Monday, December 22, 2008

Cooper's Defeat Creek

Got in a nice 13 miler on Saturday morning, but nadda yesterday other than 20 minutes of elliptical work. Major props to those who braved it; i'm not that tough.

In honor of our great start to winter, I thought I'd paste a local story from a winter day almost exactly 177 years ago. In Stark County, just south of Bradford and running west to the Spoon River is a creek called Cooper's Defeat Creek. The story behind that name is interesting. And we thought a winter run was tough:

“The winter of 1831-32 was the winter of the deep snow. The weather before Christmas being pleasant a party of four men was equipped by a trader by the name of John Hamlin, then of Peoria, who was buying furs for the American Fur Company. Fitting them out with an ox team of two yoke and provisions for their journey from Peoria to the Winnebago swamps, with goods to trade to the Winnebago and Pottawatomi Indians, they started on their journey. Soon snow commenced to fall, the air grew colder, and continued to grow more so as they went along, until they were compelled by the fierce cold and driving snow to abandon their team. In fact the snow was so deep that the cattle got swamped and they were left to their fate. With Boyd’s Grove in view, the men started, guided by a large tree and a light at the grove. A man named Ridgeway was the only one of the party who succeeded in reaching the grove. The other three, two of whom were William and Jerry Cooper (the other name forgotten), perished on the prairie near a stream southwest of Boyd’s Grove. The bones of the men and the cattle were seen in the spring following, also the sled, as the soldiers of the Black Hawk war were marching, all mounted, 260 strong, to make battle with the Sac and Fox Indians. The stream where the men perished has since been known as ‘Cooper’s Defeat.’”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gee, It Snowed Again Last Night

I could say it was the same old route through town, but it wasn't. The roads were snow covered. I believe it to be a universal truth that the world is quieter after a snow. There may be some physical explanation for this, maybe the snow blanketing the ground is a sort of soundproofing like shag carpet in your parents' basement while your garage band played, but I'll cling to the belief that the reasons are more metaphysical and thus undefinable. My proof for last night were the dogs behind the fence baying like wolves. Echoing off of everything. Piercing. Definitely metaphysical.

If you're on road it has to be before they plow, this way you get to pick the best route through the slush. Maybe semi-frozen tire tracks, maybe fresh cover that hasn't yet been defiled, maybe pavement where the tracks have worn all the way through. This is likely to change every few minutes. That paved trail at the edge of town was indecipherable despite the fact I run it all the time. My tracks were the first.

The world was quiet, the dogs were loud, what usually takes an hour even took an hour and six minutes.

Tomorrow night is supposed to be an ice storm. Can't wait.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Farmdale Run

Four hours forty-one minutes of actual running. Well, running, with some walking mixed in, but not too much walking. Temps started cold, ended cold, cold being relative. Twenty-two degrees to start, twenty-four degrees when finished. First hour and a half were run in an ever-so-slight snowfall, enough to dust the trails, not heavy downbursts. Startled up a possum on Eagle Ridge toward the end of my first loop, sort of a rarity in daylight hours.

The trails were in pretty good condition, just enough snowpack to keep it really fun, but not real icy underneath in most spots. Snow running is so great, very doable even in road shoes. The only time it gets tough is when there's a thaw/refreeze and that sheen of smooth solid ice forms. This day there was only one spot where that was the case, just past the creek crossing on the east side of Farm Creek in the low spot.

Creeks are not frozen yet, made it a bit tricky, ended up slipping on one of the feeder creeks coming down horse hill and smashing a hand on the ice. Small price to pay. Felt good with the exception of a small energy lag at around four hours, pretty typical.

Ate three fruit/nut bar things, part of a banana and had both bottles of water filled on each loop. Overall a good run. Had planned to do the McN Fat Ass that was cancelled on the 13th, this run was in lieu of that.

Running goals: short term is McNabb Fat Ass 50k, some miles there, maybe/not full 50k. Keep upping my mileage increasingly, don't slag off due to weather. I believe there is mental toughness to be had in these conditions, plus it's just damn fun. Recover from McNabb then make a push for McNaughton. That be all for now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Night Run

I wasn't scheduled to run last night, but 20 degrees, 6 inches of snow and some nice west wind are just too hard to pass up. Last August my luck was to win a free pair Inov-8 trail shoes at Dave's local trail 5k. The shoes were ordered then promptly took up residence in my closet, forgotten.

I'm not given to change, and wear my road shoes on both road and trail; however, last night I remembered the Inov-8's and figured snow would be a good condition to try them out in.

Out the door for a short night run. No headlamp. One of the great things about running after a snowfall is that the ambient light gets reflected on even a cloudy night, making even the most covered trail runnable once the eyes adjust. And unfortunately it was cloudy last night. Venus and Jupiter were in conjunction with the crescent moon, which I'm sure was brilliant, but not visible with our cloud cover. Still worth looking for tonight.

Despite not having this view in the sky, was still a great run. Walking out my back door and down across the open field where the wind was leaving 2+ foot drifts, postholed past the organic farm into the timberline.

Even the familiar becomes extraordinary in the dark. Our second round of snow stuck nicely to the branches, especially so on the bending row of pines along one short stretch of trail. Flushed some large bird in the thickets along upper trail...wild turkey? pheasant? Couldn't see. Had a decent pace going on the less covered spots.

Three and a half miles later finished standing by the small grove of osage orange just down from my house, enjoying the wind blowing through their tops. The Inov-8's were pretty comfortable and the extra traction welcome. Change isn't always bad. Night runs in the snow are always good--that never changes.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Folepi River Trail Classic and First Snow

Saturday was the Folepi four miler. Caught a ride with Dave and Whisk. They decided to run up the River Trail to the starting line for a few extra miles. Then we ran back down faster. This is a big race and really pretty fun, considering that three out of the four miles are greatly aided by gravity.

My time was somewhere around 30 minutes even, 7:30 pace. A bit faster than the last time I did this race seven years ago. A complete lack of speedwork catches up with you in the shorter races, brain couldn't make the legs turn over so much. Too much trail? Yeah, but to me that's a good trade off since I'm not winning anything in a four mile race anyway. Just a nice change of pace.

I enjoyed the concept of trying to run fast for a change. And they have pizza at the postrace. I always find it funny that shorter races usually have folks standing around the postrace eating pizza, cookies, etc., but it's only like 10 in the morning--Steamboat for example--yeah, 8:30 a.m. is a great time for a beer, thanks. Love that about runners.

It snowed yesterday. E-town picked up 6 inches or so. Had to go run in it. The late morning was spent with Keegan sledding then taking the 4-wheeler out to do donuts in the field and ride the trails by the creek, but was able to get out and do five easy miles in the woods. Seems like yesterday, was a year ago today, ran a hard four hours at McNaughton in an ice storm. The cycle turns, winter running returns. Good thing we love it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chasing Cardinals

A trail run at Farmdale.

The nuts and bolts of the run, the stuff that goes into the running log, are time (four and one half hours), temperature (21 to start, 29 to finish), distance (don't know), and maybe some notes on how I felt, what I ate, etc. (good, but with some slight back pain the last hour).

The guts of the run are things like:

- noticing the last vestiges of greenery in the shrubs along the creek, many with red fruit still on, apparently they don't look good to birds. Couldn't I.D. the plants.

- wondering what sort of building that big concrete pad supported? Surely someone knows. While you're at it, fill me in on the stone bridge footings over Farm Creek.

- hearing shotgun shots ring out in the woods bordering the reservoir. Opening day of shotgun season. Some of the deer along the trail are skittish, some don't move at all. Perhaps they the know the fate they're avoiding by hanging out with me. Oh, didn't see anyone hunting illegally or driving deer. Not to say that doesn't happen.

