I headed down to the Pine Creek Rail Trail for my second training run on the site of the upcoming Pine Creek challenge 100 mile event in September. The plan was to start in Blackwell, where the end of the out and back section of the 100 mile distance is, and run back towards the start finish line area. The goal for this run was 20 miles at a little faster overall pace than I am planning for the race itself. I would be running 1 mile then walk for 1 minute and repeat that every mile.
This was my second 20 mile run of the week. Something I had never done before. This was also only my second 20 mile run of the year that was not a race which were the only two other 20+ mile runs this year. This also ended up being the most miles I have run in a week all year. Maybe not the most traditional way to be training for a 100 mile race with less than a month to go. I was a little nervous it would go badly, but it went fine. And now that I am feeling much more confident and healthy I can start to taper a bit and reduce mileage. I think I will add in some biking. Then I plan to essentially rest or at least not run the entire week before race day.
Last practice run I ran in my Altra’s and didn’t really like how that felt so on this run I wanted to try out road shoes since the trail is pretty firm. I ran in my Saucony Kinvara 9’s. The run went pretty good as 20 mile long runs go. No major issues. A little soreness in the areas where it is to be expected. A little soreness in my hip which is to be expected at this point. But overall I was pretty happy with the run. The road shoes felt much better.
I won’t be running the race in my Kinvara 9’s though because they have over 200 mile son them and I cannot find anymore in my size at this point. I did manage to find a pair of road shoes with a similar profile to the Kinvara’s but with a little more cushion and a little wider toe box tha tI will try out for my next long run. Then hopefully I will have my footwear for the race solved.
I have found that 3.5 hours is apparently how long it takes me to drink 2 litters of water while out for a run. So that will help in planning for what I need to do on race day to manage my hydration. I have really started to think more in depth about how I am going to manage everything on race day and that makes me a bit more nervous. It’s funny because the running itself doesn’t really bother me as much. I know it is going to be hard and take a lot of toughness to finish, but planning for all the other aspects I need to have in place to make it happen makes me a little rattled. Luckily I have a great crew that will be out there to support me.
The weather was perfect for this run. It was so nice and the scenery was beautiful. I am really excited to see the whole course on race day with some early fall colors and then run on it at night.
It is now less than a month away. I will be lacing up to attempt to run 100 miles and this has been a crazy year for my running so far. I set bigger, higher, more challenging goals than I ever did before. I suffered my first running related injury, hip bursitis, which is still nagging me. I DNF’d my first attempt at 50 miles due to the heat. And in really only my second year of trying to have any form of structured training I have struggled for various reasons to meet the standards of training I wanted to get for this adventure.
Now that everything else on my calendar as far as running goes is behind me I am really trying to focus on this huge challenge ahead. I have been wanting to get down to the Pine Creek Rail Trail all year, but have been unable to due to my inconsistencies in training. But I finally made it happen. I really wanted to see it and feel it. I needed to get a sense of what it was going to be like running there all day and all night and possibly longer. I wanted to feel how that trail would feel under my feet. I wanted to test out what shoes I might want to wear on this adventure. (FYI I still don’t know).
My plan for the day was to run the trail from the starting point for the race for the Pine Creek Challenge and run 10 miles out and 10 miles back. It might sound silly to say I wanted to know the trail conditions, I mean it’s on a rail trail after all, but all the trails I have been on have a different feel to them. Some are soft, some are more gravely, and some are pretty firm. Getting this knowledge could help me to plan for the appropriate footwear. I have run most of my races in the same style of trail shoes and my preference would be to run the Pine Creek Challenge in that same style of shoes as well. I have loved Altra shoes for the past several years and I am currently running in The Altra Superiors. However, after running 20 miles on the Pine Creek Rail Trail I am not sure if that is the best option for this race. The trail is pretty firm. I think I need footwear that may be more along the lines of road shoes with more cushion and less tread. As I ran I could just feel the tread of the trail shoes under my foot because there was no softness for them to sink into. Over the last couple of years I have been doing most of my road miles in one specific model of shoes, the Saucony Kinvara, currently the 9’s. So I think I might use something more like that style of shoe for this race, but right now it is still up in the air.
This was also ended up being my first 20 mile long training run of the entire year partly due to injury and partly due to other factors. I was excited and nervous to get out there for a 20 mile run. I have been feeling pretty good. I have been running consistently but keeping the mileage and effort relatively low to minimize risk of aggravating the injury. Last week I broke 16 miles up into 3 different runs, 10 miles, 3 miles, then 3 more miles at night to see how it would feel to absorb that many miles on my hip. It seemed to go pretty well. So I was encouraged going into this run. As far as my hip bursitis went this run went really well. Of my entire body system my old achy ankle bothered me more than anything else. My hip felt pretty good and mostly painless until the last few miles when there were moments of tenderness. They were not intense and did subside so that is encouraging. Nothing like what I experienced back in May. I think this will add an additional element of challenge to this event but I don’t think it will prevent me from finishing at this point.
The one other strange concern I ended up with by the end of the run had to do with my hydration pack. I have been using this pack all year for all my long runs and my long races with no problems. But, for some reason during this run it was rubbing on the center of my chest. The left upper section where the straps are able to be adjusted up and down and there is a herder plastic there just kept rubbing to the point where at times I was holding it out off of my chest while I ran. I tried different strategies to try and get it to stop while I was running to no avail. I did not want to stop and meddle with my pack during this run. It ended up leaving an inch long red raw mark on my chest. Needless to say I will have to do some work to dial in the fit of my pack before race day. Luckily there are adjustments I can still make.
I am planning to head back out on another run on the trail soon.
