October 6, 2012

  • Adventures are messy

    Woohooo, I completed the Diablo Canyon Tough Mudder!  It's been an entire week since then, and I no longer ache or feel stiff-legged.  In a perfect world, I would have posted this update within hours of the end of the event, but this world is not perfect. It is messy, full of complications.

    The first complication of this past week is a happy one. Bill Radtke, Lance Kuhns, and their film team have been with me at Fjeldheim, experimenting with ways to use video to capture some of the character and charm of the place. If even half their ideas bear fruit, it will have been a sweetly fruitful weekend. Most of the time I tried to stay out of their way but most of Sunday (the day after my Tough Mudder) I helped them pack their esoteric gear and haul it all back to Los Angeles. Not to mention packing up my own stuff and trying to leave Fjeldheim in decent shape at our departure. I had considered writing this post during dinner along the way, but surprisingly few eateries offer wifi access along the 395. And being eager to get home to my family, I packed some leftovers from Fjeldheim into my little travel cooler and drove straight through, nibbling as I went.  So no time to post before returning home.

    The second complication was also a happy one, but more domestic. Once I got home I was swept up into family affairs, catching up with wife & kids & work & home, and had the pleasant surprise (and extra work) of connecting to two new clients! So no time to post in the first few days after returning home.

    The third complication of the past week is a very unhappy one.  During the Tough Mudder I carried water, iskiate, gloves, camera and cue cards in a hydration pack (as I mentioned earlier). When I came to an obstacle or challenge that seemed hard on a backpack (crawling under barbed wire) or harder to do with the pack (swimming thru icewater, swinging on Tarzan rings), I would take it off and set it to one side. After completing the challenge, I would duck under the barrier rope, circle back and retrieve my pack, and continue on.  Many others did the same thing: usually there was a small pile of packs to the right of the entrance to an obstacle, or an obvious place to leave and retrieve them.  

    Except on the last pair of obstacles, right at the finish line.  No pile of packs there. Hmm.

    We were approaching the edge of a small lake. Floating ropes with buoys showed us where we must swim, and we would have to swim under three rows of very large floating blue barrels.  From the way folks were making the swim, it was obviously too deep to stand, and I am normally a strong swimmer, comfortable in ocean swells and poor visibility.  But my legs were threatening to cramp up at any moment, and I wasn't sure my ziplock bag was keeping my calling cards dry anymore-- they were muddy along one edge, and the ink was running on some of them. (I miss my old Epson printer and its DuraBrite inks... c'est la vie)  I briefly considered slipping out of my shoes for the swim and leaving them with my pack, but just on the other side of the lake was the LAST OBSTACLE, a giant half-pipe we must scramble up and pull ourselves to the top, then climb down its awkward slanted ladder-back to the finish line. Most folks were failing the scramble and slipping back down.  I'd need my shoes.

    So in full view of the spectators that lined the lake, I tossed my small pack to one side of the trail and waded into the lake.

    It took about ten or fifteen minutes to swim the lake (no problem, even in my Vasques, which began to float once they had shed their ten pounds of mud!), scramble up the half-pipe (had to wait for a turn, but made it the first time, thanks to two comrades who helped pull me up at the top), crab-walk down the ladder-back (cramping painfully all the way down), and jog across the finish line into a scrum of sponsors giving away free stuff, then limp around the First Aid Tent and the makeshift showers and around the lake to where...

    ...my pack was gone.

    At first I didn't believe it. I must not be seeing it for some reason: is that really where I left it? Yes it is. No, it is not there.

    Then I thought the ToughMudder staff must have moved it out of the way; perhaps there is a "pack depot" where all our packs are being kept out of the way, or out of the camera shot. Or another ToughMudder recognized my pack and wanted to bring it to me-- at least one other Mudder was going to be looking for me at the finish line to get a calling card from me, hoping to see the edited video when it was done.

    I asked around and the staff did not know if packs were being moved somewhere "safe" (safe?). I found a row of hydration packs, but they were being watched by one team member while the rest of that team hosed themselves off nearby. And my pack was not among them.

    Next I checked at Lost and Found. No luck, but they agreed that someone might bring it to them, especially if they recognized it as mine and didn't see me nearby.

