Friday, December 12, 2014

November Race Report

Towards the end of October things really started to come together for my running and I have been able to carry it through in November. I am not sure what has led to this breakthrough because there are many candidates. I am at sea level, wearing lighter shoes, sans beer (not by choice, mind you) and using a standing desktop in the room. . . who knows.

Start of the Marine Corps Birthday 5k. Photo courtesy of MWR.

Sandwiching some distance between two 5k’s

The 5k races on my camp are at fairly random intervals depending on what events the Morale, Welfare and Recreation People decide to highlight. On the 7th of November we had the 3rd Army Birthday 5k and on the 10th I ran the Marine Corps Birthday 5k. A friend who was training up for a 24-hour race that we’re doing over New Year’s was doing a long run on evening of the 8th and I told him I would join him for support.

Start of the 3rd Army Birthday 5k. Photo courtesy of MWR.
The Army Birthday 5k went pretty well. The one other soldier who usually beats me without breaking a sweat was not there and, after a passing a few soldiers who went out too fast, I had the course to myself. My first and last kilometer splits were within five seconds of each other so I was happy with how the pacing went for this one.

Feeling good at the 1k. Photo courtesy of MWR.

Finishing the 3rd Army Birthday 5k. Photo courtesy of MWR.
As expected, my legs were a little tired for the Marine Corps Birthday 5k. My pace per mile suffered by about 13 seconds. Not all of this was due to fatigue though. This course was in a different part of the camp that featured all dirt roads. The elevation gain was about the same, but the inclines in this course are also closer to the end which, in my mind, makes it a bit harder.

Finishing the Marine Corps Birthday 5k. Photo courtesy of MWR.

America Recycles Day 5k

Start of the America Recycles 5k. Mr. Kibbet in the Nike shirt crushed us all. Photo courtesy of MWR.
Apparently there is an actual day for America recycling. The MWR here got into the spirit by giving out leftover shirts from previous races to finishers. Back on pavement and with a bit of time to recover I managed to just crack the 16:50 mark to set a deployment PR.

Run Q8: Heading to the Big City

Last month an email went out offering spots to a race in downtown Kuwait. I immediately walked over to our host nation office (which does these sorts of liaison events) and put down my 10 KD. When the big day finally arrived about 20 of us caravanned into downtown Kuwait. Since it was the weekend the driving felt less death defying than usual. There was the usual crowds of people miling about the start and group stretches. The crowd looked to be tilted slightly towards the expat community.

Area Support Group-Kuwait crew

The course started at the Marina Park and was a simple out-and-back along the gulf road. Unfortunately, the views of the gulf were generally blocked by buildings. But at least I figured it would be hard to get lost (a challenge I always accept).

The biggest difference I saw at the start was that in US races there is often a hesitation to crowd the start. In this race there was no such hesitation. I suspected from past year’s results that I would be in the top 10, but I could not squeeze my way to the front. Of course, as the Kuwaiti who finished behind me said, “you look a little big to be a fast runner”. True.

Start / Finish Area
The good news was that the field cleared out within the first 400 meters and I was soon in second. Mr. Kibbet, the speedy runner from our base who crushed the 10-mile last month, slowly disappeared from my view. The eventual second place runner passed me at about a kilometer and gradually pulled ahead by a few seconds per kilometer for the rest of the way.

The less good news was that there was a 12 mph headwind on the way out. There was some confusion on the turn-around with both 2nd place and myself running about an extra 100 meters, but no places were lost, so I did not think on it too much. Now the wind that had hounded us on the way out made for a nice negative split on the way home.

From the old pace chart you can see which half I had the wind to my back
I came in a solid 3rd in 35:26. While my GPS watch claimed I ran a PR pace, I think my personal rule will be to go with the official course time and try again another day.  There are many more races to come.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Running Regressions

Since I am no longer in the Excel dojo that I had in my civilian job, I needed some way to keep my skills sharp. So I decided to nerd out a little on my running log. In a previous post, I had noted the logarithmic relationship between distance and pace. While this was a pretty strong relationship I was curious about other factors. The effect of these factors though seemed harder to tease out of my data than the effects of pace versus distance, so I went full geek and did a multi-variable linear regression. Enjoy.