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We visited this place 10 years ago and fell in love with it. We normally like to go on trips to places that we have never been to before to explore something totally new, but this year we finally made a return trip to one of our favorite places. We went back to Mt. Desert Island. On our last trip here we had so much fun but there is so much to do we really wanted to go back and do some new things and revisit some of our favorites as well. There is too much to cover in one article, so just go there yourself, but I will do my best.
Bar Harbor: The area we stayed at is dotted with small towns both on the mainland as you approach the island and on the island itself. The most prominent town is Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor is the hub of a lot of the activity and fun you will find in the surrounding towns. Just walking around town and being in the hustle and bustle of a thriving small community is very enjoyable, even for someone like me that doesn’t really enjoy crowds. There are shops of just about any imaginable variety along the busy streets in the main part of town. So if you like to shop there is plenty to keep you busy. On top of that it is just a beautiful small town with gorgeous scenery. Walking along the pier and local parks is refreshing.
If you like food this area, Bar Harbor especially is the right place for you. There is so much good food to be enjoyed. We didn’t eat out for every meal on our trip but we certainly indulged in our fair share of what the local restaurants had to offer. You can find food of any type you want while you are in this area. When you think of the coast of Maine you obviously think of sea food and lobster, and there is plenty of that to be had. Our first night there we ended up at a restaurant called The West Street Cafe that had a great vegetable pasta dish that I greatly enjoyed. Another day we just happen to park in front of a local brewery, Atlantic Brewing Company, and we decided to eat there. Both their beer and their food is amazing. My wife had a burger and I had a vegirito and a beer. They were so good we went back again on a different night. The only place we visited more than once for a meal. When you think of Maine I bet the last thing you think of is Chinese food, but there is a Chinese restaurant right on one of the main streets and we went there and we ate it all. It was so good.
On two different occasions we took our picnic blanket with us and ordered a pizza from two different locations and sat out in the grass on our blanket and ate pizza, read, and just sat and enjoyed the day and the scenery. I may or may not have spent more time enjoying the pizza than doing any of the other things. It is so nice that there is just this nice little park down near the ocean where you can just go and relax and basically do nothing. I love to camp, but sometimes you don’t really want to do anything but you also don’t want to just sit at your campsite either. It’s weird paradox. But this small park, Agamont Park, overlooking the ocean was such an inconspicuous little place. It’s both busy but not crowded. You sit and watch the people pass by. You see people arrive at the park sit down and get up and leave. It is a great way to spend the day. The pizza we enjoyed was from Geddy’s and Epi’s Pizza.
Bar Island: I don’t know how common this is but for me it is quite the unique experience. Just off the coast of Bar Harbor is a small island. It is a beautiful little island and it makes for great scenery sitting there off the coast of the town. But something magical happens periodically and transforms ones experience of that little island. As the tide goes out and reaches low tide a land bridge is revealed and you can simply walk right out to this island that previously would have only been reachable by boat. It is just one of the many things that fascinate me about this place. If you want to look upon a place and see it totally transformed from one time of day to another this is it. The water parts and you can stroll right out into what would otherwise be the ocean. It is just one of the many wonders you can experience here.
If you love art this is just one more reason in an extensive list that makes this a great place to visit. For such a small place it is not lacking in artisans. There are numerous shops and galleries to stop in at most of the towns. Artwork ranged from sculpture, to paintings, to photography to everything in between and things you never even imagined. If it wouldn’t be too awkward I could just stand there and stare at some of the art for hours. The photography created by some of the artists there was simply stunning. As a photographer myself I am always enthralled by the great work other artists are able to create. If you are in the area be sure to check out the variety of arts venues in the community. Just a few of my favorite places were Katahdin Photo Gallery and Acadia Frame Works in Bar Harbor, Jack Ledbetter Photography in Northeast Harbor, and J.K. Putnam Photography in Southwest Harbor. As you can see I am plainly a little biased towards the photography but there are artisans of all varieties on Mount Desert Island.
Acadia National Park: Now for the main attractions. The real reason we wanted to go back to this place. That reason is for the amazing beauty that is Acadia National Park. We loved our experience of this park on our last trip but there are so many things to do here that it is impossible to not feel like there is more to do and enjoy and that remains the feeling even after this trip. We revisited some of our favorite and more popular spots from our last trip and made sure to try some new adventures as well.
Schoodic Peninsula: One thing I wanted to make sure we had a chance to do was to visit the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park. Acadia National Park is mostly situated on Mt. Desert Island, but the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park is back on the mainland of Maine and you have to dive back onto the mainland and around to get there unless you want to take a ferry. Similar to the main part of Acadia on the island the Schoodic Peninsula area of the park also has a park road you can drive along and stop at scenic areas to enjoy along the way.
I love all aspects of nature photography but I am really enraptured by opportunities to photograph wildlife of any type. I wasn’t really expecting to have too many opportunities for wildlife photography on this trip based on what our plans were likely to be. So I was very happy when at the first place we parked to enjoy the scenery it was revealed that there were some Hearing Gulls about and I was able to get my long telephoto lens out and photograph them. After watching those gulls for a little bit we noticed there was a trail that seemed to go around this little inlet off of the ocean. We decided we were not really in the hiking mood so we found this really awkward stone bench to sit on near the inlet facing inland and just enjoyed the nature. The not hiking really worked out to our favor as I began to hear a sound of in the distance. At first I could not tell what it was then I realized it was an eagle or eagles calling. After a little while I could see the eagles approaching from inland across the sky. We moved from the bench to a more open area by the water to get a better view and so we would hopefully be more directly in their path as they flew by and I could take some photos. There ended up being two gorgeous bald eagles soaring and circling towards us. They flew within good range. They didn’t fly close enough to get really great individual close ups of one bird or the other but the fact that they kept their distance allowed me to capture a photo that to present is the best image of two bald eagles in one frame that I have been able to capture. I had read that there were eagles in the area but I had not actually expected to see any. This was the only sitting of eagles and it was great.