    After almost an hour of looking for my pack (and getting cleaned up, finding food and drink, and running into my Mudder friend, who had finished well after I did and had not seen my pack either) I finally reported the loss to security. They took my information and my description of the pack and its contents, but were not encouraging. Another athlete finally explained why: it's pretty safe to leave packs to one side during the course because a race official is right there in case someone gets hurt on the obstacle, or needs some coaching to get through it. And competitors develop camaraderie during something like this, even with those who are not on your team-- it's unlikely that a Mudder would steal from another Mudder, especially not in the middle of the course. But more importantly, the course runs 12 miles all over the local terrain, 99% of it far from the bandstand and the beer tent, the snack bar and the shade trees, where the spectators hang out.  Once you get back to the main camp, you keep your things where you can see them at all times. Even if that means swimming with your hydration pack, which I realized several Mudders had done... That's why mine was the only pack to be set aside at the end, in full view of 300+ spectators, any of whom might be my own friends or family, so a person casually "picking up my buddy's pack for him" would not draw attention.  I had noticed one Mudder detour over to his wife for a kiss and to leave some gear with her so he did not have to swim with it, then come back to swim across the lake and finish the course.  It was very likely that my pack had casually walked off with a helpful-looking person.

    And now that I'd learned this, I remembered that some of the spectators near me while I was looking for my pack had been ignoring me pretty hard. They were gone now.

    For the police report, I calculated my total loss to be about $500, most of which was my camera and its memory card.

    But the biggest loss was all the video and the photos I had taken during the race-- the knowledge that I could not make my fun video promoting the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, I could not write the posts about the persons and teams I had met during the Mudder, I could not share that inspiring experience with any of you. Not visually anyway.  And all those I had video-interviewed or talked with or photographed would check this blog this week and be disappointed.

    That's why this post is so late. Because of my lingering hope that someone might discover and return my pack, or camera; and because of my discouragement that this post would not be the first of several chronicling those ToughMudder adventures.

    But adventures are messy-- they mix pain and joy, gain and loss, and we are always wiser in the end. I'm glad I did it. No one can steal that achievement from me.

    Thanks for your support!

September 27, 2012

  • Training on the TrT

    This afternoon was my last tapering-off workout before the ToughMudder, just (24+hours:minutes left today+10:40hours tomorrow) from now.  I biked up the fire road past Brewer's driveway and the Buchanan Road drop-in of the Tahoe Rim Trail, up to the new branch of the TrT that takes you up and around the homes around South Benjamin Drive, past the Boulder Base Lodge development, across the North Bowl lift line and down to the official "Kingsbury South" trailhead at Stagecoach.

    Here's the turnoff from our fire road, there on the right. It's marked with a wooden post lettered in yellow, and three pink surveyor flags... people still miss it sometimes!

       "Boulder P/L" is short for "Boulder Base Parking Lot". That's my borrowed bike leaning against the tree.

    Here's how it looks as you turn off the fire road and begin the new trail. You cross Edgewood Creek immediately and start up the dusty trail with wet tires flicking grit up at you:

    Official signage like this is required whenever you leave a Forest Service road and begin a  trail like the TrT or the PCT:


    Here is a small portion of this segment of the Tahoe Rim Trail, high on a ridge, winding among boulders and logs. Can you find my bike?  
    This photo looked a lot better on my computer. It is a panoramic photo, but appears cropped here for some reason. Maybe if you click on it, it will appear in its own window, properly sized? 

    Since I'm supposed to be "tapering off" and taking it easy, I limited myself to an hour of climbing out, taking me just a little further than this photo (continuing off the right side of the trail shown).  Heading back to the fire road was a lot quicker, although I had issues with a very large log, and a couple of tricky sets of boulders, which were easier to climb up through than to descend. Once I got to the fire road, it only took me eleven minutes downhill to Fjeldheim!

    Now I'm up way too late. Need sleep before the Mudder.

    But if you read my earlier posts and know I am doing the Tough Mudder in order to raise awareness of, and support for, the Tahoe Rim Trail-- and in doing so, to honor my mom's memory-- then you are ready for the Details About Giving! Here it is, short and sweet:

         • Go to TahoeRimTrail.org

         • Decide to become a member of the TRTA! Or give a one-time donation if you like.

         • Check the box "In Tribute (Honorary or Memorial Gift)-- put "Nic Nelson" in the box, so they will know you are a sincere and generous friend of mine, whom I deeply appreciate.

    If you are mailing them a check instead, put my name in the memo line.

    If you have no desire to give to the TRTA, just ignore the last five paragraphs.