-falling hard on TNT late in the run for lack of foot lift and not caring. A curse word followed by a dust off. Contemplating whether it speaks ill of my personal character that my snap reaction is to cuss.

-loving running on the thick pine needle bed on roy l. and to a lesser extent on schroll's. Almost makes you long for the north woods.

-being surprisded to see four cardinals criss crossing in front of me from tree to tree, a shade of red that seems to intensify with the coming winter and embelished further by the skeletal backdrop of leafless trees. Chasing those cardinals for 100 yards or more down the trail, looking down and regretting that the run was almost over.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ultrarunning Quote

Ran across this today while reading a race report and I think its very well stated:

"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers.

But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."

- David Blaikie

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mystery of Chessboxin

Chess. I've played for years, sometimes well, sometimes not, often obsessively, at times with just a passing interest. I've been playing online correspondence for a few years with some decent results, blitz even longer and to the point where I'm probably in the 90th percentile for aggro blitz, 5 minutes and shorter. Correspondence and long games are more what the game is really about, though.

A few of my better recent games (play as "runninfiend"):

[Round "1"]
[White "Antonius Block"]
[Black "runninfiend"]
[WhiteRating "1702"]
[BlackRating "1565"]
[WhiteELO "1702"]
[BlackELO "1565"]
[Result "0-1"]
[GameId "2442968"]

1. e4 Ng8f6 2. e5 Nf6d5 3. d4 d6 4. Bf1c4 Nd5b6 5. Bc4b3 dxe5 6. Ng1f3 exd4
7. Nf3e5 e6 8. Qd1f3 Qd8f6 9. Qf3e4 Bf8c5 10. O-O Nb8d7 11. Bc1f4 O-O
12. Nb1d2 Nd7xe5 13. Bf4xe5 Qf6e7 14. Nd2f3 f6 15. Be5xd4 Bc5xd4 16. Qe4xd4 Rf8d8
17. Qd4h4 Qe7c5 18. c4 a5 19. Bb3c2 h6 20. b3 a4 21. Ra1c1 axb3 22. axb3 Bc8d7
23. Nf3d2 Qc5g5 24. Nd2f3 Qg5xh4 25. Nf3xh4 f5 26. f4 Bd7e8 27. Rf1f3 Rd8d2
28. Rf3f2 Rd2xf2 29. Kg1xf2 Ra8d8 30. Kf2e3 g5 31. fxg5 hxg5 32. Nh4f3 g4
33. Nf3e5 Kg8g7 34. h4 Kg7f6 35. Ne5d3 Nb6d7 36. g3 Nd7e5 37. Rc1d1 Ne5xd3
38. Bc2xd3 Be8g6 39. Rd1f1 e5 40. Bd3b1 f4 41. gxf4 Bg6xb1 42. Rf1xb1 Kf6f5
43. h5 exf4 44. Ke3f2 Rd8h8 45. Rb1h1 Kf5g5 46. b4 Rh8xh5 47. Rh1xh5 Kg5xh5
48. b5 Kh5h4 49. c5 Kh4h3 50. c6 bxc6 51. bxc6 f3 52. Kf2g1 g3 53. Kg1h1 g2 0-1

Decent tactic in this one, although it should have been caught:

[White "burvm01"]
[Black "runninfiend"]
[WhiteRating "1740"]
[BlackRating "1565"]
[WhiteELO "1740"]
[BlackELO "1565"]
[Result "0-1"]
[GameId "688109"]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Ng1f3 Nb8c6 5. c3 f6 6. exf6 Ng8xf6
7. Bf1b5 Bc8d7 8. Bb5xc6 Bd7xc6 9. O-O Bf8d6 10. Rf1e1 Bc6d7 11. Bc1g5 h6
12. Bg5xf6 Qd8xf6 13. a3 O-O-O 14. Nb1d2 g5 15. Qd1c1 Qf6f4 16. dxc5 Bd6xc5
17. b4 Bc5d6 18. a4 g4 19. g3 Qf4f7 20. Nf3d4 Rd8f8 21. Re1e2 h5 22. b5 h4
23. Qc1f1 hxg3 24. fxg3 Qf7h5 25. Qf1b1 Bd6xg3 26. hxg3 Qh5h1 0-1

I tend to play a defensive style, oftentimes even go so far as to use the KID as white or just set up a Reti type fortress with 1. Nf3 or 1. g6 against superior players. Prefer to play 1. e4 into Ruy Lopez systems against players of = or < strength. Not a big 1. d4 fan as white, though. Not real familiar yet with the Queen's Gambit as white, don't mind it as black, however.

I quite enjoy playing slow, grinder, drawish type games. Not sure if that means anything. Maybe oddly, I'd list Tigran Petrosian, Gedeon Barcza, and Aron Nimzovich as my foremost chess heroes. An example of a draw out of 1. c4:

[White "runninfiend"]
[Black "davidmacc"]
[WhiteRating "1565"]
[BlackRating "1739"]
[WhiteELO "1565"]
[BlackELO "1739"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[GameId "2628830"]

1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. cxd5 Qd8xd5 5. Nb1c3 Qd5d8 6. d4 Ng8f6
7. Ng1f3 e6 8. Bf1c4 Nb8d7 9. O-O Bf8e7 10. Rf1e1 O-O 11. Bc1g5 a6
12. Qd1d3 h6 13. Bg5h4 b5 14. Bc4b3 Bc8b7 15. Ra1d1 Nd7b6 16. Nf3e5 Nb6d5
17. Nc3xd5 Bb7xd5 18. Bh4xf6 Be7xf6 19. Bb3c2 g6 20. Ne5xg6 fxg6 21. Qd3xg6 Bf6g7
22. Qg6h7 Kg8f7 23. Qh7g6 Kf7g8 24. Qg6h7 1/2-1/2

Oh, went for a nice run this morning. Gee it was almost warm, 45 degrees at 6:30 a.m., nice partial sunrise over the corn and bean stubble. six and one half miles at something something pace.

If you want to know what Mystery of Chessboxin is:

Parental discretion advised. Like life.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pages Turn

How quickly turn the pages of our world. Last Saturday, 70 degrees, sunny, S caps at McN-- this Saturday, 31 degrees, gray skies, all the leaves off, fewer S caps at Farmdale. Cold, but a good reminder of why winter is a primo time to run the woods. Out of the wind, no crowds, harder to dehydrate. Got in a good four hour run.

Mike Siltman is hosting a Fat Ass 30 miler at McNaughton on Dec. 13th. If you don't know what a fat ass is, it's a free run with no awards, no shirts, etc. It's bound to a blast, especially if we get some snow before then. More info on fat asses:

As for me, planning on running Folepi River Trail Classic 4 miler on 11/29 (haven't run that since 2001), doing a long run on 12/6, some miles at the McN fat ass, maybe McNabb fat ass in January, then hopefully some ultras in '09.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election Day

Is always a good day for a run, right? Seven miles in the a.m.

Marvin Doyle organized a "tour" @ McNaughton last weekend, essentially a group run with a few folks who know the course and a few who didn't. Nice to get back on that trail, warm day considering we started at 9 a.m. I ended up doing a 10 mile loop in 2:07, then a partial loop with Mike Siltman for around three and a half hours total. Trail was in excellent condition, there's a spankin' new bridge in the ravine before totem. Very nice bridge, if you like bridges. Me? I like ravines.