As the eagles were approaching and soaring overhead I noticed something else. Among the Hearing Gulls, which are pretty common even back home, there was one black headed gull, a Laughing Gull, which are pretty uncommon even on the coast of Maine. So, I split my attention between the Bald Eagles and the Laughing Gull trying to photograph the multiple birds all at once. This is one of the best joys of nature photography. When you have multiple options and you are just trying to pick out the best option for a photo at just the right time and also trying not to miss a great photo of the other subject. It is part guessing game, part instinct, part observational behavioral learning to get decent shots. My wife was there keeping me apprised of the eagles’ positions as I was photographing the gulls allowing me to have an easier time to switch back and forth between subjects. It was a fantastic experience and a huge highlight of the trip. It also allowed me to capture what are likely my best photographs to date of Laughing Gulls. I am so thankful to have had this experience and to get to share it with my wife.
There are nearly as many gorgeous viewing areas along the Schoodic Peninsula as there are on the island. As we made our way around the island we noticed ff in the distance it looks like there were storm clouds. It looked very likely that the storm was over the island from which we had just come. As we toured the peninsula and moved from place to place to enjoy nature we continued to see the storm clouds in the distance. But the distance was growing closer. The storm clouds were approaching us. The storm was approaching but at a slow pace. It was like getting chased by a slow moving murderer in your average horror film. You can see it in the distance but as long as you keep moving you can stay ahead of the storm. If I posted a series of photos from this period of time you would likely see in most of those photos a very obvious lighter side of the frame and a contrasting darker side of the frame with storm clouds. It was really a kind of cool experience to just watch the storm build as it moved across land and water. Watching the clouds swell and darken. Eventually we found a nice spot to stop for a while and relax and walk around and take many, many photos in my case. That is when the storm made its move. The storm closed in on us. You could see it visibly getting closer and the skies getting darker. I began to make my way back to the car. Then there were rain drops. It started off light and before long became a downpour. Fortunately I was wise enough to be in the car before that happened. We had the perfect view of the storm as we sat in our car. We were facing out over the ocean and we could watch the storm clouds and rain wash over the landscape, landscape including us. We took photos from the refuge of our car. The storm was intense but brief. It was over in a matter of minutes and we were able to resume our planned exploration of the peninsula. We continued to make our way around the peninsula and at one stop while I was out exploring the coastline I could see of in the distance the rainbow that was the result of the recent storm. This was a really cool experience to explore and watch as a storm approached your area and have it wash over you and then see the resulting rainbow all in one contiguous timeline of nature.
If you go to Acadia National Park do not sleep on the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park. It is as amazing and beautiful and scenic as the island portion of the park is. There are great rocky cliffs and ocean views to be had all along the peninsula. I am pretty sure there were so many that we didn’t even stop at all the possible sightseeing spots. It is just a gorgeous landscape. And for me one of the best parts is that it is much less crowded than many parts of the island areas of Acadia because it is away from the more well-known tourist attractions of the national park and away from the tourist towns that people go there to enjoy. The Schoodic Peninsula as I experienced it is primarily just that area of the National Park. There isn’t really much else to do there other than see the park lands and for that I am grateful. It was nice to find this little hidden gem of a refuge. I am very happy I made it a priority to visit this area of the park.
Cadillac Mountain: During our last visit to Acadia we drove up to Cadillac Mountain summit. This time we wanted to hike to the summit. This hike was perfect because we could leave right from our campground. We set off on the trail a little later than I think I would have liked to and it warmed up quickly and remained sunny the entire time. Leading to my wife getting sunburned, somehow I was unscathed. Acadia features a substantial amount of trees but it seemed on this hike you are not really in the woods for very long. This is good and bad. You are exposed to the sun and heat of the day more, but in trade you get to experience so many amazing views all along the hike. You can stop just about anywhere along the hike and look over the scenery. We tried not to linger too long at any one particular spot because we knew this was going to take a while to complete the hike to the summit and then return to the campground. Despite this photographs must be taken. Most of the hike is over rocky terrain. Most of it is not particularly challenging. One part of the hike that was really cool and different was the mountaintop pond that exists along the route to the summit from the direction we were hiking. Cadillac Mountain is one of the more popular destinations at the park and was very busy and crowded. We explored the mountaintop. We took pictures. We rested a bit. We even checked out the gift shop. We didn’t stay atop the mountain too long in part due to the crowd but also because we still had a long journey ahead of us. It was a nearly 8 mile hike and it ended up taking us around 4.5 hours to complete. As we descended the mountain we ended up running out of water. I had my UD running pack on with 2 liters of water which I thought would be enough, but I was wrong. This lead to Debby picking up a vest later on at the appropriately named Cadillac Mountain Sports store in Bar Harbor.
We drove back up on a different day for a keepsake from the gift shop and the views there were dramatically different from our first visit. It was a cloudier damp day. Not many visitors. The views were obviously not as good. I managed to slip and fall on the rocks. It is amazing how much a scene can vary from day to day.
Another mountain hike we had the opportunity to tackle was Gorham Mountain. The route was listed in my guide book as going up one side and then back down the other side and walking along the Ocean path. This was a fun short technical hike. At least it was shot in distance. We took our time and made it into a very long hike over time. We Took lots of photos and enjoyed the scenery. In a lot of ways it was actually a more interesting hike than the hike up Cadillac Mountain. There were plenty of other hikers enjoying the trail along with us. At one point my wife offered her services to take some photos for several groups of people. I had to encourage her to move along before she became the areas permanent official photographer as more and more people continued to arrive and wanted to take photos. She is such a nicer person than I am. She would have stood there all day happily taking peoples photos for them.