September 21, 2012

  • Seven days (actually 182 hours) until the Diablo Canyon ToughMudder

    This morning was my last all-out intense workout. From now on I taper off, sleep a lot, eat wisely, so I'll be fully recovered and ready when next Saturday dawns. I look forward to some fun mountainbiking in Tahoe next week, even along the Tahoe Rim Trail, but I need to be careful not to overdo it. I want to spur alveoli growth at altitude while still allowing muscle and cartilage to replenish.

    Any advice? 

August 13, 2012

  • A different way to remember...

    Dang, the summer is almost over. Looks like I won't have time to raise funds for the Los Angeles Area Council via OTE, so I won't be rappelling off the Bonaventure this year... that is disappointing not only because inner-city Scouting is a vital cause that I support (as an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 848, as a Campmaster for the LAAC, and as a committee member and participant in this annual fundraising event "Over The Edge"), but also because I did that rappel in honor of my mom, Florence Nelson, who passed away September 25, 2009.  

    But the Tough Mudder can be an equally valid way to honor mom's legacy: she certainly could be one tough mom! I will come up with a way to represent her somehow. 

    I suppose participating in Tough Mudder, twelve miles of muddy madness, is a strange way to remember one's mother.

    But completing a Tough Mudder-- that is an excellent way to honor her.


August 12, 2012

  • Disambiguation Dismay: Diablo Canyon, not Northstar-at-Tahoe

    Okay, I am embarrassed: there are actually TWO Tough Mudders in NorCal, and I signed up for the one on September 29... which is NOT the one in Tahoe. The Tahoe Tough Mudder will be held Sept. 22-23, a weekend that's been booked firm for a long time on my calendar.

    The NorCal Tough Mudder on the 29th will take place in Diablo Canyon in the vicinity of Mt. Diablo, the tallest peak in the San Francisco/San Jose neighborhood.  It sounds like it will be one of the more difficult Tough Mudders (tho none of them are exactly easy)-- a full twelve miles in what seems to be very hilly terrain. But it's a three hour drive from Fjeldheim!  My start time isn't until 10:40am, but still, do I want to drive (i.e. sit bent and still) for three solid hours right before a Tough Mudder?!

    ...Well, this will work out fine. I will train for a week in Tahoe (at 7,000', at least 1,000' higher elevation than Diablo Canyon!), then drive to my brother and sister-in-law's house on Friday for dinner and a good sleep.  Saturday morning it will be just an hour drive from JP and Julie's house to Diablo Canyon.

    I'll bet running along the Tahoe Rim Trail will be good training for this Tough Mudder. Or, thinking of the 165-Mile Club, might it be the other way around? 

August 9, 2012

  • Exposition Park circumnambulation

    Interesting trivia: Los Angeles' Exposition Park is encompassed by four noble thoroughfares: Figueroa on the east, Martin Luther King on the south, Vermont on the west, and of course Exposition Boulevard on the north (a border it shares with USC).  Each of these four sides is almost exactly half a mile long. So if you start at one corner and run all the way around it, you will have run two miles. 

    When I began Crossfit around the end of last year, I was able to run (really run: not jog, not sprint) about a quarter mile without having to slow or stop for a breath. With the ToughMudder looming nearer, and my Crossfit workouts eerily consistent at just twenty minutes (not including warm-up and "skills & mobility" training), I was beginning to worry about translating 20 brief minutes of firebreathing-intense effort into 12+ long miles of sustained effort punctuated by 20 obstacles that will each be a physical challenge of its own.

    Kathryn has been running the two-mile perimeter of Exposition Park almost weekly for some time now, and is gradually improving her time since she joined me at Crossfit. But I had no idea how my endurance or stamina might have improved during these past nine months (I missed the GB25, remember, but beat my old time on the Fletcher Loop at Campus By the Sea).  With many weeks of summer travel and camping behind me now, during which I tried but did not really maintain my workout frequency or intensity, I was getting worried. So yesterday I gave it a shot.

    But since I'm training for a twelve-mile-plus event, I decided to try three laps around Expo Park-- six miles, almost half my target distance.

    And since it's a ToughMudder I'm training for, I decided to stop every mile and do something in place: burpees, or box jumps, or pullups, or mountain-climbers, or something.

         I learned a lot on that run today.

    First, I learned that high-intensity interval training (e.g. Crossfit) does indeed improve your cardiovascular endurance (oxygen transport to your muscles) and your stamina (long-term metabolic energy for those muscles).  I ran the first mile without feeling any need to slow down or stop to catch my breath!

