Friday, September 7, 2018

Spirit Animal

I don't buy into astrology all that much. Taurus is my zodiac sign, but I've never particularly been fond of it. Stubborn? Materialistic? Gimme a break. And for that matter, I'm not all that convinced that the alignment of planets that are millions of miles from Earth has anything to do with how my life plays out.

But that's not to say that I don't dabble in the mystical.

For example, my spirit animal is a Labrador Retriever. No question about it, take it to the bank.

Let's examine further:

I'm loyal, loveable, happy, and friendly to everyone I meet. In a dog it's a wonderful quality, but I find that my fellow humans tend to get freaked out by it a bit. Also, it's gotten me into a fair bit of trouble over the years. Sometimes I get so stoked to meet friends or go on adventures that I'll make plans in a fit of excitement, only to later remember that I have no ability to actually fulfill those commitments*. I just get caught up in the moment.

*More on that: I'm a pretty regular dude. A 40+ hour per week job takes up a ton of my time, physical energy, and mental clarity.  And when I'm not at work, I have an incredible wife and two rambunctious dogs with whom I love spending time. All of this makes it very hard for me to find a place in a Boulder trail running community that values day-long adventures, ass-kicking vert, and post-run beers. Most of my runs have to be "squeezed in." It's why I tend to be so active on social media: it's my way of feeling connected to others who love the same weird sport I do. So please forgive me if I don't show up to the early morning social run. I desperately want to be there, but more than likely I had to work until 2AM the night before.

Labs are also famous for being clumsy. That means sliding around on wood floors, backing into tables, and tail-whipping drinks. With me, it means....well, a lot of the same things. I can't be trusted to paint anything without ruining carpet or clothes. If coffee or a meal is on the agenda, I know to avoid wearing light-colored shirts. And you'd better believe that the toe of my shoe will find every rock in the trail. But I do it all with a big dumb smile on my face.

As for exercise, I basically just copy and pasted the following passage about Labs: I have energy to spare. I love running, hiking, swimming and playing fetch for hours on end. A simple stroll around the block isn't gonna cut it. I need to run every day in order to burn off excess energy. If I'm not properly exercised, I become destructive and chew anything I can get my mouth on.

Like pizza.

And there's more in there about being great with kids and having a strong desire to please, but you get the picture.

This is who I am. I'm learning to love the tricky parts along with the wonderful parts. It's not always easy, but neither is running. And on my journey to self-acceptance, I hope you can take me for who I am, too.

What's your spirit animal?

Sunday, September 2, 2018

I Ate His Liver

I'd like to clarify, mostly for my own sake, why this website exists.

I started Breaking 'Burbs for one reason, and it's the same reason I do pretty much everything: my friends were doing it. People I admire were doing it. It seemed like the cool thing to do.

Sure, my claim is that I wanted to chronicle my ultra-running adventures. And I'm enjoying that aspect of it. But let's look at the tape:
Hannibal Lecter: He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now. 
Clarice Starling: No. We just... 
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.
As an aspiring ultra-runner, I was digesting a lot of media. YouTube videos, podcasts, books...pretty much anything I could get my hands on. And some of the best stories were firsthand accounts from the runners themselves. They were pouring their hearts out for the world to see, and many of them were doing so in my personal favorite venue: the blog. I was fascinated.

So I came here to do the same, to tell my story, in hopes that it would make me feel "more legit." But a funny thing happened. As this silly little blog of mine progressed over the years, it became a dumping ground for race reports and monthly running statistics. Many professional trail runners seemed to be doing that, so I did my best to imitate them.

There was just one problem: this model implies that the value of what I do lies in how often I run. How fast I can go. How much insane vert I can log. And if that's the value in running...then I'm boned. You're looking at a slow dude with short legs and not a whole lot of free time to spend weeks getting lost in the high country. There's no way that I can measure up to the stats of the pros. Not even close. Not even sorta.

So I wind up with a digital hangover more often than not. "Shit, I only logged 20 miles this week. I suck, and everyone is laughing at me and calling me a phony. Better drown my mediocrity with all the pizza."

Not a great place to be, mentally speaking.

But as I continue to carve out my little corner in this crazy sport, I'm discovering that there is still value in what I do despite my pedestrian numbers. I have to opportunity to explore breathtaking scenery here in Colorado. The landscape widens my eyes and gives me clarity in its humbling grandeur. The mountains teach me something new about myself and my place in the universe every single time I take to the trail. These things have real value, and I'm taking them to the bank.