Monday, October 27, 2008


David Foster Wallace, a far better craftsman than most of us, once wrote that the wind in the cornfields by his B/N home sounds "roughly the way light surf sounds when you're two dunes back from the shore." I figure this to be an apt metaphor. It was 16 miles on country road. The field corn stands browned by the season, by the changes in light and temperature that visit us, a sound not unlike Wallace's description is all that's in my hearing range. Undulations here like the last few seconds after you've shaken out the bed sheet. That is to say, not rolling so much as wavy. Not flat, as they that don't turn off the main road would have you believe. In the next field stands a solitary, majestic bur oak--the old timers call these "plow trees," left for shade in the middle of crop rows. Most are gone, yet a few of these old, huge trees still hang on.

It's a solid run early, these are the runs of the new season, the ones that steel you for the winter to come. 40's, clouds to start. At an hour twenty I turn down the county road towards the river. Sun emerges, dancing off foilage. Then shadowed out. Partly cloudy, partly sunny, mostly cloudy, I've never understood. Over the bridge, the river is up, but not enough to challenge the banks. Where it should be, really. Healthier than it is during those evaporative summer days, but calmed from last month's floods, back in a natural rhythm, at least what passes for one in these times. I drink this in in the few seconds it takes me to trot over the bridge.

Up the hill, definitely a hill here. No waves. Past the elk farm, then the tree farm, water at the turnaround a mile of rolling (not wavy) hills later. The way back for runners is often into the wind; today is no different. Fifteen minutes of headwind then back into the river valley. Mostly sunny wins in this stretch, for that I'm grateful. Trees dance again. Your fingers don't freeze in the valley, not on days like this. Back into the headwind, I don't really mind, past men undoubtedly hunting in these bluffs. Not me, not today. Just running.

Energy lags a bit, small snack, then homestretch. Here's that small bridge, you know, the one that doesn't look like a bridge anymore but just a road with guardrails over this small section of creek, the real bridge was ruled too risky, so they hauled it wholly into town and put it over a section of this creek with no traffic, car, foot or otherwise. A real bridge to nowhere. I'm glad they kept it, but there is something sad about a worn out, depression era bridge left to just sit, not allowed to serve its purpose.

This thought carries me up that last swell of former prairie, those last two dunes open up into ocean, my ocean--the one where the wind sounds like surf, but isn't really.

Friday, October 24, 2008


October nights get longer, it rains, and when it does the rain is colder. Rains of summer are no problem, they're refreshing. Sitting on the concrete garage steps, running shoes at my feet, hearing the pelting on the driveway. If I run, it will be cold, I'll get wet, maybe soaked through if this picks up. It isn't 80 anymore. Showers don't refresh, they just penetrate.

There's a world series game on, a good live title fight coming on VS. I can get up early and do miles before work tomorrow. Back inside. Round one is good. Is the rain letting up? Basement sliding door open to check. Eh, maybe a little, but still a soaking patter. Round 2, this is heating up. Two Mexican fighters is almost always good and I am a fan of Cruz. Bell rings. Sliding door again. Slight letup? Maybe just imagination.

If I run, it will be cold, I'll get wet, maybe soaked through.

Thiry minutes later back in the garage removing wet shoes. Thirty minutes I'm glad I was out in that rain. Even made it back in time for round 12. Cruz won a split decision.

View From Devil's Cliff

Pics courtesy of Marvin.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Farmdale 2008

The Farmdale Trail Runs are my buddy Dave's races that he puts on each year--8 and 33 mile versions. This is the third year I've helped out, running the Devil's Cliff aid station. Dave puts in a lot of work on this race and it's top notch. For me it's really just an excuse to hang out with ultra folks and be in the woods all day.

I went out Friday afternoon to help, but really most of the work was done already (funny how that happens). Ended up hanging out a bit, and we rode up on 4-wheelers to Devil's Cliff to stash supplies. Race morning I hung out with my friend Pam at Devil's Cliff until 10:30 when Marvin Doyle showed up to run things the rest of the day. I ran backwards from the start/finish on a fun run, ended up hooking up with McNaughton buddy, Jerry Davison and pacing him on his third loop. Jerry is a big dude who has lost a ton of weight and is really stoked on the whole ultra thing.

It was darn near a perfect fall day. I didn't run the race proper, but had my fill of fun working the aid station and running in the afternoon. Devil's Cliff is always a joy.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Running after dark on the first really chilly night of the fall. The first night I've worn two layers on top. Something about the coolness puts an extra spring in the middle miles. Glancing up at that nearly full, perfectly luminous moon doesn't hurt either.

I pass an old man out for a late night walk on the edge of town. He smiles and says, "What a night, eh?" "Indeed, look at that moon." Words of recognition in passing. At the nursing home I run by the embers of a small fire, table with roasting forks, the smell of hot dogs still in the air from a weiner roast. Another mile further and the first smell of woodsmoke of the season. Comforting. Warmed up by mile five, but fingers cold regardless. Home to warmth, high from the night.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn Comes Ripping

Chlorophyll departs and we discover the color underneath. In what seems like but a night's time, out come the reds, oranges, oh the yellows, all the indescribable shades in between.

So I ran Saturday with Dexter from Deer Creek out at Farmdale. I did two hours and fifteen minutes, he did more. Saturday was hot, but we started early enough to avoid any of that mess. The afternoon was Eureka College Football and a bonfire/hay rack ride outside of Hanna City. Beautiful

Sunday morning's run was one hour. We run when we can, but fall mornings may be the best runs of all. Pumpkin hunting at Ackerman Farm outside of Morton in the afternoon, then taking in the foliage at my favorite spots in the Mackinaw River Valley. I swear I'm going to put on a road ultra out there someday, maybe a fat ass type race with little aid. Lots of dirt roads with little traffic.

This Saturday is Farmdale. One of my favorite days of the year. Helping Dave out on Friday, captaining Devil's Cliff on Saturday during the race, then running the course a bit in the afternoon. Conditions look to be perfect.

Almost forgot this morning's run. Slightly overcast, dark to start, forty-nine minutes. Jayhawks on the Ipod.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Harvest Time '08

"Harvest time is finally here,
it's time to open some beer
Color green is all around you"

-"Harvest Time" by Nuisance.

Big rain in September means late harvest in October. It's late this year, but the bean cutting and corn harvest is finally on. For me as a runner, this means a couple of extra weeks of golden bean fields glinting in the morning sun. We all love the mountains and the forests, but, I tell you, if you don't run early into the midwestern countryside on an October morning, you aren't fully living.

Yesterday morning's sunrise came on like a tide, rolling in on a hot pink wave, washing over the browned point on the field laden horizon, pausing in all its electric glory for an all-too-brief few minutes, then dissipating in the surf of morning clouds. I was there doing my miles, witnessing.

These are just words, get out there and feel it. Yeah, the crops are coming out, in a few weeks, it will be colder, I'll need a stocking cap. The fields will be earthen bare and a little bit grayer. But today they aren't yet completely. Today is harvest time.

50k Epilogue: You know for me these races are just something to do to use an excuse to put in the training time. It's just hella fun to get out there every now and then in an official race and run with like minds. Recovery is still going well, running every other day, maybe 4-7 miles at a time. Semi long this weekend, then run a bit @ Farmdale after working my customary Devil's Cliff post in the a.m. After that, a fall and winter of periodic, hopefully healthy, long runs. Can't wait for the snow.

There are some pics on the RR website from Rock Cut. Damn, sometimes I don't realize how little I resemble a "real" runner. Ah well.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hobo Recovery

Recovery has been stellar so far. Went for a short walk on Monday night, took the kid out for a 45 minute walk on Tuesday morning, and ran three easy miles this morning. Minimal soreness. No injuries. The usual small aches, but I fully anticipate to be back doing long runs within a couple of weeks.