    Second, I learned that brief high-intensity exercise (e.g. a set of five burpees or five pullups as fast as possible) will really drain your low-intensity endurance and stamina.  I did nine burpees at the end of the first mile, six burpees at the end of the third mile, and ten burpees at the end of the fifth; I also managed six pullups at the end of the second mile, and four pullups at the end of the fourth and sixth miles.

    That first set of burpees surprised me, the way it rattled my running rhythm for the second mile.  And that first set of pullups, after running two miles punctuated by a burst of burpees, was much harder than I expected, even when I allowed for the fact that I was doing them from a tree branch.

    Third, I learned that those 20 Tough Mudder obstacles might actually make the 12+ miles easier that it otherwise would be. After the first complete lap of Expo Park, the later sets of burpees nearly killed me, but the pullups were actually an opportunity to catch my breath: doing those pullups "as fast as I could" was pretty slow, and though my arms were trembling when I left the tree, my lungs and legs had gained a second wind each time.

    My total elapsed time was 63 minutes. Considering that the three sets of burpees (the last one pretty slow) and the three sets of pullups (all of them embarrassingly slow, but strict) must have taken about ten minutes total, that means I averaged nine minutes per mile in my running.  Not too shabby for someone who couldn't run one full mile just nine months ago.

    So, I have hope regarding this Tough Mudder. Hope, but not much confidence yet.  It's a good thing I've got a couple more months of training to go...

August 6, 2012

  • ToughMudder Gear!

    Never pay retail for outdoor adventure gear. That's my new motto. The past couple of months I have shopped around and gradually accumulated some good stuff to add to the good stuff I already have.  At this point, my Tough Mudder gear looks like this:

    • generic-brand quick-dry synthetic runner's shirt and shorts (on sale at Target: they feel just like the good ones at REI)

    • Vasque trail-runner shoes (already had these)

    • Dahlgren trail-running socks, so amazing you can watch them wick and shed water while you rinse them out under the faucet! Comfy too. They blend synthetic fibers and merino wool, but not all in one uniform fabric: different parts of the sock are made of different things, strategically connected so as to pull moisture out of your shoe and let it evaporate from around your ankle. No kidding. (clearance sale on TheClymb.com)

    • UnderArmor underwear (clearance sale on TheClymb.com)

    • UnderArmor long-sleeve compression shirt made of some alien fabric that actually does make you feel cooler than wearing nothing at all (clearance sale on TheClymb.com)

    • SwissGear slimline hydration pack and reservoir (on sale at Target: fully $110 LESS than the price I almost paid for very similar pack at REI, although I admit the REI pack was better quality and had some cool added features and was about 2 ounces lighter... but I'm good with it)

    • IronClad Box Handler Gloves, the grippiest ones I could find (purchased online, direct from manufacturer, found via Google)

    • Helly Hanson full-length baselayer bottoms: they wick and evaporate fast, to keep you cool and dry if you are sweating, and they also keep in warmth if you are cold. Like the UnderArmor compression shirt, I don't know how it works, but it really seems to work well (clearance sale on TheClymb.com)

    • "FJELDHEIM" headband to keep the sweat out of my eyes (free: I cut up an old T-shirt and used a Sharpie to write "FJELDHEIM" across the front of it. Also stitched a "Tahoe Rim Trail" patch on it, and added "Florence Nelson: 1931-2009" in fabric paint. Saved $15 to $20 that way)

    Since four out of seven of the products I purchased all came from the same source, I ought to say something about it. The Clymb is a members-only online liquidation store for lots of name-brand stuff that for one reason or another just has got to go. Most stuff is about 50% off retail. Some things, usually in unusual sizes or limited quantities, are 70% off. Some brands, though, seem to use The Clymb as just another sale outlet, and only discount by 20%, but that's better than full retail price, at least. Although I suggest you refuse to buy anything that's not discounted to at least half its normal price, just to keep the sellers hungry.

    The sales don't last long (a countdown timer on each sale page will keep you updated), the selection can be a bit random-seeming, and sometimes size ranges are limited, but it's a great chance to buy top quality gear at otherwise-impossible prices.

    I am also a fan of thrift stores. But they rarely carry adventure gear.  So if you're looking for tents or sleeping bags or slacklines or esbit stoves or climbing harnesses or crampons or cook kits or negative-30-degree parkas or river-rafting shoes-- or an entire raft-- you might want to sign up for The Clymb and just see what wanders across the radar screen over the next year or so.  I think you'll be surprised. I was.