Once we were down off the mountain we found the Ocean Path and began travelling along that route. We stopped at all the scenic spots along the way instead of going right back to our car. This route is basically a constant stream of beauty. You can see the ocean and the cliffs essentially the entire way. This short hike took us almost as long to complete as our hike up and down Cadillac because of all the stops and fun side trips to other scenic location along the route we included. We stopped at popular spots like Sand Beach and Thunder Hole among the infinite other unnamed scenic viewing areas.
One of the most popular attractions at Acadia National Park is Thunder Hole. It is kind of hard to describe, but it is essentially a spot along the coast where the waves have carved a canal into the cliff face and when the tide is just right the water rushes into this little cavern and creates a huge thundering noise, thus the name. I initially thought we wouldn’t really spend time there, because we had gone there before and gotten to witness it at pretty close to its peak natural spectacle. Somehow this became a little obsession over the course of the trip. We just ended up nearby Thunder Hole on several different occasions so we would stop by and see if anything exciting was happening. We even tried to go at the recommended times of day, two hours before high tide. Soooo many attempts to hear Thunder Hole actually Thundering. No successes. But one of the great things about Thunder Hole and Acadia in general is that even if you don’t get to see that one specific aspect you came fore, there is so much else to enjoy. The views at Thunder Hole are just as stunning as anywhere else. On one attempt to try and hear Thunder Hole actually thundering we arrived an hour before what was supposed to be prime time or the noise making and I sat around taking photographs of the scenery and people for at least an hour. This is just a highly enjoyable place no matter what. You just can’t go wrong.
Jordan Pond: One nice place to visit that has this nice relaxed vibe to it that is just different than being on the top of a mountain or at the ocean cliffs with waves crashing is Jordan Pond. Jordan Pond is just a perfectly picturesque scenic spot. You walk down to the pond and you are just sounded by nature. Trees and woodlands surround the still waters and you can see the small mountains, The Bubbles, which this area is known for off in the distance. We came here because we wanted a place to just sit and relax. We perched ourselves on some rocks right at the water’s edge where you first encounter the pond. We sat and relaxed and I of course took photos. We eventually got up and meandered down the trail that leads around the pond a little ways. We went about a quarter the way around on one side then turned back and passed back by where we had started around to the other side and took a seat on a bench and sat and relaxed. I tried to photograph a few small fish swimming among the rocks at the shore. We walked a little farther down the path and saw a small flock of gulls perched among some larger rocks a little ways out into the water and my photography spun out into full swing. I tried to slowly approach so I would not scare off the gulls. I wanted to capture shots of them interacting with each other as well as including the gulls and their perch in context of the surrounding habitat. I wanted to include the gulls, their perch, the pond, and the mountains in the background. I could have sat there all day trying to capture the perfect scene as they moved and interacted with each other, but alas it was soon time to move on.
During our last visit to Acadia I only saw Jordan Pond at night, shortly after sunset. I wasn’t able to explore much or stay very long. I captured some nice long exposure images of the scenery and then I left. This trip it was nice to see it as a more active place. Having an opportunity to walk around and explore a little was nice. I don’t think I even knew there was a trail there during my last visit. There are always new sights to see.
Another spot we visited on this trip that we didn’t visit previously was the Wild Gardens of Acadia. That day it had been raining and was pretty overcast. It wasn’t really good weather for going out and trying to take grand landscape photos so we didn’t do that. Instead we went to the garden and photographed small wonders of nature. It was kind of the perfect opportunity. It was dark and overcast which lends itself to using my macro lens because its F2.8 feature allows it to let in a lot of light and function well in darker situations. The recent rain left many of the flowers with water droplets on them so that also created an added element that in my opinion almost always makes a flower photo better. We wound our way along the garden paths making sure we say all of the plants growing in the garden. I love to work my craft at trying to create beautiful images of flowers it can be very challenging especially with small or odd flowers. Gardens are interesting in many ways, but one way is that they can be very different depending on what time of year you visit. Visiting one garden on one relatively short trip you will never see everything that the garden has to offer because different flowers and plants grow and bloom at different times of year. But there were many beautiful flowers to see in July.
Blackwood Campground: During our trip we camped at Blackwoods Campground right in Acadia National Park. There are many campgrounds located in the area and even another campground in the Acadia National Park system, but Blackwoods is the perfect spot for us. This is the same campground we stayed at for our last visit. For this trip it allowed us to go hike Cadillac Mountain right from our campground which is awesome. Being able to just get up and get around in your own time without having to worry about driving to a trail head to start the hike is just a great experience. If you have never camped someplace you can just start a hike from you must do it. It will change the entire experience for you. Also right from Blackwoods campground there is a trail you can follow from the campgrounds right out to the rocky cliffs and just sit and watch and relax and take it all in. This short easy access to the ocean and scenery makes the trip. We went down there multiple times to just relax and breathe in the ocean air whenever we wanted. It also allowed us to do something else you don’t often get to do. I spent all vacation saying I should get up early and walk down to the ocean to watch the sun rise. Well I failed to do that time and again. Eventually we did get ourselves up early enough to walk down to those cliffs just a few minutes away and we watched the sun rise. Another key component of Blackwoods Campground is that as you walk down to those cliffs you actually cross the park loop road. The park loop road is the gateway to all the beauty of the park and you can access it by foot easily and then you can walk a mile in either direction and see so much beauty and to be able to do it easily at any time of day you want is just freeing. Also if you are a runner you can get in an amazingly scenic run any time you want. I took advantage of this three times on this trip. The Blackwoods Campground also has a bus stop for the FREE buses that will take you all over the island on different routes to see everything you want to see if you don’t want to drive.