Deciding What to Test

After some thought and searching around the web, I settled on looking at the following factors:

·         Altitude
·         Temperature
·         Elevation gain

I chose these factors because they were easy to get for the races I have done this year. I have also done races over a wide variety of altitudes this year (Boulder, Ft. Bliss, Boise and Kuwait) so I have a lot more sample points than I usually have. I also had a decent spread of temperatures from 29 °F at the Frozen Foot 5k (February in Boulder) to an 86 °F run in Kuwait. I did not do any races with significant elevation gains this year (say over 300 ft per mile), but I started using Strava a lot more this year and it seems like a neat variable to test.

I did not look at other variables that like wind, elevation loss or technicality of terrain. Wind I did not choose to look at because most courses are loops and while you never get back from the wind what you give to it, I was not sure that I wanted to go back and figure out what percentage of each race was into the wind. Strava doesn’t give elevation loss and I did not feel like going through any more hassle to figure it out for point-to-point courses. Technicality of terrain I did not include because I was not sure how best to put a number to it. Perhaps next year when get back to doing tempo runs in the mountains I will revisit this one.

The dataset

While my racing for the first half of the year was light, during my deployment in Kuwait I am racing almost every week. Overall I had 13 races in my dataset. Not big enough to be truly statistically significant, but good enough for fun.

When I did a straight pace v. distance plot, the logarithmic relationship is still there, but it’s not as clean as it is with my PRs.

Pace versus Distance for my 2014 Races with a log curve fit
Pace versus distance for my personal records (with a log curve fit)

But I regress. . .

In a stats class offered through work I learned about the Linear Regression feature in Excel. The first step was to ensure that my variables had a linear relationship to pace (in other words, doubling the altitude doubles its effect on your pace). A little Googling found Run Works which takes formulas from Jack Daniels (no not that one) and other exercise physiology sources. This site allows you to put in a time and distance and then gives you estimated times for different altitudes, elevation gains, etc. It appeared that at least based on the formulas that other experts used, altitude, elevation gain and temperature had a reasonably linear relationship to pace.

Pace versus Altitude for a 16:49 5k at sea level (Source: Run Works / Jack Daniels' formulas)

Pace versus Altitude for a 16:49 5k with 40 ft of elevation gain (Source: Run Works / Jack Daniels' formulas)

Pace v. Temperature for a 16:49 5k at 50 F (Source: Run Works / Jack Daniels' formulas)
For altitude I used the average value for the race (rounded to about 100ft). I got my weather data from NOAA for each race. The elevation gain I got from Strava which I believe used the digital terrain mapping (DTM) data from Google Earth or Maps.


Using a distance only gave me an R squared value of 0.79 (the closer to 1 the better the prediction). Throwing in altitude, elevation gain and temperature brought this up to 0.87. Not bad.

As one final experiment I also added a Boolean variable to account for if a race was proceeded by a major training event. For example, I ran the Bolder Boulder this year one week after a marathon. Another recent race in Kuwait was a 5k that I ran two days after an 18-mile long run and three days after another 5k. Incorporating this brought my R squared value up to 0.93. 

But there was one more bit of nerdiness to tease out. Among the results of Excel’s regression is the P-value. This stat gives you an indication of how important this variable is (or how likely the fluctuations in your dependent variable appear to be due to any particular variable). Basically, the lower the P-value the more important your variable is.

The variable, in order of predictive power on my pace were:

Major Training Event
Temperature and Elevation gain (roughly tied)

So What

The other neat thing I can now do is plot the predicted pace again what I actually ran. If my pace is faster than the predicted value then that indicates that I had a good race and the result gives me some kind of indication of how good of a race I had (or vice versa). Additionally, if I found a random distance under some odd conditions (say a neat 18.5k race at 2000 ft in the crisp fall air), this formula could also give me an idea of how to pace myself.