And there is even more to learn through struggle. Grinding my way to a painful finish at North Fork 50 this June was transformative in a way that only comes with digging deep, hitting impenetrable bedrock, and then continuing to dig anyway. If we're talking ultra statistics, there's nothing impressive with a 13-hour finish at an event that boasts a mere 6,700 ft of vert over smooth single track, but I'm super proud of my effort there nonetheless.

So no more monthly statistics posts. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely still motivated by growing and improving on those fronts. That data will live on in my own personal spreadsheet. If you're still curious about the nitty gritty details of my daily grind, you can visit the link to my Strava profile. But you won't find numbers here. Let's use this arena to focus on words.

Everything you need to find him is there in those pages.

JVB

Friday, April 13, 2018

March 2018 Recap

It took me a minute to shake off the disappointment of last month, but now I'm ready to do my monthly recap.

March was tough. I battled a bizarre leg ailment that kept me uncomfortable for close to three weeks. After a trip to the doctor and x-rays that came back clean, I decided to gently train through the injury. Slow, short runs combined with self-massage seem to have done the trick, as I'm now able to return to normal running activities. It's still not 100%, but it seems to be improving as I gain strength. That's all the green light I need.

MARCH TOTALS:

Distance: 39.7 miles (down from 82.6 last March)
Time Spent Running: 6hr 39min (way down from 13:03 last March)
Elevation Gain: 1,002 ft (down from 3,955 ft last March)

THE BIG PICTURE:
I can't let myself get as discouraged as I'm feeling right now. I feel like a worthless failure. Sure, I was fighting off an injury, and I had to rest the way I did, but it's still tough. I tend to be a numbers-driven person, whether I like it or not. Numbers don't lie. But in this case, they don't tell the whole story, so I'm gonna try to cut myself some slack.

THE GOOD:
  • Since coming back from injury, I'm getting things dialed in much better.
    • April has already gotten off to a strong start, so that's got me feeling optimistic for the running season. I'm getting my nutrition where it needs to be, and I'm incorporating more strength training than ever before (still not a ton, mind you, but it's progress!)
  • I'm feeling confident that I'll be able to complete my Spring races.
    • I was worried for a minute that I wouldn't be able to run the Flying Pig or North Fork, but now I think they'll get done. The times won't be pretty, but hey...
    THE LESS-THAN-GOOD:
    • I could've done more while I was recovering from injury.
      • It's hard to get out for a bike ride when the weather blows, but I could've at least gone to the gym and used the indoor bike. Something low-impact to get my heart rate up. I can honestly say, I hope I never have the opportunity to remedy that mistake! 
    Let's aim for consistency this month. I'm off to a good start. Keep it going.

    ~JVB



    Friday, March 16, 2018

    Injured?

    March has had its share of misfortune, and it looks to be a disappointing month in terms of running. My enthusiasm and urge to get out the door and enjoy early springtime miles in Colorado has come to a dead stop thanks to... something?

    Allow me to clarify: I'm injured, and I have no idea to what capacity.

    I wasn't running any further or harder than I had before. I wasn't trying to incorporate some weird new stretching or weight training into my routine. But nevertheless, there is a throbbing, aching pain in the lower part of my left leg that simply won't go away.

    At first I thought it was just fatigue from training. I gave it a day to subside, and got back out there and felt fine. Then the paint came back, so I gave it another couple days and it felt normal. But now it's inescapable, and I don't dare go back out there and try to run until I can get a doctor to have a look and see what's wrong.

    It could be any number of things. A bad case of shin splints, a stress fracture, nerve pain, compartment syndrome... and Dr. Google says as much.  So, rather than risk making it worse, I've spent the past week resting up as much as possible, and I've got a doctor's appointment on Thursday.

    Staring down the face of possibly not being able to run my spring races is a supremely disheartening prospect. This could take weeks or months to heal, depending on the diagnosis. At the very least, I'll be headed into the events under-trained and running the risk of re-aggravating whatever this niggle is. But, if given the choice, I definitely want to recover properly and ensure that I can return to healthy running, whenever that may be.

    In the meantime, I need to make sure I don't replace the running high with my other favorite chemical boost: the sugar high. Wish me luck.

     ~JVB

    Sunday, March 4, 2018

    February 2018 Recap

    Another month has come and gone in colorful Colorado. It wasn't the coldest February by any stretch, so I managed to continue shaking of the cobwebs of Winter and get some solid time on my feet in the great outdoors.