When we were planning our trip we saw the listings of all the different ranger lead events that Acadia National Park provided. We really wanted to check out some of those. We almost managed to not make that happen. Thankfully the last night we were there we committed to going to the star gazing event, Stars over Sand Beach, that the park rangers were leading on Sand Beach. The rangers pointed out constellations and planets and told us about the myths about how the some of the constellations came to be. We even had an opportunity to see the International Space Station crossing the sk. Thanks to the large viewing area and clear skies we could actually see it moving across the sky for a long time. This location ranks highly as having a very dark sky that is good for star gazing. I really wanted to take this opportunity to try out some night sky photography, something I have been wanting to try, but have never really seriously attempted. So since I hadn’t tried to do it in a while, my brain knew what I wanted it to do. I knew that my camera had the capabilities to do what I wanted it to do. I simply could not remember how to access the functions that I wanted to use on my camera. It made for a bit of frustration. I blame this partially on my using several different models of cameras where all the functions are accessed a little bit differently, but it was mostly an artifact of poor planning. If was going to do this I should have practiced before going. Oh yeah, also don’t try to do something for essentially the first time ever in literally the complete darkness as is essential for good star gazing. I tried not to let the fact that my photography was tripping me up detract from my enjoyment of the night sky. It is still quite an amazing sky and I will get around to capturing more of it someday. The funny thing is when I got back to our car I remembered exactly what I needed to do and realized how I needed to do it on my camera. So we drove a little bit away from where we had been star gazing and found a nice spot to stop and I took some more photos of the night sky this time capturing the moon rise and the big dipper. That was a little more satisfying to my photographer’s soul after failing previously.
I think one of the best things about this trip was not overly planning and having too many MUST DO things on my list. We were able to just relax and visit many different places and visit some places multiple times to take them in, in different contexts and at different moments in time. No rush, care free, relaxation in nature. It was great time. Highly recommended.
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Last year after running my first two 50k ultra marathons I decided to take the next “logical” step and test myself out at the 50 mile distance. Perhaps many people would not see any of this as logical but it made sense to me. I wanted to find a race that suited my preferences. My first two 50k races were very different from each other. One being very flat and one being much more rugged with a lot of climbing. I did not feel like either of those things suited me well for a 50 mile adventure. I really needed something in between, not flat but not too much climbing either, I needed to find something in my Goldilocks zone. I also didn’t really want to travel too far. I didn’t want to have to worry about any extra logistics other than the running of the race. So that obviously limited my options as well. But as it happens just the right race takes place not too far from where I live and even better I had some experience at this race. The Finger Lakes Running Club puts on the Finger Lakes 50’s race each year. This event is comprised of races of 25k, 50k, and 50 miles. I had already run the 25k in 2017 as my first ever 25k, so I was familiar with it. The biggest downside to this event is that it is held on the first weekend of July, and I do not generally do well running in the heat. In my first experience at this event I guess I was fortunate that it rained the whole time so that I did not have to deal with the heat.
Finger Lakes 50’s is a loop course event. Each loop is approximately 25k. So for the 50 miles I would run 3 loops, plus a half mile baby loop to round out the 50 miles. I was a little concerned about the course being loops because of the temptation to drop at the start finish line after the conclusion of each loop especially if I was struggling. I tried to reframe this as loops being a positive aspect of the race. I convinced myself that it would be good to get more familiar with the layout of the course as things went on and know what the course conditions were like out on the course. FYI course conditions can change mid race.
I was able to “convince” one of my best friends to go on this journey with me. And by convince I mean I casually mentioned that I was going to do it and then she was “convinced” to do it as well. We both have run the same two 50ks together and shared many miles of running and training and adventure. We are similar runners, so our plan was to run this thing together and share the miles, the adventure, and the suffering.
We spent the first half of the year trying to pretend that at some point we were going to be running 50 miles. We focused on all the other races we had planned. Once we both completed our 50k in June Finger Lakes 50’s loomed large. In mid April I had developed a some sort of injury to my hip/groin area that had not recovered by Worlds End 50k in June and really hampered me there. I already had tried just cutting back on training some prior to Worlds End. So, post 50k the only realistic option for me was to try and get some type of treatment for my issue and rest as much as I could and hope it would recover or I would never make it through a 50 mile race.
I went and saw a primary care doctor for the first time in about 20 years. I started a prescribed medication other than antibiotics for the first time. I began massage therapy treatment with Soul Ease. I also received chiropractic treatment from Market Street Chiropractic. Orthopedic doctor’s opinion was that it was likely hip bursitis.
The hardest part about trying to recover is that I was really cutting back my running, especially my long runs because that is what aggravated the injury the most. So since the goal was to rest it and not aggravate it I was not testing it either so I had no idea how it was going to respond on longer runs. Just over two weeks prior to the race I decided I needed to try to get a little feedback regarding my injury and test it out. I went for a long run on the Interloken Trail, a side branch of the Finger Lakes Trail and also a location of some of the trails I would have to run during the 50 mile loop race. I ran my planned 13 miles and I was pretty happy with it. I had no major issues. So for the next 2 weeks I did minimal running including zero running for the 5 days leading into the race. I wanted to maximize my chances of being healthy. I figured my best chance at completing this race was to be as healthy as possible. I could grind out the miles on tired sore legs if I at least had my health. After all my very first 50k trail adventure was a solo adventure on the Finger Lakes Trail with very little planning and no training and my longest run prior to that was a 25k, what could go wrong? That is was I kept telling myself at least.
So with less than ideal training and while recovering from an injury I embarked on a 50 mile race. Good idea? Only time would tell.
Race day arrived and it was going to be a hot one. As start time neared the temperature was around 70 degrees. 70 degrees is the temperature around which I start to be unable to sustain my running. Most of the races I have done in this temperature range have not gone great for me. The high temperature for the day would end up being around 88 degrees. Far hotter than I would choose to run in.