I forgot to mention ultra friends Adam and Mike in the earlier post. Adam ran a 5:24, great time, and Mike, fitting in a 50k between two 100 milers, went under 6:00 and gave me a New Belgian Dark Ale at the finish. I owe for that one.

Books. Tapering is a good time to get some reading in. I read "Moneyball" for the first time. If you're at all a baseball fan and have yet to read this book (maybe I'm the only one?), do it now. One hell of a fascinating read. I've since ordered a couple Bill James books. You will think about the game differently.

"God's Middle Finger" by Richard Grant is another fun read. The author travels through the "lawless" Sierra Madre and into the drunken anarchy that he claims is Central Mexico. I have to wonder how much is hyperbole, but a worthwhile book even if much of it is, just for the great historical background and crazy anecdotes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rock Cut Hobo Run 50k

Ran this race on Sunday up in Rockford, IL. I had a decent summer of training with what was fairly high volume for me, although I pretty much didn't have any substantive long runs for four weeks before the race, a potential area of concern.

We went up Saturday and messed around a bit, swam, etc. Sunday morning at race start skies were cloudy temps cool but pleasant--50's. Basically, pretty much perfect running weather. I started off conservatively but with steady running, around 11:00/mile pace I would guess.

My first 15.5 mile loop clocked at 3:03. Goal time had been 3:15-3:30. Went to the Ipod for loop two primarily because the race was fairly strung out and there wasn't much conversation to be had. I had a few mental low spots on loop two, right around 20 miles in particular, but overall kept a good pace and ran within my limits. At about 24 miles I picked the pace up a bit thinking maybe sub-6 was a possibility. It wasn't at that stage, but was a good motivating factor to run harder. Several folks were hurting worse than I was and I passed them in the late miles while not being passed once in the last 12 miles.

Finish time was 6:14. Positive splits of 3:03/3:11, averaging out to 12:01 per mile and good for 48th out of 70 overall. My goal going in was sub 7 hours, so I'm happy with this time.

This trail is very nice, but not overly difficult. There are lots of flat double track sections that are very runnable with a nice mix of some moderately hilly single track in wooded areas. I'd recommend it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Perpetual Taper?

The Rock Cut Hobo Run 50k is next weekend. My last offical long run will have come four weeks out. I decided to run IVS instead of a long run that weekend, then got rained out by Ike's remnants last weekend.

I do, however, feel prepared as my running this summer was higher volume than usual in my world, particularly in terms of weekly mileage. The slow pace I take for these things also helps. There are no time pressures or fixed time goals, but I do have the nebulous goal beyond just finishing of going under 7 1/2 hours. Ah, screw it, time is basically irrelevant, I just hope it's a nice day and a good, fun run.

Beyond Rock Cut is volunteering at the Farmdale Trail Run on 10/18, one of the most fun days of the year. Devil's Cliff is the aid station, and yeah, it's a blast watching everyone come through, even if most only stay for a few seconds. My affinity is particularly strong for the hardy back-of-the-pack folks such as myself that do spend a bit more time grazing and telling quick tales of the trail.

After that, God and the universe know. I try to be irie, but chaos has her way. Maybe a trail 50k early next year...maybe 50...heck, maybe a 100 at some point. What is it to run without dreams??

Ipod tunes from last night's 7 miler: Jets to Brazil "Orange Rhyming Dictionary"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Summer Running

Some running, not much blog junk. This summer has been road runs and long runs, mostly at Farmdale, every other weekend. Trail runs of anywhere between 3-5 hours in preparation for the Rock Cut 50k in a few weeks. This past Sunday was the IVS 1/2 marathon in Peoria with some Eureka friends. Ran what is a respectable time for me on a fairly hilly road course-- 1:53, so I'm in decent form for the 50k.

Other running plans are up in the air. I was hoping for the Spirit of the Osage 50k in Oct., but that may not happen, especially considering October's weekends are full.

It's been cooler the last few days. This morning's six miler was in 48 degrees. Early September is still too early to think about fall completely, but the chill is seeping into morning, my beers are getting darker, and the corn is just barely starting to turn.

Been using the Ipod for weekday runs, just loaded up a good fall mix in anticipation:

Punk mix: Jawbreaker/Avail/Young Pioneers/Fifteen

Fall country road mix: Nuisance/Jayhawks/Chamberlain/Court and Spark/Uncle Tupelo

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I wrote awhile back about Sugar Maples dominating the understories of our woods around these parts. The PJ Star ran a good article this past Sunday on a restoration attempt along Farm Creek:


Picture 33,600 tons of dirt. Now, picture it sliding into the Illinois River's Peoria lakes. It happens in this city every year.

Clay-laden soil, barren and seemingly lifeless under the sun-blocking canopies of sugar maples with leaves as big as an outstretched hand, slips with each rainfall from East Peoria's maze of bluffs and ravines, eventually reaching the river.

Can a government agency such as the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission slow that erosion? By itself, no. The Fondulac Park District also can do only so much with the forested river bluffs under its jurisdiction.

"It's a long process to restore a bluff area" to the mix of prairie grasses and hardwood oaks and hickories that graced central Illinois before settlers started putting down roots about 170 years ago, park district Director Brad Smith said. "It's very labor intensive and takes a lot of time."

That's why the estimated 300 people who own about 700 acres of tree-choked land throughout what's known as the Farm Creek Watershed will soon get an offer Tri-County hopes they don't refuse.

Tri-County will provide a professional forester to thin the land of sugar maples, black locusts and other invasive species. The landowner - perhaps in a deal with his neighbors along the blufflands - will pay half the fees, or work some cost off by helping. Using a grant it just obtained, Tri-County will cover the rest of the bill.

Then, perhaps, the landowner will discover his barren forest floor is anything but lifeless; that native grasses, maybe even an oak tree, have been waiting for the sun to return them to life after a dormant century.

"What's so incredible is that nothing is planted," Melissa Eaton, a Tri-County project planner, said as she walked recently through a sun-dappled stretch of the woods of Camp Wokanda near Mossville.

Eaton was referring to the carpet of fauna beneath a high leaf canopy opened by the forest control procedures first introduced to the area several years ago in the Mossville Watershed, including the Peoria Park District's camp, and which Tri-County now will bring to the watershed encompassing East Peoria.

Before the Wokanda area was thinned and professionally burned, the dirt path on which Eaton walked through flooded and eroded with each heavy rain.

"Not anymore," she said.

That's the benefit grass-covered bluffs and ravine edges will bring to owners of homes built before East Peoria passed a "steep slope" ordinance several years ago that strictly regulates construction near bluff and ravine edges. The city also is filled with backyards that, sometimes overnight with sloughs of erosion, are steadily shrinking.

Tri-County recently obtained a $300,000 grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to launch its program designed to reduce erosion into the river from the Farm Creek Watershed by 20,000 tons a year.

It will work with the Native American Fellowship Daysprings Church on Norwood Place in East Peoria to produce an example of bluff restoration on its wooded acres similar to Camp Wokanda, then use it as a demonstration site for homeowners.

Plans also call for workshops Tri-County's hired forester will hold to teach owners how to restore their lands as nearly as possible to the conditions that recurring fires - deliberately set by American Indians to improve hunting grounds or naturally ignited by lightning - maintained before the European era.

Eaton, like Fondulac's Smith, cautioned the process takes time.

Just removing the "sub-canopy" of sugar maples and doing nothing else, she said, "is like opening a Pandora's box." Suddenly, a ground coating of baby maples, fed by sun, can explode towards the sky.