April 27, 2012

  • Tough Mudder prep

    It's still a long way off, but I was reading the ToughMudder.com site more carefully, particularly descriptions of common obstacles or "challenges" I'll encounter on the course. Some of these seem like they will be pure fun, like running through flames or jumping off a 15' high platform into a body of water-- that's just the old 3-meter board, no big deal.

    Others are purely athletic challenges, like the monkey-bar bridge, the rope climb, or the log-carry up a steep hill. I am training for those.

    But from the looks of it, some Tough Mudder "challenges" will be much easier to accomplish (or endure) if I bring the right gear with me. Like swim goggles (for the underwater section of the muddy sewer-pipe crawl), and a compact latex poncho (to get past the 10,000-volt wires). Although that latter trick might disqualify me. But I do not like electrical shocks.  

    And I'm thinking about the nature of the race in general, and what sort of gear and clothing would be most appropriate. Obviously I'll want clothing I can run in while soaking wet and muddy; I'll have to think carefully about shoes and socks (at least 10 of the 12 miles I'll be running wet).  Gloves came immediately to mind, and TM's own site affirms that guess.  Some lightweight knee protection for all the crawling, and also the rope climb.

    Then there's hydration, and sun protection if it's sunny-- it might be overcast and cold, or even raining. I must find out what the normal weather has been in the past, for that week!  Whatever the weather, staying hydrated during the whole strenuous event will be a significant issue. My current weekender pack has a hydration bag and tube in it, but the pack itself is way too big & heavy for this. Platypus bottles? Water bottles in belt holsters? Hmmmm...

    Open to ideas!

April 12, 2012

  • Team Fjeldheim to support the Tahoe Rim Trail

    Just met with Josh, Jamie, Kerry and Jason here at Fjeldheim to talk business, and none of them want to do the ToughMudder with me. They looked at me like I was crazy.  So I guess there will be no "Team Fjeldheim" doing the ToughMudder after all. (But "Team Fjeldheim" is going to do some cool stuff this coming calendar year, stay tuned!)

    But during our meeting, the idea did come up: how about raising money for a local charity? Next year will be Fjeldheim's tenth year in business, a good time to start giving back to the local Tahoe community somehow.  Since a good part of Fjeldheim's summer charm is the hiking, biking, and equestrian trails all around us, why not support the premier hiking, biking, and equestrian trail of the Tahoe Basin-- the Tahoe Rim Trail?

    All were in favor, so we will find out more about what that might look like. At the very least, we can run the ToughMudder in honor of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, perhaps raise money or at least awareness of this great Sierra treasure. Right everyone? "Team TRTA?"




    Okay, so I'm still running the Tough Mudder Tahoe alone. But at least I'm doing it for a noble cause: support the Tahoe Rim Trail!


    If you haven't heard of the Tahoe Rim Trail, it's worth looking up. Their site has a good assortment of maps, lots of information, and a roll call of the 165 Mile Club, all those who have "through-hiked" the TrT all the way around.  I've wanted to hike the whole TrT every since I first heard of it.

    Trail maintenance takes constant vigilance, especially in the Sierras, where it's hard work to maintain high-country rugged trails like this one.

March 13, 2012

  • Goodbye Gunbarrel 25, hello Tough Mudder!

    Since beginning Crossfit in December, preparing for the Gunbarrel 25 has been the lodestone of my training. But Kathryn and I realized recently that we won't be in Tahoe on the right weekend, and I will have to be here in LA while the Gunbarrel race is happening. Drat. My previous run of the Gunbarrel 25 was an excellent learning experience, and although I did not complete it within the required time, I accidentally did 27 laps instead of 25 (and spent 40 minutes of prime racetime nursing mild injuries and switching from monoski to mogul skis).  So, the Gunbarrel 25 definitely hasn't seen the last of me. 

    But in the meantime, I need another event to train for. Something different from GB25. Something with an element of fun. Something too hard for me to do now, but attainable if I train hard for it.  I keep seeing Facebook ads for mud runs for some reason: the 5K ones seem too easy and overly concerned with the beer and the band at the end, but as I looked through several different ones, the Tough Mudder stood out from the rest. It will be at least ten miles, sometimes almost half-marathon-length, and seems a lot more challenging than some of its sillier competitors. (Not that silly is bad, necessarily, it's just not what I'm looking for to anchor my fitness aspirations.)

    Good news: the Tough Mudder 2012 in Northern California is being held at Northstar ski resort, in Lake Tahoe! And since it is six months away, I'll have time to train hard for it. And I'll have to train hard-- this is no muddy excuse for a beer band party.