Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Foam Rollers: The Latest Fitness Obsession?

On the plane Sunday heading back to Denver from a few long (but fulfilling) days of work in a tony suburb a bit north of Chicago, I cracked open the August issue of Vogue. Flipping through I stopped on a colorful page in the “Beauty & Health” section at the front of the magazine with the headline “High Rollers.” I was intrigued to learn about a craze for foam props - with foam rollers being the standout. The question posed by the brief article was whether or not foam rollers can make you “long & lean.”

Of course, as runners we know that foam rollers are as much of a craze as GPS watches and are not new on the scene. For many of us, a foam roller is a regular - and essential - part of our life, loosening tight muscles as we grimace in pain. Our Grid roller is a part of our living room decor as much as our coffee table. 

Foam Roller

Foam rolling is great for runners and other athletes, even non-athletes, because when used correctly they help improve circulation, break up knots in muscles, loosen fascia, and release lactic acid after a tough workout. My Physical Therapist has me using my roller each night to help work out the insane muscle tightness I have going on in my entire right leg, including the popliteus, calf, hamstring, and glute. It hurts, but feels so good.

My favorite part of this article? There's a woman in Santa Monica who leads clients through "six months of biweekly $495 sessions" that "can trim their waists." Hmmm... First: $495 to show someone how to roll out? Second: while I would absolutely love it to be true, I am quite skeptical that rolling can trim my waistline.

If you want to save yourself $495, check out these quick and easy videos from Runner's World.

I can't help but find it amusing that something we, as runners, have been doing for years is now the hot fitness obsession for others. But really, I am happy for them that they've learned of the awesomeness that comes from such a simple thing. 

How often do you use a foam roller? * What are your other favorite pre- or post-workout recovery methods?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Crested Butte: A Chill Mountain Town

If you read my last post you already know we spent the Fourth of July in Crested Butte. For those unfamiliar with Colorado, Crested Butte is a quaint little mountain town southwest of Denver.

Crested Butte was founded in the late 1800's as a supply center for the area before it became a mining town in its own right. In a valley at the base of Crested Butte mountain is Elk Street with a number of cute shops and delicious restaurants, flanked on both sides by several streets lined with beautiful houses - both old and new. Crested Butte is a quintessential, chill, mountain town straight out of a dream.

Unlike Vail, Beaver Creek, and other ski resort mountain towns, the downtown is separated from the ski mountain, so it's more small town, less condo buildings and resort hotels. We stayed in a little downtown cottage we found on airbnb and the location could not have been more perfect for us - steps from Elk Street but along a quiet alley. Our host was gracious and very knowledgable about the town.

Our first evening we hitched a ride on the free bus from downtown up to the mountain for the One World Music Festival and caught two bands (below, The Leftover Cuties) before we headed back down to get some sleep before the race.

After we finished the Gothic to Crested Butte 1/3 Marathon we had to take part in the 4th of July festivities. Let's just say Crested Butte takes the holiday seriously.

The parade features groups from around the area, and as far as we could tell, pretty much anyone who wanted to participate. The sidewalks along Elk were packed with spectators and the restaurants were jammed. After the parade there's a town water fight - which the fire department gets in on. The town kids loved it; we enjoyed it from afar. 

We were pleasantly surprised by all the great food and drink in such a small town! A few of our favorites - Teocalli Tamale, Secret Stash Pizzeria, Third Bowl Handmade Ice Cream (delicious vegan options!), First Ascent Coffee, and Montanya Distillery.

Sunday mornings are for the Farmer's Market. And since we always seek out Farmer's Markets, we couldn't miss this one. It's not huge but it is a good size with plenty of options including artists selling paintings, photography, jewelry and more; bakeries with sweet treats; farmers with everything you need - including one farm that specializes in all varieties of garlic - and a winery or two. We picked up a few veggies before heading out on a hike. 

Crested Butte is known for world class mountain biking trails, but the hiking trails aren't bad either! We only tried out two while we were in town but both were wonderful. Snodgrass Trail is perfect for wildflowers and a view of Crested Butte Mountain - unless it's raining like it was on our hike, but then you feel like you've been transported to a rainforest!

Lower Loop is reachable via the Woods Walk trail which starts right at the edge of downtown. You know what that means: no car needed. With beautiful valley and mountain views, and a trail right along the river, it would have been great for an easy-ish trail run if our legs hadn't been shot after the race! Definitely something we'll do if we go back. The one downside is that because it's easily accessible from town it can also be very crowded. 

From our two hikes, the two tips I'll pass on are: 1) Take layers & rain gear - we went through a rainstorm on Snodgrass Trail and the temperature varied by 10+ degrees during the hike, 2) Watch for mountain bikers - unless you're on one of the few hiking-only trails, you will encounter numerous mountain bikers and while hikers technically have right of way, it's just easier for us to move out of the way. Here's a quick list of hikes near Crested Butte.