That tree, which spread up the bluffs from lowlands after fires no longer controlled them, thrives by spreading its canopy, while the oak aims in the opposite direction, Eaton said.

"With maples it's leaves, leaves, leaves. With oaks it's roots, roots, roots," she said.

Then, as she walked through Camp Wokanda with her two young daughters, she stopped and pointed to a plant that looked to the uneducated like any other, though a bit taller with a healthy green stem.

"Look. An oak."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Summer Running

I love summer running. Most days are muggy no matter what time you go out. Sweat fairly pours everywhere, thirst comes, but the breeze catches you either on the way out or returning. There are those few days with low humidity, a bit cooler--we've had a our fair share throughout June.

Trails are green. They are overgrown, grasses brush your legs. Ticks aren't good, but you're running so it's bearable. Some longish runs at Farmdale and mostly middle distance stuff during the week. Enjoying most every run.

Haven't run any races yet this summer, but this weekend am doing Swamp Dogs 10k, hopefully the Bix 7 at the end of this month, Chicago Half Marathon at the beginning of September with my cousin, and then Rock Cut 50k at the end of September. Nothing in my head for after that. If gas is 6 bucks by then, those weekend drives to McNaughton may be curtailed. Eureka Backroads Marathon anyone?

Ipod-- Man, I love this thing. Have to kick the summer vibes like this:

-Tony Rebel "If Jah"
-Bujo Banton "'Til Shiloh"
-Hip hop mix- Fugees, Cypress Hill, Mos Def, Jurassic 5, etc.
Reggae/Ska mix- Marley, King Django, Stubborn All Stars, etc.
"This American Life" NPR podcast

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Two Runs

Four years to the day that my dad died. I take part of this day off every year. This year was a perfectly sunny day, a day for the trails, for solitude. After lunch at the Indian place, it was seven miles on the Rock Island, where we used to ride bikes, from Alta to Dunlap and back. This linear railbed trail changes every time I go out there, subdivisions pop and mutate, fields give way to progress. Still, it is peaceful when you hit the Kickapoo Creek bridge.

It is raining. Been raining all night. Torrential spring rains followed by lulls. A good day for a trail run at Farmdale. When I get to the parking lot it is a downpour. Fifteen minutes later it is less of a downpour. Good time to start. It is muddy, but not overly so, just in the low spots.

At the end of alt. Creekside it opens up, and I mean but good. Full on thunderstorm. Rain, lightning, wind, the whole nine. The trail is a creek, literally, running through 6 inches of running water, lightning flashing overhead. I wish I could say this was some sort of enlightening moment, but it wasn't. Just an ill-advised run in a storm by a junkie looking for his trail fix at any cost.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Planting Time

I give you good seed to plant in your field
And I help you to plow it
If you still can't make it grow
Then you don't know how to farm it

My seed is strong and bountiful
To yield a crop so beautiful
So if you will be dutiful
Then we both shall eat in plenty

But if you do not listen to me
And you treat the field impatiently
And do not mind it carefully
Thinking only of what you will reap
Then the crop will drop and fail

So with my good seed to plant in your field
And plenty help to plow it
I know that we gonna make it grow
To bear sweet fruits and flowers

And this crop won't drop and fail
We'll write the ending to this tale
This crop won't drop and fail

-"Crop no Drop" Stubborn All-Stars

Man, May is just a beautiful time in the Midwest. What's better than after a long, sometimes tough winter, to go out cruising for a nice 6 miler in a perfect 65 degree non-humid night? Not much. I'm just really loving running right now. Nothing long yet, mind you, but usually between 4 and 8 miles on roads, just the streets around town, sometimes out into the countryside. I feel largely recovered from McNaughton, pretty much able to do what I want and just have fun. Not that 50 mile training isn't fun--it is, but you know, no ice is sometimes preferable.

I don't have any current goals. Was going to run the Steamboat 15k for fun, but that might be out now due to attending a basketball camp with Keegan. Maybe the Bix in July? Haven't done that one, and by all accounts, it is nice. Part of me wishes I was doing Berryman again this year, such an amazing trail, but realistically I don't want to go out and push distance. So, no concrete plans for now. I'd like to do a fall marathon or 50k--maybe Moose Mountain this year, maybe something else.

I'd like to get out this weekend to do a 3 or 4 hour trail run, just to test things out, so plans may end up waiting for 3 or 4 of those runs to get completed. For me right now is time to engage with the hope and promise of planting time, reaping the rewards rather than sowing in anticipation.

On my Ipod. Lots of stuff. I'm digging doing the shorter runs with music. Westbound Train, Aggrolites, Tilt "Til' it kills," a really cool Stubborn All-stars/Marley/King Django mix playlist. Two frickin outstanding emo albums from the 90's: Christie Front Drive self-titled and Chamberlain's "The Moon my Saddle." CFD is just incredible, this cd sat in my collection for a long time and I've only recently gained a true appreciation for how great that band was. Funny how that works sometimes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The desire to run returned late last week. Resulting recovery runs have been short and slow. I feel much better both physically in terms of aches and pains psychology in terms of weariness and motivation.

I've decided to not really plan any races until I get back out on long runs to test the legs and ferret out any residual effects of the 50. So far, so good. There are times when it's good just to run for the pure joy of it, without a target goal. I personally find this much easier to do in the spring, when the temps are perfect, the world blooms, and it's difficult NOT to find a reason to get out and run.

Today's morning 4 1/2 miler was beautiful, radiant sunshine and 63 degrees, actually running in short sleeves with no discomfort is a wonderful sensation.

Oh, I got me an Ipod for my birthday. Loving it so far. I'm not one who normally runs with music, and I won't on trail runs, but for 5 or 7 or 9 miles road runs, it's perfect. So it's with that we come to requisite "what's on my Ipod for running" list. The masses tune in for these gems...or not.

What's Currently On My Ipod For Running List (note everything in caps to feign significance):

Frontier Trust "Speed Nebraska" most of the this amazing album, save two tracks I don't care for.

Lungfish tracks from "Unanimous Hour" and "Artificial Horizon"

Podcast from Trails and Tribulations. The Tim Twietmyer interview awaits. Check it out:

Monday, April 14, 2008

McNaughton Park 2008

50 Mile version for me this year. A short report.


Bottom line is that I trained better by my humble standards, and that means that I built a good base of 3-4 hour runs through the fall then transitioned into 4-6 1/2 hour runs on the actual course building to the race. Long runs were every other week. I also increased my distance during the week to 5-8 miles per run for the most part.

The only thing I really skimped on was speedwork. In all honesty, this was a tough winter to train through and I just didn't feel like repeats or much up-tempo stuff, other than the occasional fartlek session during a mid-week run.

Weight is an issue. I kept my weight fairly low, again by my standards, but eating in a more balanced fashion. My tendency is to eat very little to no beef, mostly chicken for protein, but I did up protein intake a bit and mixed in lots of greens and fruits.

The Race. It rained most of the week. This was a cause of concern and nervousness. I felt tapered and focused going into Saturday, ready for whatever conditions. Conditions turned out to be muddy and mucky, but as always , we tend to worry ourselves over things that turn out to never be as bad we envision. Mud is not impassable.

The first 43 miles or so were run with Adam Zimmermann and Stan Zygmut, both of whom are tough hombres. Having these guys to jaw with made the time and miles tick by. Tapp joined us for the fifth loop and ended up pacing Adam in hard for the last few miles.

Me, I crossed in 13 hours 15 minutes. Time is just time, the significance for me is just completing the distance, and that is accomplished. Got that 50 mile buckle.

