Jason Isbell Rocked Roanoke

On Friday, at the last minute, I was able to acquire two front-row seats to see Jason Isbell at the Berglund Center in Roanoke. Danielle and I have seen Jason Isbell play several times before in varying situations. We saw him in a small rock club in Chattanooga and at the Ryman in Nashville. I've also seen him at record store promo gigs. While each show had its own character and vibe, the constant is always Isbell's strong storytelling and gorgeously subtle melodies that stick with you long after the show.

Solid seats to catch a rock show.

Solid seats to catch a rock show.

We arrived in Roanoke just in time to catch a few songs by the opener Anderson East who was giving it all trying to elicit some attention and excitement from a crowd still filtering in. I'm sure it was a tough gig warming up a big room full of seated adults and East was gamely pulling people into his set. I really appreciate what East does with his tinge of retro sound made modern through an adaptable voice and a solid band.

Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit, played a set with a strong mix of older songs, including long-standing favorites, Decoration Day and Dress Blues, with newer songs off the recently released album, Something More than Free. I was impressed at the flow of the set with some rocking jams leading into admittedly downbeat tunes like Elephant. The entire show was kicked off with an amazing version of Cover Me Up that built from an acoustic base into a full-band rock out.

The Berglund Center is an interesting place to see a show. This was my first time there. It's really set up for plays and maybe more sedate concerts. It'd be interesting to see how they set it up for more raucous shows. The sound was phenomenal even though we were in the front row which often has pretty sound though we were only feet from the stage.

It was a show that didn't suffer from the overly reverent and sedate vibe Isbell had at the Ryman and a decent dose of the loud rock we saw from him in Chattanooga. I recommend getting out there and checking him out on this tour.

Sadly, he did not play one of my favorite songs of the Southeastern album, "Live Oak." I contend that the song owes a debt to Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country which is my second or third favorite book of all time. I highly recommend reading that if you get a chance.

Shadow Country (Modern Library Paperbacks)
By Peter Matthiessen

Tips for Night Running

It's wintertime and that means that if you live in the northern hemisphere, it's likely dark when you're running. You're getting out early in the morning before the world wakes or you're barreling out after work looking to shed the stress of the day. Either way you are probably running in the dark and that means a few different issues.

First, you need to be seen. Most running-specific clothes these days have highly reflective areas. I've found that the most flexible and easiest to use ways to illuminate my body are these Nathan Strobe lights

Last night while running, a biker coming up behind complimented me on how bright and easy to see the lights were. He said, "Thanks for making it so easy to safe out here." They are $10 and clip anywhere you need them. I put one on the back of my hat or headlamp and one on the back of my hydration vest. I put a third one on my front and set them all to strobe. In short, you can put them anywhere you need or want depending on what you're wearing or your personal preference. The batteries are replaceable but at $10, you could likely just get new ones after 100 hours when the batteries run out.

Second, you need to see where you're going. That means you'll want some sort of headlamp. I recently picked up the Petzl Tikka RXP headlamp and have found its auto-sensing features and comfort to be absolutely perfect.

The headlamp automatically adjusts the brightness of the beam based on the ambient light. This is great for the early morning and late evening runs I mentioned because it means that as the sun comes up or goes down, your headlamp can automatically adjust. There is an easy-to-access button that can switch the headlamp to a constant brightness which might be handy if you're on a particularly tricky stretch or just want consistent brightness. For camping or other users, the headlamp has a red lamp that can help preserve your night vision for when you might be hiking or reading in the dark.

The strap is adjustable and I've found it to be very comfortable on my large head. The part that sits on your forehead is soft enough to not hurt your head but it's stiff enough to prevent bouncing. The battery is rechargeable with a power indicator on the side of the lamp. The whole kit can be adjusted via a piece of software and the included USB cable but I haven't dug into that feature much.

Some runners like to supplement this with a hand-held flashlight. I've found that to be unnecessary on most paved surfaces but it can be helpful if you're out on a trail with lots of tree cover or that's very technical.

Lastly, you're going to need to think about your diet and your sleep. As the days get shorter, our bodies react by changing our appetite and our need for sleep. If you're up early or out late taxing your body with running, you'll want to be cognizant of when you're eating and making sure that you are getting enough sleep. This means not cramming in hours of work or chores or TV in the evenings after your run. Eat, maybe read a bit, and then get in bed. Your body will thank you.

Running in the dark can be decidedly peaceful because the distractions of the world can slip away more readily than they typically do when you're running. It can also be dangerous because you are hard to see and you are not going to see every dip or rise in the pavement or the trail. So, think about slowing down and maybe getting rid of the headphones so you can be more aware of what the night holds.

If you're interested in how are nights are changed from the nights our parents and grandparents knew, I highly recommend Paul Bogard's book The End of Night. It examines the role of light pollution and how it has affected not just astronomers or scientists but our health, our society, and our connection to our world.

Embrace the night and all the mysteries that lie therein. You might learn to love night running.