    FEBRUARY TOTALS:
    Distance: 71.5 miles (up from last year's 63.7)
    Time Spent Running: 12:09 (up from last year's 10:12)
    Elevation Gain: 2,507 ft (down from last year's 3,037)

    Again, the lack of hills in Dacono rears its ugly head. I even managed a mountainous trail run this month, which I never did last February, but it still wasn't enough to put me over the edge.

    I know what's happening: the mud and snow in the foothills are keeping me away. The thought of running in that muck doesn't sound fun at all. And I'm gonna let myself off the hook a bit because I've still managed to get my miles in anyway.

    Let's remedy that in March!



    ~JVB

    Tuesday, February 20, 2018

    2017 Bear Chase Trail 50k Race Report

     *NOTE: It's been a few months since I ran the Bear Chase Trail 50k, but I realized I haven't written up a race report for it yet, so I'm gonna do my best to remember the details.

    When I made the decision to register for the Bear Chase Trail 50k, I was sitting at a burger joint on a Friday afternoon with a colleague. We had just finished plowing through a pile of fries, and I was looking out the window at the late summer afternoon in Colorado. The final stretch of training had begun for the Indian Creek 50 Miler, and I needed to squeeze in a final long run before taper began.

    My laptop sat open in front of me on the restaurant table, and I returned my gaze to my internet browser window, which was open on UltraSignup.com. In my free time, I enjoy hunting for future events to run, and I couldn't help but notice that there was actually a nearby trail 50k the following morning.

    Yep, that's right. The following morning. As in... less than 24-hours later.

    Now, normal folks might laugh at the idea of running a 31 mile event on a whim, but, as my wife likes to remind me... I'm not normal. And when I emailed the race organization and they told me that I still had time to register, I snapped my laptop shut, shoved it hastily into my backpack and drove down to packet pickup at a local running store to sign up for what would be my second ultra, the Bear Chase Trail 50k.

    My training last Summer was full of more long miles and mountainous vert than I'd ever logged in my life, so I was feeling pretty invincible. I planned to treat the Bear Chase as a long training run, and I gave myself permission to run at a relaxed pace. For me, that kind of self-assured confidence is really lovely and quite rare. The began to rise in the chilly morning air, and I shivered my way down from the dirt parking area to the starting line by Bear Creek Lake.

    The vibe at the starting line was classic Colorado trail race. Low-key, mellow, with lots of smiling volunteers and an air of camaraderie. Say what you will about the grandeur of a big road marathon, I'll take a small cluster of like-minded weirdos any day. I positioned myself toward the back of the pack and repeated the day's mantra in my mind: slow and steady training run.

    The national anthem was sung, and the race began.

    The Bear Chase 50k consists of one small loop around the lake followed by two larger loops, covering 31 miles over soft surface and single track trails. There's just over 2,100 ft of vertical gain. It's a super runnable course overall, and I could see the speedsters having a field day ahead of me as the event took off toward lap #1.

    Oh...there's one thing I forgot to mention: the water crossings.

    Back in 2013 when I first began learning about trail running, the part that blew my mind the most was that runners would NOT try to avoid running through streams and creeks, they'd simply run right THROUGH them! I couldn't believe it! I'd ask trail running friends if they stop to take off their shoes before crossing the water. "Nope," they'd say, "Just run right through without stopping. Your feet will dry off as you run as long as you're wearing the proper socks and shoes." It sounded like pure madness to me at the time.

    Well, today was the chance for me to put their claims to the test, because the Bear Chase 50k doesn't just have one water crossing... it has SEVEN. And sure enough, less than a mile into the event, we hit water crossing number one (which, I would later discover, is the smallest of the bunch) and the runners in front of me just stormed right through the bubbling creek and kept on running!

    A sense of doubt crept over me as I approached the water. I could stop, take off my shoes and socks, and wade across the creek, but wouldn't that be the ultimate wussy move? I really didn't want the other runners looking at me like I was a weenie just yet. So I opted to go with the flow and do what the other runners were doing. After all, they were probably smarter and more experienced than me. Plus, I had a couple fresh pairs of socks waiting for me in my drop bag in case the soggy feet got to be too much to handle. So I plowed right through the water and kept on running.

    And you know what? It worked! The water was cold for sure, but a few miles later I noticed that things were drying out quite nicely! Score.

    The rest of the first loop was mostly uneventful. There's one standout climb up the west side of Mt. Carbon (about a mile into the race) that's impossible to miss, but I did what the ultrarunning books told me to do: I stopped running and began hiking up that climb. It kept my legs fresh for the rest of the race, which I was thankful for later.