So, McN is a great race with tremendous organization, volunteers, and the one of the best courses in the Midwest. Another great day on the trails.

100 next year?

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Strange Sort of Prayer

Running can be construed as a selfish activity. Solitary, a diversion, an escape from other activities..."real" activities, things constructive.

Running can be construed, and I think often is, an act of egoism--competition, an absorption with times, gear, splits. Those things alone aren't negative, but for me the real appeal of running comes during the long run. When it's right, running long to me is a form of prayer, a chance to offer up, maybe to connect if things are clicking.

A strange sort of prayer, maybe, but a prayer nonetheless.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tapir, Tapeworm...

"Bridges crossing water
Bridges crossing land
Subterranean rivers
Seeping through the sand"

Lungfish, "Oppress Yourself"

Taper. Reducing mileage before the big run. That's where I am now. Last weekend was a medium weekend, really didn't do much other than a medium distance run/hike at McNaughton. Would have been an ideal day for the race, 50 and sunny.

As it stands, weather calls for everything from rain to 70s and sun. We get what we get and we like it, right? The mantra of the trail. I've been running in old shoes. Funny how you can tell almost right away when your shoes are no good, aches where there shouldn't be aches during a run, not from long run recovery or anything, those are different, but strictly from the shoes. I ordered a new pair in anticipation of that day, that first feeling. Finally got them today after struggles with a store-that-shall-remain-nameless. But, they're here and I'll have a few runs to break them in before next weekend.

And so we wait to run long again...tapering.

soundtrack: Lungfish "Artificial Horizon" Man, I love Daniel Higgs. You have to be in a meditative state of being to "get" Lungfish, but when you are, it's really transcendent stuff. Like going to church.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Training Run

Did 28 miles on Saturday out at McNaughton. Predictions of heavy rains didn't materialize and the trail was in perfect condition. Really the first time in weeks where it's been down to dirt and eminently runnable. Temps were chilly the whole morning, and hopefully race day won't be hot.

I had what for me was a very good run, no real problems of any kind. Just a great day to be out on the trails. This was it before the race, three week "taper" starts now. Excited for the real deal.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Robinson Park Run

Training run last Saturday morning. Started at sunrise, 6:20 a.m.-ish. Trails were snow covered but not overly icy, and quite runnable. The park district has done nice work out there.

I ran the connector to Wokanda a couple times and hit all the trails down in the scout camp, across the road twice on the new section of trail that goes to route 6. Troy showed us the century-plus old Robinson Cemetery. That's going to be one heck of a nice trail when they get it completed all the way to Detweiller.

Total run time: 5 hours 46 minutes. Still some work to do before the McNaughton attempt, but am at least getting in some longish runs.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Last Friday I intended a long run at Farmdale, figuring McNaughton was out to due to snow, ice, etc. Well, I lasted all of 12 minutes at Farmdale. I'll run on pretty any surface.

The one surface I weenie out on is bald ice under a layer of powder snow. That's what we had last week after torrential rain followed by a quick, deep zero freeze, then powdery snow a few days later. I opted for pavement, a three hour run on the River Trail (paved) from East Peoria to Morton and around some of the small neighborhoods along the way. Trail running it isn't, but clearer footing allowed for a faster pace, and what I think was a worthwhile run.

If the weather holds, the goal is a long run this weekend at McNaughton.

Monday, February 11, 2008

McNaughton Run

Five hours and seven minutes of running, hiking, scrambling, sliding at McNaughton Park. More snow last week. Thaw brings a nice coating of ice underneath the snow, deeper in the ravine bottoms, actually gives better traction.

East facing slopes (more sun?) are the only places where there was any melting at all, and even there was there ice. Creeks were up to my knees and cold. Six times across them. Feets sting at first, but in actuality it feels pretty good, even in 25 degree weather. Four point scramble up rope hill, side-foot slide a few seconds later on the way back down.

Mixed in some granola bars, a few drinks, and put the time in. First sunny day in days. Quite the beautiful run.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Sunday's afternoon seven miler started as a gray, typical early February day. A mile in came a rumble like a jetliner at low altitude or...thunder. Surely not, not with 10 or so inches of snow on the ground and freezing air. Mile two, another rumble. Mile three, a flash of...lightning, yes, lightning, a crack this time not a rumble. Snow started as a flurry but mere minutes later was a downpour.

Thundersnow. A few more miles home in the driving sheets of frozen precip through the bizarre world of this rare phenomenon. Watched the rest of the show with a glass of wine in hand from our kitchen window. Seven not-so-boring miles on a gray Sunday.

Reading. I've delved into a few books lately. Most notably, "Feet in the Clouds: A History of Fell Running." This is a tough to find, but interesting book about the characters involved in fell running, which is basically mountain (fells) trail running in Great Britain, largely in the Lake District of north England.

I have a new hero--Joss Naylor, sheep farmer and mountain runner:

The chapter on him is well worth tracking this book down for. Actually, the rest of the book is good too--a mix of profiles, history and lore of fell running, and the author's firsthand accounts of his foray into the sport.

"Hard Road to Glory" Another British book, this one an autobiography of former Cruiserweight boxing champion, Johnny Nelson. I've been a big fan of Nelson's almost chessic boxing style since the 90's. He's virtually unknown outside of the U.K., and actually, probably isn't all that well known outside of his hometown of Sheffield, although this is a good read about a thoughtful and interesting boxer.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Illinois Times

A version of my "Language of the Land" piece was published by the Illinois Times. For those interested:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McNaughton Again

Sunday morning long run at McNaughton. Some snow still on the ground from the preceding week, but for the first 15 or so miles it was frozen solid enough to allow a good, if still somewhat cautious pace on the hills.

Creeks were frozen solid, nice to not have wet feet for a change. Ran, hiked, drank, ate, ran, walked, ran, etc. Sun was out, things warmed up to the 40s, mud was just emerging the last hour or so. Four hours and fifty minutes total.

So far, eh, so good.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Discovery II

Friday's run in the snow. Some pics of the old structures encountered.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Listening for Cougar

Perched among the thick brambles of a ridge thicket, taut musculature carved from steel , senses evolved to razor precision by untold numbers of hunts down through the generations. Potential energy uncoils to kinetic in a maelstrom of golden flash, death instruments slice fluidly into the vulnerable throat of the ungulate, buckling under the flurried attack, an instantaneous triumph of survival.

A male mountain lion takes down a fattened doe along a bluff near the Mississippi River valley.

Rumors are in the air--the big cats are back on the former prairies. Internet rumors hint of a sighting near Sandwich, IL, a local newspaper column documents sightings near Galesburg and Fairview. The body of dead mountain was confirmed found near New Boston, IL in 2004. Is cougar back in the midwest? All indications would say no.

In a new collection of essays, "Listening to Cougar," edited by Mark Bekoff, writers, naturalists, photographers and academics present a sort of state of the mountain lion, a barometer of the state of what may be the single largest symbol of the wilderness west. These essays offer a portrait of an elusive, secretive animal who has adapted to our presence in their habitat and resisted extirpation against numerous costs.

Most of the other big mammals of the west are long gone. Pumas have grown increasingly adaptable, mobile and aware of human movement throughout their once open lands. Habitat is shrinking, and yet cougars find solace and territory in those yet unsettled wildest canyons and few rugged outposts that remain in the desert southwest.

Where they can't evade the hunter, the contractor, or the angry rancher the cougar will expand territory in search of new range, into the Dakotas, even a few males straying into Missouri.