Of course we made one last stop at First Ascent Coffee before heading out of town for some breakfast and coffee. We grabbed a half pound bag and a loaf of bread to take home with us, which did not last long enough. Thankfully we can order the coffee online and feel like we're back in Crested Butte when we enjoy a cup on our deck. If you stop here, be sure to head upstairs for a seat on the balcony with mountain views.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Crested Butte and while the small town 4th of July celebrations were entertaining and the race was incredible, it would be nice to go back sometime when there isn't a big event to better experience the laid back vibe, new trails, and more great food.

What adventures have you taken this summer? * Is there a town in your state you haven't been to but want to explore? 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Race Recap: Gothic to Crested Butte 1/3 Marathon

For two years co-workers and friends have told me about this mythical place in the mountains west of Denver. Incredible mountain views straight out of a movie, they said. Fields of stunning wildflowers that go on forever, they promised. After going on and on about its beauty and a one-of-a-kind race every 4th of July, I was convinced we needed to book a trip to Crested Butte.

It was a bit gloomy when we arrived, but it was stunning. They were right.

We arrived the afternoon of the 3rd after being on the road for close to five hours with only one quick pit stop. There was an unnecessarily long backup near Conifer but it was pretty smooth going the rest of the way. To be sure, with mountains and plains, the drive is not an easy or boring one. 

We headed straight to the visitors center to pick up our race bibs and then headed to the little cottage right off Elk Street (aka main street) where we had rented a room through airbnb. 

I struggled all evening long with whether or not I should do the race. I'd only "run" a total of 2 miles or so since the debacle in Vancouver, and it was all flat surface in Wash Park. The race we were signed up for was the Gothic to Crested Butte 1/3 Marathon - 3 miles of rolling uphill topping out above 9.700 feet, before 5+ miles of downhill. I had decided not to do it before I learned that a lot of people actually walk it and the race directors allow people to start early. I was still nervous about the distance but around 10pm I finally decided to do it. We may not be back for this race again, I knew the views were going to be incredible and if I started early and went out knowing I'd walk most of it, I could definitely get to the finish line. My plan: walk the vast majority with a few quarter mile "run" segments well spaced out.

Woody's not too happy I'm including this photo but it's the only one I have of us at the race so it's in. The Gothic to Crested Butte 1/3 Marathon is a fundraiser for the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, located in Gothic, and a number of the researchers take part in the race each year. They also participate in the 4th of July parade later in the morning.

The race begins on a dirt/mud road, transitions to pavement - running downhill along Crested Butte Mountain resort area - then moves onto a multi-use rec path before getting into town. The roads are not closed to traffic, so it was important to keep an eye out for cars and bikers along the route. 

The finish line is on Elk Street where locals were staking out their spots for the parade as we were walking to the bus for our trip up to the start line so there was a great crowd.

A former co-worker who makes a trip out to CB every year, was in town camping with friends and also ran the race. She passed me around mile 2 and went on to finish 4th woman overall! 

I felt a lot better than I had expected to feel and of course, ended up running a lot more than I had planned to. It turns out that running downhill is a bit easier than walking quickly. I finished quite a bit earlier than Woody had expected. When all was said and done, I ran the 8.62miles in 1 hour 48 minutes and some change. Not bad. My knee didn't hurt but my quads paid the price. The next few days were rough!

The race was unlike any other I've run. Aside from the incredible views, like CB in general, it was really laid back. Runners and walkers packed busses that took us from downtown up to Gothic - sleepy eyed and seemingly more concerned about 4th of July celebrations later in the day than the 8.5 miles ahead of us, everyone just went with the flow and were glad the rain had passed and we had a beautiful morning. 

On our way to the start we probably passed about 50 people, maybe more, who were already on their way down. Most walking, a few jogging, all dodging mud puddles but having a great time. Once I was on my way I passed a few groups, including 4 people who were pushing a jogging stroller. As I came up on them I assumed they had a baby in the stroller, turned out their baby was a cooler filled with beer. Many were dressed up in patriotic gear, as to be expected. 

I missed the official start but Woody said it was basically a guy who said "ready, set, go!" and they were off. Also, the t-shirts. While great, identify the race is a quarter marathon, which isn't right. I'm guessing there's some inside joke there that those of us who haven't raced it all 47 years won't understand.

Final verdict, we'd both run it again. 

Injury Update: I started seeing a physical therapist last week and have several weekly sessions on the calendar. After doing a few tests and confirming that my knee is definitely better but still needs some work, she did some manual therapy (which hurt) and assisted with some stretches before giving me homework. Hopefully in a few weeks I'll be back to running soon. I have more races on the calendar to get ready for!

There's so much more to Crested Butte so that'll come in another post. I'd love to hear from anyone who's run Gothic to Crested Butte! How did you celebrate the 4th? Are you proud of a recent race or run performance?