Aural History - Show 35 - New Music and More

It's my first time mentioning this on my blog, but I do a (ostensibly) weekly podcast/radio show where I play music and talk a little bit about the songs and artists. It's a mix of older music and new. It runs pretty eclectic but has a strong vein of Indie Rock, Americana, and College Rock with occasional tangents into Rock en Español and electronic soundscapes.

Hello Seahorse! is an alternative pop band hailing from Mexico City.

Hello Seahorse! is an alternative pop band hailing from Mexico City.

This week, the show features the Drive-By Truckers, Josh Ritter, Guy Garvey, and Hello Seahorse! I also share a little Walt Whitman and speak a bit about the terrorist attacks in Paris. I hope you'll give it a listen below.

Trail Report: Carvins Cove

This morning, I decided to do my long trail run at Carvin's Cove up near Roanoke. It's clear that the trails there are geared to mountain bikers more so than runners. There are lots of constant elevation changes with whoop-dee-dos and berms as well as hairpin turns. I'm sure that's fun on a bike but those are momentum-killing features for trail runners.

Here's a Strava rendering of the run.

After leaving the Bennett Springs parking lot, I started out on the Hi-Dee-Ho trail with the intention of turning off onto the Four Gorge trail but the trail markings are in a strange spot so I missed the turn. The Hi-Dee-Ho trail climbs up and up and up to Brushy Mountain Fire Road. I realized my mistake just at the foot of the hill but I decided to climb up it anyway. I had planned my route and it was about two miles short of my desired workout, 11.5 miles. This climb up and down Hi-Dee-Ho would add the two miles that I needed. It was a great choice because I was treated to views like the following.

The wonderful view as I climbed the Hi-Dee-Ho trail.

The wonderful view as I climbed the Hi-Dee-Ho trail.

I'm not a great or even good descender, probably due to fear of injury and existing weakness in my knees and ankles. So, you might notice that I don't get the big pace bump that many folks do when descending hills. It was also made difficult because much of the trail was buried under intense leaf cover. Often, it was to my mid-calf or higher. You can see an example of it below.

My poor Altra Lone Peaks can barely see the sun under all those leaves.

My poor Altra Lone Peaks can barely see the sun under all those leaves.

After finally getting back down almost to where I started, I turned off onto the seemingly poorly named Four Gorge trail. I didn't count but it seemed more like the Fourteen Gorge trail. This trail is absolutely beautiful but difficult to run. The trail picks way around over and across several gorges, or gulleys, challenging a runner with lots of turns and no consistent elevation. There's always some climbing or descending going on. It was difficult for me to get a consistent pace going.

Now, about five or six miles into my run, I made my way to the Kerncliff trail which at this point winds back and forth under some big power lines. It's here you can see the devastation to an ecosystem when power lines like this are installed. They appear to tear out all the existing vegetation and so lots of crowding of species that take advantage and maybe don't fit well with the rest of the ecosystem that's there already.

While the area was without its tree roots and ground cover, erosion begins and the Kerncliff trail shows some bad signs of this erosion especially around the intersection with the Jacob's Drop trail. It's sad to see because I suspect this could be ameliorated with some smart trail design or maintenance.

I eventually turned left onto the Comet trail which makes a steep climb and even steeper descent down to our only glimpse of Carvin's Cove Reservoir. There is a boat dock on the opposite side of the reservoir from the trails I was on. There are quite a few stream crossings here. Along the way, I also found a guillotine tree that would be pretty scary for the cyclists using the trail.

This tree guillotine is a bit scary for cyclists on the trail.

This tree guillotine is a bit scary for cyclists on the trail.

After crossing a few streams and getting my Altra Lone Peaks soaking wet for the second weekend in a row, I moved onto the Tuck-A-Way and Enchanted Forest trails which got me back to another fire road called Happy Valley. Along the way, I was followed by a couple of deer that didn't run away but just walked along occasionally looking up at me.

This deer had a friend with her and they were not afraid of me.

This deer had a friend with her and they were not afraid of me.

Happy Valley got me up to the Songbird trail which turns back toward the Bennett Springs parking lot where all this got started. It's a gorgeous trail that hugs the side of the ridge opposite the valley from the ridge we were on top of at the top of Hi-Dee-Ho. The Songbird trail still has a bit of challenging sections but it's much more consistent and even sports a special Holiday surprise.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the Songbird trail.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the Songbird trail.

I had originally planned on getting back to the parking lot via the Rattlin' Run trail, which is somewhat new and isn't even shown on the maps at the trailheads and parking lots at Carvin's Cove. The Rattlin' Run trail continues along the same path as Songbird which dips back down into the valley to meet up again with the Happy Valley fire road. When I got to the Rattlin' Run/Songbird junction, I found this sign.

Decisions were made here.

Decisions were made here.

I only had about 1.5 miles to go to finish the run and I made a command decision to not tackle the double black diamond trail with a warning sign on those tired legs. I did walk a bit onto Rattlin' Run and about 20 yards in I couldn't even see where the trail went. Instead, I followed the Songbird trail down to Happy Valley and found the end of Carvin's Cove Road where there's a barn. Horses can use these trails and there were a lot of trailers and trucks parked there. My wife is a horse rider so I was excited to discover this new spot for her to come ride her horses.