I'm not convinced we will see mountain lions in this part of the country. Despite our profusion of deer, easy and palatable prey for a cougar, my feeling is that we simply don't have the scope of habitat required for the animals to go undetected and survive while establishing breeding range.

I excerpt this brief passage from the essay entitled, "A Short, Unnatural History":

"From time to time, the media reports that intermittent pumas scatter to Midwestern states. The Great Plains, however, act as a Great Puma Barricade. While dispersing, pumas require cover such as trees or brush for travel and for hunting. Waterways such as the Platte River offer pumas travel corridors to the east, but the difficulty of establishing breeding populations in the Midwest comes from pumas' own dispersal tendencies. Young males typically travel further from the natal area then their sisters while looking to establish a home range. Also, males may have difficulties finding females in the Midwest, and thus establishing resident breeding populations may take some years."

While the revival of bobcat populations in Illinois lend some encouragement to a re-establishment of a more biologically diverse state, the reality probably suggests that even if the occasional big cat is sighted, its presence will be a certain short-lived anomaly.

Still, those of us with some optimism about the future of our immediate environments will keep an ear to the wind, always listening for cougar.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Deer Trails

Three inches of powdery snow Monday night. Sunlight glinted off it this morning like so many precious gems. On the trail, then off the trail, down the ridge into the "bottoms" (o.k. so they only drop 30 feet or so).

Followed the deer trails through the brush. Deer will most often pick the path of least resistance, their trails narrowly worn around thickets and even low overhanging branches. Their tracks superimposed on the snow in the exact spot their pathways are on dry ground. A mile with the deer, then back onto the human footpath. That mile was the best mile.

Monday, January 21, 2008


It isn't every day, even in the Midwest, that you get the opportunity to run in -20 F windchills. It woulda been some sort of sin not to. So, strap on the ski mask and go. Six miles on Saturday through the trails along the Walnut.

The truly cold days on the trail are often defined by the literal creaking of tree trunks, a phenomenon I assume occurs due to the contracting of the wood from the frigidity of the air. Trees were a-crackling.

This morning's run was one of discovery. A seven miler along those same trails, but with a twist. I bushwhacked through the thorny multiflora on the south end of the trail system, across the restored prairie, not something you can do with comfort during green months. I've done this before, but had never followed the wooded draw beyond the grass area. Today I did.

About a half mile back in the draw, along an unnamed creek that eventually flows into the lake, is a decaying old hunting cabin/coop complete with weathered red barn siding.How cool.

Twenty-nine years living in this town, much of it spent exploring the remaining timber that is now our park, and I'd never ventured into this area. What's better than those trail runs that transform you back into kid mode? This run was one of those. If only they all could be.

Monday, January 14, 2008

McNaughton Run

Saturday morning training run at McNaughton. Went better than the last one. I was able to get in 4 hrs. 20 min. at a reasonable pace. Saturday was one of those days with perfect training conditions--clear trails, temps starting in the lower 30's warming to 40, sunshine. Hydrated better this time.

The creeks were surprisingly low considering the flooding we've seen at the Mackinaw and other places this past week. Things got a bit mucky on the second loop as the mud thawed out, which actually is good training in anticipation of possible rain/mud on race day.

Next long run in two weeks, somewhere in the 4 3/4 to 5 hour range.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Language For The Landscape

They speed by on Interstate 55, cars a blur, on their way from one metropolis

to another. The landscape is something to be endured, negotiated in as quickly a way as possible. Sometimes I ask them, these travelers, what they saw on their trip. Often I’m met with laughter, “lots of corn, some billboards, a rest area or two.” What else is there to see, to know? Pick an exit and turn off into the countryside, I tell them, they miss out on whole worlds at 70 miles per.

Henry Thoreau once wrote, "If a man is rich and strong anywhere, it must be on his native soil. Here I have been these forty years of learning the language of these fields that I may better express myself...Many a weed here stands for more of life to me than the big trees of California would if I should go there." Thoreau understood that the natural world is right there to be examined, lessons there to be learned, in your backyard—his was a call for lovingly cultivating a relationship with the local. I recently picked up a wonderful book edited by Barry Lopez called “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape.” This book is essentially a collection of crafted definitions of terms used for the land, not strictly scientific, but a combination of technical definition and literary and poetic understandings. In this spirit, I began to think about the languages of our Illinois landscapes. We can all too often see the subdivisions rising up out of the fields, the monocultural systems of agricultural, the degradation of environment, all of it, I think, fostering a disconnect of the citizens from their land. But, beyond that, if you look closely, that connection to a sense of being can be re-established.

Where and how do we being such an undertaking? Taking cues from Thoreau and “Home Ground”, I began with simple curiosity about the meaning of place, the land, and the language we use to define and come to grips with it. Before you can converse you must have the tools in place to do the talking. Those among us who are “out there in it,” understand, they observe, develop description, know the rhythms of dialog with the landscape. The hikers of our forests, canoeists of streams and rivers, artists, farmers, naturalists, poets, hunters, small town locals—those who turn off the pavement to speak a different language.

This point was driven home to me recently. While walking with the farmer of some farm ground I have in Henry County, I was struck by his breadth of knowledge of the land. This man’s vocabulary were not the sorts of words spoken by modern agribusiness, often the cold language of yields and profit, but another way of seeing and knowing, one cultivated by 35 years of living in the same spot, working the land year after year, knowing it intimately. As we walked he leisurely pointed each slough, knowing how much rain it took to waterlog it, how much time it would be before it drained, rattling years of previous floods; he stopped in what to me looked like a patch of weeds, bent over in the way of old farmers, that is to say with great deliberation and calm, and plucked a piece of grass about a foot long from the grass that looked to me like bamboo. He showed me the segmentation of this plant and said “I call this snake grass,” pulling apart the segments to show the serpentine qualities of the stem. Proceeding through a stand of timber, this farmer could identify every tree and shrub, as where my knowledge was only passing—his way was not only to identify, but give a discourse on the age, habits, flowering, and connections to other trees and plants in the woods. These weren’t the studies of a an academic naturalist, but intimate knowings, a precious communion with place cultivated over years of paying attention to the fields and forests. I came to realize that a vocabulary of the land exists if we seek it out.

My inspiration was to put together a sort of rudimentary glossary of terms that refer to a language of the landscape of my home spot. They come from my singular experiences, conversations, observations, walks, runs, paddles, reading, being. They are a starting point.

Some of these terms are universal, some probably have meanings here amongst the locals that differ slightly from other variations of the word in another region. I would expect someone living in Little Egypt or suburban Chicago or along the Mississippi to have some similarities, but perhaps also many differences in how they categorize their places. As for my definitions, anything in quotation marks is taken from various print sources, many from “Home Ground,” the rest is my own interpretation and commentary, an attempt to tease out more specific meaning as it applies to my home ground.

And so I ask, “What is the language of your Illinois homeland? This is the beginning of mine:

Barrens--"Open, desolate landscapes of bare rock and sparse vegetation...soils usually sandy or rocky, growing thin, stunted and shruby forests." True barrens in Illinois are rare, but some are found in the southern part of the state. I hear the term associated in central IL. mostly with former pasturelands that have a sparse vegetation, often of so-called "scrub" trees like locust or osage orange, and various shrubs.

Bluff--"A high bank above a river, a headland of precipitous cliffs." Refers to the high parts of particularly the Illinois River.

Bottoms--Typically used in this region as the floodplains of rivers or creeks, although the traditional definition is the low spot of whatever feature you're talking about. An example locally is Horseshoe bottom in Pottstown, near Peoria. Bottoms are also often named for landowners past and present--Steffen's bottom is a flat flood prone area near the Mackinaw River at Congerville.