Variation in my actual pace for the race versus the predicted pace
Above zero means that I ran a faster than predicted pace
It was a fun experiment on something I've been musing about for a while. It's not perfect and, in the academic sense, probably not statistically very meaningful. But I can live with that. The imperfections leave a bit of mystery and room for a bit of the passion involved in running.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fishing the Frank Church / River of No Return Wilderness (2009)

25 June – 6 August 2009


In Kuwait I can do all the running I please (or in the summer all that I can handle in the brutal heat), but opportunities for other pursuits, like fishing, are somewhat limited. Since I cannot make new fishing memories for a few more months, I will have to suffice with revisiting older ones. The summer after I left active duty in the Army my father and three friends from high school went on an epic fishing trip in northern Idaho.

The region we chose was roughly around the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness. There is something about that which just sounds epic, although we did not go down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River*. As with most wilderness areas out west, this one was vast enough that we never lacked for opportunities even though we did not hit this wilderness’ namesake.

"FCRONRWildernes Map" by USFS - US Forest Service

Johnson Creek / South Fork of the Salmon

We started our trip on the small Johnson Creek. I cannot say why we picked it from among the many choices other than you have to start somewhere.

Doing some planing at the Trout Creek Campground

Trout Creek Campground (44.747209°, -115.555123°) is about 3.5 hours from Boise. While there is no special gold-medal water right nearby, there is a wealth of small, lightly-fished streams. The first day we checked out various stretches of Johnson Creek and caught a few nice bows in the 8-12 inch range. The upper stretches of the Johnson Creek were nice meadow areas and produced nice brookies for one night’s supper.

Justin fishes a nice hole on Johnson Creek

Another day Justin and I hiked about 1.5 miles over a ridge to check out the Roaring Lakes (44.743020°, -115.632186°). We parked along Fire Road 467 just south of Trout Creek Camp. We took a pretty but indirect route in an attempt to follow a fire road. On the way back we went a little more directly. If the goings tough all around, straight is sometimes best.

View of the first Roaring Lake from the ridgeline
We each caught a 12-14” rainbow. Although the fishing to effort ratio was a bit off, the views were reasonable compensation.

Roaring Lake 'bow
We also tried out Summit Lake (44.646942°, -115.590025°)  and the South Fork of the Salmon. Both of these were slow. We did however get to see some of the zombie-like salmon that had made it all the way through Washington State and were the definition of spawned-out with chunks of flesh hanging off as they skished across three-inch deep ripples on their relentless journey. We also tried the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River (It’s like Idaho ran out of people to name rivers after). Here we teased up some nice cutthroats with simulators.

Jeremy tries his luck on Summit Lake

Big Creek

On the way to our next base camp we stopped for lunch at the town of Yellow Pine. Yellow Pine is the modern-day definition of a one-horse town – an image that they clung to fiercely. The main drag of town was a dirt road with two restaurants / bars, a hotel, post office and store. Gas could be purchased there for $5/gallon if you could track down the owner to turn on the pump. The town’s claim to fame was its annual harmonica festival in early August.

Yellow Pine makes Nederland, CO look like the big city
This place looks legit. Lunchtime it is.

We set up camp (45.161452°, -115.250760°) and went right to Big Creek that afternoon and caught our first bull trout. Big Creek was entirely in the Frank Church Wilderness. This was nice because it meant no four-wheelers on the path that followed the stream and thus that every fishing spot not on a road had to be earned on foot. Big Creek was particularly attractive because it had a trail that went along its entire 35-mile length to where it dumped into one of the middle fork of the Salmon River. We never got to explore more that the first five miles. A great fishing trip would be to get flown to one end and hike the entire length of the river. I am sure that the middle sections receive little pressure.

Kyle tried a nice deep hole on Big Creek
The bull trout were quite amazing the next day. Both Kyle and my father hooked into ones that fought for over a half-hour. They both had to be released because the bull trout are somewhat threatened and while you can fish for them you are advised to not fish them to exhaustion.

Nice bull trout, bub
The best way we found to fish for the bull trout was to put on a heavy cone-headed streamer (a nice black marabou streamer with rubber legs was our favorite), let the current drag it down and around in the hole and then give it a few strips up. While not the most glamorous method of fly fishing, it produced some big bull trout.