I had a pretty easy one mile run on Carvin's Cove Road to get me back to the parking lot where I was extremely happy to see my car get something to eat that wasn't a Gu.

While the run was slower than I'd like with more walking and stopping than I typically do, it was likely a good training run helping me practice dealing with some mental adversity and some challenging trail conditions. I'm not planning my next run to be at Carvin's Cove but I'll come back before all my training is done and see what I can do. It's great having such resources this close to home and I want to make sure I take advantage of them.

The Selfishness of Ultrarunning

Lots of people talk about the amazing community that has been built around ultrarunning. While I'm not yet officially part of that community, it's easy to see the passion of that community if one starts reading blogs or liking specific things on Facebook. There does appear to be a tight-knit, if off-kilter, community around this sport. That said, the sport necessitates quite a bit of very selfish behavior.

Like most of us, this fellow is running alone, but luckily he's in front of the wall and not hitting it.

Like most of us, this fellow is running alone, but luckily he's in front of the wall and not hitting it.

There are, of course, the innumerable number of hours away from your family and friends simply running. Whether it be on the roads or the trails, most of us are pounding out miles alone. At this point in my training for a 50k in March, I should have spent over 200 miles on the road. (I say "should have" because I had an injury that cut out a few weeks of training.) At a average speed of 12 minutes per mile, that's 40 hours in 7 weeks. If we add in some time on either side for warming up, cooling off, getting ready, showering, etc. we are easily talking about 7 hours a week or one hour a day.

It doesn't seem like much. However, for many people, removing themselves from the daily grind for an entire hour a day is likely quite difficult. For people with young children, like me, this time away can be an even larger burden on their loved ones putting them in positions of handling child care for longer periods than they might typically do so. It also robs us of that time with our loved ones which is clearly cherished, at least by most folks.

Additionally, there's the selfish, or self-centered, thinking that happens around running. Talking about and dealing with injuries or just aches and pains. Being picky about what you eat or, maybe more so, when you eat. Spending money on clothing, race fees, fancy sugar food, shoes, my god, the shoes. It all means that a lot of our head-time is spent thinking about what we want or need.

So, if running ultramarathons is so selfish, why do people continue to do it and why do their loved ones seem to support it so passionately?

It's because this sport, not exclusively, but surely, makes those of us doing it or aspiring to do it into better versions of ourselves. For me, it keeps me in much better physical shape than I was in or would likely be in. Yes, I get aches and pains and injuries, but those pale in comparison to the long-term toll my previously sedentary lifestyle was taking on me. 

In my experience, it's the most effective mental health medicine I've found. I've tried a bunch of others, Effexor, Paxil, Alcohol, Self-Harm, and nothing works as quickly or as predictably as going for a long run. Anxieties and thoughts of self-doubt or meaninglessness simply don't exist in my head when I'm 9 miles into a run and see squirrels racing ahead of me on the trail.

We also become, in many cases, unwitting, examples for those people in our lives who see us striving for the rarely attained. They see that it's done not for glory or riches, in most cases, but simply for the ability to celebrate our continued existence. I never feel love so much as when my son says something like, "Did you have a nice run, Dad? I hope so. You smell terrible." I feel like I'm setting an example of working hard for your goals.
None of us are promised tomorrow and some of us struggle with the desire to even want tomorrow. So, if it's a bit of selfish behavior that keeps us on this Earth and lets us contribute, even a tiny bit, to the goals of others, it's likely time well spent with oneself.

What Happens to Your Body During an Ultramarathon

The Washington Post has an interesting, if slightly low on details, article here about what happens to a person's body during an ultramarathon. Most of the information is in comparison to marathon runners which probably makes sense.

One of the most important points here is that there are so few people who do this that the studies can be wildly biased. The author points out that many runners come to ultramarathons to reverse other health issues or as a sanctuary from "racing and winning" mentality that many marathoners adopt. In short, we are just different kinds of people who are likely looking for community and personal fulfillment over recognition.

I'm being generous when I say "we" because as I write, I am not an ultramarathoner. I'm not even a marathoner. But if things go according to plan, I will become an ultramarathoner at the Bel Monte Endurance Races in March of 2016.

These two books have gone a long way to increasing my confidence that I can achieve this goal.

These two books have gone a long way to increasing my confidence that I can achieve this goal.

This article doesn't tell me much more than the books one can find about ultrarunning. Two solid ultrarunning books that have helped me build confidence are Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning and Bryon Powell's Relentless Forward Progress. Both books are introductory in nature and while they may not be exquisite writing, they are functional in helping someone build confidence and avoid common pitfalls. Both also include training plans with detailed information on how to modify them.

I'm hoping to document my journey on this blog as March approaches. I'll be thrilled to announce that I am an ultramarathoner should I finish the race. If I should fail, then I'll document that too and share my feelings and thoughts on what happens when you don't reach your goals.