The 6:30 AM start time arrive and we were off. Down the gravel road we went and shortly we took a right into the woods and onto the trails. Pretty early on in the first loop before the first aid station there is a long downhill section that is on a gravel road. On a shorter race or at least a race of a distance I was experienced with this is the type of section I would love and run hard down to pick up time. In my one and only other experience on this course I ran down this road hard and was passing people, but that was a 25k race. With close to 50 miles still to go that did not seem prudent on this go around. We talked about how we wanted to handle this section and just decided to run casual, not trying to run hard but not putting on the brakes either. We just let gravity do the work, gaining some speed on some steeper sections and then letting speed dissipate on lesser grades.
As we made our way around the loop the first time the heat and humidity intensified. We played it cautious trying not to burn out before we got to where we needed to really hit cut off times. Especially in open exposed areas and other areas that felt particularly hot we took it easy and even walked. We walked when we otherwise could have run in order to save strength for later on. We were trying to strategize to mitigate the effects of the heat. If we felt like we needed to go easier we did just that without hesitation.
One good thing about the heat the past several days and on race day was that the trails were remarkably dry when the race began. They weren’t totally dry, but much improved from when I had been out in the area on a training run. This made running when we wanted to a much easier thing to do and made walking at a decent pace much easier too. When I was out on the trails two weeks prior there was significant water on the trails during the first loop of the course there was almost no water and not even much of anything that could be called mud except in a few spots.
We complete lap 1 in 3 hours and 35 minutes. That left us around 4 hours to complete a second lap. We took stock, refreshed ourselves, ate and drank, and then headed back out into the heat for lap number 2. At this point I was pretty confident we would get our first two laps done within the cutoff of 7 hours and 45 minutes. As lap two wore on the heat and humidity did not relent. I was having difficulty eating much of anything solid. At aid stations I ate watermelon and drank whatever non water fluids they had for calories, and I was able to eat some of the salt potatoes I had with me, but I wasn’t able to eat any of the other food I had been relying on for fuel that I carried and none of the other food at the aid stations were appealing. As the heat continued to wear me down I exchanged my hat for a buff that I could put ice in. Then at a later aide stations I added another buff so I could carry even more ice. Eventually, shortly before the half way point on loop 2, I gave up everything extra I was carrying just to try and keep from overheating. I gave up my food and I even gave up my camera gear which is saying allot for me considering I am a photographer who documents everything and that was the plan for this race.
Shortly after the half way point of the second loop I really started to feel the effects of the heat. As we ran, my hands started to go numb and I began to feel a little light headed and dizzy. I said I needed to stop running and walk for a bit. We walked and I recovered enough to run after a while. Unfortunately the same symptoms returned and we continued this walk run approach. My friend was not going to just leave me there in the woods even though I encouraged her to do so. We arrived at the first aide station after the half way point and I tried to regroup. I added as much ice as I could. I put ice in both of my buffs and in my shirt and in my shorts to try to cool down. The effect of the cold from the ice on the extreme heat of my body made me a bit dizzy and took me a moment to recover from. I used more ice at this race than I had ever used before at a race and more than I had thought I would. It was a necessity. It was the only thing allowing me to keep going. Unfortunately the ice did not last very long once you started running again. It lasted only mere minutes in the heat. After getting more fluids and fuel I needed more time to recover. I told my friend to go without me. I know she didn’t want to leave me at that aid station, but I knew that she did not have time to spare to wait for me and could not afford to move as slow as I would likely be going once I started off on the trails again. She looked back, frowned, then she went on without me.
I regrouped and then headed back out on the trails myself. I was moving slowly on the trails. The heat and humidity were nearly unbearable for me. Then it happened. First a trickle and then the skies opened up and a deluge of rain burst from the skies. In a matter of minutes everything was soaked. I was getting what I desperately needed. The rain cooled me off significantly. Not only did it help me physically but it lifted me mentally as well. It rained so intensely that the trails quickly flooded. It was like running up a stream. the trail conditions quickly converted from nearly pristine and dry to possibly worse than the conditions in 2017. I ran. I don’t know how fast I ran but I ran as fast as I could. I felt better and stronger than I had since the beginning of the race. I surged forward knowing that I had to beat the clock. I ran at a pace that took my breath away and eventually required me to walk and catch my breath. I repeated this run hard as you can then rest approach trying to surge through the storm. I was running so much better at this point that I actually passed a few people which would have been unthinkable even a few minutes ago. The change in weather and course conditions were so uplifting and provided such a sure of adrenaline with the chance to chase the clock that I completely forgot about the pain in my hip that had begun to bother me again. I kept looking at my watch thinking that I might actually be able to complete the loop in time to move on for a third loop. Could I actually do it?
The whole race my wife had been at each aide station to cheer us on. My friends husband joined our crew stating on the 2nd loop. When I emerged through the woods in the torrential downpour and arrived at the final aid station my wife was there in the pouring rain cheering for me as she had been all day. My friends husband had gone ahead to continue crewing for her up ahead of me as she continued to race the clock as well. As I arrived at this last aid station there was a new face there. Another of my friends had arrived to cheer me on and crew for us in this crazy storm. Seeing another familiar friendly face at the aid station helped to lift me up. They asked me what I needed. I just took a cup of coke. I told my wife I thought I still had time to make the cut off. It was then that she had to do the most difficult thing and break the news to me that I wasn’t going to make it. I had two miles to go, JUST TWO MORE MILES to complete the second loop. But I only had 9 minutes to get there. On my best days on completely fresh legs I couldn’t get that done. There was no way I could make it. My day was going to come to an end without even starting a third loop. As I write this I am fighting back emotions and tears are welling up in my eyes. This was not the outcome I was hoping for.