Soldier Lakes

Dun broke the net with that cutthroat
We used the town of Stanley, Idaho to refit and then made our way up to the Soldier Lakes. We set up our base camp at Josephus Lake (44.548668°, -115.143078°) and did one overnight and a day trip up into the lakes. Because this drainage does not have spawning salmon you can keep some of the numerous cutthroats.

The ponds seem to fall into three main categories. There are the very shallow ones which appeared to get winter killed and were almost devoid of life. Then there were the mostly shallow ones with some deep pockets. These had lots of logs and cover along the shore and lots of 8-10” cutts visible and swimming along the shore. Then there were the deep lakes that fished a little slow, but seemed to have the monsters.

Taking a rest between the lakes

We checked out 1st Lieutenant, Staff Sergeant, Captain and Cutthroat Lakes. 1st LT lake was somewhat shallow from the shore and you could see the fish swimming around. Captain Lake was a bit deeper and held the biggest fish of the day. We camped along Cutthroat Lake that night. We took cutthroats in the evening and morning that were rising to our parachute adams flies. On the way out we fished Staff Sergeant Lake where Kyle and Jeremy caught a couple of 20+ inch cutthroats.

Soldier Lakes Cutthroat

Travel, Navigating and Getting Around

We primarily used the Idaho Delorme ($20) and US Forest Service Maps ($10 / map). There was another Delorme-style map, Benchmark Idaho Road & Recreation Atlas. This one had a different color scheme and was a little more cluttered than the Delorme, but in one or two maps that I looked at it did have a little more information in one or two spots – but not significantly different. The US Forest Service maps were very nice waterproof, 1:100,000 topo maps with 1mi grid squares (they did have GPS ticks on the edges, but these were not very user friendly for plotting points in the middle as the ticks did not line up with the grid square lines). They clearly showed forest service boundaries, private land and campsites. The campsite key listed the amenities at each campsite.

The other thing that we did that was nice was to plot the lakes (and points on the streams) on Google Earth and then transferred them to our GPS. My father and I used the Rhino 530HCx GPS. They double as walkie talkies and you can sent your location to each other (as long as you have line of site). An alternative would be to use some of the new GPS aps for your smarthphone. I have been using Backcountry Navigator and really liking it. I used these way points to hike into a few ponds that were off the trails.


Large patches of the Frank Church Wilderness where we were had been burned. This could be a little soul crushing at times, but there were still ample green areas. Bush-whacking was generally easy with the exception of the burned out sections (where blow downs could be tough slogs). For us two miles is the most I would consider bush-whacking through to get to a pond, and even that could be rough. We could generally make about a mile and hour. The elevation changes are physically demanding, but doable. We were generally between 5000 and 9000 feet.


Late July through early August was a great travel time. We had one day of rain (the last day) with every other day being sunny or partially cloudy. We had one or two passing rain showers that lasted 5 minutes but the rain on the last day came through with brief quickness and fury when it did come. Temperatures in the mountains were high 30’s to low 40’s at night and into the 70’s and 80’s during the day. Humidity was generally almost non-existent.

Fishing Regs

Much of the fishing regs are based on protecting the runs of salmon and steelhead. But if we wanted to eat we could generally find the brookies in the higher sections of the streams and these, are well, less desirable fish out west with a limit of 25 fish (and not included in catch-n-release trout regs). Many higher ponds allowed you to keep a cutthroat or two which we did for dinner once or twice.


We generally stuck to car camping with one day overnight hiking trip. If I return though I am definitely going to do some longer backpacking trips. While waders were temping in the cooler hours of the morning I mostly abandoned mine after the first few days and wet waded for majority of the trip. I found a pair of neoprene socks and my wading boots worked just fine. For longer hikes I used a backpack to put my waders, chest pack, net and rod into. The net is definitely worth hiking in as some of these ponds produced some 18-20 inch cuts and both my father and friend hooked into bull trout that needed nets.

I used a five weight rod which was good enough to chuck big streamers but delicate enough for some smaller streams. For bull trout you definitely want a sinking tip spool and some heavy streamers. Kyle did just fine with a three-weight. Anything bigger than a six-weight would be overkill for most of the situations we fished.