    Six miles into the race, I hit the end of the first loop. I was only carrying a handheld water bottle, so I topped it off, grabbed a few gels, and headed back out for the second, longer loop. By this time my feet were dry enough that I didn't feel like changing socks. I wanted to keep plugging away.

    After another hike up Mt. Carbon, we veered right at a trail junction and headed into a more wooded section of trail. I was still feeling good at this point. My heart rate monitor was telling me that I was staying mostly below 80% of my max (though, I admit, not as far below as I would've preferred), and my hydration and calorie intake were staying true to schedule. I was taking a gel every 30 mins, and would have some potato chips or a slice of bean burrito at each aid station. I kept my handheld full of water, and would pound a cup of sports drink or coke at the aid stations. I was taking one salt tablet every hour. How my stomach didn't go south in this race I have no idea, because I was certainly putting it through the wringer.

    The six remaining water crossings (three consecutive streams on each big loop) were much more significant. The cool water came up past my knees, but it felt amazing on my legs! I actually dunked my whole body into the creek on the final crossing, just to cool off in the heat of the afternoon sun. Were my legs getting tired by then? Sure. But that's to be expected in an ultra. And, all things considered, they were holding up fairly well.

    At the end of the second loop, I lingered long enough to change socks and restock my fuel sources before heading out for the final 12.5 mile stretch. When I passed the 27 mile mark, I realized I had quite a bit of fuel left in the tank (up to that point I had been hovering around 11:00/mi pace), so I decided to kick it into a higher gear for the remaining 4 miles and really have fun with it! Granted, I'm pretty slow, so my "higher gear" was still only about 9:30/mi, but at that point in the day it certainly had my heart racing from the effort!

    At some point in those last couple miles I passed Courtney Dauwalter, who was on her way to winning the 50-mile event outright by almost 2 full hours and shattering Kaci Lickteig's previous course record by 18 minutes! Had I known who she was at the time, I probably would've stopped and fanboyed all over the place. Probably for the best...

    My proudest moment of all was the final mile, because it was the fastest of the day. I had run a smart race and felt terrific as I crossed the finish line. Tired, but terrific! And as always, Alex was there to cheer me on at the end. We lingered on the grass near the finish line and I did a little bit of stretching and rolled out my leg muscles. It was a lovely feeling to be done with the day, and it gave me a boost of confidence for the Indian Creek 50 Miler three weeks later.

    TL;DR - I ran the Bear Chase Trail 50k in 5:34:19 and finished 34th overall. Didn't fall, didn't barf, didn't cry. Great event on lovely trails.

    ~JVB








    Friday, February 2, 2018

    January 2018 Recap + Goals for the Year

    At some point around New Year's day, I decided I still wanted to be a runner.

    Okay, that's not fair. I knew I still wanted to be a runner, but I just didn't have any desire to get off the couch and do any actual running. Muscle memory can work against me sometimes, and my legs hadn't quite shaken the memory of the Indian Creek 50-Miler back in late October. There's a big part of my personality that loves making excuses. Fighting against that part of my psyche is what keeps me running. And I was tired of losing that fight.

    So the calendar page flipped, and I consciously flipped my mentality along with it.

    We live in Weld County now, in a brand new neighborhood surrounded by farms. There aren't as many trails as there are dirt roads, but they're perfect for running. There's nowhere to hide from the wind, the sun, or the mud. The cars...well, trucks...are few and far between.

    Oh, and we got rid of our treadmill in the move, so all my winter running will take place outside. Time to embrace the cold and snow!

    I started my January with enthusiasm, and finished with humility. Instead of returning gradually, I kicked things off with a 30 mile week (high for me). But the early pounding caught up with me and I came down with a wicked case of shin splints and calf pain that forced me to take a few days off. But with a fresh pair of shoes, I came back and finished the month strong.

    JANUARY TOTALS:
    Distance: 90.7 miles
    Time Spent Running: 15:34
    Elevation Gain: 2,428 ft

    Looking back at the numbers for the month, I can already tell what my challenge will be in our new town: finding some significant elevation gain. I'll have to make more of a conscious effort to get up to the mountains.

    I'm FAR from an elite runner. I really just aim to improve year after year, working towards being the best me I can be. My goals for 2018 are:

    • Run at least 1,500 miles. Last year I managed 1,023.
    • Climb at least 120,000 ft. Last year I managed 94,321.
    • Complete two 50 Mile trail events. Ideally in less than 12 hours depending on the course and the conditions.
    Okay! Let's get out there and run!


    ~JVB