Despite the news that I could not possibly make the cut off I was determined to push through as hard as I could to what would be not the start of my third loop but my finish line. I somehow summoned the strength to overtake a few other runners on the road with me. I continued to run down the road, towards the end of the loop. I knew that the news of my imminent finish was demoralizing because as I headed down the road the pain in my hip that hope had vanquished returned more painful than I had felt it the entire day. I tried to push through it. I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could, but what was the point. I wasn’t going to make it in time. I walked and relieved the pain. Then when I could I resumed running again. This section of gravel road felt longer than any other stretch on the course even on the first go around, it felt interminable on this final approach before ducking back into the wood rounding the pond and emerging at my finish.
I don’t know if I would have been able to make the final cut off at the 10 and a half hour mark, but I wish more than anything that I had had the chance to find out. If you finish the second loop but do not finish in time to start a third loop they credit you with a 50k finish which is nice, but that is not what I was here for on this day. I was here to push myself to new limits. I was here to run more miles than I had ever run before. I wanted to get out there and try for that third loop more than anything. I would have rather start the third loop and not finish but run more miles than ever before then to finish my 4th 50k. I was here to test my limits and in some ways I did test my limits just not in the way I had hoped for. Apparently when I rolled into the last aid station I was not doing as well as I thought I was. My crew at that aid station told me after the race that I was a bit unsteady and wobbly during my time at the aid station and also appeared to be wobbly after I left the aid station and started running again as well. I did not get the result I had hoped for but I got an experience like nothing I had experienced before. Pushing through pain again, fighting off heat exhaustion, having a resurgence in the rain, and running with fun and joy when previously it had dissipated.
There is nothing better than taking on a new challenge like this race and having my wife and friends there to cheer me on. Running through most of my race with one of my best friends was the only way to take on this new challenge. I am so grateful that she went along on this crazy ride with me. I am even happier that she did make the cut off to start a third loop and then the final cut off to be able to finish that third loop. And I am overjoyed for her that she finish that race and that I got to cheer her on for that third loop and see her finish. That made the day a good day. Seeing my friend overcome the adversities I could not and succeed at this race that stopped me in my tracks was what I needed after not being able to finish. Having our other close friends there at the end was also a blessing. They were there to console me and cheer and celebrate her accomplishments. I am fortunate to be a member of this group.
It is really easy to second guess myself about this race and how we approached it. Should we have run harder on the first loop especially in places we took it easy? Should we have moved through aid stations faster? Should I have started taking on ice sooner? Should I have worn the arm sleeves and filled them with ice as I had planned to? Should I have not carried as much as I did for the first loop plus? What could I have done differently to produce a better outcome for myself? These are all pointless questions because there is no way to know how a change in any one thing would have effected everything else that occurred that day.
Looking on the bright side I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can maintain enough fitness to run a 50k without a whole lot of training between races. I learned that my hip while not completely healed is actually getting better. I was able to run much farther in this race before experiencing significant pain than in my last race. I learned that if I ever run another long summer race I need to have a real strategy for dealing with the heat. I learned that I can run a 50k without having to change my shoes and have no major issues as a result. I learned that I still have not found socks that my toes will not poke a hole in. I continue to learn that I have a lot more to learn.
One of my goals with this race aside from finishing the 50 miles was to capture as much of it as possible on camera. I carried 4 devices for this purpose: my cell phone, a chest mounted GoPro, a hand carried GoPro, and a small mirror less Nikon camera in my pack. I was not taking many photos in the beginning because I wanted to save it for later when I was tired and needed to take my mind off things especially on the third loop. Then I realized what if there is no third lap. When I evenutally realized I had not been taking many photos and that I would be giving up all my camera gear at the next aid station I just turned on my chest mounted GoPRo to capture as much as I could of the race until the memory card fillled up.
I utilized my chest mounted GoPro the most because it was the easiest to use in the circumstances. I used my hand held go pro a few times. I took a few shots with my cell phone in just one spot. I never even took my Nikon out of my pack. The lack of photo taking was due to the heat and humidity requiring all my energy to just remain focused on the race. There really wasn’t much time where I felt comfortable enough to either stop and take photos or to just make the extra efforts to use cameras. Plus as I ended up losing to the clock there really wasn’t time for it anyway. An even more disappointing factor is that after not finishing the 50 miles I got home and uploaded my photos to the computer and for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond my control a lot of the photos did not turn out well. So that was extra demoralizing.
The day after the race I needed to do some recovery. I tried to recover with Avital’s Apiaries products I was given to test out. I soaked my sore and tired legs in a hot bath with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee bath fizzies. I used their Recover Bee soap. Then once I was done tired soaking my legs I gave them a rub down with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee massage oil. After that my legs did feel a little better.
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Round and round they go. When they’ll stop, nobody knows.
I have been fortunate to be involved with quite a few races over the last several years. Some as a volunteer. Some as a runner. Some as a photographer. Sometimes I’ve been involved in more than one way at a given race. My good friends were putting on a race to help support our local youth running club, SOAR. I wanted to be involved in the event and support them in their efforts.
The race was called The Monster Brant Hill Challenge put on by Rebellion Running. It was held at Newtown Battlefield State Park in Upstate, NY. The race format was a timed loop course event. The runners would have 3 hours to complete as many laps as they could or wanted to. I had only ever participated in one timed loop course event before and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I had never photographed an event held in this format before.
I started off photographing some impressive younger youth athletes that took on the one hour youth course.
I was very intrigued as to how this format would lend itself to photography. My normal process is to scout out what I think will be the best location on the course to take photographs and stake out a position there and photograph every runner as they pass me by. The format of this race lends itself to so many different possibilities that it threw me of my game a little bit.
