over the past few weeks.

It's unlikely I'll meet my goal before fattening myself up over holidays. However, I'm plenty thankful for health and fitness to pursue such silly endeavors. If nothing else, these faster-paced forays have earned me a healthy respect for shorter distance runners and inspired me to get back to my LSD jogging, which is much easier and a lot less painful! Safe travels and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

sub 60 microverse

For years, I’ve conjured up big adventures and followed them to horizons measured in quadruple digits. But on a recent and somewhat uninspiring 20-something-mile training run, it struck me how I haven’t fully explored my limits with the faster, shorter distances. So I’ve decided to pick up the pace, divert from my LSD comfort zone and dust off an old college dream of mine...

To run ten miles in an hour.

The last time I dabbled with back-to-back sub 6 minute miles was back in April when I ran the Flatwoods 5K in our backyard a day before starting the Cross Florida Adventure Run. All I can remember from six months ago is how it hurt! So the time came yesterday for a longer test to see how close I am to the coveted 10 mph status on a backyard ACF loop (8.11 miles).

Uwharrie would have to sit this one out. I wouldn’t have time to stop and wait for her to round the bend with her tongue hanging out so I could reach down and pluck the sand spurs from her paws. This was for real. This was going to hurt. Target pace was calculated at 48:40. With my phone’s stopwatch sitting on the porch, I wouldn’t know my time until the end.

Like a fool, I laced up my shoes near high noon in the blazing sun. I guzzled a cup of freshly-squeezed lime juice, sea salt and water, a concoction that’s spared me in the past from the ill-effects of running in the heat. It turns out Uwharrie wasn’t too tempted to join me at all. Watching her lying on her side, I wondered who of us was smarter as I hit the button on the clock and galloped off.

Opting for the clockwise direction, I settled into a sustainably uncomfortable pace and soon found myself rounding the bend in the far north of the pine forest. Here, the sun began to burn through my resolve. I chased the shadows of fleeting clouds over a long straightaway on the sandy road. Approaching halfway on the loop, there was no way I could keep going this fast.

Easing off the gas, I hatched a plan to save up for one final kick two miles out at Hatchet Creek. Of course, it would take a well-timed cloud blessing for me not to wilt on this exposed prairie. Thankfully, a cumulus came along to comfort me for half of the crossing. I brought it home in 50:56, on pace for a 63-minute 10-miler.

I know it will take a lot of work to trim those three minutes, but I’m psyched to explore this microverse of running. And of course, I welcome any and all training advice!

The next 6.9 miles are gonna hurt...

Friday, October 02, 2015

open source adventures

Enduring sauna and sand spurs, I finished a 24-mile training run today in 3:25 on backyard trails. Between bi-monthly long runs, I’ve been logging four to eight miles daily at a slightly faster pace with some planks and pushups thrown in to round things out. Nothing too crazy. Slowly but surely, the build-up is underway.

While running, my mind wanders and I begin daydreaming about the loftiest of local adventures. Since moving to Florida last year, I’ve had my eye on the 1,100-mile Florida National Scenic Trail. Even if I hustle, I won’t soon have time to thru-hike it. But it’s not completely off my radar screen, either. As a matter of fact, I recently mapped out the route a bit more.
Click image to open interactive map
This map was created using Tatu Joe's 2011 log, a handful of 2013 .kmz files from the USFS, and a 2015 .csv file from Google Maps data (a work in progress, no guarantee on accuracy!). I’m sharing it in case it may be of use to others. If nothing else, it's a good spatial tool to use when hashing out historical and hypothetical hikes. So let the brainstorming begin...

First, the history: kudos to Tatu Joe for sharing his stats (yellow pins) from an impressive 29-day onsight hike in optimal ENSO conditions. Having maintained several wet portions of the FNST, I can appreciate the advantage of waiting for a drier year. Even at its best, this trail is plenty wet... And we’re due for a strong El Nino this winter.

Second, the resupply points: most all of the blue pins on the above map represent food stops along the FNST. Although the majority of resupply options are mere quickie marts, few gaps exceed 90 miles in distance. The frequency gets me to wondering about how lightly one could travel along the trail.

Third, the application: I’m seeking out a free smartphone app to help navigate and track future adventures. I’m currently experimenting with Google’s My Maps to view location and drop pins on shared maps for others to see. Field testing is yet to come, but so far so good.

Conclusion: maybe in a year or two (just in time for La Nina), I’ll find a few weeks to take off for the adventure. Meanwhile, this weekend warrior will keep testing out tools for timely transparency and slogging through sand spurs on shorter sojourns in the Sunshine State.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

self-supported sans pack?

Entry fees, crowds and multi-loop courses don't do it for me. Although I'd been eyeing the Iron Horse 100 with my 15:05 PR in the cross hairs, I've since taken to looking at another local lark: a Cross Florida Adventure Run, self-supported within 36 hours, as originally envisaged a year ago this month.

To move faster, lighter and freer, I recently sewed myself some replacement running shorts with four lycra pockets. This utilitarian upgrade has challenged me to see if I could fit everything I’d need for a self-supported 150-mile traverse in my pockets. Reviewing my resupply, I compiled a minimal list of things to carry for this route. Here’s what I came up with…

Simplify! Simplify! View detailed gear list here.
It turns out there’s room for the following items: a collapsable 1L water bottle, 1,000+ calories of snacks, wallet, flashlight, phone, sunblock, vaseline, leukotape, alcohol wipes, extra batteries and homemade silnylon jacket. That’s what’s in my shorts, bringing the weight of everything worn and carried to just under five pounds. This list will likely keep evolving.