A promising omen while we were packing our gear in the hotel
There were some massive blue wing olive hatches in some of the ponds and lots of stonefly casings. For dries I liked size 14-16 grey parachute adams and grey or white 14-16 caddis flies. Stimulators (with or without rubber legs) were always good as a searcher fly. Tan hoppers were good in meadow stretches. For bull trout we liked big cone-headed black muddler-style streamers. A brown woolly bugger also caught a few nice cuts up in the mountain ponds. Scuds came highly recommended in one book and I caught a few on these as well.

Cutthroat Lake at sunset. Fish were rising everywhere.
* The canyons and current of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River make it rather difficult to access for several miles – hence when you go into the canyon you are rather committed (hence the “no return”). 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Deployed Racing and the October Race Report

Like many aspects of being deployed, I try not to linger too long on the differences in running back at home and running on a base in Kuwait. While I occasionally dream about running up Skunk Canyon or the South Boulder Creek Path, there are some things that I find enjoyable and special about running and racing overseas.

The races on our camp are a bit rougher and less polished than even your small state-side 5k. Most of this stems from the fact that races here are run by awesome volunteers who are not necessarily runners by background. The course markings are a bit sparser. At our camp there are no age group awards – or even results (although some deployed races do have results and age groups). Some races have shirts; others don’t. Some have top three awards; others don’t. While all of these features are nice, their occasional absence does make me realize that I do not really run races for any of these perks. A race stripped of these things almost feels more pure – probably like street basketball feels to someone who plays a lot in more refereed leagues. If you are running here it is because you truly enjoy the comradery that comes with being in the midst of several hundred fellow runners who are trying to push themselves to go a little faster.

Pre-dawn start of the 10-Miler
The races are free and plentiful. I have run four in October alone (Three 5ks and a 10-miler). Rarely does a week pass without a 5k. They find some cause or event to pin to each one. They mostly tend to be of the 5k distance since this is a popular distance for getting good participation and the course is fairly easy logistically.

Ascending the hill at the start of mile 2
Even on a reasonably big base like the one I am at, you end up getting to know the running routes very well. While I did make a somewhat comical wrong turn on my first 5k, once I learned the “usual” 5k course, I really got to know it. Somewhat like a baseball player who learns all the intricacies of their unique home field, I am learning every inch of the 5k course – where to push, where flagging attention can cause my pace to drift and where to pay attention to tangents.

The October Race Report:

Fire Prevention Week 5k
Army 10-Miler
Breast Cancer Awareness 5k
Operational Energy 5k

The Fire Prevention Week 5k was my first run in-country. At 6 AM the temperature was a rather merciful 75 °F. I found myself in the lead which while fun was problematic because there was no lead vehicle and the course was not overly well marked. I made a wrong turn but still managed to get to the finish line in the lead and run less than a tenth of a mile beyond the correct distance.

The Army 10-Miler had great participation. The course had a nice mix of the paved and gravel roads on base. The eventually winner was in his own race. Some people you can tell just do not know how to pace themselves and you can feel a smug assurance that you will see them again as they sprint off in the first mile. This fellow was not one of them. He finished in just under 52 minutes. I took second with a time of 58:55. My goal had been to run sub-6 minute miles and so I was happy.

Feeling fresh early in the Army 10-Miler

The Breast Cancer 5k was put on by the USO in a different part of the camp and at 7 PM instead of the usual 6 AM start. My friend from the 10-miler was there but I think this was more of a training run in his schedule. He ran with me and another captain for the first half of the race before turning on the switch and pulling away. I managed to shake the captain and pass under the spray of water from the fire truck to finish second in the dark amongst the pink glow sticks.

Start of the Breast Cancer Awareness 5k
Nice cooling off to finish the 5k

I finished out the month with the Operation Energy 5k. The training and acclimatization seemed to come together and I dipped below 17 minutes for the first time in a year or so. My friend (the ringer) was not around allowing me to finish the month with a deployed PR and the win.

Finishing the Operational Energy 5k