One thing I did differently was set up a GoPro at the aid station taking time lapse photos every second to record the runners as they made their nutrition choices. The cameras recorded over 14,000 images which I have not even begun to go through yet, but it ought to be interesting. Also, it is highly advisable to turn off the camera after the event so you don’t have thousands of empty frames to look at and delete. And you should pick up said GoPro so the race crew don’t have to bring it back to you after the event. There are always new wrinkles and things to learn from.
I began the event by photographing the runners as they took off down the trail at the start of the event. Then I moved around to the other end of the loop and went up the trail a little ways from where the loop ends so I could photograph runners completing their first lap. Then I moved back to where the end of the loop was and the aid station was set up to photograph runners as they made the turn to continue for another loop or stop for some aid.
I decided to make my way around the loop in reverse so that the runners would be approaching me as I walked up the trail. I stopped and photographed each runner from wherever along the trail I encountered them. This was really cool to be able to feature a large portion of the course in photographs. It also allowed for runners to be featured in different ways as they were covering different terrain on the course. They were able to get photographs on flatter faster sections where they felt better as well as on the tougher sections. I really enjoyed the variety of different photographic opportunities that were made available by being able to move throughout the course without missing any runners.
As I made my way around the course I stopped in a few key spots to photograph all the runners as they came through. These key locations were on the climbing section of the course. I know runners really hate having their picture taken during the tough climbs on a course but as a photographer I always feel like they make for some of the best photographs because they really show the blood, sweat, and tears that the runners are putting into running the race. You can really see the runners working and see the determination etched on their faces as they climb. Also, going out on the course more gave me a better appreciation for the conditions on the trail that the runners were dealing with.
I think this having so many opportunities for photos during one race also allowed the athletes to have more fun with their race photos at this event.
Photographing this type of event also freed me up to be more creative and take chances with some photography. I really strive to get a quality photograph of every runner at a race so I don’t like to do things that might cause that not to happen. But on the loop course I knew I had already seen all the runners multiple times and I was confident that I had good photographs of everyone. I used my smaller camera with a wider angle of view on the trails to photograph the runners on the trails as they passed by me. The goal of the photographs was to pan with the runners and shoot at a slower shutter speed than normal to create a sense of motion as the runners move. This sense of motion can be generated in the background as I pan the camera with them and in the runner’s body’s as their arms pump and legs strike the ground and push off. This series of photographs will have a more artistic feel to them. They most likely will not have a crisp image of the runners in many of them.
Now I have really come to like this race format as both a runner and a photographer. I am looking forward to photographing another event like this and sparking some even more creative ideas.
This year I decided I wanted to shift my focus a little bit when it came to my running. I still set myself big goals to accomplish in my running, but instead of focusing on max effort I wanted to focus on enjoying the time I spend running more. For me this means taking the time to appreciate nature and more specifically taking the time to create more photography and media around my experiences in nature. This change of focus really benefited me as I struggled through some of my training and through Worlds End 50k. I found myself able to focus on the creative side of what I do and the real reason I love running, which is to put myself more in touch with the physical world and more in touch with nature.
After last year’s race it was abundantly clear that Worlds End State Park is just a supremely beautiful place to spend a day. There is just an abundance of gorgeous natural beauty here. Last year I felt that I failed to capture enough of it and this year I really wanted to capture more of it on camera. The best way to experience and see as much of this park as possible at one time is clearly to run the race. It would take days or weeks to appropriately explore this park slowly on foot, and maybe that is a project for another day. There are very few parts of the Worlds end 50K race course that is not exquisite in one way or another. Even with all of the mud it gave the park a gritty prehistoric feel.
The blessing in disguise of being unable to move at the pace that I wanted to is that I was able to/ forced to spend more time creating photography. I was able to create more photography and I was probably able to create more good photography because I was moving at a slower pace. Trying to get good quality scenic photographs in the dimly lit canopy of the forest can be tricky especially if one is on the move.
If you are someone who truly appreciates nature in all of its forms then this park has everything you could imagine. Just the simple trails leading into the forest is beautiful in its own right. You are quickly immersed in the wildness of the park. There are rocks and boulders that feature prominently in the landscape of different areas of the park. There are scenic overlooks where you can look out across the valley, typically to get to those you are traversing a steep climb that is featuring many of these afore mentioned rocks and boulders. Some of those sections are so strewn with boulders that there really is no trail and you are simply scrambling over rocks the best you can. As you descend from the high points and overlooks you delve deep into the valley that are carved out by streams that course through the forest like veins caring its life blood. There are many sections of trails where you are crossing streams or running alongside streams. These scenic areas where the water and rocks and forest combine are really what I live for as a photographer and a nature lover. These streams move through the woods following the landscape, charting its own course and creating waterfalls of various sizes. I could stand and photograph these streams through the forest and these waterfalls for hours without end, and someday I may come back and do just that. They are simply captivating.
One of the most prominent features of Worlds End State Park is the Loyalsock Creek running right down the heart of the park and carving out the valley over millennia. It is called a creek but in my estimation it is more like a small river to me. It was one of the features I wanted to make sure I took some time to soak in and photograph while I had time. We went down to the day use area the day before the race and relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. I went down by the Loyalsock Creek walked around and took some photographs. Then after the race I went down and literally soaked in the creak.
Different regions of the park have their own distinct feel that is created by that nature of the landscape that surrounds you. Being able to participate in this race the past two years has really made a lasting impression on me. I didn’t even know that this gem of a location existed only one and a half hours from where I live. I did not know what I was missing out on. Now I feel compelled to plan for a time when I can come down and visit this area and give it the proper attention it deserves and capture its beauty in full. It would be great to take my time and explore each area of the park that has its own unique feel and capture that in photographs.