As for when I may attempt to cross the peninsula again, I’m leaning towards early February. The days will be 11 hours long, so to start at dawn and finish by sunset on day two, I’ll have to shoot for 35 hours (a 4.25 mph average). Ideally, I’ll have time to take a late-night catnap somewhere in Ocala National Forest to keep the Bartram sleep monster at bay.

Pockets stuffed for adventure...
I’m looking forward to the consistently cooler temps of late-October, but I’ll start upping mileage before then. Below are some tentative dates for my longer training runs plus their target times. Feel free to reach out if you’re in the area and want to join me for some miles. As in the past, I’ll try and post updates on the blog every month. Here’s to DIY local adventures!

9/19/15: ACF 24M @3:30 (3:24, ouch)
10/3/15: ACF 24M @3:30
10/18/15: First Magnitude Marathon @3:45
10/31/15: ACF 50K @4:40
11/14/15: The Citrus Loop (35M) @5:00
??/??/??: OAR (66.3M) @12:00
2/??/16: CFAR (150M) @35:00

Fondly thinking back to 4/13/15: midway on a sub-60 (hour), 150-mile self-supported Cross Florida Adventure Run. Good times! Let’s do it again… #TBT #SocialMediaSavvy #sorta
Posted by Matt Kirk on Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saturday, September 05, 2015


Five years ago today, Lily and I tied the knot in our beloved Southern Appalachians. What a perfect day! Every September, I think back to the amazing story of how we met up eight years ago along the trail. The following is an excerpt from Fast, Light & Free; Day 16- Serendipity:

July, 2007: Everything is gloomy on the inside and the outside. Uwharrie and I hike out of Massachusetts in a non-stop rain for days on end. We slip and slide northward through the rugged and muddy Green Mountains. Lily isn’t going to catch us. Maybe she never wanted to. She wrote me a postcard on the trail to tell me about her friend’s wedding in Williamstown. Days behind us, she’s now taking an entire week off from hiking.

Maybe our meeting on the trail isn’t meant to be. But how could I have been so wrong? I begin questioning everything. What are we doing on the trail? Uwharrie and I hitch into Manchester Center for resupply. After chores, I sit on a town bench wondering where we should go. Little do I know that Lily, her friend Dave and a thru-hiker by the name of “Breadless Horseman” have just driven for an hour from Williamstown to find us.

When they arrive to Manchester Center in the early afternoon, they first check in at the post office to see if Uwharrie and I have come by to pick up our mail. The clerk tells them that we were here first thing in the morning. Surely we’re back on the trail by now. Dejected, Lily tries to convince herself that the trip isn’t all in vain. Since they’re in town, they decide to run a few errands. Afterwards, on their way out, Breadless exclaims, "Stop the car! I see Matt!"

And sure enough, he does. When I first see Lily walking towards me with her big bright smile, the pieces fall perfectly into place. It defies all logic, but it happens. We walk around town and grab a late lunch. I learn her trail name: “Fast Enough.” Uwharrie and I catch a ride back to the trail. We hug and part ways with a promise to meet one another in ten day’s time. Lily catches a falling star and puts it in her pocket. Our lifetime journey together has yet to start…

Click here for the full story.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

education of an omnivore

We recently harvested our roosters. It was the first time I can remember killing an animal for meat. It wasn’t easy to watch the blood fall from their throats and the life leave their faces. I couldn’t help but think back to Kevin's beautiful post about Billy's last days. Our roosters lived good lives, too...

Sadly, most of the meat I’ve eaten comes from animals who’ve lived tortured lives. For this reason and others, there was a decade that I called myself a vegetarian. As meat trickles back into my diet, I want to be more conscientious of what ends up on my plate. If I can’t stomach it, then I probably shouldn’t be eating it. Thank you, roosters.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

reflections on a year of tiny living

Photos from Lily's blog
A year ago this week, we were busy preparing to move our 130 square-foot tiny house from North Carolina to Florida. After $15.5K and nine months of manual labor, it was time for our investment to hit the road. Stress levels were high, but thankfully this crux move went off without a hitch. We could finally start living in our humble abode down in the Sunshine State… 

Fast-forward a year: Lily, Uwharrie and I still live tiny in Florida. Some people are curious about how these accommodations are working out for us. First, I must admit that it helps to have a partner who is more of a minimalist than myself! Since we’ve been downsizing our existence for several years, we haven’t noticed any substantial changes to our living habits other than a composting toilet.

Speaking of permaculture: that’s a most exciting lifestyle change. Recycling nutrients from our waste is really a no-brainer. Our chickens help to accelerate the breakdown of our food scraps. Within a year, we've successfully made 54 cubic-feet of nutrient-rich hummus. Half of that has already gone to fertilizing our garden. To cut to the chase: we try daily to close the loop and conserve what we have.

Because we don't pay rent and work as caretakers in exchange for living on this land, we've recouped half the cost of our house in the first year alone. As an added bonus, we have an 8,000-acre backyard! One drawback is that we live 10 miles from downtown. But since bike paths and public transportation come within five miles of our house, we consume about five gallons of gasoline each week.

The trip up to Virginia and North Carolina in July was our big summertime splurge. Otherwise, we limit our travel and try and live locally. As conscientious consumers, we use about fifteen gallons of water daily. Our entire house runs off of 20A of electricity and that includes a 6,000 BTU air conditioner. We don't have solar panels. Most of these tweaks in efficiency are quite easy and inexpensive.

The other day, I listened to a healthy discussion over carbon dioxide regulation on the NPR program “On Point.” Having crunched the numbers, some think tanks say that technology isn’t there yet to free us from the shackles of a carbon economy. But isn’t it funny how our society neglects to explore simple lifestyle changes, which in the aggregate could yield big results? Living tiny is truly living large.