Dell--"Chiefly a literary term, once used to describe a small, secluded hollow densely overgrown with trees, vines and shrub."

Mackinaw Dells was once the site of village called Slabtown. The settlement was killed when the railroad was put in up the hill at Congerville, IL. A small, rough dirt road leads back into this area now, which by sight, essentially conforms to the traditional definition, although Mackinaw Dells technically exists more on a bluff land rather than a true hollow. The area is still called by the name.

"It was 1889 when the railroad switch was put in at Congerville. The trestle bridge at The Dells was put in then too. The farmers were hired to come with their teams and dump shovels to do the grading. One man had a little team of mules working. When they dumped the shovel full of dirt over the egde, it was too heavy for the mules to hold and they were pulled over the enbankment, head over heels. Everyone was amazed to see that the mules were still able to work after this ordeal."
Draw--"A troughlike depression, choked with shrubs, thickets and small trees."
Locally draws are usually talked about as either waterways or small swaths of ground with trees and/or thick underbrush. To my eye they can be any cluster of trees from under an acre to a few acres in size, standing apart from the surrounding fields. Often associated with "drawing" in deer or other game.

”Cormac McCarthy in "All the Pretty Horses" writes, "The riders were fanned over the open country a mile below him and he counted not four but six of them before they dropped from sight into a draw."
Fencerow—A row of trees or shrubs used to delineate property line, or more commonly the boundaries between farm fields.

In the 1850s, before the advent of barbed wire, Osage Orange trees were imported from Texas and Oklahoma to central Illinois for use as fencerows. Many of these fencerows persisted into the 20th century as fences were often built around them. In the 1970s farmers began the philosophy of farming “fencerow to fencerow,” cutting out the traditional tree lines in order to add a row or two of corn. This practice continues today, and old style fencerows, while still around, are harder and harder to find. The Osage Orange, however, persists in many of our timbered as areas as a reminder of its journey to the prairies.

Filter Strip—“A long, narrow strip of undisturbed or planted vegetation to collect sediment in protection of a water course.”

Around these parts it refers mostly to government subsidized grass plantings used as buffers along small creeks and drainage ditches that were previously row cropped. Filters strips are often long grasses, prime habitat for pheasant, quail, coyote, muskrat, and other creatures. It is amazing what profusion of life can exist in a relatively small remnant grass area in comparison to what once was prairie and now is field.

Ford—“A shallow place in a river where a man or animal can cross.”

Locals here know "Rocky Ford," an almost always shallow, pebble strewn crossing of the Mackinaw, was used often starting with settlement in the 19th century as a shortcut to the village of Bowling Green, which is now a ghost town.

There are faint tracks in the dirt today which indicate where the wagons used to enter the river. Another well known ford was Wyatt's Ford, north of Carlock, once the site of the Mackinac Mineral Hotel. Abraham Lincoln also used this ford on his circuit en route to the courthouse at Metamora.

Hill or Goat Prairie--"Prairie occuring on steep, rugged terrain, often a hilltop--a rocky, dry area, a result of glacial drift, often abounds in wildflowers and prairie glasses." Prairies only a goat would typically venture to. The term I have heard locally is "hill prairie" and the only pure remnant I know of occurs at Forest Park in Peoria. Special places tucked amongst the forest of vibrant wildflowers and craggy hillsides.

Hollow--Known as "hollers" in the south and typically "scooped out places in the land, often where two mountains join.”

No mountains here, hollows in central Illinois occur mostly in the older glaciated areas, the term is used in geographical nomenclature, although mostly only older locals are aware of the particulars. From time to time I hear the term used by someone who's been around the area for a long while. Younger folks seem to lack this knowledge.

Our hollows are areas of greater erosion that has resulted in more scooped and open "valleys" as opposed to steeper, younger ravines.

Along the bluffs of the Illinois can be found Moon, Strawberry, and Harp Hollow, along with numerous other unnamed, mostly now developed hollows. Cole Hollow is an example from the east side of the river.

Moraine--Joseph LeConte writing in 1857: "On the surface, and about the foot of glaciers, are always found immense piles of heterogeneous debris consisting of rock fragments of all sizes, mixed with earth. These are called moraines. Often 20 to 50 feet high."

Oft neglected by passersby, they are found everywhere on our young glacial landscape. Next time you drive through the seemingly nondescript landscape, take another look and try and spot the moraines.

Shelbyville, Bloomington, and Leroy are the most prominent around here; I type this from near the slopes of the Eureka moraine. Often streams cut their way through moraines, giving exposure to the layers beneath the layered topsoil. Lick Creek cuts through the LeRoy Moraine, the Mackinaw slices through the Bloomington Moraine, etc.
No Till-
Paddock--Cordoned off section of a pasture.

Ridge or Ridgeline--Typically defined as the spines traversing the tops of mountains, but on our depositional landscape, often refers to the tops of ravines where the surface has worn away to nearly an edge or point.

Swale--Usually a low area along the contour of a filter strip that holds runoff water after rains. Used more to refer to low areas of grass strips.

Terrace--Bench-like surfaces carved from sloping terrain by water. In our vernacular terrace is an agricultural term, built up and molded from soil rather than sliced out of rock.

In practical terms terraces are used on sloping land to prevent erosion and allow agricultural production on land otherwise too hilly. They inadvertently lend contour and line to the sweep of the landscape, although strictly a human construct on the former prairie.

Till--As a noun, "sediment left behind by a glacier--a mixture of clay, sand, gravel, and boulders. Unlike sediments dropped by moving water, these materials were not sorted by size and weight, which is why those mining the sand-and-gravel pits dotted across the Midwest must do the sorting mechanically."

Woodford County has several such pits. Few know this is why.

As a verb, "to work the soil by plowing or harrowing."

Both noun and verb are fitting for a local glossary.

Timber--A forested area "filled with trees or woody plants reaching a mature height of at least twenty feet with a single stem or trunk"

Timber or sometimes "woods" is the term of choice over "forest" when referring to woodlands. Most timber is now along our streams and more marginal areas that weren't cultivated.

An upland or definable area of timber is sometimes referred to as a grove. Singular groves on the upland once occurred on the prairies of Central Illinois. They are fairly rare, but can sometimes still be found. Funk's grove in particular is a remant grove, visit it and see, but please remember it was once 2,700 acres.

Groves once here but now gone include Old Town Timber (was 14,200 acres), Cheney's Grove (was 13,150 acres), Buckles' Grove (was 7,280 acres) and Blooming Grove (now where Bloomington, IL is, was 6,280 acres). Over 87,950 acres of grove existed at settlement in 1836, with another 20,980 along the Mackinaw River closer to my home.

Where I sit now was once called Walnut Grove, and looking out my window I can see the descendent timber of those woods first encountered by the settlers who named it such.

Watershed--Here it refers to "an area through which water is drained into a particular watercourse or body of water."

Our watershed is the Mackinaw.

Waterway--Similar to filter strip, waterways usually are grassy areas kept in between row crops for drainage and not necessarily associated with ditches or streams.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

McNaughton Run

Another McNaughton training run on Saturday morning. Met Tim Smith from Iowa over there and did the first loop with him. A nice solid tempo type loop for me, maybe even a bit too fast for a long run. Had a bit of dehydration on loop two and struggled in spots.

Ended up bagging 4 hours on trails that were lightly snow covered but had good footing.

Arctic air has befallen us all. This a.m. was 1 above zero for six miles. Three inches of powedery new snow on new year's eve made things interesting.

It's really not all that bad with a ski mask on.